If you want to delve more into the academic side of media analysis, or if you just want to play a copy of our home game, here are some good books/articles to get you started.
Many books on Korean history either take a hardline Korean nationalist perspective (wherein events and the actions of great people are interpreted as part of a kind of evolution of Korean history, which places them in a linear trajectory and serves to create and/or propagate a national narrative) or they’re written by Bruce Cumings (wherein they don’t get their facts wrong per se but they don’t get them right, either, because they’re interpreting events through a slightly different but still very specific lens (one which, it should be admitted, is too hardline left/sympathetic to the North Korean regime, even for Ahab)). Ahab, your resident anthropologist, would like us to remember that in our reading of history, we benefit from hindsight but our perceptions are coloured by our experiences (which can be a good thing when it gives us a different view to an issue) or serve to merely further a certain narrative (something a great deal of writing on Korea does); in other words, the writer is always present in the writing, even (Ahab would say especially) in something as seemingly objective as history. The discovery and formation of a history, and particularly the history of an emerging nation-state, is a decidedly “modern” project (and one that is always in progress). Korea and Japan both kept records of the actions of people, particularly of kings, queens, emperors, empresses, and other “great people,” but narrativizing and the formation of a linear history was something that was done in the mid-1800s as each nation was “discovered” by the West (for more on this process in Japan in the early Meiji period, find a book review of Stefan Tanaka’s New Times in Modern Japan. The actual book is almost impossible to slog through (it has no topic sentences, for one) and will just make your head hurt. Trust Ahab, she has had to read it twice) as a way to display progress from the “primitive” to the “modern” on a linear timeline operating on a horizon of expectations (“wherein the future is some unknown better form rather than an ideal rooted in a previous world,” usually taking “on a utopian quality that both incorporates and goes beyond what has already been experienced; these horizons are located in some collective singular, the future, and are always new”1).
And now, onto the books.
- Eckert, Carter and Ki-Baek Lee, Young Ick Lew, Michael Robinson, Edward W. Wagner. 1991. Korea Old and New: A History. Ki-Baek Lee wrote everything from the prehistoric to the early modern, Lew wrote about 1864-1910 (where King Kojong took over and up through Japanese annexation), Robinson about the Japanese colonial period, and Eckert everything after that. It’s the best, most comprehensive, and, most importantly, least biased book on Korean history you’re going to find in English.
- Kendall, Laurel (ed.). 2010. Consuming Korean Tradition in Early and Late Modernity: Commodification, Tourism, and Performance. Edited volume detailing the formation of different markers of Korean “tradition.”
- Moon, Seungsook. 2005. Militarized Modernity and Gendered Citizenship in South Korea. Traces the formation of gender roles and subsequent career/life trajectories in postwar South Korea.
- Pyle, Kenneth. 1995. The Making of Modern Japan. The foremost book by the man, the myth, the institution: Ken Pyle.
- Tanaka, Stefan. 1995. Japan’s Orient: Rendering Pasts into History. Another difficult Tanaka book to read but one that is absolutely essential if you want a better grasp of Japanese historiography and to understand the idea of Japanese Orientalism.
Japanese and Korean popular culture and media products saw a massive rise in popularity from the mid to late-1990s. Was there anything special about that time? Well … Oh my God. Yes. Just a little. I don’t even know where to start. It’s absolutely crucial to have an understanding of the 1990s. It simply can’t be stressed enough. That’s a complicated task, but we’re here to help.
- Anagnost, Ann and Andrea Arai, Hai Ren (ed.). 2013. Global Futures in East Asia: Youth, Nation, and the New Economy in Uncertain Times.
- Yoda, Tomiko and Harry Harootunian (ed.). 2006. Japan After Japan: Social and Cultural Life from the Recessionary 1990s to the present.
Aesthetics, Culture, Identity, Tradition
It’s very important to keep in mind that aesthetics, culture, and tradition have played a role in national identity for a long time now. Here are some books for a foundation in the politics of identity, aesthetics, and antiquity that build well off of Tanaka’s work.
- Atkins, E. Taylor. 2010. Primitive Selves: Koreana in the Japanese Colonial Gaze 1910-1945. Ch. 4 is especially useful for its focus on media.
- Brandt, Kim. 2007. Kingdom of Beauty. A history of mingei (Japanese folk art) activism, with insight into the relationship of Japan and its colonies, especially Korea.
- Pai, Hyung Il. 2013. Heritage Management in Korea and Japan. Traces the history of heritage conservation, as shaped by modernity, nationalism, colonialism, and globalization. Things to consider: interaction with and prioritization of the tourism industry.
Pop Culture and Media
Also, in a miracle of self-restraint, I am only recommending a few books to get you started thinking about pop culture and media in Japan and Korea.
- Chua Beng Huat and Koichi Iwabuchi (ed.). 2008. East Asian Pop Culture: Analysing the Korean Wave.
- Kim, Chang Nam. 2012. K-Pop: Roots and Blossoming of Korean Popular Music. A pretty straightforward account of pop music in Korea, with the benefit of looking more legit that Russell’s Pop Goes Korea (though I appreciate his article on the founding of SM Entertainment).
- Lukacs, Gabriela. 2010. Scripted Affects, Branded Selves: Television, Subjectivity, and Capitalism in 1990s Japan.
- Jung, Sun. 2011. Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption. Ishmael disagrees with many parts of this book, but still feels it is a rare and useful examination of K-pop idols and more up-to-date than most research.
- Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. If you read one book, let it be this one. Genealogically traces the formation of “imagined communities” and the genesis of nationalism. It’s highly accessible (though be warned that he doesn’t always provide translations for non-English words or long phrases as a “fuck you” to monolingual people in the US).
- Baudrillard, Jean. 2002. Selected Writings. Postmodern critiques of media and Americana. A good primer to delve into Baudrillard’s theories, particularly simulacra.
- Foucault, Michel. 2003. Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. The thing you have to understand about Foucault is that he takes a genealogical approach to everything, meaning he doesn’t go chronologically but rather traces the genesis of ideas. What that means in practice is that he takes a long ass time to get to the damn point. This series of lectures traces how war became solidified as the basis for power, and then how knowledge was produced from it.
- Foucault, Michel. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979. Biopower and economics!2
- Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. States that people are actors in that they attempt to control the script and the image others have of them through interaction (and the use of props, costume changes, etc.). They are at once actors and audience, because everyone is doing this. In essence, social interaction is dramaturgy.
- Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. See also: game changers. We can’t make anything required reading, but if we could, chapter 1 of this book would definitely be required.
Citations and Notes
01. Koselleck in Tanaka, Stefan. 2006. New Times in Modern Japan
02. If Foucault is too much of a pain in the ass to read, Thomas Lemke gives really good tl;dr versions of his work, particularly on governmentality and biopower..