Why Korea Needs Cultural Studies

Why Cultural Studies?
These days, in order to fully and usefully describe the social realities of Korean society, methodological approaches from the traditional disciplines just don't quite cut it. This recently came up in the question of how to understand the popular and nearly infamous music video "Gangnam Style," which was the most commonly asked question around the time when PSY was making his rounds on American television while Korean society collectively scratched its head.

The general approach was to deal with PGY's singularly superior cultural text as the specific result of a lot of macro-level forces that could explain why that video was trending across the globe or why kids in the most unexpected of places were listening to K-pop or watching Korean dramas. But they often weren't dealing with the text itself and/or how it fit into larger ideologies and regimes of control. 

I myself was called up for a talk show for my turn at bat, along with other scholars and intellectuals who were being asked to explain why the video had found such popularity in the United States and other places outside of the peninsula. What I found was that any reasonable explanation required an in-depth textual analysis that dealt with the video as a cultural text itself in need of explication and heavy backgrounding. I noticed that a lot of people were talking about government programs and infrastructural kinds of reasons that Korean cultural texts were  becoming noticed and popular across the world, but it was difficult for other commenters to actively explain why this particular video was enjoying such immense popularity. And most of the structural explanations, while technically true, did little to actively explain why this particular cultural text had reached prominence, besides the obvious fact that it had been possible to become so popular because of the content delivery channel YouTube. No structural explanations outside of the text itself were able to offer reasons that it had been possible to become a successful as it had, and offered little in the way of explanatory analysis that had any predictive value

The long and the short of it is that Korean Studies, or one might even say Korea itself, has been parsed through a narrow collection of filters, mostly History, Economics, Anthropology, and Political Science. However, as the non-Korean world's interest in Korea increases -- and does so through its ability to produce commodifiable cultural texts, which few people really saw coming -- an approach is required that can allow for the contextualization of the texts and other cultural phenomenae from South Korea of which the rest of the world now feels the need to make sense. Or, an undergraduate can break down why Korea in particular is is a great candidate for heavy Cultural Studies consideration, possessed as it is of a fractured and Frankenstein-esque relationship with popular culture as both an annoyance to be suppressed as well as a means of hegemonic control. 

Break it down, kid.