In this confusing world, you are my familiar.

A quick post to record an interesting conversation I had with a colleague, Alison, a few days ago. We were talking about how smartphones seemed to have lowered access barriers for older generations. She then shared this insightful observation that our smartphones are now like our familiars, as in His Dark Materials. I have come across mobile phones being likened to cigarettes and pets, but this one is an unbeatably fascinating addition to that list of analogies.

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We ship you and we ship you hard.

More often than not, people ask me whether in Korea or here I feel more at home. This is a question that I don’t think I will ever have a definite answer for. In fact, throughout my life, both personally and professionally, I always find myself somewhere between two worlds. On good days, I feel lucky that I am getting the best of both. On not-so-good days, I am reminded that I belong to neither.

I am also convinced that ‘bridging’ two worlds is what I do best. I am not sure which came first though. Do I get drawn to such in-between positions because that’s where I shine, or have I become better at it out of necessity? Dunno, so I have jokingly concluded that that must be because I was born on a cusp.

In-betweenness, of course, doesn’t mean an exact half point. More of sliding back and forth, I maintain. That said, it has recently struck me that my behaviour is that of a complete outsider when it comes to consuming Hallyu products. I have discovered that it is *addictive* fun to hang out among international fans of K-dramas. And the present post is to jot down a few notes from this accidental ethnography.

# The content is available outside Korea almost in real time – on video streaming sites such as Viki, but Korean TV stations upload soundbites one by one on their respective YouTube channels as the latest episodes are being aired within the country. No considerable time lag.

# Other important places include various social media platforms, particularly Instagram (where not only hashtags but also dedicated accounts newly emerge), and K-entertainment news sites such as Soompi (where relevant news articles are translated into English and reposted – again in real time). I see this as a typical example of how an ethnographic place is now “dispersed across web platforms, is constantly in progress and changing, and implicates physical as well as digital localities” (Postill and Pink, 2012: 125).

# Most fans who frequent those places do not understand Korean, and many cry for subtitles in the comment box under official YouTube clips, but in the end, the language doesn’t seem to be a barrier. There will always be some form of crowd-subbing. More importantly, seasoned ones are already proficient in the grammar of the genre.

# Related to the previous point, multiple interactions take place under each YouTube clip, and there is no one lingua franca. Sure, English does serve for that purpose to an extent, but only to an extent.

# So, we – and I say ‘we’ here consciously – don’t necessarily understand one another, but the bond is stronger than you’d imagine. Squealing and swooning together virtually while the main couple develop their romance is the core activity. Personally speaking, I find it even more fun than the drama itself! Reminds me of the participatory viewing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

# On whichever social media platform, several stock phrases recur across comment sections, such as “I can’t even”, “My heart can’t take it”, “I died today”, “This couple is the end of me”, “So sweet that I will get diabetes just by watching them”, “Relationship goals”, “Where can I find a man who looks at me like he looks at her?”, “How can I move on from these two?”, “What am I going to do with my life until next week?”

# If the story unfolds as they have hoped, they thank the writer-nim and the PD-nim for listening to them. The ways in which K-dramas are produced and communicated through YouTube seem to create this impression that their wishful feedback has actually been accommodated.

# Shipping a couple is not specific to K-dramas, but what seems to be unique is that viewers are clearly conscious that it is a make-believe world. Instead, what’s important to them is ‘off-screen chemistry‘. They like seeing the couple getting along well and enjoying themselves while filming romantic scenes. When they like what they see, they demand the behind-the-scene footage of it, a.k.a. BTS. It is a common practice that the production team doles it out, alongside the actual episode. To put it another way, the front and back of the house are no longer distinguishable. It is like taking the experience to a ‘meta’ level, with a curious twist of reality TV. This was the most fascinating discovery.

# Overall, I find non-Korean fans to be more expressive and more accepting. I hypothesise that they can afford to ‘bracket off’ the ugly social context surrounding those dramas. The industry’s cruel working conditions, sexism, and homophobia, to name a few.

Rising above reality

Jeff Kaplan’s keynote at the D.I.C.E. Summit yesterday has caused a bit of buzz in my Twitter bubble, so I thought I’d check the full speech out myself. He comes up on the podium around 7:20 and stayed until 40:00.

Listening to him, I felt overwhelmingly envious of being able to build a whole new universe. The same envy I have for sci-fi and comic book writers.

Anyway, the buzz was to do with his shout-out to the National Foundation for D.Va (전디협) in Korea. 36:40 in, he says:

At the end of January, we saw something very special happen. There was an international march for women’s rights that took place all over the world, and the thing that really caught our eye was that in Seoul, Korea, during the march, somebody was flying this flag that had the symbol for D.Va, who is our character from Korea, who in some ways challenges stereotypes and in other ways embraces them.

We saw this flag flying for D.Va and we looked into it more and there was this national foundation for D.Va, which was a feminist foundation for women’s rights. What really started to fascinate me when I looked more into this, as I read their charter, was this last sentence: ‘We decided to act for feminism under her emblem, so that in 2060, someone like D.Va could actually exist‘.

Which I thought was just amazing, and this came back to that original point I was trying to make: ‘Never accept the world as it appears to be, but dare to see it for what it could be’. And that was exactly what was happening in Korea.

In no way do we aspire to be a political game. We have no political motivation whatsoever, but it’s fascinating to see that the values of the Overwatch team are now being embraced and owned by the community in their own positive way.

Busan holiday

About a week ago I saw a tweet that goes: “Go back through your diary for the year. You’ve probably achieved much more than you remember”. Although I am not sad to see the back of 2016, why not a little bit of a positive spin? So I thought I’d give it a go too.

The first things that sprung to my mind were, naturally, and sadly, work-related. Publications, conferences, teaching, tutorials, etc. By those measures, it looks like I didn’t do too badly, if I may say so myself. However, somehow, I didn’t feel that they characterise my 2016. So, I delved further into it.

I have done yoga for a year now. Well, I say yoga, but it’s more of stretching for around 10 minutes as soon as I get up in the morning. Nevertheless, the point here is that I have done it everyday! Well, almost everyday. Okay, 350+ days. My Habitica gold pot is my proof.

2016 also marks that I have been blogging for ten years. Ten years! I am fully aware that I write here infrequently and irregularly, and that I only have a few random unsuspecting visitors a day. This blog is, however, an invaluable space for me and has been helping me clarify my muddled thoughts all this time.

Hang on, the most important achievement is saved for the last. This year will always be the year when I made a perspective-altering discovery personally. In August, I had a two-week break in Korea. It was motivated by an invitation to deliver a talk on smart cities at an IT Expo in Daegu, so I can’t say it was purely for holidaying. The seminar proved to be super interesting and, in a sense, set the course for my research in the next one or two years. A separate post is in order. What I want to record here is that instead of immediately returning to the day job, I actually set aside a time after the event for a little bit of travelling. Very unlike me. You wouldn’t believe this, but I didn’t even take my laptop with me.

And there I discovered that I actually like holidays as much as anyone else does. Why was this even a surprise to me? Because I had been programmed to believe otherwise. I had always thought the Korean in me was so strong that I was incapable of enjoying non-working. It was liberating to realise that was bulls**t. It was almost like a Truman Show moment for me.

I have been eagerly inflicting this knowledge on friends and colleagues since. I don’t know when my next holiday will be, but I know I am looking forward to. And until then, I will flip through photos from my first-ever holiday.

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(One of my favourite, taken at a 14C temple called Haedong Yonggungsa on a sea cliff.)

My fangirl’s heart

I adore fan art. I have never created anything that qualifies for that label myself, but something about the genre always speaks to me. Perhaps that’s because I have always been a fangirl. My idols have changed over time :), but I think being a fangirl is an attitudinal identity. It has certainly been one of mine.

So, naturally, coming across this brilliant illustration and witnessing what followed it (i.e. it being brought to the attention of J. K. Rowling herself on Twitter by a fellow user, and the author looking out for the original source, locating its creator in Japan, and expressing her appreciation personally – and all this within the space of an hour) simply made my heart sing. ❤

What’s on your playlist?

In addition to being generally ungainly, I am incapable of multitasking – to the point that I never listened to music on the move because it interfered with my walking. I kid you not. So, I have been one of the very few without earphones/headphones on the commuter train. Sometimes when I looked around at co-passengers, I couldn’t help but remember one of the professors when I was a business undergraduate. His ‘foolproof tip for investments’ was to watch out the hearing aid industry. We are talking about almost 20 years ago here. I wonder if he followed his own advice.

Anyway, everything has changed since I came across a certain Korean indie rock singer earlier this month and fell in love instantly. I have started to carry a few recordings of his on my phone to listen to between home and work. Still needs some getting used to, but it’s like a whole new world has opened to me.

Moreover, now I suddenly find myself being curious about what my fellow commuters are listening to. Not that I believe their playlists will reveal who they are, like Jason Rentfrow and Sam Gosling suggested in their 2003 paper. It’s more along the spirit of WIYB groups on Flickr, such as this, this, and this, which were once very active in the last decade according to my del.icio.us (!) records. It looks like that particular practice has never withered though; it just has moved on to other platforms such as Twitter and Pinterest.

My own playlist? Exclusively filled with high-pitched rock vocals at the moment. Who would have thought?

In-jokes

There was an article in the Guardian a few days ago listing ‘the best social media accounts for academics to follow’. Same with the other such lists I had come across, I was familiar with most of the listed, and a few more came to my mind that I felt should have been included.

The first category was Twitter humour. My favourite kind, of course, but I am well aware that what they offer is strictly in-jokes. One of the staple themes is therefore the peer review process in scholarly publishing. I have been fortunate in this department, but nevertheless I know enough to find those jokes hilarious. Here are some examples. (Click through to see the original sources.)

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20160329_peer_review2(© Jason McDermott)

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Back to the past

The call for abstracts for RC33 has now been extended to 21 February. I know several fascinating ones have already been submitted for my session, Interdisciplinary Discussion on Visual Methods, and I hope many more will feel encouraged to join the discussion.

By the way, on a personal level, this year is funny. After more than a decade, I am going back to Lyon in the summer to take part in a seminar series on gender and controversies online. Then in September, I will be in Leicester, the very first foreign city I ever lived, for RC33’s Social Science Methodology conference. That’s two super memory trips one after the other. Can’t help but think of what Doc said.

“It could mean that that point in time inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance, almost as if it were the temporal junction point of the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.” (Doc, Back to the Future II, 1989)

🙂