Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The First World Congress for Hallyu

There is a lot of noise surrounding Hallyu (in English often called the Korean Wave, this refers to the transnational spread of Korean popular culture, particularly music, movies, and TV dramas). Back in 2005 I can remember looking at people starting to write on Hallyu and thinking "well, I hope their publication is still relevant in two years when this is totally over." Yet today Hallyu still survives and the academic work on Hallyu is (naturally) increasing. At Korean universities, including my own, we're planning on the popularity of Hallyu to bring us foreign students. Although my Department of Korean Studies will open this fall with only Korean students, after we translate our pamphlet into English and start to promote it to appropriate non-Korean audiences the university hopes to get foreign students. To cater to undergrads we're having an unabashed focus on modern Korea, including one of our four tracks, which we will call "Performance and Media Studies." In this track classes will often address Hallyu topics, although those who know me will not be surprised to know that we will also tackle issues related to performances that could not be called "popular culture."

As this noise about Hallyu has grown rather than subsiding (in fact there have been a couple lulls, I've seen some people call this the "second wave"), the academic scholarship has become more organized, with the World Association for Hallyu Studies recently inaugurated. Last weekend they had their first conference, and although the event seemed to have a confused identity (crossing government interests, commercial interests, diplomatic interests and scholarly interests), it also had an impressively large budget. The event was hosted at Korea University, in a very swank set of rooms, including complimentary lunch and dinner (an expensive meat-laden buffet for lunch and a Western style 7 course meal for dinner), and a fancy bag and fountain pen for each registered participant.

I was only able to attend the first day of the conference. I attended all the morning welcoming address type speeches, and the keynote by Keith Howard, a noted expert on all things related to Korea and music. Dr. Howard made some excellent points about Hallyu from a historical perspective-- a perspective lacking from those who have been attracted to the field of study later rather than earlier. His PPT even showed the evolution of Korean popular music. His well-illustrated points about how the popular music scene in Korea had broadened and become visible outside Korea were spot on, and theoretically nuanced. After lunch I attended a roundtable with the ambitious topic "On Sustainability of Hallyu." In retrospect I wish I'd gone somewhere else. Although the people at the table represented a wide range of interests and organizations, there were too many of them. As each of the nine and the moderator took turns talking, the two hour time slot was lost in posturing about what wonderful things each organization was doing. The only useful attempt to steer the discussion towards sustainability was offered by Kim Taehwan of the Korea Foundation, but his attempts to refocus were too late and provoked some defensiveness from other panelists. For the last panel of the day I was excited to attend a panel titled "K-pop Musicology." The title, however, appeared to be a misnomer. Although it was true that each paper approached K-Pop I might re-title it "Stories of K-Pop Reception from the UK, Austria, and Germany." This title leaves out a short overview presentation by Park Seonhyeon of KOFICE, who spoke at easily triple the speed I would advise, especially to an audience that was not exclusively made up of native speakers of Korean, while showering us with statistics about K-pop in Europe. At that speed I could not understand anything (it was the sort of data that is presented with deviance from this or that being significant or insignificant but it flew by so quickly I was completely lost). The papers by Um Haekyung, Sung Sang-Yeon and Michael Fuhr identified club activities of active fans in the three countries including photos and video clips to illustrate how locals and international residents of the three countries were participating in the K-Pop world.
Half of the Roundtable... the only photo I took at the conference

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