Cultural Junkdrawer (super fun sized edition) – Stranger in a strange land

GameStop, Inc.

CULTURAL JUNKDRAWER

 

STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND

 

 Right up front: when I say “Korea(n)” in this column, I’m talking about the (generally) human rights observing, non-dictatorship, free, democratic South Korea. Everything I needed/wanted to say about North Korea I said years ago in this very column. Outside of a booming propaganda poster design, military parades and a North Korea funko exclusive of Kim Jong-Un, North Korea has no real culture to speak of.

 One of the first real achievements you can have as a teenager is small but vital. You’re chilling in your room listening to a song from your favorite group and one of your parents, usually your dad, pauses for a second, looks at you and says “You call that music?”

 You smile in a well earned victory and say “Why yes I do.”

 The parent usually retreats and goes about whatever they’re doing, too busy to give a real damn. But you, you have just taken an important step into a new realm! You have defined yourself by your tastes, tastes not dictated by your parents. In fact their rejection of “Your music” ratifies this self definition. It doesn’t matter if the music is Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue or Wu Tang; the music is “yours”, not “theirs”! The fact that they don’t get it is part of the appeal. It doesn’t matter if the music is objectively “good” or not.

 It’s yours.

 Well, as a father to a teenage girl, I now find myself on the other side of that door (or more specifically, the car seat) faced with the daunting task of surviving groups with names like “BTS, TxT, Enhypen and Stray Kids”.

 I don’t really “get” K-Pop but my daughter loves it and I have made it a point to not be like MY dad when I was playing Beastie Boys, R.E.M. or, yes, Duran Duran.

 Also I’m not gonna give her the satisfaction.

 She loves her K-Pop and I try to encourage things she’s passionate about, provided they aren’t dangerous to the general population. Her passion has also spread to Korean culture in general, which is something else I like to encourage. Seeing as how American culture consists mostly of direct to netflix movies, “F-Boy island season 2” and Hate. 

 I kid… I kid (sigh) 

 Korean pop culture is a fascinating mirror of American culture; some damn good TV shows, some cheesy ones too. I’m sure we don’t see the Korean z-list celebrity reality TV here with good reason. Korea has produced some stunning movies in the last two decades. I’m sure they have their share of “Doolittle” type movies too. And, of course, K-Pop. I say mirror because there seems to be a serious american influence on Korean culture and the street has become, satisfyingly two way. Our influence glossed up, translated and repackaged, reflecting back on us with some Gochujang flavor.

 Which brings me to K-Con. K-Con is a convention celebrating all things Korean. It played like just about every other convention I’ve ever gone to: swag bags with sponsor logos on it, cardboard cutouts, booths offering free pictures as long as you surrender your email for an eternity of sales pitches. A quick unsubscribe is a small price to pay for getting this pic with my kid

Her therapy bill will be worth it!

 I was a little bummed about the lack of “Booth Babes” and/or weird but cute animal-ish mascots, which seem to be the goto for a lot of Korean marketing. To soften that blow there were free food samples: Korean fried chicken (yum), rice cakes (texture of congealed toothpaste), dumplings (yum again) and that absolute staple of the Korean diet, McDonald’s french fries.

 There was a large section of Korean beauty products. Many focus on maintaining the beautiful, porcelain skin that many Korean people, some even women, have. My daughter talked a lot about the K-Beauty stuff then seemed satisfied with getting a sample of lip gloss and that was that.

 There was a booth hyping a slate of Korean soap operas, they were even having auditions. A booth hyping a big budget Sci-Fi/fantasy epic called “Alienoid” which, from what I could gather from the various life-size cardboard standees, is a time traveling, sword fighting, alien possessing-human body, Taoist monk sci-fi adventure. Because, in the interest of efficiency, a Korean production needs to combine ALL the genre tropes. There were no monitors showing the trailer, which is disappointing because this seems like just the kind of nutso, language barrier jumping, eye candy that a columnist for a fanboy website would lose his shit over! Sword fighting! Alien invaders! Time travel! Kung Fu! Taoist Monks! Fuck YEAH! Sign me up!

 I’m sure this will show up on Netflix come November and be a cult thanksgiving watch. Then becoming a tepid American remake starring Tom Holland for a summer 2025 release. 

 Different sections of the show floor would erupt in cheers and screams as some K-Pop act showed up at a booth or mini stage to say “hi” and give charming, funny answers in broken English to fluff questions. These always seemed to be on the opposite side of the floor we were on and after not being able to see anything the first few times, my daughter just shrugged it off. I was reminded of the times at SDCC where there was a crush of people trying to get an autographed mini poster of “Spaceballs the TV series” or “Big Bang Theory” but everybody around us was considerate if unyielding. Smelled better too. My kid was more interested in hanging by the fan lounge where the “Stay” appreciation group was doing activities. 

 You are a “Stay” if you are a “Stan” of “Stray Kids”, of which my daughter Stans enthusiastically. This is just a fan community, not unlike Browncoats (Serenity), Salt Gunners (Supernatural), or Ignorant Racist Fucktards (Trump), except with more dance moves. Watching the trivia contest and groups of kids dancing in sync to the “Maniac” video from the group I noticed something interesting. There was no clear unifying demographic. Meaning there was every skin color imaginable, tall, skinny, fat, boy, girl, trans. There were plenty of rainbow flags but not an overwhelming or crowd defining amount. Concert t-shirts, glittery coats, a weird yet effective school uniform with bondage gear and garter belt motif. In fact it seemed like the only unifying element was a love for this glossy, precisely calculated singing and dancing product. I recalled earlier seeing a woman, roughly my age, standing in line with a backpack. On it was a button with a rainbow flag and the phrase “Mom hugs here” which, if you’re in the know, means a hell of a lot to a particular community.

 Taking all this in I realized that this was all a good thing. In a world of ever growing division here was a community made up of all types, unified by a love for a culture. Think of the “Raspberry Beret” video from the late, great Prince. A funky utopia where you were only judged by the amount of purple you wore and the size of your lace ascot! 

 K-Pop is a culture sourced from one small country but international in its fandom. Accepting, socially active and just simply considerate. Sure there are sub groups like the “Stay” but there is no animosity between the Stay kids and, say, the “Midzy”, fans of the girl group “Itzy”. In fact there is a lot of overlap (my daughter calls herself a “Baby Midzy” meaning a new fan of the act… I hope.) Ok, all the named groups sound like enemies of Spiderman but that’s the max amount of snarkI’m gonna throw here.

 Current geek fandoms could learn a thing or two from the K-Pop community. Dogma, bigotry and orthodoxy have made a cesspool of fandom. Can you imagine different generations of “Star Wars” fans agreeing online about “The Last Jedi” or “Obi-Wan Kenobi”? A causal acceptance of “Miss Marvel” by anybody who uses the term “M-She-U” seriously? “Snyderverse” fans (all 12 of the non-bots, I mean) hanging out peacefully with… well, anybody? There doesn’t seem to be a toxicity in the K-Pop community. The dearth of white, cis male fans is certianly a contribution but also probably because it’s got a big tent philosophy! All are welcome: bring your dance moves, your photo cards and your BTS Army stickers! Sure it’s all to support a commercial industry geared to sell you stuff but get real; all fandoms do that! I have a whole TV shelf dedicated to Boba Fett pops. I can’t really look down on a community sporting cute cartoon mascot tochises!

 In fact I 100% support this community not only because my daughter is part of it but because the world needs more common ground. If only to dance on it.

 

Thoughts that are tangential to the main column but I couldn’t fit in organically…

 

 I know I’ve been away for a minute. I was going to do a column last week about the predictable and narrow minded response to the influx of women in Comic Book movies, TV but then I remembered She Hulk was coming out this week and decided to wait. Even though I could easily predict the neck-bearded, anti-”woke”, algorithm chasing, incel, reactionary set a week ahead. Sadly, I was on the money. So that’s all coming very soon.

 “Woke” btw is a term used by people who get upset when there are movies and TV shows that dare to treat people that look different than them as human beings. It’s a term that rings as hollow as the utterly idiotic “Lets go Brandon” thing.

 Music can never be “Objectively” good, it’s all subjective! Hell, even Limp Bizkit, had a decent song or two.

 My computer offered the “Bizkit” spelling in autocorrect. That’s “objectively” weird.

 All the groups I mentioned are objectively “good” and most objectively “Fucking ROCK!” too.

Yes, Duran Duran! First concert I ever went to, I had a screaming migraine the entire time and there was a surprise snowstorm in October that forced us to get a hotel room halfway home that night.

 I tried watching an episode of “F-Boy island” for research on a project… Shut up, I’m serious… but I couldn’t get past the first minute. Now it sits on my “Continue watching” list, shaming me every time I open HBO Max.

“From the mind of Zack Snyder: Chrono-Monks! Starring Tom Holland and that one guy from “Game of Thrones” that everybody likes! This summer, only on Paramount Network!”

I have included 3 real fangroup names and one that isn’t, see if you can guess which is which:

 Moomoo

 Once

 Deadheads

 Blink

 

Here are some other photos from the show

look at that thing you weird other thing!

K-Pop groups are the only genre with more members than a Ska Band.

Itzy – Speaking as a male there are reasons to at least look at some of the acts.

Anytime Costumes

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