Pop culture seen with a different lens

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Pop culture seen with a different lens

They’re a bunch of nerds and proud of it. But they’re not the kind of nerd that sits glued to a computer while shutting out the rest of the world. The nerds of the webzine Evil Monito have one goal: to wake up the masses.
Evil Monito, the academic journal created by Korean American editor Rickey Kim in 2001, is bent on deconstructing pop culture and ills that ail the status quo.
What bothers Mr. Kim, 23, is people’s passive absorption of the ubiquitous billboards and brand names, not realizing how these commercial messages subconsciously drive their lives.
However, he thinks this condition is curable, and he is working around the clock to resuscitate social awareness through his Web-based magazine, or webzine.
“I’m a workaholic. I never sleep. Never slept when I started, and I always work on it to this day. Sometimes I even forget to eat,” he said.
While majoring in communications at the University of California at San Diego, Mr. Kim wanted to establish a forum to challenge “the norms of what society and mainstream pop culture tells us,” he said, and so Evil Monito was formed in 2001. The webzine exists “to combat the ailment that pop culture has brought onto the masses,” according to its “manifesto.”
He wrote, designed and compiled the early issues by himself, but as the publication’s popularity grew, he added a few more people to help.
“The hardest thing was doing it all by myself and learning all the programs by myself,” he said. “I don't know where I would’ve been had it not been for the Los Angeles Public Library.”
Mr. Kim said he chose the name Evil Monito for his webzine because it means “evil little monkey.”
“Monkeys are subversive creatures to begin with,” he said. “With EM, we sought to invoke that subversive spirit in the fact that we always encouraged one to question the status quo. We want the people to be informed of the information that is out there.”
Like any good monkey, Mr. Kim has left no stone unturned as he looks beneath the surfaces of today’s pop-culture establishments. He follows the trail wherever it leads him, like when he combed convenience stores in Northern California while looking for elusive Korean-American garage band members.

Going global
On the side, he works as a promoter for lesser-known artists and has the webzine sponsor shows. Consequently, they end up promoting the publication too.
“Nothing really hard with connecting with people,” he said.
“Most of the people we worked with actually sought us out and we have hence worked with them. In turn, the people we work with refer us to their friends and so forth.”
This self-perpetuating chain of reference has been crucial in boosting the publication on an international scale. Today, Evil Monito’s readership is in the tens of thousands, with readers all over the world.
He also credits the Internet for the publication’s growth.
“When we first started EM, word got out pretty fast about us,” he said. “The Internet is killer when it comes to that. Now we have lots of friends, spanning from France to Australia to Hong Kong. It’s a nice collective of supporters.”
Everything up for grabs
No topic goes unexplored at Evil Monito. It has had articles about applications of social theory to specific case studies, as well as interviews with people such as the Korean rap crew Drunken Tiger and the anti-pop artist Dave Kinsey. Contributors have covered lyricists, DJs, political players and all sorts of urban artists.
In choosing stories, “I really just go with my instincts,” Mr. Kim said. “I’m really into hearing what influenced people that I like.
“Hence, you’ll always find that many of our interviews are pretty personal and in-depth. We want our readers more or less hearing in on a conversation as opposed to just reading some boring text.”
Along with the social commentary and interviews, Evil Monito also provides a wealth of free advertising and a store for everything independent and hip within the 21st century counterculture.
Some critics might point to advertising as the symbol of everything that’s wrong with pop culture, with its constant message to buy, buy, buy, but Mr. Kim has no problem with advertising that exists solely to spread a message, untainted by commercialism.
He vehemently opposes the negative connotations that are associated with the term “propaganda.” “Propaganda is advertising at its finest,” says Mr. Kim. “The problem is complacency. We need people to stop nodding their heads to everything that mass pop culture is shoving down our throats. ”
He urges everyone to “get up and read a book. Revolution begins with one person. It’s your life, you can choose to be normal if you want.”

Plotting out its future course
Now on its 17th issue, Evil Monito has experienced the inevitable growing pains.
“With everything, you have to learn along as you go,” he says. “My personal mission to make EM readers more critical is the same, yet my way to approach it has changed in the sense that I’ve learned to be more flexible and more understanding that running a magazine is a collective effort.” But no matter what happens, “We’ve been nerdy since day one and we will always be nerds,” he said.
Mr. Kim’s long-term goals are getting Evil Monito into print, and turning it into a “media empire,” he said, half-jokingly.
In order for Evil Monito “to take over the world,” he has taken a cue from Sun-Tzu: Know your enemy. He’s been reading about how successful people have made it, such as former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.
It may seem a little strange that an editor of a subversive magazine is looking to two of the biggest corporate chiefs in history for motivation. Then again, Bill Gates is the ultimate nerd success story.

by Phil Chang
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