중앙데일리

[Perspective]
The quagmire of cultural crossings

Mar 04,2009
Mark Russell
The expat community in Korea is well known for its bellyaching, a stereotype this sometimes gripey column does little to dispel. Let it be known, however, that chronic carping is not the exclusive domain of foreigners in the Land of the Morning Calm.

I once taught English at a Korean-run hagwon in Vancouver, and the largely Korean clientele could more than hold their own in the complaint department. Even though I came to sympathize with a large number of the beefs about Vancouver’s sleepy feel after I moved to Seoul, the point remains the same: People are picky, and when they get used to something, they don’t change easily.

This especially applies to the consumption of popular culture, as any expat who has tried to enjoy a Korean variety show can attest. Mark Russell, a Canadian author and expert on Korean culture, puts it best.

“If you read American comic books, they’re interesting and fascinating, but you have to expect that there’s going to be a lot of men running around in brightly colored tights,” he said. “If you think about it, it’s ridiculous, but we’ve seen it so much that we’re used to it. There’s a learning curve for getting into anything.”

Russell recently published a book called “Pop Goes Korea: Behind the Revolution in Movies, Music, and Internet Culture,” and runs two blogs on all things Korean Wave at www.koreapopwars.com and www.koreagigguide.com.

Russell’s focus shifts between film and music. He has a particular soft spot for the independent music scene, a leaning that inevitably leads to an opinion on the all-powerful mainstream here.

“The two biggest things the Korean market needs are diversity and depth,” he said. “Especially in music, there needs to be a larger range. There’s far too little awareness of an enjoyment of older music. That’s the deal with the devil the Korean pop music industry has made. It’s become very good at making new pop hits, but at the expense of older music.”

This sensibility makes a Western-directed crossover tricky, he said.

“Music is much less diverse and much less sexy to the average Western critic. It’s a lot of teenage bubblegum pop that is hard to get Western critics excited about.”

But those willing to dig a little deeper will reap the rewards, Russell said, suggesting some links. Those interested should head to www.koreanfilm.org, the film blog of “Perspective” alum Darcy Paquet; http://indiefulrok.blogspot.com, run by a Swede “with an unhealthy obsession with actual CDs” and a Korean-Canadian; or http://londonkoreanlinks.net.

By Richard Scott-Ashe, Deputy Editor [richard@joongang.co.kr]






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