For those who’ve been scrolling by YouTube, TikTok or Instagram it will be no shock to likelihood upon calming minimalist aesthetics of Korean cafe decor; pilgrimages to the areas of well-liked Ok-dramas; and even the well mannered decorum of Korean public transport commuters.
In South Korea, oegugin (foreign-national) influencers usually produce social media content material centered on the worldwide curiosity in Ok-pop, Ok-drama and Ok-film for audiences inside and outside of Korea.
These influencers are most distinguished on YouTube, the place the most well-liked tendencies embody binge-eating mukbang, life-style vlogging of fancy cafe cultures and Ok-pop fandom homages like visits to pop-up shops by idol teams.
On platforms like TikTok and Instagram, content material is shared with hashtags like #외국인 (#oegugin) and #외국인반응 (#oegugin-baneung, or foreigner response).
Many oegugin influencers have risen to stardom. The duo Korean Englishman have over 5 million subscribers, and now frequently seem on Korean tv speak reveals and selection reveals.
In our new analysis, we discovered oegugin influencers are predominantly white-presenting non-Koreans who usually undertake nationalist tones to endorse the “excellence” of Korean tradition.
The discourse is usually celebratory, leverages on exoticism and promotes “pop nationalism”: a brand new type of gentle energy marketed within the type of popular culture.
The oegugin influencer ecology is on the rise. As Ok-cultures have turn into globally well-liked, Korea is a horny vacation spot for aspiring influencers.
Our examine discovered most of those expats and migrants have been English lecturers, college students or gig economic system employees who work a number of day jobs to maintain their influencer aspirations.
Many South Korean authorities our bodies have launched initiatives to incubate and groom aspiring oegugin influencers, particularly to advertise tourism and improve cultural information in regards to the nation.
A chief instance is the Ok-influencer Academy, sponsored by the Ministry of Tradition, Sports activities and Tourism.
Designed to domesticate “Ok-influencers” from all world wide, the academy is a YouTube coaching program for “Korea lovers”, providing free lectures on content material creation and mentorship alternatives with established YouTubers.
As soon as these influencers have been developed, the Korean authorities can even outsource its nation branding marketing campaign. Capitalizing upon the free labor of Ok-influencers, the federal government reposts and shares their content material on official YouTube channels.
A sure sort of ambassador
South Korea is branded as a “new cool” by the worldwide media, as seen within the world reputation of Ok-pop.
Oegugin influencers take this digital Korean cool and reproduce it on YouTube.
These influencers are essential conduits of inter-cultural information. They act as each “nodes” the place audiences cluster, and “mediators” of the values and norms propagated by digital Korean content material.
Initiatives just like the Ok-influencer Academy can improve intercultural information between totally different cultures and nations, emphasizing racial and cultural range.
Nonetheless, many campaigns and initiatives led by small authorities our bodies are additionally closely reliant on racial norms and stereotypes.
In our analysis, we discovered the movies shared on these platforms are regularly solely of white-passing oegugin.
The truth is, there’s even a subgenre of oegugin response movies catering to home audiences’ preferences for white magnificence.
The darkish underbelly
It isn’t all Ok-pop and café tradition. Public curiosity in oegugin influencers can place them within the susceptible place of receiving hateful commentary.
Folks we spoke to reported a powerful tendency to self-censor and self-regulate.
Influencers who’re overtly celebratory about Korea noticed development in viewership and constructive viewers suggestions, resulting in additional paid alternatives with authorities our bodies.
Nonetheless, when oegugin influencers share criticism about Korea they’re perceived to be “threatening” the pop nationalist model of the nation. These influencers rapidly obtain on-line hate and trolling for sharing their ideas.
This on-line hate is exacerbated if the influencers are folks of colour, because the vitriol expands to racist and xenophobic trolling.
Whereas authorities partnerships are prestigious and sought-after, the fact of the working circumstances depart oegugin influencers with little company and artistic management. Their work is under-compensated by authorities our bodies, or could also be utilized by government-related events with out permission.
A cautious steadiness
Inside this ecology, solely a choose few oegugin influencers efficiently navigate away from the pop nationalist script to showcase their very own pursuits.
Essentially the most savvy may go on to domesticate their very own storytelling area of interest.
The YouTube duo Dan and Joel are initially from the UK and recognized for his or her documentary model mukbang. Whereas they principally function different oegugins of their collaborative movies, their well-liked movies make clear social minorities in Korea.
Viral movies from the pair have seen the influencers showcasing a feminist tattooist and older homeless folks, stimulating conversations on feminism or shedding gentle on poverty.
On this, they provide viewers a glimpse into the much less polished elements of “actual” Korea.
Within the predominantly white ecology, such a particular technique will not be a privilege accorded to all influencers. To take care of viewer visitors (which they aspire to translate into income) we discovered many influencers nonetheless abide by the handy racial stereotypes which play up white exotica and privilege.
Though extra oegugins are getting into the business and contributing to its various ecology, in actuality, the oegugin influencer economic system remains to be dominated by solely a choose crop who adhere to Korea’s normative racial hierarchy.
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