Our Nation: American pop culture obsession?

This week’s cafe discussion was about Our Nation a short documentary about punk rock in South Korea. We all agreed on enjoying the film and how it explained the beginnings and development of punk rock in Seoul, S. Korea. We enjoyed the progression from bands doing covers of American punk bands to the development of Choson rock, the S. Korean variety. The major themes we picked up in the film were those of adapting American pop culture, youth identity, and the idea of authenticity.

When we began discussing, one of us said “I find it so fascinating that there is such an obsession with American culture”. We remember having a class discussion (or debate rather) about American homogenization and the “copy cat” effect of American culture. While the statement was accurate, it behooves all of us to think deeper and more critically. Is it truly obsession with American culture or is it something else? We decided that it was the ‘something else.’ With globalization and the flow of Appadurai’s scapes, culture is something that is constantly changing and adapting to local contexts. Choson rock was born out of this. American punk rock triggered the development of Choson rock, but it did not define it. During the film one of the singers said something to the effect of: this is not punk rock. This is our own version of punk rock. Given this, it is important to remember that when a culture adopts something (punk rock in this case), it is always picking and choosing. At the time in S. Korea there was a lot of economic and social change occuring; punk rock was part of that change. Instead of using the student uprisings of their predecessors, the youth  at that time chose punk rock as a form of self-expression, a form of resistance to popular S. Korean culture.

The theme of authenticity ran deep in this movie. There were many points where the bands were criticized for not producing “real punk rock”. But what is real punk rock? Who decides? This movie was an excellent example of changing cultural phenomena; what is defined as punk rock in the U.S. may not be punk rock in S. Korea. Hence the name Choson rock. It was a way of saying “we got the idea from American punk rock, but we turned it into our own”. Punk rock does not have to be confined to it’s American meaning, it can transform and turn into something else. Benjamin aptly described the fading of authenticity and aura the more reproduced a work of art became. Choson rock is the echo of the aura of American punk rock. We thought there was nothing wrong with that.

Our discussion breifly touched upon older generations and those who had first known Choson rock and their nostalgia for the “original” punk rock. It speaks to a refusal to give up what used to be and a denial of Choson rock’s transformation into the mainstream.  While the majority of us thought that there was nothing wrong with “going mainstream” one of us thought the authenticity of a genre is lost when mainstreaming occurs. This is because the genre becomes less dictated by those who created it, but rather by those who are marketing it and consuming it. We could say that this happened to Choson rock, but it remains true that whether authentic or not, Choson rock will always be punk rock to those who create it.

Questions for further thought: On authenticity: Should the transferral of one aspect of one culture to another be considered “inauthentic?” Isn’t the transferral and subsequent adoption authentic in and of itself?

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