K-Pop culture can create a new internationalism—cultural studies prof

The rise of Korean pop (K-pop) boy group BTS has revealed a possible “new internationalism” as fans associate themselves with their idols while expressing their views on social issues, a cultural studies professor said.

Kyung Hee University professor Alex Taek-Gwang Lee said BTS member Park Jimin’s issue in Tokyo Dome proved the potential clout of the group’s fans who engage in social issues while promoting unity and belongingness.

“It would be true that BTS fans voluntarily participate in any social issue and a political agenda under the name of BTS supporters… They use BTS as a chance to practice global solidarity and to recognize transnational citizenship with this kind of activity,” Alex said during a lecture on K-pop and nationalism last Friday.

Park sparked controversy when he enraged some Japanese for wearing a t-shirt showing an image of the atomic bombing in Nagasaki and Hiroshima during World War II. People who were offended by the singer’s action demanded the cancelation of the group’s upcoming performance in Tokyo Dome

Alex said BTS fans, collectively known as Army, were “interpassive” rather than “interactive” and that their engagements on the controversy stemmed from their desire to explain the group’s message to others.

Citing Robert Pfaller, Lee said interpassivity is a combination of ‘interactivity’ and ‘passivity’ and pertains to the transferring of one’s desire to other people.

“They delegate their desire to other people and be passive about it rather than doing an activity. It seems like they act but they do not,” the professor said.

BTS fans trended the hashtag #LiberationTshirtNotBombTshirt” on Twitter to clarify that the image of the atomic bomb was used to demonstrate the cruelty of the war, not to glorify the bombing.

They also claimed that the purpose of the t-shirt was not to mock the victims but to remember history since the bombing also killed Koreans.

But Konkuk University Asst. Prof. Jinhyoung Lee, a reactor of the lecture, said describing the BTS fans’ participation in social and political issues as “interpassive” may be underestimating their activities.

“Instead, we could evaluate them as seeking to materialize the cosmopolitan idea of the nation-state by transforming the activities of the BTS fandom to interactivity,” Jinhyoung said.

According to the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, cosmopolitanism refers to the idea that all people should be members of a single community that transforms other forms of allegiance, such as the nation-state.

In 2020, BTS supported the Black Lives Matter campaign by donating $1 million and by stating that they stand with the victims of racism.

Members of the Army created the hashtag #MatchAMillion to match the funds that BTS donated, and they managed to hit $1 million within 24 hours. They also established a global non-profit organization called One In An Army, wherein volunteers organize monthly charity projects.

The lecture, which was organized by UNITAS in cooperation with the Department of Literature, is one of the activities that commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Faculty of Arts and Letters.

The lecture was the third installment of the international lecture series in line with UNITAS’ centenary as an academic publication. F – V. Yap

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