We continue off from where we left regarding the assumption that K-pop fans ‘only like K-pop because of the good looks’. I’ve already talked about visuals in K-pop and the importance of its role (and the inevitableness of its consumption by the rest of us). However, I feel like there’s another (personal) side to this issue - to reiterate what I previously said, the condescendence with which the assumption is often expressed, and often by non-fans. I’ve noticed that this niche fandom in general (and I mean the non-Korean, international fandom)* has earned a very strange reputation among those unfamiliar with it, resulting in a number of generalizations and, dare I say, stereotypes. I’m not naive - we have our share of screwed-up fans who ruin it for the rest of us, but there’s condescendence many adopt in their views toward all K-pop fans*. Though a) one shouldn’t ultimately give a shit about what others say (they’re not or are, whatever works for you), and b) K-pop products are not something to get extremely defensive about, I don’t think*, it none the less hits a personal chord, especially if it involves people directly around you (evidently I’m not just talking about online). It affects the way they see me and interact with me as a person in general; and K-pop or not, I refuse to be trampled all over like that. The rest of you may or may not be able to relate to the following confession (because maybe it’s just me, who knows).
*Oh, and I’m not Korean, just to let those know who don’t (and to clarify for the sake of this post’s context)
*In my eyes, at least. Though it shouldn’t be something to be ashamed about enjoying! Seriously, if you like something, then you like something - why are you required to justify yourself? We don’t always have to enjoy the ‘best’ things in this world (clearly my rant’s about to start)…
As much as there’s a number of your average ‘delusional,’ ‘shallow,’ and ‘over-romanticizing’ fans out there (most likely instigating these stereotypes in the first place), there are many who don’t fit and don’t wish to be placed in these molds. (Likewise, ‘delusional,’ ‘shallow,’ and ‘over-romanticizing’ people can be found anywhere, not just in K-pop.) Unfortunately, as it is in other cases of stereotyping, the latter none the less find themselves identified together with the former. Blame Western media, blame prejudices of non-K-poppers, blame prejudices surrounding Korean culture as a whole, or blame personal insecurity issues - I don’t know. All I know is that with the knowledge of me liking K-pop among some of my peers throughout recent years, the stuff I’ve been labelled and assumed as range from ridiculous to offensive:
1) A romanticizer of Korean products and culture. As in, the reason I adore Korean food or enjoy watching Korean movies must all be due to me being a K-pop fan. As a matter of fact, in a recent conversation with a few ‘friends,’ I said that Korean Air is one of my favorite carriers, to which someone responded it was only because I like K-pop. Not only does this not make any sense, I find it degrading because I’m basically being asserted as a narrow-minded someone who minimizes the richness and elements of a certain culture to a very small, idealized (and extremely commercialized) representation. It’s true that K-pop served as an important gateway for me (and for many of us) into the rest of Korean culture, but that does not mean everything Korean = K-pop. It should not. Am I not allowed to like kimchi jiggae because I like it for what it is, or does there need to be a K-pop-related reason why I like something Korean? What if I said I
abhor am not a big fan of Korean dramas (“What? But I thought you love Korean stuff!”) That’s like saying why I have Korean friends or interact with Korean people is because I like K-pop, and so God help me do not go there. Do not.
2) A romanticizer of Korean men (and Koreans in general). It makes me want to strap on soccer cleats and kick someone in the face when they refer to me and my K-pop as “you and your Korean men.” First of all, male K-pop idols do not, and can not, represent nor account for every other Korean guy out there. My neighbor is Korean, does that mean I fangirl over him? Though an over-analysis (it may just be purely linguistic), I still don’t like the way it sounds. A couple of other cases in point: a friend introduces me to some of his Korean guy friends, and one of the first things that comes out of his mouth is “she likes Korean men.” I meet a Korean guy through another friend, and this friend pulls me to the side and asks, “so what do you think of him? Would you date him? He’s Korean.” As if being a K-pop fan means that I must have some sort of fetish for all Asians (or all Koreans, to be exact); and I’m struggling with how and why this is. It seems as if ethnicity and nationality are among the first things that come to mind for many, and other cases have proved similar. There are degrading stereotypes that surround couples made up of a white man and an Asian woman, for instance, or, as therestoomuchbutter implied, white women being attracted to Asian men. (Just for the sake of noting it, in Korea, there’s quite a bit of stigma attached to interethnic/intercultural couples as well.) Anyway, as much as I like my K-pop, it sure as hell does not dictate my preferences when it comes to romantic partnership… like I’d go for someone just because he’s Korean and he’ll be a constant reminder of oppa? This happens, unfortunately - I know of some for whom this assumption (and the like) actually bodes true. Objectivity aside, it disgusts me, and when I’m likened to such people I take it very offensively.
It extends beyond sexual attraction. The presumption that K-pop idols = all Koreans is a reason why average, non-idol Koreans struggle when they come into contact with people from other cultures. For instance, a friend experienced a micro-aggression from a group of K-pop fans at school. They were watching a few music videos and chirping amongst themselves about how Koreans were so cute and skinny. This friend expressed that this felt alienating because, simply put, not all Koreans are the same. Not all Koreans do aegyo, not all Koreans dress alike, not all Koreans have abs nor Goo Hara’s waistline.
Frankly, despite my avid interest in their national culture and media, ‘Korean’ and K-pop are not the reasons my Korean friends and I click. They’re not the only things we talk about amongst ourselves. Yes, they’re great sources of knowledge for, say, AKF, but that’s not the basis of our friendship - we have more in common with each other than they do with their country’s idols (and not every Korean is a K-popper). There are just as many similarities that exist between individuals of different backgrounds as there are between those of the same. Culture plays a very small role on a personal, one-on-one basis, because (I’d like to think) that people retain an independent sense of culture; and this is constantly shaped through personal experience, as well as interactions with individuals of other cultures. Not every single (insert nationality) an all-encompassing representative of their culture nor society*.
*Because out there are people who are full-blooded something, but very not fluent in their background culture. This includes myself. It sort of gets my goat when Filipinos talk to me in Tagalog (especially when overseas), even when they know I don’t speak much of the language. I’m not denying my origins, and I have all the interest in the world to reconnect in any way I can, but I don’t appreciate it when during a one-on-one exchange, someone asserts my culture with more importance than me as an individual.
GPOY so hard
3) A Korean cultural supremacist. This relates to the first stereotype - “if something is not Korean, it probably sucks.” I think a mistake quite a few K-pop fans tend to make is overhyping K-pop music, and that’s probably where this presumption originated. I mean, sure, K-pop music is great fun, but that does not mean I don’t have my other share of pastimes. Nor does it mean (or has any relevance) to why I always enjoy my flights with Korean Air -_- I don’t know where this comes from, but here’s my heat-of-the-moment reasoning* that may or may not be accurate: We have the hegemonic state of American culture today, so much that we’re not always conscious of this and how our own lifestyles are heavily influenced. When I listen to American pop music, I seldom think that I’m listening to music of a ‘different culture’. I’m more aware of such a thought when I listen to like Japanese, Chinese, Korean music. It’s destructive, I know. Same goes for Hollywood movies, fast food restaurants, the (American) English language… even the clothes we wear. Enter Korean pop, branding itself explicitly as ‘made in Korea,’ thus greatly contrasting the current ‘globalized’ pop culture state. Perhaps this leaves people confused. The fact that most international fans are not Korean, which in the eyes of many, is quite bizarre (for some reason) since they’re the ones who help fuel K-pop’s promotion on the world stage. The question becomes, “why Korean music? Why Korea? Why do you, a non-Korean, bother?"
*I know there’s probably like a bunch of theories related to this, but forgive me, I’m not in such a research-y mood today :’(
Moreover, the images that K-pop places in the forefront of the Hallyu Wave, images that are seen by not only K-pop fans but everyone else, are, simply put, ‘good-looking people’ and pop music, both of which are often thought of as ‘manufactured’, ‘superficial’ - ‘fake’ even - and therefore only consumed by the ‘simple-minded.’ This then influences a belittling outlook of the K-pop fandom; and when shit like this breaks out, it makes non-Kpoppers’ opinions much worse. Fandoms are very, very elitist about their music, not just in K-pop but everywhere else, so when K-pop fans and non-K-pop music fans clash, the ugly always ensues.
Regarding Japanese pop culture, arguably the first Asian global export, this reasoning can apply too, with a few adjustments. I don’t know, the fact that a number of J-pop fans are labelled ‘otakus,’ which in the Western world, are often connoted (more negatively than positively) as ‘geeks,’ illustrates that niche fandoms are more often than not ostracized. The fact that these are all Asian products as well… we have assumptions of (post-modern(???)) Orientalism or Asian romanticism in play, which many attach to their view of ‘otakus’. Thinking about the J-pop phenomenon in this light, the case of K-pop kinda makes sense.
4) Aaaaand, finally, the deal-breaker: “You probably wish you were Korean.”
I kid you not I was actually told this to my face, and I remember crying myself to bed that night, though I couldn’t articulate at the time why it was so hurtful. Retrospectively speaking, yes, I love K-pop and I’m extremely interested in Korean culture, evidently to the point where I’m pursuing a study abroad there for a few months, but never to the point I would invalidate my own life and existence. It’s beyond me that some people think this way. I don’t know if this has been said to any of you, but for your sake I hope not. And if you in fact feel this way (I remember reading a post somewhere that raised this issue of international fans idealizing themselves as Korean), please rid yourself of this thought. Korea and Koreans are not perfect; Korea and Koreans should not be thought of as perfect, and most importantly, you shouldn’t ever regret your existence. Do not think of yourself as subpar to anything you see on TV or YouTube. Just remember there’s more than what meets the eye - Korea and Koreans struggle through just as much as you and me, many of which are probably very similar.
I acknowledge the rest of the flipside - that there are fans out there who fit, know they fit, and maybe even so, think they can’t help but fit, the said ‘stereotypes,’ Maybe it renders my vent quite unfair. K-pop is not the only thing ‘Korean’ in my own life, but perhaps it is for others, and that may make it seem so difficult to detach from a limited set of lens. Everything one may know about Korea may come from K-pop, and in spite of my scathing rant, that fact alone isn’t something to be ashamed about. It’s not entirely your fault you never heard of Korea before SNSD. What you do have control over is the extent you allow K-pop to shape your view of, or your interaction with, the entirety of Korean society, Korean culture, and Korean people, and this comes if you actively foster within yourself a broader sense of perception. Because, again, despite whatever the media’s saying, K-pop is NOT everything Korean, nor is Korea everything K-pop.
I understand there’s a sense of guilt or embarrassment that comes with being a K-pop fan, especially if you’ve recently realized things you didn’t when you first entered the fandom. Issues such as the sexualization of idols or the overhype of K-pop and Korea in general may have some of you out there writhing in your seats because you’ve been there. Maybe you’re going through it, and now you feel ridiculous. It’s almost as if K-pop’s ruined for you (or it’s ruined you), and maybe you’ll need to take some time off from quirky dance moves and extraterrestrial hairstyles. Do whatever you want, but don’t bear the entire blame - remember K-pop showcases itself as an idealized world, and the fact that many of us fall for its tricks just illustrates how powerful the media is in manufacturing dreamworld-like notions and perpetuating them. And, if I may say so, this is why I started AKF in the first place - to get fans together and talk about what’s right and what’s wrong about K-pop, connect the implications to a broader context, and most importantly, push ourselves towards being more responsible, independent, and conscious consumers of not just K-pop, but of everything we engage in. It’s not meant to ruin the K-pop experience, but rather enrich it - it’s super possible to know a ‘little too much’ about something but still enjoy it all the same, if not more. All that’s needed is a little bit extra thought placed in the things you choose to do or say, that’s all.
Moreover, I know K-pop is seen as the playground for very young generations, and I don’t know if this is a case for others, but as a 21-year-old K-pop fan, I get ostracized by some peers. They click their tongues and tell me to get over ‘this phase - you’re not a kid anymore, go get a boyfriend.’ Like damn, how am I supposed to tell them that not only will this ‘phase’ not end sometime soon, but I’m running a blog on it?! How am I suppose to explain how ‘serious’ I kinda am about K-pop?
And you know what? F*** you and your relationships, me and my Tumblr are perfectly happy together, thanks.
But whatever, that’s a problem for me to solve on my own - my point here is that I really don’t think it matters if you’re a 10-year-old Elf or a 33-year-old Blackjack happily married with kids. If you like what you like, then you like it. I don’t want to think K-pop or the Hallyu as an age-specific genre, because it’s something that can be enjoyed by anyone of any walk of life*. But that comes with knowing where the boundaries are as a consumer, and a transnational/transcultural one at that.
*My parents are die-hard K-drama fans, for example. Like chronically. More so my dad than my mom, who’s a self-proclaimed expert since he watches literally every single show that airs in our Korean-media channels here. He told me he wants to start an AKDF - Angry K-Drama Fan. OTL
To reiterate, I resent the (exaggerated) condescendence of non-fans (and trolls), but ultimately I try not to let it bother me. I’m confident in the type of person I am, so sticks and stones a-holes. All in all, the best we can do on our parts is to just be as perceptive as we can. Being a ‘fangirl’ or a ‘fanboy’ is loaded with a lot of negative and potential for destruction, sure, but as well as a ton of hidden responsibilities that can reverse it.
Thanks for bearing with the length of this post as well as its content - this is probably the most intimate I’ve ever been here on AKF! As always, drop by with your thoughts!