Why do we choose to watch what we watch?
By Hajira Mehreen Qurishe | India
When the aux passes to you and it's your turn to blast some songs, have you ever wanted to play some of your favorite anime openings? But instead chose some English songs, to play it safe around others? Have you ever so badly wanted to recommend an amazing K-drama you just finished watching? But didn’t, because you know the people you want to suggest it to would never take your recommendations seriously just because it’s a Korean Tv show. Ooh... This is my favorite. Have you ever uploaded a story of your favorite Asian actor/actress but made it accessible only to your private follower list? Have you ever tried to question why you try to downplay your interest in the pop culture of different countries especially if it’s Asian Pop culture? But you don’t even think twice before telling others how you are re-watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S for the millionth time.
For the past two years, I have become very much fascinated with Korean Pop culture. But recently while I was watching K dramas back-to-back, I had this thought that it's time to switch back to English shows as I felt I am getting too engrossed with this. But growing up, I have always been into American Pop culture and I even felt I was cool for watching predominantly English films. So, why does the thought that being too into Asian pop culture is not right might pop into my head? Why am I having a racial bias in choosing my entertainment preferences? To answer my thought process, I decided to dig a little deeper into this.
Social perception through pop culture:
According to the #Popjustice Volume 3 research review, “popular culture is often the primary source of information people have about other racial or ethnic groups”. Our active engagement in this cultural phenomenon transcends beyond what we think it’s capable of. It is dynamic in its expression of ideas and when paired with unlimited accessibility, especially in a digitalized world like ours, it’s a powerful force to reckon with. Pop culture plays a key role in determining how we define our own and other identity groups. That’s why representation matters. Those who think it does not, have always been represented too.
Historically, Popular culture tends to underrepresent the non-dominant racial and ethnic groups or tries to caricature them into stereotypical tropes rather than depicting them as fully developed distinct characters. This way of representation is harmful especially to the young minds who were immigrated to a different country and their direct access to the outside world is through people that they don’t identify or relate with. Nicole Martins of Indiana University has said, “There’s this body of research and a term known as ‘symbolic annihilation,’ which is the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant.” This view is damaging to the viewers who are often misrepresented or rarely represented in mainstream media.
How gender influences fandom?
Even though times are changing and many larger mainstream platforms are casting actors from diverse backgrounds in the central role, there is still more work to be done. The years of misrepresentation cannot be wiped out so easily. The internalized racism does tend to come out. A very clear example of this could be seen from how K-pop bands are constantly exposed to blatant racist attacks despite their growing popularity and fanbase, not to mention the records they have been consecutively breaking. There is another reason why their music is constantly undervalued by non-K-Pop stans. There is a term called “rabid fangirl” especially aimed at teenage girls for being very much into a specific brand or subject almost religiously. But if you look at how some people are given a free pass for being overly obsessed with football or cricket or being too into a movie franchise or a Tv show. It makes you wonder why they are not shamed or trolled for their interests. It's acceptable to criticize the music of the K-Pop band if you don’t like it. But almost on all of the online platforms, the amount of hate, fanboys and especially fangirls receive for liking a particular band is beyond disrespectful. It's saddening to see how fangirls have to constantly defend their reasons for liking something. They have to consistently prove that they like the band beyond the idol’s looks. But it is not always without reason. South Korea has some of the most toxic fandoms. Some fans are called “sasaeng”. These fans are very obsessive about their Idols to the point that they stalk their Idols and even physically assault them in an attempt to make their Idol remember them. Most of the Sasaeng fans are females within the age group of 17 to 22. But it's completely unfair to group the entire fandom by stereotyping them as crazy fangirls. It undermines an individual's interest and the value of the creative work the artist works for. But sexist undertones might be hidden behind why a particular fandom could get so much hate especially if it has a huge female following.
As someone who has grown up watching American Pop culture, it's inevitable internalizing western perspectives as a more superior and cool way to view the world. But the breakthrough of various multi-lingual film industries on a global scale in recent years is certainly changing that narrative. It's now more than ever that we need more mainstream content written from usually underrepresented racial and ethnic groups’ perspectives.
But doesn’t it blow your mind? That the simple act of choosing to watch a movie or a Tv show could hold so many sexist and racist undertones. I know many people who simply won't watch a K-drama just because of how men are portrayed to express themselves in a non-binary way such as be it applying make-up or being emotional. The men behaving in a way which is not conforming to the idealized masculine standards doesn’t appeal to some people. But K-dramas do tend to reinforce gender roles even though it’s slowly changing. Every creative work must be scrutinized regarding what value it brings without being blindly absorbed. But It's your choice to watch what you want. But the next time, you try to disregard the creative value of something, try to introspect if your choice is backed with negative undertones. It's time we stop mindlessly consuming media as there is a high chance, that the higher the media we consume, the higher our views and choices reflect it without backed by any real-life experience. Our Tv view of the world could dominate our real-life perspective. Stories are powerful. It's time we started telling our stories without actually living them.