The edited collection, The Global Impact of South Korean Popular Culture:HallyuUnbound (Rowman and Littlefield, edited by Valentina Marinescu), containing my submission, “HallyU.S.A: America’s Impact on The Korean Wave,” goes to press this September and should be available soon.
[The Global Impact of South Korean Popular CultureHallyu Unbound ] fills a gap in the existing literature and proposes an interdisciplinary and multicultural comparative approach to the impact of Hallyu worldwide. The contributors analyze the spread of South Korean popular products from different perspectives (popular culture, sociology, anthropology, linguistics) and from different geographical locations (Asia, Europe, North America, and South America). . . .
As part of my research for my book project, Crazy/Sexy/Cool: Transnational Femininities in K-pop, I’ve been reading up on girl industries and girl cultures. Such scholarship invariably places these in a neoliberalist context, and this has a bearing on female K-pop groups. On one hand, K-pop girl groups are created by Korean agencies to appeal to global mass audiences, who are mostly female. At the same time, individual fans find such groups appealing, sometimes in ways that challenge the intention of the Korean agencies. Marnina Gonick and Yeran Kim take two different approaches that bear on my work on K-pop girl groups.
In “Idol Republic: The Global Emergence of Girl Industries and the Commercialization of Girl Bodies,” Kim argues that “girl bodies are the core of the neoliberal regime of knowledge, power and pleasure” (334). Specifically, female K-pop girl groups are “cultural content that is designed and cultivated in a corporate management system. The mission and process of self-making as idols, regulated in the norms of competition, strategic training and management, self-invention, flexibility and multi-playing, embodies neoliberal idealization” (336). This makes sense to a certain extent, given the careful training of idols in general. This strategy can be traced back at least to the Hollywood casting system of the early 20th century, which was used for male and female starts. There is a business as well as cultural interest in promoting certain images for profit. The image that is used to appeal to various ages and ethnicities of fans reflects an ambiguity: “The girl’s excessively sexualized body image tears up the pretentiously safe discursive surface of the girl, which should be innocent and pure in its literal meaning. The girls’ ambiguous sexuality is placed between pretty child/seductive adult, and split between conflicting binaries of purity/sensation, innocence/maturity and neatness/vulgarity” (340).
It is this very tension between seemingly opposing images that Gonick seeks to unravel in “Between ‘Girl Power’ and “Reviving Ophelia.” While she writes on girl culture beyond K-pop girl groups, Gonick argues that rather than reinforcing the binaries that emerge from girl cultures, we should see them as interconnected. She describes a binary that includes Girl Power, which “represents a ‘new girl’: assertive, dynamic, and unbound from the constraints of passive femininity,” and Reviving Ophelia, which “presents girls as vulnerable, voiceless, and fragile” (2). She argues that both “participate in the production of the neoliberal girl subject with the former representing the idealized form of the self-determining individual and the latter personifying an anxiety about those who are unsuccessful in producing themselves in this way’ (2). Gonick recognizes that these modes of girl culture are contextualized by neoliberalism as Kim does, but gives more emphasis to the way girls participate and make meaning of these complex images: “Both Girl Power and Reviving Ophelia discourses emphasize young female subjectivities as projects that can be shaped by the individual rather than within a social collectivity. The discourses encourage young women to work on themselves, through the dual campaigns of the Do-It-Yourself self-invention and ‘girls can do anything’ rhetoric of ‘Girl Power,’ as well as the self-help books and programs that are available to remedy girls in crisis” (18).
Both authors talk about the divergent images promoted by girl cultures like those that surround female K-pop girl groups, but Kim favors a structural interpretation of how fans interpret those images. She relies on reading such interpretations through the economic and governmental means that produce them and elides the interpretative work that fans do. Gonick keeps open the possibility that fans read those conflicting images in ways they may find empowering or the foundation for self-improvement.
“SISTAR’s Sailor Moon Cosplay Tickles Fans’ Fancy.” KoreAm Journal. 17 Jan 2014. Web. 28 Aug 2014.
Gonick, Marnina. “Between ‘Girl Power’ and ‘Reviving Ophelia”: Constituting the Neoliberal Girl Subject.” NWSA Journal 18.2 (2006): 1-23.
Beyond the Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production was recently reviewed on Asian American Literature Fans. stephenhongsohn wrote:
Crystal S. Anderson’s brilliant monograph, Beyond The Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production (University Press of Mississippi, 2013), is on the forefront of the growing trend devoted to comparative race studies and seeks to show the asymmetrical but interconnected ways that racial and ethnic representation appears in popular culture, print, film, and other such media. The book is rigorous and expansive in its scope and sweep.
Crystal Anderson is the author of the book, Beyond The Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production. In this study, Anderson explores the cultural and political exchanges between African Americans, Asian Americans, and Asians over the last four decades. She talked about these dynamics at First Mondays at Colorado College in March 2014.