September 28th, 2012

honeycomb back

This is why you can't lump "Asia" together

Some food for thought: Inside China's Star-Making Machine

That’s one reason China lags behind much smaller countries such as South Korea as a cultural force, says Ting Wai, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University who studies Chinese soft power. “Why? Because of freedom. China is at a disadvantage, and everyone understands why. Because of lack of liberty. Creative people, even if they think of many fresh new ideas, need to self-censor. And if you have to self-censor, then the product you produce will not be the best.”

Not too long ago I wondered if it was even possible to hear an Asian-language song on my English-language radio and nowadays I am hearing Psy's "Oppa Gangnam Style" blast straight out of my car stereos in all its outrageous, over-the-top Korean. In its way, its unexpected hooking hit status flies in the face of all the concerted efforts of management companies' organized attempts to break into and get a foothold in the US market. Even the dance element, such a part of the Korean pop music scene, has infiltrated the US mainstream, with Ellen and all her guests dancing it seemingly every other day.

I'm not going to suggest that K-pop suddenly has a foot in the door. I'm not sure it does or if Psy's success will have any other impact outside of being an isolated incident, a flash in the pan phenomenon. Yet I found this article particularly interesting because reading about China's government-sponsored effort to create an overseas Chinese star has elements that resonate with the more capitalist-driven effort of the "Hallyu Wave," at least in the exportation of "culture." The Hallyu Wave is a patriotic one, even as it is a money-making one. And it has been a very successful one. I marvel every time I check Netflix streaming and see just how many South Korean movies and dramas are available to an American audience for watching--the majority of it recently aired and released media.

But what so caught my eye in the Bloomberg article was the above quote. I have to think on it more--about cultural differences and similarities (between China and South Korea, between each and the United States)--but I wonder if it intimates that South Korea is more Westernized and thus palatable, while China wants to be what it is and make that palatable. (Or perhaps the question is an entirely different one, about what element follows what: does the money follow behind the culture or the culture ride on the money?)