Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Weddings, K-Pop, Korean Food & Purity: Who Owns a Culture? Introduction

Jason, over at Kimchi Ice Cream, has a really interesting post up that discusses Korean Wedding Hall culture, and the ways it resembles weddings back home, but that resemblance, in the end, only serves to bring the differences into even starker, more jarring contrast.

This reminds me of one of the most interesting insights Brian in JD had talking about Korean Christmas: Brian uses the "Uncanny Valley" idea to talk about Korean treatments of Western cultural practices, and I think it's apt.

The uncanny valley is a robotics term: experts found that as AI and robots behave more like humans, we respond to them more positively, but beyond a certain point, it creeps us out instead of making us like the robots, and we focus on the differences instead of the similarities: it's easier to sympathise with the cartoonish Mr. Incredible than with the nearly photorealistic characters in the Final Fantasy movie, and in NHL '94 it was SO COOL that you could make Wayne Gretzky's head bleed, but in NFL 2010 those touchdown dances seem a little too graceful for NFL players.

(from Swingers: warning: language)

Jason's description of Korean weddings, which is highly worth reading, seems to support this uncanny valley idea.  I think a wholly traditional Korean wedding, with Korean-only reference points, would be a nicer experience than the "Disneyland/Vegas" wedding Jason describes.  The wedding that seems to want to be taken on Western terms gets under our defenses... but then smacks us in the face even more sharply with its differences, because it seemed to hint that it would meet our expectations for weddings from back home.  It's the old bait-and-switch.

Korean Christmas is another good example of this.  The music is similar...ish; the decorations are similar...ish but it's a freaking couple holiday!!!

I'd like to look a little more at this funny spot where expectations and practices clash between cultures.  I began writing about it, and the post ballooned into what I'll break up into a series, for the sake of me, you, and time.  I'd been planning to write an article about the other side: observations about my Korean students' views of cultural change - for a while anyway, so now seems like a good time.

The three parts will be as follows: first a look Korean cultural change as viewed by Koreans, next, Korean cultural change (especially co-opting of foreign elements) as viewed by expats, and finally, Korean culture abroad: what will Koreans do if Korean culture really DOES become popular in the West, as everybody allegedly wants to happen?  I'll use a lot of my own observations, and stuff I've noticed during this semester's discussion classes, in the series.  Until the next post, you should go read Jason's article about Wedding Halls/Castles.

Jason takes a thoughtful, intelligent look at the way Koreans have taken Western weddings, isolated a few elements, exaggerated a few elements to cartoonish heights, and discarded the rest.  He mentions purity, which triggered some stuff for me, because I've been thinking about writing about this topic of what I call cultural cross-pollination, but from the exact opposite side.

Here's part 1 of my series: Korean cultural change to older Koreans


Jason said...

Thanks for posting the link Rob, it's always nice to have more readers for the bigger blog posts I write cause of the time it takes to do them.

I have a lot of other pictures I wanted to post but didn't because it wasn't my wedding (shudder, THAT will NEVER happen in a Korean wedding hall without some kind of western cultural wedding etiquette classes for Korean guests who would attend)....

You ready for the big day? Just make sure you don't lick all the envelopes with the invitations, lol, we don't want to hear about any disasters (Seignfeld rules!).


Anonymous said...

I've been to one of those theme park weddings. While it was amusing I was pretty horrified. There were two halls in the facility so two weddings with two different sets of guests were going on at the SAME time. Also everyone just dropped off their cash and rushed to the buffet. We watched part of the wedding on a jumbotron. So personal...not.

Gomushin Girl said...

I've started writing a response to the post twice, but it's long and complicated and I keep running out of time . . .
although I will say this: Isn't it just a teeny, tiny bit ridiculous to wish the natives would go back to their quaint little rituals for us to coo over ("oh, look at that, honey! the bride is in a pretty green native dress! isn't she precious? I love seeing how they've preserved their old traditional way of village life!"), rather than gawk at how they've "messed up" ours?
Because here's something that a lot of foreigners seem to miss: Many of these elements have become touch-points for Koreans. They are fully incorporated into cultural expectations. Of course they're not identical with what we may know from our home countries, and we may find them strange and divorced from the meanings we know, but that doesn't mean that they don't have understood cultural significance for Koreans.

Anonymous said...

Korean appropriation of Western culture, from the wedding to pop culture to everybody's favorite -- Konglish -- is all stylization. It looks cool, hip or fashionable, even if it retains little of its original meaning. Which isn't necessarily bad. It's been happening for decades in America -- how much of the original meaning was retained when rock and roll ripped off r n'b? But it also created something with its own life and history.

Looking forward to reading the follow-up posts on this.

The Seoul Searcher said...

If Western cultural norms are appropriated and misrepresented in a small country outside of the west, it's not much of a problem, because they are still in tact in the West and only a few people are infulenced by the misrepresentation.

When the culture of a small non-Western country is appropriated and misrepresented in the West, there is the potential for the whole world to be affected by the misrepresentation, simply because of the influence that Western culture has in the rest of the world.