Boys in a Girl’s World: Men, Fandom and K-pop

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The fandom for Hallyu-era Korean popular music (K-pop) is overwhelmingly female. However, a portion of it does involve men, both as participants and critics. How does that impact the way we may view the fandom?

In “Girls’ Generation: Gender, (Dis)Empowerment, and K-pop,” Stephen Epstein and James Turnbull challenge what they call “the triumphant discourse of the cultural industries,” or the recurrent idea that the rise of K-pop translates into an overall positive phenomenon for female artists, their audiences, and the South Korean government (317). As a result of their analysis of over 100 videos by top K-pop female groups, they suggest that the target of the performance of K-pop girl groups are men, because “the viewer in such videos is regularly constructed as male”  (318).  The essay concludes that K-pop girl groups do not empower girls and women. Instead, such performances shows “that Korea’s pop culture commodification of sexuality has reached the point that for middle-aged men to focus their gaze on underage’ performers becomes cause for rejoicing rather than embarrassment” (333). In other words, female K-pop groups’ primary impact is on middle-aged men rather than the largely female fanbase they claim to target.

Conversely, Jarryn Ha examines the motives of male K-pop fans in Korea in “Uncles’ Generation: Adult Male Fans and Alternative Masculinities in South Korean Popular Music.”  Ha contextualizes the behavior of male Korean fans in their 20s within Korean cultural expectations:   “The ajossi type influences not only the outward appearance expected of men but also their behaviour, their consumption pattern and the ideology that constructs and perpetuates a particular kind of masculinity long prevalent in the Korean society. Both the persistent Confucian patriarchal values and the ideal of hard-working men. . . contributed to the conventional ajossi masculinity” (47).   While such male fandom can be viewed as an extension of the male gaze, Ha suggests that such behavior can actually challenges restrictive societal expectations: “Rather than a diversion and distraction from having a one-track mind devoted solely to the work and family life, pursuing well-rounded knowledge in the humanities, political activism and other interests stands for overcoming the closed, uncommunicative and authoritarian world-view that the previous generations of Korean men have established” (54).

While Ha examines possible motivations for male fans in Korea, Ingyu Oh and Choong-Mook Lee look at the role of male protesters of Hallyu in Japan.   Oh and Lee acknowledge the central role that female fans play in Korean popular culture in Japan:  “The feminine domination of the Hallyu movement in Japan is a natural outcome of persistent postcolonial gender inequality. . . .  [which] later developed into the multinational or transnational cultural experiences that comprise non-Western and even Korean pop culture in recent years” (286). Men come into the picture, not as fans, but as protesters of this female activity. Oh and Lee cite data that suggests men are at the forefront of protest activity around Hallyu in Japan:  “The recent Internet-based anti-Hallyu movements are connected to Japanese male chauvinism, which is closely linked to Abe’s second cabinet, anti-Hallyu protests, and anti-Hallyu comic books” (294).

K-pop fandom is overwhelmingly female, so why talk about men at all?  Male fans may be small in number, but they form a subculture within the subculture and scholars view their impact in different ways.  Both Ha and Oh and Lee speculate on the impact of actual male participants within specific cultural contexts, which gives insight on the motivations for male fans.  Ha reads Korean male behavior as a response to shifting societal conditions following Korea’s financial crisis, while . Oh and Lee link male protests to specific political dynamics in Japan that are linked to Japan’s colonization of Korea. However, Epstein and Turnbull address a potential male viewer of K-pop female groups. They also assert that K-pop girl groups cater to male desires to the detriment of the agency of female fans. In making this argument, do they shift the focus to male concerns rather than contextualizing male participation within a female-dominated fan activity?  In other words, we end up talking about men to the exclusion of women in a female-dominated fandom. On the other hand, Oh and Lee acknowledge the dominance of female K-pop fans in Japan, and characterize their fan activity as resistance to male protests.

Through few in number, there are various ways that men impact the female-dominated fandom of K-pop.

Sources

Epstein, Stephen with James Turnbull.  “Girls’ Generation? Gender, (Dis)Empowerment, and K-pop.” The Korean Popular Culture Reader. EdKyung Hyun Kim and Youngmin Choe.  Durham: Duke University Press, 2014. 314-336.

Ha, Jarryn. “Uncles’ Generation: Adult Male Fans and Alternative Masculinities in South Korean Popular Music.” Journal of Fandom Studies 3.1 (2015): 43-58. [Disclosure: I co-edited this special issue on K-pop and K-drama Fandoms for the journal]

Oh, Ingyu and Choong-Mook Lee. “A League of Their Own: Female Supporters of Hallyu and Korea-Japan Relations.” Pacific Focus: Inha Journal of International Studies 29.2 (2014): 284-302.
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Boys in a Girls’ World: Men, Fandom and K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Rogue Adviser Says, Get Out There!: Creating a Web Presence You Can Live With

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Despite the fact that we use the Internet every day, many scholars are wary of establishing a web presence. It’s becoming increasingly necessary. The great thing is that all of us can do it! But how?  In this post, I’ll talk about some of the ways I have created my web presence and some things I have learned. Hey, it may a little messy, but it’s working for me.

First, a few considerations. Short of being hacked, YOU control your online presence and how often you participate. You can make changes to your web presence at any time, so experiment with a combination of sites and social media.  I think of the web presence as introducing your scholarly interests and work to the world, so talk about things in ways that people outside of academia can understand.  I strongly encourage individuals to maintain a web presence in addition to any institutional profiles. You want to make sure your online presence remains stable and under your control. Lastly, remember that what you do online never truly goes away, so you should be comfortable with the online persona you create and the content you put out there.  Just because other people use social media to act the fool doesn’t mean you have to.

In Creating Your Web Presence: A Primer for Academics, Miriam Posner has lots of great tips for academics getting started with some of the more popular platforms. I’m going to share my own experiences with some and how I use them.

Twitter

Twitter is the Wild West, but you can be on Twitter in a way that is comfortable and useful for you. I maintain two Twitter accounts, @DrCeeFu , which is my individual account, @KPop_Kollective, which is the account for KPK: Kpop Kollective, a collaborative research initiative.  As you can see, there is a mix of scholarly and fun content, and that’s ok.  Follow people and institutions that interest you. By doing so,  you can find out about information and opportunities, keep current on scholars and discussions in your field and meet people you wouldn’t normally encounter if you just remained in the ivory tower. Find someone who’s work you like? Just follow them! You should also try to consistently Tweet. I know, it’s scary! But you can start out by retweeting something you find interesting and adding your insight. And let’s be real, you will be more active at some times and less active at other times. You can do it!

One way to keep your Twitter feed active is to link your other online platforms to it. Many of the sites below are linked to my Twitter feeds.  I know, it seems like a lot, but just experiment and see what works for you. You can always change it!

WordPress

It’s no secret that I love WordPress.  I maintain several WordPress sites.  This site, CSAPhD, functions as my research site. It is ground zero for my scholarship, both traditional as well as my short-form scholarly writing.  I also maintain High Yellow, my blog on Asian popular culture; KPK: Kpop Kollective; and polygrafi, my pedagogy site. I like WordPress because of its low learning curve and its bounty of pretty themes. As you can see, each of my sites have a particular purpose (because I have lots of interests that utilize the web). These sites have been very useful in translating my work in the academy to a wider audience. Once again, you have to decide what you want to share, but I have received lots of scholarly opportunities by maintaining these sites.

JournoPortfolio

I started blogging on Asian popular culture about four years ago as a complement to my academic writing. Many people think they don’t have the time, but I found blogging helped my academic writing. Because I write a lot online, I needed an online portfolio to collect all of my online writing. I really like my JournoPortfolio because it’s visually appealing, allowed me to share all of my online writing and categorize it as I wanted to into various categories. As you can see, it blends my scholarly writing with my popular writing, and the links direct readers back to the original posts. This is great if you want to just show off your online writing.

LinkedIn and Academia.edu

While these sites are less fun, they have the added value of placing your profile in a community where you can connect with others. I know a lot of academics on LinkedIn, but few like it. I think it works well for other types of jobs, but less so for academics. Everyone has a LinkedIn profile, but not a lot of academics like it. I use my LinkedIn account as a more professional profile (translation: less fun stuff) that places my skills and experiences in a context beyond academia.  I’ve found my academia.edu profile much more useful, as I can connect with scholars at all levels and share my work.

These are just a few of the places that make up my online presence, but there are other ways for you to get out there. Try it! If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below!