Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Korean Americans and Korean Pop Culture

Dear Korean,

There are people who are Korean but were born in America and don't really have any fellow Koreans around them. Later, they would be introduced to "Korean world" in high school and college, beginning watching Korean dramas, trying to become fluent in Korean, trying out Korean fashion, logging on to Soompi.com forums to get the latest news on Korean celebrities, etc.

Why is it that even completely American Korean-Americans get one whiff of Korean culture and then are obsessed with it like there is no tomorrow?

A Confused Friend

Why is Korean pop culture so attractive to Korean Americans? Why is it that, despite having spent most or all of their lives growing up in America, they gravitate so strongly to pop culture generated out of Korea, which can often be significantly different from the American pop culture in which Korean Americans grew up?

Why do Korean Americans stream to the Madison Square Garden to see SHINee?
(source)
Short answer: there is nothing quite like seeing yourself in an idealized form.

Believe it or not, a very similar question was raised a few years ago, albeit in a different area and with someone who may appear very different from K-pop idols:  in the NBA, with Omri Casspi. The Sacramento Kings drafted Casspi, a small forward, with their 23rd overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, making Casspi the first Israeli first-rounder in NBA history. Casspi had a decent rookie season with the Kings, averaging 10.3 points per game.

Now, here is the parallel:  when Casspi began playing, the Jewish Americans absolutely loved Casspi. ESPN sportswriter Kevin Arnovitz captured it perfectly:
Ever since Omri Casspi hit the scene, I've had two general conversations with people I know: The first is with Jewish family and friends, few of whom follow pro basketball very closely. They've heard about this Israeli kid playing for some team in California. This is the greatest thing ever! Have you met him?! When is he coming to my city? What's the best way to invite him to Shabbos Dinner? Is he observant?
The second conversation occurs with non-Jewish friends, each of whom appreciates that Casspi carries great symbolic importance for Jewish folks. But, in the politest way possible, they want to better understand why the fervor over Casspi in the Jewish community is such a phenomenon. After all, there have been Jewish ball players before and, fifty years ago, they had a major presence in the league. Today, current Laker Jordan Farmar is a rotation player for the reigning NBA champs. There are a number of Jewish NBA owners and the league's front offices are filled with Jews. So--and we mean this in the least offensive way possible--why are NBA arenas packed by ecstatic Jewish fans every time the Kings show up?
Omri Casspi and Jewish masculine identity [ESPN/Truehoop]

Arnovitz's answer to the second question is extremely insightful: Casspi was popular among Jewish Americans because Casspi touched upon an important aspect of American Jewish psyche. To paraphrase Arnovitz's point, Jewish Americans adored Casspi because he came from Israel, a special place for the Jewish diaspora worldwide. This "specialness" is not necessarily a result of Judaism as a religion. Rather, Israel is special because it is the place in which idealized Jewish manhood can be realized.

In America, Europe and elsewhere, Jews faced antisemitism, one of whose many forms is a stereotype about being physically weak (while being smart and conniving.) As an ethnic minority, Jews could never completely defeat such stereotype. But not so in Israel, the Jewish State. Indeed, Maccabi Tel Aviv (Casspi's former pro team) was a product of the "Muscular Judaism" ideology, which sought to prove that Jews had the physical strength to overcome the oppressions of the 1930s. From here, the Korean will have Mr. Arnovitz explain:
One of the funnier snippets of Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint" is American Jew Alexander Portnoy's arriving in Israel toward the end of the novel, in absolute awe of the virile Israelis: "And that's the phrase that does me in as we touch down upon Eretz Yisroel [the land of Israel]: to watch the men. I love those men! I want to grow up to be one of those men!"

There's a little bit of Alexander Portnoy in the American Jewish men who can't wait to watch this Israeli man fly around the court, shoot 3s, harass ball-handlers and run the break. Yes, some of that fascination is a simple expression of nationalism, but Casspi personifies something deeper for American Jews. The fact that he's not a slight, cerebral point guard but a rangy, explosive -- sometimes even careless -- young swingman makes him all the more appealing.
The central insight from this need not be confined to Jewish Americans, nor does it have to be confined to basketball and masculinity. It is about being able to see, in real life, our idealized selves--the ability to picture ourselves to be more beautiful, more powerful, more talented, more everything.

Korean Americans may not face the exact same type of discrimination that Jewish Americans face. (And certainly not the type that Jewish folks generally faced in the early 20th century!) But Korean Americans, living in America, nonetheless face marginalization. It would be easier to use negative stereotypes against Asians in the American media as the prime example of what causes such marginalization. However, the Korean thinks that the bigger driver of marginalizing Korean Americans (or Asian Americans for that matter) in the American media is the near total absence of Asian faces. For an unformed identity that desires to take form, even a negative portrayal is a step up from no portrayal at all. Thankfully, many pioneering Asian Americans (Margaret Cho, Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, John Cho, etc.) have somewhat eased that deficiency. But still, it only takes a little bit of watching American television and movies to make one realize that Asian faces are not really relevant in American pop culture.

Korean pop culture--which is now easily available in the United States thanks to the Internet and other technology--rushes in to fill that void of relevance felt by Korean Americans. Just like a Jewish American can visualize the idealized Jewish man through Omri Casspi, a Korean American can visualize the idealized Korean men and women through Korean pop idols, actors and actresses, performing in an ecosystem in which they are the main characters, not a token sidekick. Seeing those beautiful people performing great feats of talent represents a total validation of Korean American's ethnic identity. As the questioner described, only "one whiff" is quite enough, because the desire to see the greater form of self is just that strong.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

44 comments:

  1. I understand a "symbol" to connect to. even look up to for young people who had no one to relate to.
    but gotta say kpop idols - beautiful, yes, talented? hmmmm... if u relate Beiber = talented, I guess so.

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    1. DBSK
      The Secret Code
      Try watching Purple Line and Mirotic sequence
      Bieber, who?

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  2. I couldn't agree more.

    The question I have for TK is whether he is recognized as being from elsewhere when he is in Korea. Maybe not, as he came to the US at an older age than I did. When I was in Korea, I was told that I exuded an air of being foreign even when I didn't speak. I wonder what that "air" is.

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    1. I can't speak for TK, but as a Korean American who has been in Korea, I've become fairly self aware of certain elements of my behavior and speech that make me stand out at times as a foreigner. Clothes and grooming were a standout for me: you can easily pick out who might not be a local because a person wears different clothes, or presents themselves with hairstyles that aren't common in Korea. This also extends to use (or non-use) of make up as I've noticed that Korean American women wear makeup differently than South Korean women. Sometimes I notice that Korean American men especially, have a kind of gait when they walk that isn't common in Korea, there may also be a way that Korean American women move that's different from South Korean women: I know my sister would definitely stand out just by the way she walks alone. There's also a kind of brashness to the way many Korean Americans carry themselves and how and when they choose to speak that can stand out at times. None of these are surefire markers as Korean society has lots of space for subcultures which might share these characteristics (I have been mistaken for a part of the arts/music community before), but if you lump enough characteristics together, you often can sense a fellow Korean American (or Korean Canadian--not interchangeable, but share a lot of characteristics) or other diasporic Korean.

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    2. Well said, refresh. I do notice in k-dramas that some of the Korean women tend to walk with smaller, quicker steps, or shuffle along. Maybe it's a dramatic acting thing? Or...not? Like you described, I've had someone tell me recently that I would stand out in Korea just because of the way I walk.

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  3. Okay, if only Korean Americans would be watching "the idealized" K-pop and Kdramas, that would make sense. But it is very popular with Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, and somewhat popular with European and American teens. And not only teens.

    I don't see any teen girls going wild over Omri Casspi. However, if you check "I want to be Lee Min Ho's wife" page on FB, there are more than 5,000 girls who joined. And they are not Korean. Hmmmmm..........

    There is more to Korean pop culture that meets the eye. It is just a beautiful culture. Yes, maybe idealized, but so is religion - and more and more people in the world are becoming non-religious.

    I believe Korean pop culture sets very high moral, aesthetic, ethic and genetic standards. You can't find that in other cultures. When other cultures are ready to take everything down to G-strings, girls in Seoul are no longer allowed to wear mini-skirts. YES!!!! You got to admire a non-muslim culture that sets some decency rules.

    I also think that Korean pop-culture gives hope to the rest of the world in more ways than one.

    One thing for sure: no matter how hard they try, Korean Americans are no longer 100% Korean. At least in my experience. Maybe by watching K-pop stars they are longing for that cultural unity and spiritual belonging that they have forever lost.



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    1. Perhaps it's racial identify and not so much ethnic identity. For example, I find that I feel a lot more like I am a part of the movie/show if I see a Chinese film/Japanese film than if I see a Bollywood/Thai film. I can substitute myself in Chinese/Japanese films when I cannot in Indian/Thai films (they look too different). As for why it's popular in other non-East-Asian cultures, all I can say is that maybe everyone is somewhat attracted to the theme of beautiful people trapped in some weird melodrama.

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    2. You wrote: "girls in Seoul are no longer allowed to wear mini-skirts"...what is your source for that statement? I spent over a month in Seoul this winter and even though it went down to -20C, there were miniskirts everywhere. It's practically nothing but miniskirts, lol. Well since it was freezing most girls did wear tights under their skirts, but in warmer months that's not always the case. Cleavage isn't really shown there like it is in the US, but legs are fair game.

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    3. Mlle S: I think it's because of the commonly misinterpreted revision of the "overexposure" law is South Korea that took effect on March 22. See: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/21/world/asia/south-korea-overexposure-law

      Miniskirts are definitely not banned, but it seems like misinformation about the law has spread like wildfire over the internet and the media's headlines have not been helping.

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    4. What??? Mini-skirts are NOT banned??? That's it! I am not going to South Korea till they ban them!

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  4. I am a 43 year old Korean adoptee who was raised red-blooded, all-white American. I am not Korean because I was not raised in Korea. I am not Korean-American because I was not raised by a Korean family in America. I am American. I was never exposed to anything Asian growing up, and therefore, as the token Asian in my Wonder Bread community, I didn't identify with Asians at all, much less Koreans. Korea was just another foreign country to me.

    Sure, there was some curiosity here and there over the years, but honestly, it wasn't until I started watching a k-drama on Netflix quite literally a few months ago when I discovered how incredible Korea's culture is. That was a Holy Crap! moment for me. I was amazed to find there are actually well-produced TV shows and movies out there that isn't full of gratuitous sex, crude, raunchy humor, and graphic violence which pretty much describes everything on American television (which I hardly ever watch because of all that). I had no idea Asians could sing so well (I can't name a single Asian-American who's had a song top the music charts), yet k-pop is infectiously fun to listen to (loving me some Taeyang right now). And yes, I have started teaching myself the Korean language because it's like nothing I've ever heard before and frustratingly challenging to learn (and I want to visit the country someday soon).

    It's not so much an ideal I'm attracted to, but a way to identify and connect with my roots. It's significant to me because I share the ethnic heritage, and it's been fun to see how much of me is inherently Korean. For my kids, I think it's a great way to open their eyes to their own heritage in a way I was never allowed to experience.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean (although I have no Korean blood in me). I cannot even watch American movies/shows because... they are not Korean. Kdramas just ruined everything for me.

      If you want to learn Korean I suggest to write to TPRS Korea. Maybe they have a Korean teacher who would be willing to teach you via Skype. It is worth it because the method is very effective.

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    2. @VB: Thanks for the TPRS Korea suggestion. I Googled that and it sounds like a great program. In the meantime, despite being an old ajumma (haha), I have various websites, worksheets, phone apps, a KA friend, international penpals, k-dramas, and k-pop to keep me on top of the language. Funny, but the words always sounds better in my head than out of my mouth. :)

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    3. I am exactly the same except replace Korean music with Chinese music (Though I do listen to a great deal of Korean music though I am not really into the current generation idol groups). Just listening to that stuff makes me feel connected to my heritage.

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    4. I can see the fascination with the country and with the challenge of the language - so different from anything you encounter elsewhere. So interesting. I also love Korean movies because they are so original, like nothing you get in Hollywood. The dramas leave me completely cold, but then I just can't fathom the appeal of highly popular soaps like 'Eastenders' or 'Home and Away' in Britain either. And as for Kpop...*shudders*...well to each their own.

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    5. The College of Southern Nevada has online Korean classes, which is great for getting credit.

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  5. As a Chinese American who has many Korean American friends, one thing I want to mention is that while I know many second-generation Korean Americans who are into Korean pop culture, I know very few second-generation Chinese Americans who are into Mainland Chinese/Taiwanese/HK pop culture (or East Asian pop culture in general). Most of them seem to just stick to the American pop culture that they grew up with. Perhaps us Chinese Americans do not desire to see that idealized portrayal of Chinese as much as Korean Americans desire to see that idealized portrayal of Koreans?

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    1. I have enough Chinese American friends that are really really into Jeremy Lin, even after the Linsanity fever died down. I think that suggests that at least some Chinese Americans want to see what many Korean Americans have to look to Korean media to see (Psy notwithstanding). It might also depend on the kind of community and region you're based in too; when I'm in San Gabriel Valley out here in Los Angeles, I can't walk into a store that isn't playing some kind of sinophonic pop music.

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    2. Perhaps I am wrong but I think Kpop culture is a LOT more developed and renowned internationally than Chinese pop culture. I don't think it's so much that Korean-Americans are more "Korean" than Chinese-Americans being "Chinese" as much as Korean pop culture just being more of a developed industry.

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    3. K-pop culture is definitely more developed in the arena of idol groups, but HK and Taiwan also have well developed pop music industries (Taiwan, not Mainland China, is actually the center of the Mandarin pop industry). Its just that over in those two places, the pop music industry is based around soloists, many of whom are singer-songwriters, and bands as opposed to idol groups.

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  6. It is not only Korean-Americans who are overtaken by Korean culture. About 2 years ago, I watched a Korean drama, then another, then . . . And I liked the sound track, so I got it, found more music, more groups. . . And read about the food. I have been cooking at a high level all my life, but never actually enjoyed it. I love cooking Korean food. So for the last two years, Korean TV, music (not just k-pop, I'd listen to a lot more traditional music if I could find it), and Korean food have taken over my life. I feel like I've come home. (Some theories include working off a previous incarnation or preparing for the next one - I'll leave that to you to figure out). I struggle to learn the language because I love the sound and structure (and ambiguity) of it. (And learning Korean is sheer hell for someone who is dyslexic and reverses letters). I have read almost every translation of Korean poetry (sijo, Manhae, etc.) out there. Basically, my life has become Korean.
    There is no rational explanation for this, but then - why do Koreans major in German or French literature? Why do we fall in love with the cultures we do? I'm a 68 year old first generation American with Italian-Austrian ancestry. Except, in my head right now, I'm not. It's like trying to explain who we fall in love with.
    But I wouldn't go to Madison Square Garden for Shinee. Nell, maybe. Or Baro. Or Sanchez. Hmm, I'd better stop now. ;)

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    1. IKR... this is what Korean dramas are doing to us, women. My mom asked me recently if I were Korean. It was just a slip of the tongue, but it was so funny - I responded by saying she knew better who my father was, I was not there.
      I am not that deep in Korean culture and never will be. Furthermore, I don't wish to be Korean. I am happy the way I am. I just quietly (or sometimes not so quietly) admire Korean Koreans from the side. I really hope they keep their unique traditions.
      The other day I have met a Korean girl who did not know any Korean because she grew up in another country. Her grandparents were from a village in North Korea (although it was one Korea back then). She was learning Japanese.
      I gave her a long lecture on how lucky she was to have Korean parents and it is a shame she lost her language while so many people around the world can only dream of learning it from their parents. I think she was a bit shocked at my reaction, especially since I have tried speaking Korean to her.
      Anyway, I would probably go to Madison Square Garden for Shinee just to show my support. And for Lee Min Ho, I would probably dive to the Mariana Trench. But that's a different story.

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    2. Hah! Send me updates from the Mariana Trench - BBF (or BOF. your choice) was my first drama and I've loved everything he's been in. I don't have any desire to be Korean either, although that seems to be difficult for people to understand - how you can be immersed in something and not want to be it. But I like me. And I would have to say that the dramas are very secondary for me, although that's where it started. The food is an obsession (I recently made 40 pounds of kimchi to stash in my kimchi refrigerator), and the music runs it a close second. I signed up for a class in Korean at our local community college and found that the vast majority were people who were Korean or half Korean by birth. I was amused to hear that most of them wanted to know what their parents or grandparents were saying when they were yelling at them. Sounds just like an Italian family to me. ;)

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    3. Again, sign up for TRPS Korea. The reason I keep saying it because I took Chinese and Spanish with TRPS in the US and you'll learn more language in one hour of TPRS than with any other method. I could actually speak Chinese, impossible as it might seem (I forgot some of it, but not all). I am looking for a TPRS Korean teacher myself.
      Oh, and when you make kimchi - don't add corn starch or sugar, add some pear or Nashi fruit instead. It is better for your gut flora and beneficial bacteria. And tastier, too.

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    4. To VB:

      You wrote that you gave the girl with North Korean grandparents a lecture because she "lost" her language. In fact, this is often the conscious decision of the parents, regardless of ethnicity. The bottom line is that it's hard to teach children to be bilingual (when neither parent is fluent in the dominant language), and parents want their children to fit in. I had several Asian friends in college whose parents didn't teach them Chinese. They were interested in learning it, but said that their parents could teach them anytime. I also knew some second generation Hungarian students. Similarly, their parents didn't pass on Hungarian and used it as their private language; these students decided to learn it on their own as adults. Sure, sometimes the children just aren't interested. My Hungarian teacher tried using the language with his children; one liked using it, the other understood but wouldn't respond. But why lecture them because you think it's a bad choice, or feel jealous? I would never think of reacting in such a way to my Italian-American friends because they don't speak Italian. It's no wonder she was surprised at your reaction; it was unfounded and in poor taste.

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  7. I am an adopted Korean who came to the US at the age of 4 months in 1977. I did not meet another Korean (who was not my adopted sister) till I was 9 years old, and was not only often the only minority in my class, but the only minority in the entire grade and usually one of perhaps three in the whole school. There was no net back then, and information regarding the culture and news of countries not our own (and especially non-English speaking) were not only extremely difficult to find, but were generally given in a sort of 'you'll never believe THIS...' type of context that invited a disgusted reaction and did not present the given culture in a positive light. (An example? 'I hear Asians eat RAW FISH. EW.' Like that. Remember, this was the early 1980s.) I lived surrounded by Caucasians who were all able to celebrate their own cultures with various traditional foods, foreign phrases from their childhoods, stories from their grandparents about the Old Country, and even their own national holidays. The closest thing I could get to 'being Korean' was eating at a Chinese take out place. It was extremely awkward, uncomfortable, and frustrating to be a member of a culture that had so little information available about it.

    In my mid 20s, when the net finally came into its own, I discovered Korean pop music. Korean cooking. Korean culture. Articles about Korea that were both informative and respectful, even complimentary. Imagine going through your entire life without having your own culture, being of a race you and those around you know nothing about, and being surrounded by people who are the exact opposite and could be somewhat proprietary (try being a non-white child forced to celebrate St.Patrick's day at school - even the teachers will joke at your expense about how incredibly inappropriate it is for you to be wearing green, as if you didn't know). Or worse, that your culture is being actively ignored. Like finding out that there's been an Asian History Week since the year after you were born and that not only has your school has never celebrated it, nationally published papers have never even mentioned it. (Until recently, of course. And then that’s exactly what we get, mentioned.) And suddenly having that change. If this has never happened to you, you will not understand how profound it is to suddenly BELONG. How emotional and elated and just RELIEVED a person can be. Some adopted Koreans, my own sister included, don't care. Being American is enough, and that's just fine. But some of us, like me, cannot get enough. It's like a punishment that is finally over. (Even in high school in the 90s my classes had entire semester-long units on Japan, China, and Southeast Asia, but never once did I learn anything in any class about Korea, something my mother actually called the school to complain about, bless her.)

    I feel that learning about Korea, about every aspect (even the pop music), is like reclaiming myself. Sure, it might seem overly immersive for some, but I really can't overstate how very little (correct) information about Korea was available to a person who lived outside of any ex-pat pockets before the net. It's probably a little like going from being poor to suddenly coming into several hundred million dollars. Some of us go a little crazy. Because we want to know. We want to know how we might've lived. How we might've sounded. What we might've worn. What our families might've been like. Because a great many of us will NEVER KNOW. So we watch and listen and cook the foods and learn the language because that's all we CAN do.

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    1. I remember as a kid not being able to believe that people would actually like raw fish. Then I tried it. Instant like. No adjustment period necessary. I guess it's pretty mainstream now.

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    2. I am on the board of a museum with a Chinese board member. I often bring seaweed and Korean snacks to our meetings and there's frequently a little chat about Korean stuff, so people who are new always assume he is Korean and why we eating Korean food. He loves saying, "Oh, I'm not Korean. She's the Korean." This completely confounds people and is a nice reversal on the fact that Koreans are never recognized as Korean but always assumed to be Japanese or Chinese. I astonished two fellows who stopped at our display at an event we did. They were chatting together about the display when I said (with delight) "You're Korean!" They were dumbfounded - "How did you know?" It was easy - "You said 아니오! You must be Korean!" We had a great talk that ended with an exchange of my kimchi and their gifting me with the robot kit they were selling. But I'm always aware that I am an outsider in this culture, even though (after 2 years) the people at the Korean grocery store where I shop have finally started to smile at me and don't refuse to help me find groceries I can pronounce only poorly.

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  8. TL;DR all the comments. I'll probably go back though as they look pretty interesting.

    Anyway, I'm not sure why it's surprising to anyone that Korean Americans would show an interest or affinity toward Korean culture. This isn't unique to KAs though, as The Korean pointed out. We all came from somewhere, even if it was generations ago. That's the thing about the U.S. - even Native Americans migrated here in the relatively near past. We all came from much older stock, and it seems very normal that we'd reach back toward that heritage. For a Korean American or a Jewish American (or, in my case, a Dutch Jewish American...if you want to go back several generations), it seems natural that we'd love America and all that it offers, but would also reach back toward our older cultural roots to find out more about ourselves and how we fit.

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  9. So...they like it because they suddenly see a world in which they are idols? ^^

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  10. I am the product of two East Asian nationalities, so English was the language spoken at home. My parents met in America and had lived in the West for sixteen years before I was born. I looked at them more as reference points to the homeland than as actual connections to my people. Aside from my grandmother, all of the members of my extended family were far away. I felt no specific connection to other Asian or Asian-American classmates and sometimes distanced myself from them. Asians were the people my parents visited in some other town and so I felt a sense of separation from them, including the kids there my own age.

    I gradualy gained more interest in East Asian history and in my identity as an Asian-American as I got older, but it was not until maybe my sophomore year in college that I started (slowly) to specifically and actively look for pieces of more contemporary Asian pop culture independently from my parents. I don't exactly remember what the catalyst was, though.

    The appeal of Asian pop culture for me was the sense of looking at people who looked like they could be me, but not having all of the baggage and mixed-up thoughts that I had regarding national and ethnic identity. Some of the stuff does, and that can be good, but most seemed free of that, even when saddled with other issues. I may not truly identify with the characters or the performers, but I have found that I also have trouble identifying with the stories and characters most movies centering around Asian-Americans, which often seem to be focused on balancing the modernity of the outside world with one's crazy parents or whatever. Asserting my heritage and celebrating the successes of Asian-Americans can be empowering and cathartic at times, but it can be exhausting and frustrating. That is probably why I never got swept up in Linsanity, but why I allowed myself to watch so many Korean television dramas between 2005 and 2012, when I finally came to accept that I never actually liked the stuff. It was not about enjoyment, but escape. That does not mean that I will subject myself to any sort of awfulness coming out of Asia, but that the area does hold a special affinity for me and I am perhaps more willing to indulge in crap from Asia than from anywhere else.

    I often find that my absorption of East Asian pop culture, primarily through music and movies, tends to be quite superficial in nature and largely unconnected with my genuine interest in East Asian news, customs, or politics. It is not necessarily envy or wanting to be like them, I know that they are not necessarily realistic depictions of an Asian, that there are cultural details that I am simply not pcking up, and that consuming this stuff is not going to make me fit in in any Asian society. But it is emotionally freeing seeing them totally able to just be.

    Most importantly, I suppose, is the level of control that I have in absorbing the entertainment. It is not my parents or my friends or my coworkers or television shoving these movies or musical acts in my face and telling me how to think about it. For the most part, I am in control of what to absorb, how to think about it, and what to learn from it. It is a way of having control of my identity and sense of self in a way that seems non-reationary, even if it is a total self-deception. That is probably why I hated and still hate the Gangnam Style phenomenon.

    Race does not matter anymore, and yet it totally does. If I am going to continue to feel the push and pull of these conflicting ideas, I would rather not have to constantly wrestle with White America's idea of who and what I am and what I can do when seeking entertainment. Asian entertainment is not an alternative, it is simply a different option that is engaging to me on a different level.

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    2. I don't know. Some of the "ideal men" in the shows that I ended up watching were either coldly distant, belligerent jerks, or recklessly needy. Sure, they ended up mellowing out towards the end, but so did the women, often at the expense of personality. Then again, I probably don't have the required amount of estrogen to appreciate that.

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    3. You described it to a t! But men are coldly distant belligerent jerks only sometimes (and I don't like those dramas anyway). I even had to stop watching a couple of dramas because I was so appalled. The whole enjoyment factor kicks in when the guy goes through internal struggle - he likes the girl and can't help it.
      Besides the "idealized men" suffering from love, I really enjoy watching angry and swearing adjummas. They curse, swear and hit with so much energy and enjoyment - you can't help by love them for it. I have a long list of my favorite adjumma-actresses - they are just SO ADORABLE! It seems that in Korea, once you are over a certain age, you are allowed to behave in any way that pleases you.

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    4. "But men are coldly distant belligerent jerks only sometimes (and I don't like those dramas anyway). I even had to stop watching a couple of dramas because I was so appalled. The whole enjoyment factor kicks in when the guy goes through internal struggle - he likes the girl and can't help it."

      True, but I had trouble really seeing the fundamental difference between those and the American depiction of manchildren and absuive bastards, except maybe being a little reigned in.

      I guess the main thing that frustrated me with Korean dramas (and televsion dramas from other East Asian countries that I saw) was the the sparseness of time. There seemed to be just wasted seconds of people just standing around, looking at other people instead of working, doing nothing even in urgent situations, stopping to a remember a key piece of dialog from twenty seconds ago. It just started to suck the life out of even the busiest of scenes. I don't necessarily mind slow or meandering or empty moments, but it eventually became too much. Korean movies rarely give me this problem, even the slow-moving ones. And when a movie reminds me a bit too much of a Korean drama, I can remind myself that it is only around 50% longer than a TV episode, so the story is not going to get dragged out.

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  11. 채용수, I know it's fashionable with cool folks like you to dismiss pop idols as mere robots, but I'll bet the last time I saw you or anyone from your family on TV rapping and dancing in precise synchronization or making audiences laugh and cry in movie theatres the world over while impressing critics was... never. There are plenty of genuinely creative and capable people in Hallyu proving their talent every day, as The Korean knows so well.

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  12. I honestly do not know if that's the reason for why Korean Americans like KPop and dramas, but I can tell you this:

    As a Jewish American who grew up pretty much steeped in being Jewish (Jewish K-12 school, Hebrew at home, etc.), you really hit the nail on the head with describing us. There are plenty of Jewish scientists and wealthy people to look up to, but when we see even a remotely good sports player or someone fitting the "muscular" ideal, we really take notice. In Israel, if you ever go, you'll notice how different they are from American Jews because this non-victim mentality has really taken hold there (that, and everyone, including women, serve in the army).

    Where the lightbulb really went off was when you said that you like to see an ideal version of yourself; very well said.

    But one of the comments above did raise a good point, I think. How do you explain how other non-Korean Asians, and even to some extent, non-Asians, get interested Korean media? Maybe it's because Asians here identify under the label of "Asian American" enough to where even if it's not the same nationality, you're still kind of in the same boat. I'm sure in TK's mind it has to be something external like this because he has said numerous times that modern-day KPop isn't that compelling, to say the least ;-) .

    I really have no idea about why Kpop is popular. I personally feel that it reminds me a lot of 90's music (with all the girl/boy groups and the style), so maybe there is some nostalgia since the US music scene isn't the same as it was in the 90's. It used to be that "nostalgia" wasn't something you could really have until you were older and could afford to do things like collect old things. But with the internet, this stuff is free or really cheap to consume, so people in their teens and twenties can have a throwback to days of yore.

    As for dramas, I think it's hard to say that anything other than the fact that we have widespread video streaming is responsible. I mean, 15 years ago you would probably have to search far and wide for Korean dramas, but now, you can't go to a video streaming site without seeing a least a few Korean options.

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    Replies
    1. How do you explain how other non-Korean Asians, and even to some extent, non-Asians, get interested Korean media?

      Well, that was not the question, and my answer is not intended to say that Korean pop culture has no attractive features for non-Korean Asians, etc.

      Delete
  13. The boys in the picture are not SHINee, but Super Junior! Just thought I'd let you know! :)

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  14. to be honest saying why korean americans like kpop is like saying why none koreans like kpop.
    My friend who is black who listened to ALLOT of rap before kpop said it was because it was appealing and different just to add she was a little bit of an Otaku before that's how she got introduced and just like with jpop and anime it was something different that wasn't mainstream and in a way she felt different for liking jpop/anime just japan in general had appealing traits that she craved so much in her life because at the end of the day it was different once she found kpop it just doubled her desire because to her kpop was more addicting, the visuals were much more appealing compared to western and japanese entertainment.

    once she got to know more about korea the hallyu took her over completely she honestly does not live her life the same way and will try as much as she can to at least experience korean life before she dies. Kpop is something different and i do agree with the lack of Asians in American media plays a part to why so many Korean Americans like kpop because it's a industry where they can support and be more a part of korean culture, people tend to get into things they can't fully be apart of culture wise, which the whole "koreans hate kpop and idols" story comes in because too much of a good thing makes it loose it value.

    Kpop is kinda like sex without experience the media and society makes it out to be the greatest thing on earth, something out of this world that once you try it you will get hooked, but once you fully experience kpop it just depends on the person whether or not the hype was really worth it, or that once experiencing it for so long it looses that same excitement and state of originality you loved about it before.

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  17. Hi, I just wanted to point out that your photo is incorectly captioned. It is Super Junior, not SHINee that preformed at Madison Square Garden. The link to the NewYork
    Times article confirms this.

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  18. It's because no matter how strongly Korean Americans may identify as "American", they get the message pretty early on that at best, their roles will be relegated to that of supporting characters. Think of every popular movie, book, TV show, fairy tale that's seen/read/told in America, and you'll see that in 99% of those stories, the protagonist whom we're supposed to look up to, identify with, and imagine ourselves as is White. And despite the overly optimistic notion that race doesn't matter, it does. If an Asian kid's school puts on a play of "Romeo and Juliet" or "Peter Pan", it's automatically assumed that the lead roles will go to the White kids.

    It's as if Asian Americans aren't even allowed to be the heroes of their own lives. They are forced to imagine themselves as White people, only to be told by White society that there's no place on center stage for Asian faces.

    So imagine the thrill for a Korean American (like me) to find this weird but wonderful place where people with Asian faces are worthy of being the center of attention.

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