Monthly Archives: August 2014

American history is not everyone’s history; or, No, they don’t always know better

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The Daily Beast had what I thought was an interesting article on K-Pop and African Americans.

One part kind of annoyed me, though. Michael Hurt, an African-American Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley’s Comparative Ethnic Studies department who lives in Seoul, starts talking about what he calls:

“The cultural naiveté excuse [for racist imagery in K-Pop], which I do think is a small factor, starts becoming a big excuse to hide behind, because they should know better today,” Hurt says. He cites the example of the Bubble Sisters, a four-piece girl group that made its debut in 2003. On their album cover, their faces are painted black and they’re wearing braided wigs and baby pajamas.

“Their image is essentially that of pickaninnies and jigaboos—a very specifically historical image of infantilized black people,” Hurt says. “To say, ‘Oh, we didn’t know it was offensive,’ doesn’t make sense, because in your research, you’d have come across the fact that this look is from an offensive genre in American pop culture.”

Now, I do totally agree with Hurt that the the Bubble Sisters were really racist and inexcusable. No debate there.

But if you look at their album cover: No, they’re not a specific historical image, unless plastic hair curlers were invented long before the 20th century. I’m pegging that as lazy racism–I’d bet that nobody involved with the Bubble Sisters looked up shit. Saying things like “in your research, you’d have…” suggests to me that Hurt needs to leave academia and live in the real world for a bit, because the vast majority of people never do any research on anything, ever.

Which is really the problem!

Honestly, what does the average American know about, say, Korea’s historical relationship with Japan? There are many things that Koreans consider extremely offensive because they reference the various atrocities Koreans suffered under Japanese rule. How many Americans could tell you what those things are? Why should anyone expect Koreans to be less ignorant than Americans? Why do we expect people in other countries to be better informed about the horrible things in our history than we are about the horrible things in theirs?

Obviously, education is key all around, and Koreans are cluing in that stuff like blackface is unacceptable. That’s all good, and I definitely encourage people to speak out, because it does make a difference.

But it’s just not realistic or particularly fair to say that people in other countries “should” be completely conversant in all the ins and outs of American racist symbolism. (Hell, nowadays how many Americans know what a pickaninny is? When Evan Mecham used that word, I knew loads of people who had to have it explained to them.) Maybe they should be conversant, but believe me, they are not.

Back in the late 1980s, I spent half the summer living in France. (I should note that the family I lived with was very progressive and well-educated.) At the time, there was a brand of clothing that was extremely popular–you saw it everywhere! It was brightly-colored casual wear, with a highly-visible logo of…a blackface caricature.

We’re not talking about a drawing of someone who happens to be Black. We’re talking: enormous white eyes, red lips that were so large they distorted the face–the whole racist pre-20th-century minstrel package.

YOU SAW IT EVERYWHERE. EVERYWHERE!

I didn’t say anything about it when I was there (mainly because I really had no idea what to say!). The family’s son did not own any of that brand of clothing, so when he came and lived with me and my family for the other half of the summer, I didn’t have a conversation with him about what not to pack for his trip here.

His visit went fine, and he flew out of San Francisco to return home. When we were in the airport, I spotted someone wearing a brightly-colored jacket decorated with a, you guessed it, enormous brightly-colored RACIST BLACKFACE MINSTREL CARICATURE.

In San Francisco!

“Oh, wow, you can tell that guy is French,” I said to my French friend. “No American would ever wear that jacket.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“You’d get killed!” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“It’s racist!” I said. “That caricature is totally racist. It’s making fun of African Americans!”

He was stunned. He was absolutely stunned. It had never occurred to him that this cartoon-y caricature actually meant something horrible!

He kept telling me it was cute. I kept telling him that There Is A History Here.

It was an interesting moment for us both.

On the one hand, the whole thing was all kind of unbelievable to me–how could they not know?

But on the other hand, I could relate, because when I was a little kid, I used to love this guy.

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It never once occurred to me when I was watching this cartoon that the guy was supposed to be a human being, much less an African. I got that he was kind of half-person/half-monkey (and I loved that when he got thrown to a crocodile, he came out of it with snazzy matching pumps and a purse), but the whole bit where I was supposed to believe him to be representative of all Africans went riiiight over my head. I didn’t realize what this guy was supposed to be–what he was supposed to be teaching me about Black people–until my senior year in high school.

And I’m American!

You just have to bear in mind that Americans had a couple of centuries to develop this elaborate symbolism of white supremacy, and that not all of it has obvious meaning to outsiders. Someone wearing something that in the United States would unquestionably Mean Something about the person’s political beliefs:

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isn’t necessarily pro-racism or pro-slavery or pro-Confederacy (that’s from You’re Beautiful, a romantic comedy that does not even remotely touch on any of those issues). It just means that the person is deeply ignorant of our culture and history.

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And I shall convey this character’s fragile health–and fragile emotions–by putting her in a shirt that says, “IF YOU AIN’T COWBOY, YOU AIN’T SHIT.” She is, for the record, in no way, shape, or form a cowboy.

Do I think ignorance makes this kind of thing totally OK? No. But I do think you have to judge the people who romp around in Confederate uniforms rather differently when they’re not from around here. The entire reason that educating people works is because most people aren’t horrible bigots who don’t care if they upset and offend everybody–they just don’t know about stuff and haven’t really given it much thought.

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H.E.R album giveaway (minus dolls)

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As I threatened, I bought a buttload of H.E.R albums in hopes of getting a compete set of dolls (plus an extra Taeil doll for my niece). Of course, now I have a bunch of extra H.E.R albums!

So, it’s giveaway time!

What am I giving away? (Helpful hint: Not a doll)

Nine (nine!) copies of Block B’s H.E.R! 

PAY ATTENTION TO THIS PART: These albums were opened, the plastic wrap was (carefully) removed, and the dolls are gone.

I repeat: You are not getting a doll. No dolls. Are there dolls? NO.

You are, however, getting a CD that’s never even been removed from the case, a photo book, and the little two-sided business card with pictures on it that K-Pop Mart threw in with the CDs.

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Seriously, what are you supposed to do with this? Hand it out at conventions?

This video gives you a good idea of how the CD is packaged and what’s inside–except that you will NOT be getting a doll.

I will ship for free, and what the hell, I’ll ship internationally. (Still no doll, though.)

How do you win this doll-free prize?

I’m going to keep things simple this time and just say: Comment below. (If you’re not commenting because you want a CD, please make that abundantly clear in your post.) I will pick nine winners at random, post the names (so don’t comment anonymously!), and if you are a lucky winner, you can e-mail me your mailing information then.

The contest closes…let’s say September 14, the birthday of Block B’s fearless leader.

ETA: Just to make this very clear: This will be a random draw. All entrants will be assigned a number, then I will run a random number generator, and the numbers that come up, win. I am not choosing a winner based on how much I like you or something–you are at the mercy of randomness! Also, if it takes a while for your comment to show up, don’t panic–comments from new people have to be approved first.

But I want a doll!

Buy your own damned CD! Any complaints received after this contest is over from winners disappointed because they did not receive a doll will be posted on this blog for all to mock.

I feel so awful for the fans….

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The (totally disorganized) German K-Pop festival that Block B was supposed to appear at got canceled! Like, three weeks before it was supposed to happen!

Doubly frustrating because it’s been announced that they’ll do a showcase in Moscow the next day–but now that the German leg is canceled….oy. We’ll just have to see what pans out. In favor of pessimism: Details haven’t yet been announced for the Moscow appearance, and tickets haven’t yet gone on sale, which makes it easier to cancel. In favor of optimism: Presumably the organizers are different, and hopefully Block B feels bad about the German cancellation and the earlier Moscow one, and says, “We HAVE to do this one!”

ETA: There’s an official site up now for the Moscow concert, so that’s promising….

Hee

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Sometimes everything is just so much more fun when there’s no set choreography….

ETA: Wait! I sense a theme!

The above video shall be captioned: Jaehyo, stop playing with P.O’s butt!

This one:

Taeil, face the audience when you sing!

And this one:

Everyone, quit bunny-hopping and finish the choreography!

And the theme is: If Zico goes prematurely gray, you will understand why….

The Idols and The Underground: A Clash of Sub-Cultures

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As a non-Korean, I think one thing that’s important to keep in mind is that the Korean media you consume is not the same thing as actual day-to-day life in Korea. Just like the States, Korea has a range of little sub-cultures, one of which is K-Pop. Another is Korean hip-hop, a sub-culture that in many ways regards itself as a corrective to the falseness, safeness, and emphasis on looks you tend to find in commercial K-Pop.

This opposition was nicely embodied the other day when this happened:

That’s from the Korean hip-hop competition/reality show Show Me the Money 3. (I should note that I’ve never watched the show, although I did know that Loco, who I think is awesome, won the first season.) It’s the underground rapper Olltii (with Zico’s help) laying into his competitor for the round, an idol rapper named Bobby.

It was interesting for me because while Zico once memorably stated that he was “both an idol and a fucking artist” (translation by VITALSIGN @ BLOCKBINTL):

(also that, “If you’re talking about self-satisfaction, I’d rather just jack myself off,” complete with visual aid)

he unquestionably views himself as a hip-hop rapper first, and an idol second. You can tell this not only by the adult content of “Mic Ceremony,” but because he is willing to shout “Motherfucker!” on national television, you know, just now. (This is why I tend to roll my eyes when people wonder why Zico (and P.O and Park Kyung) can’t be safe and sweet and nice and G-rated all the time. That’s not who he is, and that’s not who he has ever been–you can like that or hate that, but you can’t expect that to change. And frankly, if you like his music, I heartily recommend that you STF–I mean, learn to embrace the whole person.)

Now, I freely admit that I know SFA about Bobby. But I think it’s fairly obvious that Bobby sees himself as an idol first (and that Olltii has a real problem with that):

Note the emphasis on fan service and showmanship. I’m not seeing a lot of rapping excellence from ole Bobby here: I’m seeing a really nice pratfall, a light show, “guests” who do most of the actual rapping, decent stage presence, sex-ay ladies, and (let’s be honest) a willingness to give fangirls something that they could probably get for far cheaper from a decent vibrator.

But does that mean that Bobby is not really of hip-hop? After all, selling sex is not exactly alien to the genre.

Weeellllll…let’s face it. When you react to a diss (that doesn’t even call you out by name!) by looking like you want to cry:

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Not that it matters, kid, but you wouldn’t last five minutes in a newsroom. A firehouse would actually kill you.

 I tend to agree that you are not too familiar with the world of hip-hop.

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The Quiett fucking lives for this shit. Yes, he’s on Bobby’s team. No, he doesn’t care.

Helpful hint, kid: You’re supposed to come back with something like this:

Or this:

(I don’t need to tell you that those are NSFW, do I?)

Of course Bobby didn’t. Does that matter to his (sexually frustrated) fangirls? No, it does not. Does it matter to his label? I’m guessing not.

Does it matter to the bottom line? No, it does not. And the bottom line is what matters in (I’m going to go all-caps here for the slow, please don’t be annoyed) COMMERCIAL K-Pop. The point of COMMERCIAL K-Pop is to make money, not to elevate the finest rapper to a position of prominence.

Will Bobby ever find respect in the world of Korean hip-hop? That’s really up to him, but as he is now, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The pushback

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So, if you didn’t know, some hater apparently paid money to have the “H.E.R” video pulled down from the YouTube channel of Block B’s distributor.

Why? Presumably to ensure that Block B doesn’t win music shows like Music Bank or Music Core, which count all YouTube views toward a group’s score.

Oh my God. People, get lives. If you don’t like a music group, that’s OK–don’t buy their music! Then move on with your life–spend your money on something you actually enjoy! There are SO many more productive things you could be doing with your time. This:

is not about you.

(By the way, the willingness of K-Pop haters to pony up cash for no better reason than to drag someone down is a big part of why I bought the BlockB.com domain name. I’d read about how haters had paid $10,000(!!!!!) in an effort to discredit Tablo, and I was afraid that if I didn’t cough up the cash for the domain name, some absolutely insane person would. This is yet another reason why hating is so counterproductive–if someone is really nasty about something, the people who like it feel compelled to circle the wagons.)

Anyway, at least we now know that Zico still has healthy levels of the all-important vitamin FU in his blood. (Diss tape, Zico? Please?) And the video is back up with its view count intact, so removing it didn’t do anything except make some hater that much poorer. (ETA: And apparently a couple of other K-Pop videos got yanked as well! OMFG. A LIFE. YOU NEED A LIFE.)

Ironically, having the video pulled down will probably help Block B on the music show Inkigayo: That show only counts YouTube views on the channel of the group’s label, and having “H.E.R” off the channel of Block B’s distributor pushed views to Seven Seasons’ channel, since that’s what showed up in searches.

That’s doubly ironic, because Inkigayo recently altered its rules to make it so that pretty much the only thing that counts toward its social-media scores is YouTube views that happen on the channel of a group’s label.

Why did they do that? And why do I find it so extra ironic?

Well, while Korean music shows are typically not rigged the way music competitions often are, they are decidedly biased toward groups from larger labels. Think about it: These shows provide better-than-free marketing to groups, increasing their value to their label. The shows have a choice between increasing the value of assets that belong to labels that don’t have a close corporate connection to their own corporate owner, or increasing the value of assets that belong to labels that do. Which do you think they’re going to prefer?

Sometimes this corporate back-scratching is overt: KBS’s Music Bank gives points to groups that appear on KBS’s other shows. Other times, it’s (slightly) more subtle, like what Inkigayo is doing: A music group can have a big following of fans who are more than happy to Tweet and whatnot, but if the music group is independent, chances are that their label’s YouTube channel has relatively skimpy content. For example, Seven Seasons will let weeks or even months pass before putting up a new video. In contrast, a large label with lots of groups is putting out lots of videos all the time. That’s why Seven Seasons uses a distributor–casual fans are more likely to subscribe to the distributor’s YouTube channel, since there’s so much more content.

So, did Inkigayo change its rules specifically to screw Block B? I don’t think so–I think they are specifically trying to screw these guys:

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JYJ. Suers of SM Entertainment. People may spin wild conspiracy theories about why their fave group isn’t doing so well, but in JYJ’s case the conspiracies are totally real.

JYJ released Just Us to record-setting sales August 1. Aaaand Inkigayo changed their rules, what, a week-and-half later?

Someone may not want Block B to win music shows, but someone much higher up really does not want JYJ to….

ETA: And voila! The riffraff was kept down!

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Inkigayo doesn’t count physical sales at all, so JYJ was shut out completely. The top line is digital music scores, the bottom two are pre-show and during-the-show votes (so, the BBCs really outdid themselves there), but none of that matters because the second line is the social-media score, a.k.a. YouTube views on the label’s channel. Neat bit of deck-stacking, no?