TOOLS AND METHODOLOGY
FIrst, it is important to understand the GIRL as a socially constructed ideal and character, as well as a formation of capital and focus/locus point of market interests (Driscoll), a means of ideological control (Yeran Kim) and in its specific Korean form, is a trackable locus and focus point to track across borders, especially when considering the developmental eagerness that may explain why Vietnam, a nominally Communist country that has wholeheartedly embraced neoliberal market ideology, has taken a great cultural liking to Korean cultural products and ways of being cosmopolitanally Asian (Korean). Indeed,
For Koreans, the ‘emergent culture’ (Williams 1978) of freely producing and consuming girls’ self-images is identified with the realization of libertarian democratization. Such historical changes in the social and technological mode of governing young femininity have, at least partly, created a ‘constitutive relationality’ in which the ‘ontology’ of girl bodies itself ‘becomes’ the idealized fantasy of the present times, that is, to be free, independent and hedonistic (Coleman 2008) (Yeran Kim, 337)
If indeed, the ontology of the KOREAN GIRL, in a generally similar Confucian cultural context in which girls' bodies have been heavily regulated by the state (Taeyeon Kim) has become an "idealized fantasy" of liberation/modernization in the Vietnamese context, then "she" is indeed a most useful export and means of spurring the consumption of Koreanness and things Korean. It is also indeed telling that I was able to find many Vietnamese, marketized KOREAN GIRLS in an actual Korean-style, private-branded hive (PBH)-style market. (Kim, et al) The semiotically significant performance of the KOREAN GIRL in Vietnam can be understood in the hallyu context as a way of not just refiguring desired gender role-norms but also of a desire for cosmopolitanism that is inevitable focused and envisioned through Koreanness. This is how the KOREAN GIRL makes sense in the Vietnamese context.
— photo as data source
— photo as ethnographic record
— photo as additional axis of “triangulation” (Harper, 58) with which to mount a consilient analysis. The axes of direct observation based on subjective definitions of Koreanness, photographic ethnography through environmental portraits, and a semi-structured interview with each subject yield a revealing and instuctive, flexible yet focused, consilient analysis that can help indicate the specific ways that Korean culture flows across national borders and into culturally specific pools and eddies previously not seen by tracking the traditional and obvious markers of "soft power" cultural influence such as television broadcasts, ticket sales, or even Youtube hits. Such things are easy to track, yet also minimally revelatory in explaining why, how, and where cultural texts are consumed.
A street fashion environmental portrait is a piece of focused observation and focused ethnography, an intersection point of conspicuously coherent consilience.
WHY LOOK AT GIRLS?
The "girl" in late modernity is a specific formation of cultural industry capitalism. The Korean girl, as she is commodified and performed in very specific ways, is both a product and marker of korean culture industry flow, which many refer to as "hallyu." The appearance of certain specific trends as social practices, along with certain specific formations, is something quite worthy of tracking.
PHOTO ANALYSIS 1: LOVE FINGERS GIRLS
What is interesting here, as we get feedback about how certain ideas seen as Korean get mediated and transmitted, is that it becomes easier to see hints of the Korean BOY in the picture. These respondents talked specifically about Son Tung, who is known in Vietnam as a K-Pop-style star and is overtly pushed as such.
THERE'S *LIKING* KOREA, THEN THERE'S *BEING* IT
The mere existence of this video -- filmed in KOREA -- is astounding. Not just references to Korean things or Korean style, but the reproduction of Korean modes of being itself -- embodied through Vietnamese people, of course -- is the mode of enjoyment here. Korean camera and editing styles, musical structures, and even Korean modes of heteronormative notions of maudlin, Korean narrative tropes around romance and love dominate the video, and seems an inescapable argument for the desirability of Korean cosmopolitanism. Or at least the idea that cosmopolitan. cool existence itself is Korean.
This seems to be one of the clearest ways that Korean style is argued, both existentially in the big picture and sartorially at the level of buying clothes, watching music videos, or taking Korean-style SELCA.
PHOTO ANALYSIS 2: ORANGE PLAID GIRL
PHOTO ANALYSIS 3: PINK ROLLER GIRL
PHOTO ANALYSIS 4; MS. METAL FRAMES
A SMOKING GUN?
One thing I found quite interesting to hear from my intrepid assistant/fixers is that there is indeed quite a bit of fashion writing in Vietnam that actively promotes the KOREAN GIRL as an object of cosmopolitan aspirationalism as well as a commercial object to be consumed.
One such example is a series of such articles written by Spice writer Giang Le, which notably and interestingly, relies almost exclusively on picture shared on social media site Pinterest: the link is here. I will search for more such links, both literal and figurative, to get a sense of just how prevalent this image of the KOREAN GIRL is in Vietnamese fashion media.
MANY THANKS go out to assistant/fixers
JENNY TRAN, who arranged for the addition of
who both helped refer assistants Jenny and Charles. Without your help, none of this work could have been done!
Key Works If You're Teaching or Studying This
Driscoll, Catherine. Girls : Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
Kim, Taeyeon. "Neo-Confucian Body Techniques: Women's Bodies in Korea's Consumer Society." Body & Society 9, no. 2, June (2003): 97-113.
Kim, Yeran. "Idol Republic: The Global Emergence of Girl Industries and the Commercialization of Girl Bodies." Journal of Gender Studies 20, no. 4 (2011): 333-45.
Lee, Hyunjung. "Global Fetishism: Dynamics of Transnational Performances in Contemporary South Korea." PHD, The University of Texas at Austin, 2008.