Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Korean Girls Try American Snacks

I realise I've been getting perhaps a little too academic on this blog as of late when I do post at all. I've been meaning to post more frequently but school, my "actual" East Asian studies often gets in the way. Frankly speaking even though it's been over four years since I started writing this blog, I still don't know exactly what I want to do with it. Originally I started it because I wanted to share the various concepts and ideas I think about or learn in my major and apply them to more pop-cultural, accessible phenomena from North East Asia, like K-pop or Anime or whatever. I started this blog in second year, which was essentially the beginning of my studies, and a lot has happened to me over the years and has changed the way that I view, interact or think about this part of the world that I've spent the last five years (not including my independent study in my pre-university days) studying. Suffice it to say, the material on this blog I feel is fairly good indication of how my perceptions of North East Asia have evolved over time.

In other words, I have no clue what I'm doing here and I still have no idea what I really want this blog to be. Maybe after I graduate, which will be soon, and have more time to actually spend on it, I will find the answer. Still I feel that a return to more pop-culture-oriented stuff is perhaps merited from
time to time. So we arrive at this video. . .  (watch it)           

I found this on my Facebook news feed the other day and after watching it, it kind of stuck with me. On the surface it's just a bunch of young Korean women trying various American snacks, an obvious nod/revenge/answer to the recent youtube series of videos put out by buzzfeed titled Americans Try (insert nationality here) Snacks. If you haven't seen the videos they consist of a bunch of young Americans sitting in front of a table being served snacks from the country of the week with often exaggerated reactions and comments usually about how the snack in question reminds them of eating some sort of synthesized compound or what-have-you (they did an episode on Korean snacks specifically at one point).

Just so you know I don't have a problem with the buzzfeed videos, I don't see them as being particularly problematic and they do a good job of illustrating how certain flavours and textures are more or less prevalent in different cultures in a fun and accessible way.

However what I like about this particular video which reverses the dynamic to some degree, is not so much the reactions, or even that it's Koreans busting America's proverbial balls for once, no, what I like about this video is the treatment of its subjects. What I mean by this is that the "Korean girls" presented here are actual Korean girls with obviously differing personalities, tastes and mannerisms. This shouldn't be remarkable but it is.

Outside of Asia, few subjects are as stereotyped, reduced and fetishized as the character of the East Asian female. A professor of mine pointed out in one of his lectures in a Japanese literary fiction class I took, that in North America "Asian" is one of the few ethnicities that is also a popular genre of pornography. While Korean women specifically may have escaped such stereotyping in the past due to the general lack of North American popular knowledge pertaining to the Korean peninsula (it's not like we fought a war over-there or anything), the rise of K-pop and recent influx of South Korean pop-culture imagery in the wake of the Korean wave (circa. 2009) has not helped. Especially with all these images of K-pop female idol groups floating around with their longing stares and exaggerated aegyo countenance and somewhat infantile mannerisms, despite the fact that many of them are in their twenties.

This is what aegyo looks like, courtesy of Sunny, whose actually my favourite SNSD (Girl's Generation) member (see I don't hate K-pop). I don't think aegyo is evil, there's just a time and a place (such as a music video).
While I'm not suggesting a crusade against North East Asian popular music and/or North American pornography. it does make me happy when I see a video that portrays this often objectified group of people in a more realistic and objective light. For those of you who have first hand experience knowing or being a Korean woman, the women in this video may very well remind you of some of the people you actually know (to be clear when I say "Korean" on this blog I mean those who were born and raised in Korea - unless otherwise stated). One of the girls is blunt and swears a lot, two of the others obviously drink a fair bit ("this would be great with beer" etc.), a few of them look more reserved yet still have a sense of humour, they are all clearly individuals with differing tastes, styles and personalities and are presented as such. Simply put, they are normal people - take notes would-be fetishists, this was what real Korean women are like, none of this "yes master", "love you long time" Orientalist bullshit - these women swear and drink and tell you how shitty your food tastes but they also think about things and like stuff and dislike other stuff.  

We live in an era of great change and unprecedented access to information and so I often I find it troubling that many stereotypes that could be easily dispelled by the click of a mouse button and a quick glance at a Wikipedia entry are still so pervasive. I feel that little, seemingly unchallenging videos such as this one, do their part to illustrate that people on the other-side of the world are just as complicated, multifaceted and varied as you and your family and friends are. I'd say that's a valuable concept to grasp in this ever-shrinking world.

P.S.: I remember when I first introduced Salt and Vinegar chips and red licorice to my Korean friends. . . it pretty much went down like the video. . . good times!                          

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