Identity and Korean Punk

The topic of Korean punk rock sparked a lot of discussion in our group. We spent quite of bit of our time discussing whether the Korean punk movement represents the “west to the rest” movement of culture. The three of us agreed that it did. Many of the bands that sparked the Korean punk movement got their start playing covers of songs of Western bands. Crying Nut said that they played songs by the sex pistols and nirvana when they were first starting out. Eventually they began to write their own music and create their own sound, developing into what’s now Korean punk. Though the music is their own, it has its roots in Western music. The reason that Western culture has been able to spread to the rest of the world is because, usually, Western nations are more technologically advanced. The more technologically advanced a country is, the more likely their culture is going to spread via global media. This explains the west to the rest phenomenon that has been observed in many countries.

Our conversation gradually turned to the topic of cultural homogenization and whether or not that had occurred in Korea during the west to the rest process. We came to the conclusion that it had not. Cultural homogenization is the blending of cultures until only one type exists and the rest can’t be discerned from what’s there. What’s happening in Korea is the opposite, the punk rockers are separating themselves from the mainstream culture and forming a new cultural identity. Many of the members of the punk bands said that their parents weren’t happy with what they were doing, their parents wanted them to stay in school in study. For many, life in Korea consisted of going to school, studying, doing well on college entrance exams, getting into a good college, more studying, getting a job, having a family, and dying. The punk bands were going against that norm and creating a new avenue of expression for themselves as well as other youth. Though the west had a distinct influence on Korea and specifically its punk music, it has not led to homogenization, quite the opposite. Korean youth are branching out into unexplored territory and creating a new identity within themselves along the way.

The topic of identity led to some interesting discussion about music, the west, and identity. We asked the question; does the influence of the west mean that you are losing your identity, or gaining a new one? We agreed that a new identity is formed when Western influence is introduced to a country. For example, the song gangnam style, while it seems like a very poppy song, is very Korean. The subject matter of the song and the way he approaches it is just one example of that. The song is about the Gangnam District in Seoul which is a very high class area of the city. PSY is poking fun not only at the district with his dancing, but also at people who say they’re “gangnam”. These people are trying to be high class when they’re really not. PSY is not losing his identity to Western culture when he sings about that, he is creating his own Korean identity. Music is something people us to express themselves, it’s not something that can be given an identity or a label in and of itself.


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