Why do the boys of Big Bang play with their masculinity? How are they able to do so? One theory that a Communication professor of mine presented to me is called the Theory of Culture Industry. The theory was formulated by two critical theorists, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. In their book Dialectic of Enlightenment, they have a chapter titled ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.’ The duo argues that popular culture is like a factory producing standardized cultural goods, whether that be through film, magazines, radio, television, etc., to manipulate the people into a state of passivity. No matter how difficult someone’s economic situation, people are content from the easy pleasures of popular culture and consumption. From this theory, we can say that the reason masculinity in Korean popular culture is played around with is simply because they have the economic means to do so. Because they have all that they need to construct this malleable depiction of masculinity, they go ahead and take advantage of their resources. They implement these resources to create their unique sense of masculinity and to therefore influence the people who consume this media.
But why is Korean popular culture different from that of other countries? Aren’t there countless other countries that we could say the exact same thing about? Take the United States for example: we definitely have all of the products and have enough money for our singers and other celebrities to be able to do the same. But there definitely isn’t the same level of malleable masculinity in American popular culture as there is in Korean popular culture. So what makes Korea different? One of the reasons I think Korea has utilized their resources so much is because they are fairly new to the country. A little bit of background on Korean history can help us understand this.
Before WWII, Korea was one country, and has been for thousands of years. After WWII and the subsequent Korean War, Korea was divided into North and South. The technologically-advanced, affluent South Korea that we know today was nonexistent 60 years ago. The economic boom in South Korea didn’t really start until about 30 years ago. So, South Koreans have not had an overwhelming amount of resources for very long. Different types of clothing, accessories, makeup, etc., is affordable and readily at hand today. Because everything is somewhat new for them, that might be why masculinity is constructed the way it is. If they have the means, why not use them? This is a theory that I think has validity when applied to Korean pop culture. What do you think?