Global Education

Hypnotized by a culture… mostly because of its women

By Shervin Rezaei
Published: November 2010

As some of my fellow peers may have noticed, on Thursdays after school I can be caught practicing the Korean martial art of Taekwondo.
Dressed in the traditional white dobok uniform, you can spot me sweating and wheezing and hopelessly trying to imitate my black belt superiors.
Many people have asked me over the years: “Why did you start practicing Taekwondo?
Although that’s a very appropriate question to ask, the answer is really more banal than people may expect.
I joined the Taekwondo club almost three and a half years ago because I was a good friend of the young man who initially created the club, Joon Chung.
What our school population needs to realize, and I apologize in advance for sounding painfully Confucian, is that the endpoints of an endeavor pale in significance to the lessons of the journey.
Taekwondo itself has proven to be merely the inception point of a much grander scheme in my high school experience, and probably for the entirety of my life; I’ve developed an odd admiration for all things Korean.
Celebration of a culture unfamiliar to your own (I’m a second-generation Persian, myself) can unveil an unlimited source of fresh zest.
The cultural factors that provide constant motivation towards a targeted activity are really important.
I joined Taekwondo club to be with a friend, but what kept me attending after that? Was it still my friend? I think not. Was it the physical benefits? No. Was it the extracurricular merits for college? In some respects, but no. The fame? No. The glory? Heavens no. Was it the women? Yes, it was the women.
For the first two years of my Taekwondo experience, I maintained a relatively safe distance from any cultural aspects beyond what was required of me for my training.
I learned basic phrases, rudimentary counting, and specific names of Taekwondo techniques.
I slowly progressed and eventually investigated, on my own, the realm of Korean history.
But I learned virtually nothing. The history websites simply could not supplement my zeal to understand contemporary and traditional Korean societies. This exact point is where I’ve always found myself entangled before being able to fully appreciate another culture.
For example, I have two cousins who live in Haiti, and because of them I have been inspired to explore French and Haitian culture. I also have two very good friends who hail from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
We met this summer and they educated me about their native region of Amhara in Ethiopia, and also about the respective culture.
As a result of socializing frequently with these people, as with Koreans in Taekwondo club, I developed a capacity to adapt to my social settings.
For example, I’ve learned enough profanities in Haitian and Amharic to get myself into fights, and most likely killed, if I am ever to visit my cousins’ or friends’ home towns.
I’ve learned some of the native dances and even have some music from Haiti and Ethiopia on my iPod.
My mom cooks Haitian dishes from time to time. I’ve seen a few Ethiopian movies, independently, without the suggestion of my friends.
Although I was exposed to Haitian and Ethiopian culture in almost equal intensities (in comparison to Korean culture), what brought Korea to the forefront of my hunger for exotic cultures was the powerful presence of their youth customs.
And what within these customs seized my interest? A Korean-pop girl band composed of nine angels.
So Nyuh Shi Dae, meaning Girl’s Generation, abbreviated as SNSD, prevails above all entertainment as the absolute multi-sensory gratification experience.
Not only are these nine singers resplendent with pure beauty, but they sing, dance, act, and host television programs.  
The members are, in order of announcement in the group: Yoona, Tiffany, Yuri, Hyoyeon, Sooyoung, Seohyun, Taeyeon, Jessica, and Sunny.
Although that information may be irrelevant to you, the reader, take it as a sign of my obsession for SNSD.
If more proof is needed, I can readily identify members by face, separate facial features, as well as voice if any reader is curious. I can also dance, but that isn’t free.
Korean-pop (K-pop) culture is unique in that it has fused several distinct American styles into an intricate network of artists, if we may refer to assembly-line pop as ‘Ëœart’.
First and foremost, Korean-pop culture is highly addictive, more so than the pop music present in the US today.
K-pop not only dominates the sales charts for South Korea, but also poses a heavy contender in neighboring Chinese, Japanese, and Southeast Asian music markets.
It’s also safe to say that next to American pop, K-pop is vastly widespread across the globe, influencing unexpected areas such as Latin America, Eastern Europe, India, and even the United States.
In fact, the Korean girl band Wonder Girls released an English version of their number one single “Nobody in the United States in June of 2009.
A few of the minor style components include R&B vocal groups, a faction of K-pop used to retaliate against the growing American output of R&B music.
Another similar and much more apparent match up can be found between American artists such as Lady Gaga and Korean artists such as Lee Hyori, 4Minute, 2NE1, and BoA.
The coalescence of 1980′s euro-pop with Auto-Tune saturated, recycled R&B beats creates an oddly compelling musical experience that is never fully hated and, unfortunately, never fully resisted.
Similarly, the costumes of the respective artists look unaesthetic and are simply ridiculous, further augmenting the confusion first produced by the music.
No matter the country of origin, all artists of this category seem to be under the impression that they are avant-garde, when in reality, they lack meaningful innovation.
The major component of K-pop style music derives from the Golden Age of global pop: the boy band era.
Korea, being as keen as it may be, decided to expand upon the idea of 2000′s boy band pop by introducing girl bands, and by setting no limit on the number of group members.
Average American groups ranged from three to five members, whereas Korean pop groups may hold up to a staggering fifteen members.
These groups, especially SNSD, are what attracted me to Korean-pop culture.
The bubblegum pop style of music offers little to no input from the artists themselves, but is rather a mechanized production of innocent, upbeat, happy, and idealistically romantic songs.
The producers contrive the music and choreograph the accompanying dances to swoon tweens and teens into purchasing their product.
I can assure you, although I have portrayed K-pop in a bad light, it’s one of the greatest assemblies of songs you may ever encounter in your lifetime.
All pop is usually portrayed in a negative manner, because pop really is a corporate device to steal from your income.
But bubblegum pop makes life so simple, so plain, so idyllic, that nothing else matters.
Albeit intrinsically fraudulent, K-pop groups such as SNSD can cause you to be happy, to alleviate stress, to mend composure after undergoing emotional pain, and  to be thought of as a Korean girl’s “oppa.
Who cares if all of this is done by subconsciously manipulating your latent emotional vulnerabilities?
Now it’s your turn, reader.
Explore the cultures of neighboring towns, the traditions beyond typical American high school myths, the lifestyle of someone who you may not know so well.
But you must always remember two things: First, tolerance is never enough.
An independent investigation of the truths to a culture will endow you with awareness and substantiated respect, or even admiration, depending on you and your qualities.
Secondly, Korea is #1.

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