Pop Goes Korea!
Back in the halcyon days of 2012, South Korean pop culture had achieved an astoundingly high level of international notoriety that was – to the surprise and chagrin of many – not limited to just other parts of Asia but also extended out to the White West. And nowhere was the itch of the sadaejuui(사대주의)-powered "global fetish" more satisfyingly scratched than through the astonishingly powerful flash cut by PSY's incontrovertible and incredible, Guinness Book of World Records-worthy hit count on YouTube for his video "Gangnam Style."South Korean pop culture had officially made it out of the doldrums of the barely credible, nationalistic puff pieces of the local Korean media and the ignominious acts of exaggeration in which Korean PR and cultural promotion companies had hitherto always engaged. Korean pop culture had made it and few – especially the Korean academic talking heads in the media – were any good at explaining why.
CKS: The Birth of an Idea.
Michael Hurt had just recently (in December, 2014) received the doctoral dissertation he technically began in 2002, just before moving to Seoul, South Korea to ostensibly research and complete it. Instead, he spent most of 2002-2006 deeply obsessed with and engrossed with street and documentary photography. Even as this obsession began metamorphisizing and metastasizing into what would later be called "street fashion" photography, he himself had not yet consciously come to realize that he was and had always been engaged in what could be described best as visual ethnography or even Visual Sociology.As partially preparation for a job talk he was to give to become the program director for a hitherto, unnamed, new Korean Studies position at the Busan University of Foreign Studies (BUFS), Michael created a Facebook group in December of 2014 with the name "Critical Korean Studies." The plan was to grow a group of scholars and other folks interested in Korean culture and society from a Cultural Studies perspective at least in the world of Facebook. Michael wrote a theoretical approach, sample curriculum, and the name "Critical Korean Studies" into a 5-page proposal and presented it to BUFS during the interview and got the job.
CKS Fails to stick.
Michael, a fairly (and fly) fresh doctor of philosophy, became director of the Critical Korean Studies/Critical Cultural Studies programs in March, 2015. The planning and implementation of a summer Korean Studies program on the BUFS campus was a stipulation of the two-year contract. The Critical Cultural Studies Program's (CCSP) courses taught by Dr. Hurt were taking place, but not much else. After a year, nothing had happened in terms of funding and internal institutional support for the summer Critical Korean Studies Program (CKSP). By December of 2015, Dr. Hurt began getting a very bad feeling about this.
CKS Fails to stick again.
By January of 2016, Korea University, through a professor there, came a-courting Dr. Hurt's program as something to implement as a graduate-level Korean Studies program, which would be the first of this kind in the field. With high hopes for the program in Seoul and dismal expectations for it and other aspirations in Busan, Dr. Hurt resigned his position down south and moved himself and a new hope up to the capitol city in February. However, by May, everything had fallen apart. Nothing had gone as expected, and spirits were low. It looked to be the end of the institutional line for Critical Korean Studies. By June, Michael had secured a new, 1-year position in Marketing at the Hanguk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS), right down the street from Korea University. But the high hopes for CKS had never died, and Michael had always owned the web-based keys to the CKS community through the Facebook group and this official site. The community was remained long and strong at 2000+ members on Facebook and seemed as interested and focused as ever.
CKS: The Next Step
Critical Korean Studies, simply stated, is a good idea. It makes sense, especially in a Korea that is methodologically friendlier and closer to a Western academia deeply steeped in Critical Theory and Cultural/Women's/Ethnic, and all kinds of Studies today. Especially in a Korea that has become the focus of much more international, critical attention to its popular culture. Especially in a Korea that is worthy of "study" outside of the old, often colonial Area/Asian Studies academic gaze. Especially in a Korea smack dab in the middle of a tectonic paradigm shift in the way "new" media enables knowledge about Korea to be produced. As Critical Korean Studies considers a new kind of knowledge production in and about Korea, we plan to revolutionize the way scholars use the scholarly journal, and even the way such journals purport to possess and produce knowledge. Some of our next steps over the coming year, to which I plan to dedicate a full-time amount of time as a scholar, will be to 1) produce high-quality, smart (we dare say scholarly) content for mass popular consumption, as well as 2) more fodder for the intellectual mastication and edification of our own Facebook community's members. Some of these projects will include, in rough order of their planned implementation:
- an NPR-style weekly, deep-dive, interview/talk based audio podcast that treats interesting people, problems, and the politics of culture in Korea.
- a weekly video podcast hosted on YouTube, which offers an ethnographic take on contemporary pop culture subjects with a smarter, non-Buzzfeed, approach
- a street fashion/culture project/zine/journal produced by Michael Hurt
- an online journal with calls for submissions at the undergraduate&above level, which will feed a semesterly undergraduate conference held at different university venues across Seoul, which will not only raise awareness of Korean Studies and Cultural Studies with Korean students across the peninsula. Importantly, submissions will be able to take place in a variety of formats and even dovetail with the audio, video, and photographic content already being produced by members of our CKS network
- "The CKS Lectures" -- a monthly, TED talk-style, "talk concert", guest lecture series given at a variety of venues at campuses across Seoul on contemporary Korea-related subjects
And these are just the beginning. CKS will play host/trainer/executive producer to all sorts of projects as we grow into some parts academic journal, radio show, video channel, magazine, and lecture series. We will be all of these things but also not just any of these things.
We have big ambitions right now. Many of them will be much harder to realize outside of a large, Korean, academic institution. But many of them will be able to flourish and succeed as projects precisely because CKS will not be housed at any such institution, which inevitably will tend to place tight logistical, organizational, fiscal, and even organizationally cultural constraints on the kinds of fundamentally and paradigmatically different kinds of intellectual/academic investigation we are planning.
We're here, we've survived two false starts, but we're still committed to doing what we were formed to do. We're here to change the field, yo.
We've got a plan. And we're gonna do it.
This is just the beginning.
It all started when...
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