Cross-Currents E-Journal (No. 9)

December 2013
Editors' Note
Wen-hsin Yeh, University of California, Berkeley
Sungtaek Cho, Korea University


Dance of Anguish: Poetic Texts from 1920s Korea

Wayne de Fremery, Sogang University

By analyzing the way vernacular Korean poetry of the 1920s was produced, this article initiates a study of the sociology of Korean literary production. Based on a survey of forty-five vernacular Korean books of poetry produced between 1921 and 1929, bank records, Japanese colonial government records, and printed interviews, the study describes the people, organizations, and technologies involved in the production of vernacular Korean poetry in the early twentieth century. It suggests that a small number of men in a few printing facilities working within restrained typographic conditions were responsible for printing the extant corpus of Korean vernacular poetry from the 1920s. An overview of the creative ways in which poetry was expressed visually and a discussion of the poem “Pandal” (Half moon), which appears differently in the two originary alternate issues of Kim So-wŏl’s canonical 1925 work Chindallaekkot (Azaleas), make it clear that an understanding of these people and organizations, as well as of the technologies they employed, should inform how we approach texts from this period hermeneutically.

Keywords: Korean poetry, sociology of texts, printing, typography, Kim So-wŏl

The Globalization of K-pop: Local and Transnational Articulations of South Korean Popular Music

John Lie, University of California, Berkeley

The global pop-music sensation of 2012 was Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” I am not sure if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the sheer proliferation of downloads and impersonations, copycat videos and parodic performances—the very constitution of virality—established K-pop (South Korean popular music) as a global pop culture phenomenon...

John Lie, University of California, Berkeley

Psy’s “Gangnam Style” was the global pop music and video sensation of 2012, but it failed to go viral in Japan. The involuted nature of the Japanese popular music industry—especially the imperative of indigenization—stunted the song’s dissemination. Simultaneously, the song failed to resonate with its potential base of Japanese K-pop fans, who valorized beauty and romance. In making sense of the Japanese reception of “Gangnam Style,” the author also analyzes the sources of both the Korean Wave and the anti–Korean Wave in Japan.

Keywords: Japan, South Korea, popular culture, Korean Wave, K-pop, J-pop, anti–Korean Wave, gender, subculture, popular music, soap opera, Internet, virality, cultural globalization

Nissim Otmazgin, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Irina Lyan, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

This study examines the role that fan communities in Israel and Palestine play in the transcultural dissemination of Korean popular music, or “K-pop.” Based on in-depth interviews with fans, a survey of K-pop online communities, discourse analysis of online discussions, and participation in K-pop gatherings, this article examines the practice of K-pop, its localization and institutionalization, and its influence on the identities of fans. Special attention is given to the role of K-pop fans as cultural mediators who create necessary bridges between the music industry and local consumers and thus play a decisive role in globalizing cultures. Typically, literature on the globalization of popular culture either utilizes a top-down approach, depicting powerful media industries as making people across the world consume their products, or emphasizes a bottom-up resistance to the imposition of foreign cultures and values. This article suggests that popular culture consumption not only changes the lives of a few individuals but that these individuals may themselves play a decisive role in connecting globalized culture with local fandom.

Keywords: K-pop, Hallyu, Israel, Palestine, Middle East, fandom

Click here to watch a video of patrolling Israeli soldiers who were invited in to join the dancing at a Palestinian village wedding in the summer of 2013. The music? "Gangnam Style." 

Sang-Yeon Sung, University of Vienna

K-pop’s popularity and its participatory fan culture have expanded beyond Asia and become significant in Europe in the past few years. After South Korean pop singer Psy’s “Gangnam Style” music video topped the Austrian chart in October 2012, the number and size of K-pop events in Austria sharply increased, with fans organizing various participatory events, including K-pop auditions, dance festivals, club meetings, quiz competitions, dance workshops, and smaller fan-culture gatherings. In the private sector, longtime fans have transitioned from participants to providers, and in the public sector, from observers to sponsors. Through in-depth interviews with event organizers, sponsors, and fans, this article offers an ethnographic study of the reception of K-pop in Europe that takes into consideration local interactions between fans and Korean sponsors, perspectives on the genre, patterns of social integration, and histories. As a case study, this research stresses the local situatedness of K-pop fan culture by arguing that local private and public sponsors and fans make the reception of K-pop different in each locality. By exploring local scenes of K-pop reception and fan culture, the article demonstrates the rapidly growing consumption of K-pop among Europeans and stresses multidirectional understandings of globalization.

Keywords: K-pop, participatory fan culture, social media, national image, globalization, “Gangnam Style,” ethnography, Hallyu

Ingyu Oh, Korea University
Hyo-Jung Lee, Yonsei University

Korean popular songs, or kayo, are evolving from a musical genre created and performed only by Koreans into K-pop, a global musical genre produced and enjoyed by Koreans and those of other nationalities. This new development has revolutionized the perception of the popular music industry in Korea’s post-developmental society, as Korean children dream of becoming K-pop idols rather than entering traditionally esteemed careers in politics, medicine, or academia. The Korean government is also actively promoting Hallyu and K-pop, as though they constitute new export industries that could feed the entire nation in the twenty-first century. While the K-pop revolution has a lot to do with YouTube and other digital means of distributing music on a global scale, Korean television stations are now eager to tap into the booming market by showcasing live K-pop auditions in order to circumvent declining television loyalty among K-pop fans, who prefer watching music videos on YouTube. K-pop in Korea therefore illustrates three important aspects of social change: changes in social perceptions of the popular music industry, massive government support, and television stations actively recruiting new K-pop stars. All three aspects of social change reinforce one another and fuel the aspirations of young Koreans to become the next K-pop idols.

Keywords: South Korea, pop culture, K-pop, social change, mass media

Links to YouTube videos referenced in this article:


Review Essays, Notes & Bibliographies

Ching Kwan Lee, University of California, Los Angeles

Two recent publications, one by Waikeung Tam (Lingnan University) and the other by Rachel Stern (UC Berkeley School of Law), offer refreshing views on law and social change under Chinese authoritarianism, a topic that has been marginalized by both the law and society and China studies literatures. After all, rule of law and state authoritarianism seem like oxymorons, especially in the People’s Republic of China, where the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is enshrined in the Constitution, the country’s highest law. Yet in recent years, a number of studies have spotlighted how ordinary Chinese citizens take the Chinese legal system more seriously than scholars, and these citizens’ collective mobilization of the law has compelled us to rethink the relationship among law, society, and politics. The two newly published monographs discussed here, both of which grew out of doctoral dissertations written around the same time and addressing the same phenomenon—the rise of public interest litigation—reinforce the need for such a perspectival shift. Together they show that the law has become a contested terrain with varying potential for enabling rights activism under different types of state authoritarianism in a single country: in Tam’s case, postcolonial Hong Kong, and in Stern’s case, postsocialist China...

Petrus Liu, Yale-NUS College

Two recent studies in queer cultural criticism, Lucetta Kam’s Shanghai Lalas and J. Keith Vincent’s Two-Timing Modernity, offer contrastive accounts of the formation of queer subjectivities, identities, and historical memories in East Asia. These two works treat different societies and come from disparate disciplines: whereas Kam’s qualitative ethnography employs interviews with twenty-five lala (lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) women in Shanghai, Vincent’s contemplative account offers insight into such topics as the betweenness of the homosocial and the homoerotic, the heterodiegetic tendencies of naturalism, and the Girardian triangle of internal mediation...

R. Keith Schoppa, Loyola University Maryland

It is a fitting and revealing approach to categorize the phenomenon of war as a historical event, an existential experience, and a base for redemptive mythmaking (as envisioned by Paul Cohen in his History in Three Keys). In their works, historians Tobie Meyer-Fong and Aaron William Moore focus on experience and mythmaking in the Taiping Civil War and the Pacific Theater in World War II, respectively. This review essay highlights these two authors’ treatment of experience, with a brief look at mythmaking...