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Polarizing Dreams: Gangnam and Popular Culture in Globalizing Korea

Publisher: , expected Dec 2024
Link to online store *

Anyone genuinely curious about what makes South Korean pop culture tick should look no further than Gangnam. Celebrated in a song by an unlikely K-pop superstar named Psy in 2012, Gangnam is the epicenter of Hallyu, the Korean Wave. It is an exclusive zone of privilege and wealth that has lured pop culture industries since the 1980s and fueled the aspirations of Seoul’s middle class, producing in its wake the “dialectical images” of the modern city described by Walter Benjamin: sweet dreams and nightmares, visions of heaven and hell, scenes of spectacular rises and great falls. In Polarizing Dreams, Pil Ho Kim presents South Korea’s Gangman-style urban development as a unique case of cultural globalization in the age of social polarization.

Unlike previous genre- or industry-focused publications on Hallyu, Polarizing Dreams mobilizes sources that may be unknown to many K-pop fans—dissident poetry and protest songs from the 1980s, B-rated adult films, tour bus disco music, obscure early works by famous authors and filmmakers, interviews with sex workers and urban entrepreneurs—to weave together Gangnam’s rich backstory and give readers a deeper appreciation of such acclaimed films as Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite and Lee Chang-dong’s Burning and the Netflix drama series Squid Game. Kim takes an unflinching look at the darker side of Korean society that includes school bullying, entertainment industry scandals, and misogynistic violence, all of which have provided compelling narratives for an increasing number of Hallyu media products. The Gangnam portrayed in this volume is the site of rampant disaster capitalism and rising inequality as well as the engine of cultural and technological innovation. In short, Gangnam is at the heart of Korea’s global-polarization.

As one of a handful of books on Korean cultural history that bridges the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, Polarizing Dreams will have a lasting impact on the study of Korean pop culture and beyond.

Pil Ho Kim is associate professor of Korean studies in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, The Ohio State University.

Source: publisher’s website

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