Thursday, April 12, 2012

PD and pop art

You're thinking about Japanese policy, aren't you? Source
Hey, manICateers!

Two new stories for you today. First, according to the people at NPR (and they would know, right?) everybody wants to be a k-pop star. K-pop is a key part of the Korean Wave, which is a key part of Korea's cultural identity in other countries.

As the NPR story notes, some of Korea's famous k-pop stars hail from China, Thailand and the United States, and Korea's entertainment companies are willing to invest millions in foreign talent:

The fact that [a k-pop hopeful] doesn't understand the words in the songs — "I can read and I can pronounce, but I don't know the meaning," she says in broken English — isn't necessarily a cause for worry. If the top entertainment companies like her, they'll invest in her study of the Korean language and will spend up to $3 million or $4 million on years of rigorous training in song, dance, acting and more. If she makes it through that, then she might have a shot at contracts worth millions. Hong Ki-sung, the CEO of BORN Startraining Center, a company in Seoul that trains people to become K-Pop stars, says it's worth the investment.
This is sort of an example of public-private collaboration. The entertainment companies are obviously looking for the most bankable stars, but there's evidence to suggest that the government has embraced the Korean wave (or "hallyu") as a means of promoting Korean culture and identity abroad. Whether the promoters are actually Korean appears to be a moot point.

A recent article in the Washington Post described a PD visit to the city by another Asian pop band -- this one from Japan -- trotting the globe as a cultural exchange in the interest of promoting Japan's image.
It is as if Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and the entire cast of “Twilight” were placed into a saucepan and simmered on a low boil until nothing remained but the sweet, cloying essence of fame, and if that fame were then poured into pleated tartan skirts and given pigtails.
 I'd describe these groups further, but I think the videos below will make the point even more effectively:

Let's be honest, you don't need to be wearing your Gloria Steinem pants to conclude that this brand of ... salesmanship ... may be more conducive to selling candy-colored skinny jeans than national policy. (And before you ask, my Gloria Steinem pants are the sexiest and more comfortable pants I own.) But there's no arguing that acts like these have put Korean and Japanese pop culture on the map.

The next story is a bit more provocative and makes the assertion that Google is actually undemocratic. (Sorry, Alec Ross.)
[According to Siva Vaidhyanathan] commercial platforms like Google and Facebook would rather flatter than surprise us—and ... they’re developing the tools to encase us in personalized bubbles. Vaidhyanathan also thinks the press overstates the role of social media in political revolution.
I actually think Vaidhyanathan could have taken it a few steps further -- and perhaps he does, I haven't read the book. Plenty of studies show that people seek out news sources that confirm the beliefs they already hold, so Google and Facebook aren't the only platforms reinforcing these personalized bubbles.

And it doesn't take too much imagination to combine the two stories above and conclude that a person could easily take to the interwebs in search of a k-pop or j-pop band, watch the video, and log off without any dramatic influence on his attitudes toward Korean or Japanese policy or culture. If you're looking for evidence of the limits of public diplomacy or cultural branding, I don't think you'd need to look much further.

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