Even a foundationally exploitative business model finds itself entangled with, and dependent on, its object…

Where I live there are several hours of continuous K-Pop music videos broadcast on a Sunday morning and while I possess no particular interest beyond that of a general analysis, the business and cultural presence of this phenomenon are really very impressive.

As a business, it is not common knowledge the extent to which the lives of these adolescent stars are processed and produced through a militaristic regime of diet, exercise and strict managerial control. That the personal lives of these young people are also structured and controlled in ways which serve the greater purpose of marketing and consumer perception is also a fact not transparently obvious. A young star who is discovered in the media to have entered into a relationship instantly becomes less attractive to their audience, less “available” and less marketable in a context where attractiveness and tittilation is a key component of celebrity-identity and value construction.

At the level of audio and video production quality, K-Pop is superlative in all regards. The mechanisms of art direction, choreography, symbol and theme cooption and cultural aquisition are profoundly well-polished. There is a clear sophistication and productive efficiency underlying this business; of course the profit incentive is (as always) key to this but I think we see in this particular phenomenon of K-Pop a particular perfection of what is really a cultural meat-grinder, churning out hits and attractive distractions at a spectacularly high rate and volume.

Pop music more generally tends to both inhabit and produce those emotive spaces and matrices of self-definition and meaning-making through which a consensus reality and shared experience is propagated. Biological and sociological imperatives encrypted as adolescent aspirations of belonging and meaning generate those normative emotional and ideational frameworks within which subjective experience is produced, explored, validated and self-justified.

The “interiority”, subjective depth and intelligible boundaries of adolescent experience is constructed, produced and generated through the profit-directed imperatives of the business of music. We may of course just as readily suggest that the business of music is constructed, produced and generated through the possibility of (and potential for) interiority, subjectivity and socio-biological drives for meaning and participation. In as much as the business of K-Pop (as a specific instance of these kinds of reflexive systems) is the generator of a specific kind of hallucinatory, fantasy and hyper-real sensibility of identity and value, it is no less entangled within the web of its own creation; the highly-regimented business model is as much a slave to its reflexive context as are the perhaps unwitting adolescents who are offered up on the sacrificial altar of this hyper-capitalist entertainment industry.

4 replies on “K-Pop”

If only T. Adorno, W. Benjamin, and M. Horkheimer had been around to read this post… They were upset about the ‘culture industry’ back when that meant LPs and radio air time for vocal jazz.

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Thanks Ted. Your perspicacious commentary has on several occasions given me both pause for thought and literary and philosophical vectors for investigation. Following your advice, I threw myself into Zizek’s “Plague of Fantasies” but found it a slow read, if instructive and elusively compelling in that way that perhaps only psychoanalytic reflection can be. It is one of many books in my residence simultaneously competing for time and attention; including Geoffrey West’s “Scale”, Daniel Dennett’s “From Bacteria to Bach and back”, Deleuze and Guattari’s “A Thousand Plateaus”, Niklas Luhmann’s “Social Systems”, and now Adorno’s essays on the topic of the “Culture Industry”. ☺

There’s just not enough time to read as many interesting books as exist in the world. A question which arises might be: how is anyone to aggregate and process all of the useful thought on any matter when the mass-volume of such thought proliferates beyond all hope of effective control, cognition or memory ? It could be phrased: is it possible to compress the process of information absorption beyond something of this (necessarily) blind, intuitive grasping for hunches and reaching for the familiar ideological or logical contours provided by education, expectation and experience ?

In an era of acceleration and compression of experience, matter and time it is perhaps something of an inevitability that such questions rear their heads; but – how to consider this problem without becoming stuck in some pointless and extravagant, logically spherical abstraction and unwittingly circular hyperbole ?

There must exist useful shortcuts to understanding and to communication, as a matter of statistical inevitability in a complex problem-space there always exist new, novel and untrodden “optimum” paths. This conundrum, like my copy of “Plague of Fantasies”, remains unfinished and unresolved but perhaps in all its incompleteness there is a hint at the epistemological “hyperlink” and recombinatory shortcut I am searching for.

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What you’re poking at here is *the* question, namely, given a set of possible inputs and a clearly defined outcome, how can you reduce the complexity of the inputs in a way that enables evidential decision making?

There are a couple things to say here. First, I’m not sure it makes perfect sense to speak of “optima” in terms of reading and digesting information. Not only is our own domain of desire relatively unknowable (we don’t know what we want to read), but even if we did, reading has this radical ability to not only satisfy desires for certain forms of knowing but to transform them into different forms with different parameters and outcomes. Reading John Milton filled me with a previously unconscionable desire to examine the history of Christian theology; no one could have predicted or desired that.

To avoid totally punting on this question, I’ll offer the following: The reason it makes sense to speak of something like the ‘Western Canon’ rather than just a selection of good books is that the cognitively burdensome task of doing what we just described (reducing complexity, improving signal/noise ratios, leveraging explanatory and interpretive power, etc.) has effectively been outsourced to a dynamic dominance hierarchy that is curated and selected for and against by generations of scholars, cultural critics, and so on. The ‘cream’ has been pushed to the top while the heavy, dull matter sinks into relative obscurity. If you’re a postmodernist, you attribute an arbitrary and oppressive power dynamic to the existence of the Canon (for instance, the Canon Wars of the ’90s). If you’re not, you follow a much more natural conclusion: These books are good. I’m a fan, for instance, of meta-analyses of the most commonly assigned books in the core curriculae of Ivy League humanities courses. (Want to take a guess as to what the #1 slot is…?)

I think that in the same way that chimpanzee females ‘outsource’ the highly complex task of finding the fittest mates for reproduction to the male dominance hierarchy, we as students of literature, theory, and science ‘outsource’ questions about ‘best’ and ‘most’ to the generations of scholars that have preceded us. We can criticize the canon as exclusive or incomplete or inaccessible or fill in the blank, but these criticisms are often superficial; the stronger reality is that there is a hard core of the books and ideas that have been elected by the consensus of scholars to represent things worth reading.

As for Plague of Fantasies, I’m happily surprised that you would take a relative stranger’s recommendation to read a bizarre and difficult book full of ‘psychobabble’ and extremely labyrinthine elaboratory structures, to say nothing of the obvious prerequisites for full understanding (Lacan, Marx, Hegel, etc.). Zizek is, in reality, a terrible writer but a completely unique voice, and as we are increasingly living in a global and omnimodal form of capitalist culture, I didn’t think his critique should go unnoticed. Since you were talking about K-Pop in this article, I think it fits his basic formula in the book: Consumption behavior of a certain concrete product being driven by its manufacturing of a plague of fantasies that creates a pathological demand for an imaginary wholeness within the social fabric.

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