Thu, Mar 20, 2014 - Page 11 News List

Book review: The Korean Popular Culture Reader

‘The Korean Popular Culture Reader,’ an anthology of essays on Korean pop culture, does little to enlighten the reader as to why K-Pop has become a global sensation

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

There was, I admit, the routine reference to “late capitalism,” but nevertheless, with its quoted claim that 60 percent of girl group members admitted to pressure from their managers to wear revealing clothing and/or perform dance moves with which they were uncomfortable, this was an insightful and relevant chapter. Would that more of the book had been like that.

With 50 pages still to go, I still had hopes of more on what the book’s title had promised. But I discovered — to my horror — that all they contained were chapters on tourism, Korean cuisine, and an academic’s trip to North Korea.

The fundamental problem with this product is that its publishers desperately want to appeal to the huge global following that K-pop and K-drama have won (rightly or wrongly), but that most of the commissioned academics know next to nothing about it, and fall back on writing about their research topics, which are inevitably largely historical.

But that’s not all. In the book’s promotional material, Psy’s record-breaking Gangnam Style video, with some two billion hits on YouTube not counting parodies, is described as “silly.” Can something that’s received MTV Europe’s Music Award for Best Video, and has been watched by approaching a quarter of the world’s population, be labeled “silly” without a patronizing tone creeping in? I don’t think so. To patronize, and at the same time seek to please those you’re patronizing, is, it seems to me, an especially lethal combination.

The moral is, never trust literary academics, at least of the current generation, and when they’re attempting to elucidate popular culture, don’t trust them under any circumstances. They have no idea what it is, have little to say about it and, in this particular case, mostly don’t even try.

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