Hate, Geopolitics, and Inter-Asia Media/Cultural Studies
The cross-border dialogue forged by inter-Asia media/cultural studies does not, however, necessarily yield a utopian vision ofharmonious Asia. As Iwabuchi (2013) astutely pointed out,“East Asian media culture connection has brought about not just cross-boundary dialogues but also cross-boundary disparity, division, antagonism and marginalization in various overlapping ways” (p. 49). In recent years, the situation has become increasingly complicated as the development of digital media has enabled the rapid and easy circulation of information, some of it in the form of rumor and “fake news.” In the meantime, power imbalances and the uneven flow of media/cultural content among Asian nations remain salient issues, and unshared-ness—particularly with respect to historical memories and territorial disputes—retains the capacity to generate (political) conflict at any time. As globalization proceeds and communication technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, the challenges that scholars face and the inquiries in which they engage evolve. 1 return to these considerations later in this chapter in a discussion of shifts in social conditions to which, I suggest, scholars of inter-Asia media/cultural studies must give serious consideration and of the key research questions and agendas in the current era of hate politics.
The Changing Political Landscape Worldwide and in East Asia
The rise of populism and isolationist nationalism across the globe, from Europe to North and South America to Asia, certainly casts globalization today in a different light than was the case earlier, when the belief was common that the result of globalization would be a brighter future with societies becoming increasingly open. The current moment is dominated by anti-globalist, anti-immigrant, and protectionist movements that are gaining power and popularity in many countries around the world, as reflected in, for example, responses to the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, the Trump administration’s plan to build a wall across the US-Mexico border, and the recent departure of Britain from the European Union known as “Brexit.” These developments indicate that national borders, recently thought to be weakening, are in fact becoming increasingly rigid and salient.The resurgence of nationalism (or re-nationalization), then, demands close scrutiny of the manner in which globalization simultaneously propels and hinders mediated collectivities in spaces beyond nation-centered imaginations and frameworks.
Along with the rise of right-wing populism around the globe, the ever-evolving situation in East Asia—in particular, Chinas rise and its expanding cultural and political impact on the region and beyond—deserves further attention in this regard. Especially relevant to the present discussion, Ching (2015) argued regarding the emergence of neo-regionalism in East Asia,“two regional developments under global capitalism—the rise of China and the Korean Wave—have radically transformed the Japan-centric model of an imagined regional integration” (p. 39). In other words, the global success and popularity of Korean popular culture together with the rise of China in the world economy and international relations/politics have significantly de-Westernized the regional and global orders, and one result of this shift has been a decrease in—though to be sure not the withering away of—Japan’s influence over regional politics. More broadly, this geopolitical shift has certainly caused or renewed tensions, conflicts, and antagonisms within the region.
The tense relationships among China, South Korea (hereafter simply “Korea”), and Japan over issues ranging from the presentation of history in school textbooks to territorial disputes (i.e., between Korea and Japan over the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands and between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands) well demonstrate the ongoing political and historical struggles in the region. The resolution of these conflicts is difficult to imagine, especially in the circumstances just described, with (physical) national borders being increasingly contested. In the case of China, in addition to the country’s conflicts with neighboring countries, its relations with ethnic Chinese populations in Taiwan (the Republic of China) and Hong Kong have also been tense and have been generating geopolitical friction.Thus, for instance, the Sunflower Movement3 in Taiwan (2014) along with the Umbrella Movement* (2014) and more recent extradition protests (2019) in Hong Kong clearly manifest anxiety (and fear) regarding Chinese opposition to the efforts of citizens ofTaiwan and Hong Kong to control their own affairs, which inevitably undermines regional stability. As such, China’s desire to be the next leading global powerhouse has resulted in various levels of antagonism toward China across the region.
It is, then, the task of inter-Asia media/cultural studies to examine how the evolving regional and international situations impact and are affected by the cultural consumption patterns of regional audiences. The popular cultural arena abounds with examples of the complex interplay between politics and culture in the context of China’s rise and Korea’s exertion of soft power through the Korean Wave. Noteworthy in this regard is the Chinese government’s (temporary) ban on Korean media and popular culture and Chinese citizens’ boycotting of the Korea-based conglomerate Lotte following Korea’s announcement in 2016 of plans to deploy the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system; the ban demonstrated the potential for political tension at the state level to affect transnational media and cultural flow between the two countries (see L. Chen, 2017; Park, Lee, & Seo, 2019). In their study of state intervention in the consumption of Korean dramas in China, Park et al. (2019) argued that the regulations imposed on Korean TV programs following the THAAD dispute should be understood in the larger context of the Chinese government’s control over the Internet and the inflow of foreign media content and of capitalist culture generally.
In a similar vein, K-pop is hybrid and transnational in every respect—including the capital that finances it, the composers of the songs, the origins of the members of the various groups, and the fashions and styles that it promotes. While its transnational nature facilitates its global spread, this aspect of K-pop can also be a source of controversy, so that K-pop stars’ bodies at times serve as symbolic sites of cultural contestation where regional nationalisms flare and antagonistic geopolitics play out (Fedorenko, 2017). 1 and a colleague (see Ahn & Lin, 2019), for instance, have explored the specific case known as the “Tzuyu incident,” in which a Taiwanese member of a K-pop girl group known as TWICE waved a Taiwanese flag during appearances on a Korean TV show, leading to a range of responses among the various audiences—Korean, Chinese, and Taiwanese—of K-pop. This incident, we argued, is another example of the complexity of the relationships among Korea, China, and Taiwan at the intersection of commercialism and nationalism. Again, the tension between politics and culture in the region requires keen attention in the form of analysis from a trans-Asian perspective in order to transcend perspectives dominated by simple deterministic conceptions, economic or political, of cultural flow.