Brian had told me previously about Grand Narrative, but I hadn’t really looked at it until these articles. The author, James Turnbull, is a remarkably handsome fellow (check out his About page!), a family man, and an academic who has dedicated his blog to “Korean Sociology Through Gender, Advertising and Popular Culture”. For someone who’s been steeped in academic studies of pop culture throughout most of his adult life, I can safely say that this blog KICKS TOTAL ASS. It’s a lot of fun to read, mentions books that will be useful to those with an interest in idols, and has a very unique take on Korean pop culture.
James’ blog would probably be upsetting for those who don’t want to hear about some of the horrible statistics that support what he calls the “gender apartheid” in South Korea. If you don’t want a harsh on your idol mellow, then just stay away and play with your unicorns and rainbows. If you don’t mind admitting that idols and pop culture reflect – and may even help promote – some of the social ills of a culture… and that those social ills should be considered, and not just waved away… Well, there’s a lot to read and think about here.
Of course, it’s not all black and white. It’s clear from his posts that he’s aware of how tricky it is to navigate between the pitfalls of being a sexual object and the empowerment of sexual subjectification. That’s important to me, in that the old-school academics where any show of sexualized femininity becomes automatically suspect always struck me as retrograde and unrealistic and is an automatic turn-off (like rude people and smoking!).
Anyway, James’ latest post is a real treat because it’s the first in a series that will translate an article by academic Kang In-kyu about how “oppa” (older brothers, in an idiomatic and not biological sense) and the “oppa craze” were created by older men who want their fantasies expressed by pretty young things. For longtime idol watchers in Japan, this isn’t really earth-shattering news – older men are running roughshod over the girl group idol industry? And did dog bite man today? However, it’s the finer details here – the study of songwriters and lyrics and certain tropes that emerge – that make this a fascinating read, interleaved as it is with some shocking statistics on abuse of women in Korea.
The comments section are also worth reading, as it provides some useful clarifications. And I’m sure the rest of this translated article will hold more insights worth musing over. I’m excited! And I hope you are too.