Out With Anime, In With K-Pop

One nation under K-pop

One nation under K-pop

Within the American melting pot, our culture has had an evolving relationship with Asia, particularly China, South Korea, and Japan, and our understanding of the people as well as their various cultures. Even though some would argue that the consumption of Asian media by American audiences does not elicit cultural understanding, it’s fair to say that it’s an ongoing process.  Recently, I have started to notice the visibility of the “Korean Wave” in American mass media with the K-Pop super group Girls’ Generation winning the YouTube Music Awards, outranking the YouTube views of American celebrities like Miley Cyrus, One Direction, and Justin Bieber.  This newfound fanaticism of Asian culture reminds me of the anime boom during the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Both these Asian powerhouses exemplify America’s understanding of Asians and how it’s changed from the attack of Weeaboos to Americans embracing South Korea in its entirety.

As a 90’s baby, I grew up in the midst of this cultural storm.  Most of my childhood memories are of me rushing from school to watch Toonami Monday through Friday, and, religiously, waking up at 6a.m. every Saturday morning to watch 4Kids TV and ending them with Toonami at night.  My favorite anime at that time were Pokemon because it was the first time that I was exposed to non-American programming.  It was also my generation’s first introduction to Asian culture besides the Disney film Mulan in 1998.

My naiveté also led me to believe that this medium would actually educate me about a culture that was foreign to me, but it didn’t and it actually made me more ignorant to Asians and their culture.  One memory that has always haunted me was when in ninth grade, I was having lunch with my friend Nancy, who was Vietnamese, and she was eating rice balls and all I remember saying was “Are those donuts?” because that was what they were called  on Pokemon.

THE INFAMOUS DONUT!! Dun dun dun!

THE INFAMOUS DONUT!! Dun dun dun!

Even though I was young and didn’t know any better, my blunder is a prime example of the consequences of taking cultural cues from television without any cultural context.  In retrospect, one of the biggest problems with the anime boom was the Americanization of the Japanese art form.  When anime is imported to the states, American companies not only translate and dub the show in English, but sometimes they also heavily alter the show by replacing all the Japanese cultural references with references to American pop culture, like the popular comedy series Shin Chan and Sgt. Frog.  Also, most of the anime that were shipped to the states were originally full of blood, violence, and profanity but they removed or altered to make it suitable for a younger audience, i.e. Dragonball Z, Sonic X, Yu-Gi-Oh and One Piece.  This created a discrepancy by confusing Japanese semiotics for American ones, as a result every onigiri became a donut, and names like Sakura and Yusuke became Amy and Joey.  So, even though we were consuming Eastern media, the subliminal message of Westernization belittles the audiences chance to experience the Asian art of storytelling.

Another problem that resulted from the anime boom was the creation of the American otaku, a breed of overzealous fans who are disillusioned about what is authentically Japanese and sometimes come off as racist towards Asian-Americans.  These are the people, who claim that they can speak Japanese from watching Japanese subtitles; who live off of Pockey sticks and Top Ramen but never been to a real Ramen house; who paint over their eyes to imitate the illusion that they have big “anime eyes” when they cosplay.   Unfortunately, I am not making these examples up because these were some of the things my high school anime club did and I am ashamed that I was affiliated with them.

This is why I am grateful that I get to go to college; I have the opportunity to make friends with people who are Asian, experience their customs, and better my understanding of the Asian-American experience.  However, I’m just one person, not everyone has the resources or the exposure to better themselves.  Sometimes, I feel bad that my friends back home are still ignorant about how diverse Asian-Americans are, and they still are probably using these stereotypes to befriend them.

In 2013, I am witnessing society taking bigger strides to rectify the damage the golden age of anime has created as we make the transition from one cultural phenomenon to another.  The “Korean Wave” has been a gateway to Korean culture, and with the rising popularity of the Korean channel Mnet America, allows American audiences to explore all aspects of Korean pop culture at the source.  One reality series in particular, #mykpop depicts how the demographic of K-Pop is not only limited to Asian-Americans but to people of all ages and nationalities, especially in America.  They show how the impact of K-Pop has made fans want to learn how to speak Korean, go to K-Town, and there is even an American black female group called Coco Avenue whose songs are all in Korean, due to the influence of groups such as EXO and Wonder Girls.

#mykpop Third Cast Member

The “Korean Wave” is bringing everyone closer together, and I am glad to see the public’s perception of Asian culture demystified and becoming more widely accepted.  Maybe in time, negative Asian stereotypes will become a thing of the past for good.

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6 thoughts on “Out With Anime, In With K-Pop

  1. I didn’t know Japanese animations are such popular in the United States before I came here, but many Americans who I met told me their favorite Japanese animations and sometime they knew a few Japanese phrases from animation. I was impressed that Japanese culture is accepted from them and have interests in Japan. However, at the same time, as you did I also realized some Japanese comics are whitewashed by American media and changed as they want. I don’t have a strong opinion about this but I felt like that white is always superior to us.I hope K-pop wave brings a good perspective to American society.

  2. Sunny Lee: I am impressed by your article. I never got to experience to hear opinions about Kpop or Asian culture in general from an African-American’s perspective (especially my age or similar), and I am glad to hear that from my fellow classmate! Your personal story with your high school friend was very interesting, and it allowed me to know more about your experience affiliated with Asian Americans. I am also grateful to go to college because it allows me to experiment different perspectives or views and challenges me to think outside-of-box. I spent my childhood in Korea (also watching Japanese anime), so I didn’t know America translated Japanese animations unreasonably. I hope too in the future that the “Korean Wave” would ease out the stereotype images of Asian Americans.

  3. Ahriz Diaz

    – I like the take in the popularity of anime in the western world. Many believe that these anime shows are western creation not fully knowing of it’s origin. I do believe that due to the rise of anime popularity. The acceptance of Japanese influence into the American culture was very interesting to me. I believe that Japanese media was the start of Asian culture to influence to the western world. Watching Japanese animation I can see the difference it has with American animation. Japanese is more detailed and the coloring is more sharp while American animation seem circular and broken. The coloring for American animation is also lighter.

  4. HanJoo Lee: As a life-time fan of animes, I enjoyed reading your blog. But since I grew watching most of these animes in Korea, I had no idea that the Japanese animes actually had negative effect in introducing the oriental culture to the states. I always thought that even though most Americans aren’t aware of the existence of Asian American media, they have been engaging them without even knowing through well-known Asian media productions such as animes that manged to gain popularity in the U.S. But according to what you have said your blog, it seems that the Americanization of the Asian productions prevented them from becoming Asian-American,and instead completely made it American, with only a subtle glance into the Asian culture that causes more misunderstandings than understandings. In that sense, I’m glad that the Korean Wave is gaining popularity in the U.S. since unlike the animes that can be easily Americanized, there is a limit to how much the Korean media culture can be altered, which means that it can show a more correct image of the Asian culture than the animes did.

  5. I totally agree with this post. Korean American and Japanese American culture was and is the norm of America for Asian Americans, I think it’s very peculiar however how the Asian American culture has adopted to American culture and vice versa, the thing I find interesting however is how Kpop is not famous for its catchy and unique tunes more as it is popularized due to its flashy and fancy music videos. What else I find interesting was the transitions from Japanese manga and korean Kpop culture. I thinks it’s very interesting how we adopt these cultures According to the norms of different nations. I believe that manga and Kpop are crucial things found in American culture because it shows as evidence that America is slowly adopting to different cultures. This means that the concept of racism is slowly dissipating and dissolving.

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