Michelle Cho, Assistant Professor of East Asian Popular Cultures at the University of Toronto, will lead the CINSSU Fall Academic Seminar. She's published on Asian cinemas and Korean wave television, video, and pop music in such venues as Cinema Journal, The Korean Popular Culture Reader, and Asian Video Cultures. Her first book analyzes millennial South Korean genre cinemas, and her current project theorizes the convergence of platforms, affect, and globalization fantasies in K-pop fandoms. She is currently teaching the Cinema Studies cross-listed course, EAS278H1F - Approaches to Korean Cinema.
“RM for President of the World”: Youth Crisis, Kpop Fan Activism, and Populist Soft Power
Many have attributed the transnational popularity of K-pop today to the growth of its digital distribution and consumption. Transcending its status as a genre of music, K-pop is a media phenomenon that deploys transmedia delivery to cultivate fan communities whose engagements register on globally popular media platforms, especially social networking and video-sharing sites.
In my analysis of K-pop, I focus on fandom as a populist form in two somewhat opposed senses: first, in fandom’s assertions of a visual and affective commons and its gift economy and, second, in the resemblance between fandom’s affective excesses and those of the mass or the crowd. If contemporary geopolitics are defined by the rise of various populisms, as many have argued, media fandoms such as those that have fueled K-pop’s crossover success should be understood as part of this zeitgeist. Just as populist movements are often harnessed by state power, so too is K-pop’s visible, global fandom given a key role in staging Korean culture industries' strengths as soft power assets. However, K-pop’s fan cultures also index a widespread condition of alienation, especially for a young generation facing a lifetime of precarious environmental and labor conditions.
K-pop, in its entanglement in forms of digitally mediated sociality, thus envisions a global public defined by mediated affective bonds. Illustrating the ways in which flows of lateral media exchange establish global solidarity, K-pop, as a force of media populism, produces felt community while nevertheless affirming self-commodification as global, cultural citizenship.