Author: courtneyt

Currently a 3rd year Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Communication & Media Studies student at the University of Wollongong blogging as a course work requirement.

Reflecting on my autoethnographic experience

Autoethnography: ‘research, writing, story, and method that connect the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social, and political’ (Ellis, 2004)

Autoethnography has allowed me, as the researcher, to move beyond traditional methods of research and writing, and enabled me to use stream-of-consciousness thought and a digital artefact to help convey my own experience navigating my way through a foreign culture. Throughout the semester I struggled with, what seemed to be, a step-back from the theory-driven methods that are often drilled into us at university. However upon reflection, I feel that approaching my research autoethnographically has allowed for a more immersive and informative experience.

According to Bochner and Ellis (2006), an autoethnographic researcher is first and foremost a communicator and a storyteller, and this is something I agree with. I haven’t been just communicating someone else’s ideas, I have been experiencing a foreign digital media form and expressing my personal thoughts, feelings and observations, which is somewhat refreshing, in my opinion, for both the communicator and the audience.

Rick Sheridan, in his article ‘Autoethnography: An Introduction to a unique research method’ lists a number of autoethnography prompts, ideas to get the autoethnography research processs started. As I looked through these questions I realised that by attempting to understand/become involved in Now On My Way To Meet You, I have answered some of these questions implicitly. As I researched the context of the show I realised the assumptions and prejudices that I brought into the research as a 21 year old Australian girl who has never experienced one ounce of the struggle of the shows stars. And even after almost a whole semester attempting to understand the show, I am resigned to the fact that there will always be unexplainable holes in my general understanding because, no matter how hard I try, there is a cultural gap that can not be overcome by simply knowing the history behind South and North Korean politics.

‘The researcher shows people in the process of personal discovery, making choices, interacting with other humans – it provides insight into the meaning of their struggles’ (Sheridan, n.d). I think that my digital artefact (mainly the twitter feed) affirms this documentation of ‘struggle’. I found so much of my research frustrating because I was unable to find online versions of the show with English subtitles and was forced to rely on news articles and small translated YouTube clips.

By reflecting on my experiences of Now On My Way To Meet You throughout the semester I can confidently say that I have been challenged on a cultural and intellectual level as I attempted to transplant this digital Asian media into an Australian context. My research epiphany, an integral part of research as explained by Ellis, Adams & Bochner in their article Autoethnography: An Overview, came as I ultimately realised that this could not happen. Now On My Way To Meet You is so deeply dependent on the ingrained societal prejudices of South Korea that it would lose its social and political potency if it were to be implanted into another countries context. This is the most unique and powerful element of the show. The element that confused, entertained, educated, interested and challenged me throughout my research.

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Setting the context: Now On My Way To Meet You

Last week I looked contrasted Now On My Way To Meet You with international examples and examined some of the similarities/differences in terms of themes and content. This week I shifted my focus back to South Korea, and worked to understand how Now On My Way To Meet You is to be understood within the contexts of South Korean society and South Korean popular representations of North Koreans.

In order to understand the context, I had a look at some facts and figures regarding refugee demographic within South Korea. After the 1950-1953 Korean War, South Korea’s military dictators treated the North as a grave and existential threat, arresting political dissidents and accusing them of harboring regime sympathies. However stirred initially by the North Korean famine in the 1990’s, the number of North Korean arrivals, or talbukja, climbed to an annual level of 2-3 thousand in the period between 2006-2010. The rapid growth has also been accompanied by a shift in gender distribution of refugees, with the majority of early defectors being male, more North Korean women began to cross into China, and travelled on to South Korea. In 2013 there exists a substantial community of roughly 25 000 North Korean refugees in South Korea; 70% of these are female.

The number of North Koreans living in South Korea coincided with significant developments in governmental approach to the North. The Sunshine Policy was introduced in 1998 by South Korean President Kim Dae Jung. The policy aimed as softening North Korea’s attitude towards to South by encouraging interaction and economic assistance. The policy resulted in greater political contact between the two states and in 2000 Kim Dae Jung was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful implementation of the policy. Before this, an even still to a lesser extent today, there was a deep-rooted, inherent misunderstanding between the people of the two Korea’s. Southern portraits of North Koreans mostly treated their counterparts as evil communists, and downtrodden, brainwashed automons.

The format of Now On My Way To Meet You can also attribute to its acceptance in South Korea. The show has the ability to appeal to viewers that may be apathetic to North Korean issues. The show operates within a tried and tested formula of chat/game shows. It shows that attractive North Korean women, referred to in the show as ‘the beauties’, are able to engage with South Korean society. Personalities emerge and, just like in the way we choose our favourite X-Factor contestant or Big Brother housemate, viewers of Now On My Way To Meet You are encouraged to bond through ‘regular contact’ as the show airs weekly.

(One of ‘the beauties in action’ – apologies to all our non-Korean speaking readers like myself, now hopefully you realise my own frustration)

Understanding the context behind the show has really helped me to change my perception of Now On My Way To Meet You. When looked at as a vehicle for self expression instead of as taking advantage or making light of serious struggles of North Korean refugees, this week I can appreciate the value of the show in terms of bridging a societal gap. Without an firm grasp on some of the important events leading up to Now On My Way To Meet You’s context, the show seems trivial. It makes me feel close-minded in the sense that I can be completely unaware of such massive world event just because they do not, and have never, connected with my own personal past, culture or experiences.

International comparisons to Korea’s ‘Now On My Way To Meet You’

This week I steered by research towards global media that I could compare to Now On My Way To Meet You with outside of the digital Asia context. I have almost given up all hope finding an episode of the show in English, so instead of approaching my research on the basis of content analysis, what is said/done on the show, I’m instead going to explore it conceptually. I want to investigate the notion of displacement being illustrated through the television show, the unique way in which it is presented and the online and offline reception of it. This week I decided to research shows that I could compare to Now On My Way To Meet You, that specifically represent refugees.

Go Back to Where You Came From is an Australian SBS series that followed 12 Australians, all with differing opinions on Australia’s asylum seeker debate, being taken on a journey in reverse to that which refugees have taken to reach Australia. The difference to Now On My Way To Meet You is that here it is about Australia’s perception – it’s is not the refugees themselves. I think it is informative and worthwhile in the sense that it essentially dispels common perceptions, but I think it is also lacking in the perspective that Now On My Way To Meet You so fittingly provides.

Another Australian example is an SBS television show titled Living With The Enemy. The entire series is said to ‘explore the fault lines of social cohesion in Australia’ with each episode exploring a different topic dividing Australian opinion by asking people to live with others whose lifestyles and beliefs directly contradict their own (Wife Swap ring a bell?). Episode 2 sees Jenni, a middle-aged Queenslander who believes that asylum seekers should not be allowed in Australia, meet Morteza, a 30 year old former ‘boat person’ who landed on Christmas Island after fleeing Iran. Morteza spent four years in detention, escaped from Woomera Detention Centre, sparked the riot that burned down the Port Hedland Detention Centre and famously sewed his lips together in the Villawood Detention Centre. I think Living With The Enemy can be tenuously linked to the same basis of exploration as Now On My Way To Meet You in the sense that it attempt to reconcile differences/perceptions. Personally I struggled with the show, I thought it was a definite attention-grabber and deliberately chose two extreme ends of the spectrum in terms of the asylum seeker debate. I was horrified that SBS would even entertain the ignorance of Jenni.

Another really interesting example is this show in the Netherlands Weg van Nederland which aims to raise awareness of tightening asylum laws by putting questions of Dutch language and culture to contestants facing imminent deportation. The show features five young refugees who compete to prove their attachment to the Netherlands by answering questions about tulips and bikes, identifying corny local pop tunes and carving an outline of the country’s map from a slice of Gouda cheese. The winner gets a plastic suitcase containing 4,000 euros ($5,680) to take with them when they are expelled. I was disgusted at this show as well – a clear ratings grabber in my opinion. Akin to Now On My Way To Meet You, the candidates on this show are not actors. These people are genuine unsuccessful asylum seekers. However instead of bridging the gap between perception and reality of North Korean refugees in South Korea, the contestants here are being used to prove a political point. Personally I find it distasteful.

I also found an Italian series titled The Mission,  which follows 6 celebrities as they visit refugee camps in South Sudan, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo for a period of 15 days. The producers of the show claims that the increase of awareness and private story telling by refugees will help to make public opinion more open and sensible on issues such as illegal immigration and the reasons that lead to the desperate search of a better life through the Mediterranean. This is similar to the aims of Now On My Way To Meet You, but differs as the refugee stores will be told through these celebrities, not from themselves, like on the Korean show. Poverty porn anyone?

While the aforementioned shows does not focus on an aspect of digital Asian culture, I think a comparison between these shows and Now On My Way To Meet You is important to further my own research. The ways in which different cultures have chosen to present refugees proves to be an interesting contrast. While they may be well-intentioned their execution, in my opinion, does nothing but perpetuate the stereotypes that they are attempting to mediate. I have tweeted about my research this week and will be posting these examples as a page on my WordPress site for my digital artifact.

Here’s the plan!

Most of my work this week has focused on planning how to present my digital artefact. I have decided on a wordpress site which can be found here. On this site, I have created a number of pages where I will create a factual basis for my autoethnographic study by collating the information and sources I relied on throughout the weeks. I will then have a ‘reflections’ page where I post my thoughts/questions as I continue to research. I think this will satisfy the ‘autoethnographic’ requirement, aided by my embedded twitter feed where I will tweet questions and reflections as I continue to struggle my way through the language barrier and study Now On My Way To Meet You.

I want to focus my attention next week on refugee media in general. Indeed the reason I find Now On My Way To Meet You so fascinating is the deeply embedded notion of displacement. The stars of the show are attempting to bridge the gap between North and South Koreans, in the sense that as North Korean refugees they feel misunderstood in South Korean society. I’ve said it in a previous post, but it keeps drawing me back to an idea in our own context and that would be to have an Australian television show based around refugees assimilating into Australian society and I highly doubt that any commercial station would touch the idea. So what makes Now On My Way To Meet You a success? From discussion with my tutor this week, I have become interested in going further with this idea and exploring refugee media in a broader context and then comparing this to Now On My Way To Meet You.

Any thoughts on how to better my artefact and/or things I should post would be much appreciated!

I need to learn Korean

My investigation this week turned to looking at online reactions to Now On My Way To Meet You. This was both difficult and frustrating. I searched various platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and WordPress and the results were next to nothing. I feel like I have hit a brick wall in the sense that I can’t find any fresh content. Everything that has been shared and/or spoken about online is an article or commentary on the show that I have already read. There was one single tweet in the entire Twitterverse about Now On My Way To Meet You and the entire tweet was, ironically, in German sharing a UK Telegraph link to an article about the show, that again, I had already read.

I did a tiny bit of research into social networking in South Korea and it seemed that the social media site Cyworld was extremely popular, but when I looked further it was shut down in 2014, said to be ‘taken over by Facebook’. Twitter is said to be very popular in South Korea, as well as two other micro-blogs me2day and yozm, but they have also been shut down this year.

In a further attempt to research the show this week I tried looking for torrents online streaming of episodes. Even the most reliable sites that seem to have everything and more including Pirate Bay and isoHunt came up with no hits. This astounded me. Then I thought perhaps I should actually try search the show in Korean so I searched Ije mannareo gamnida … still nothing.  I am likening this experience to a good friend who has recently moved to America and has been unable to access the show Australian show Offspring, even though it can be watched online on the Channel 10 website, dueto US internet walls.

Finally I found a number of episodes on HanBeat that say they have English subtitles. The problem is, the video options are in Korean and I’m yet to figure out how to turn the English subtitles on. This week (when I get the subtitles working) I plan to watch a couple of full episodes and document my viewing experience.Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 3.03.34 pm

I think that I am frustrated mostly because these are the platforms that I expect to find social commentary. I’ve become accustomed to this notion that the internet knows all; that its the answer to all of my questions. However in this case, internet, you’re really letting me down. Is it because the show has no gained much critical reception in Australia, the United States or the United Kingdom? This is something I hope to figure out. 

At the beginning of my research I was set on the essay component, but I think now I am leaning more towards a digital artifact as I feel it will allow me to better express and detail my experience. At the moment I am unsure of the platform I will use, I’m tossing up between Tumblr or a Prezi? Also if anyone knows how to get the English subtitles on, that would be appreciated too. 

 

Now On My Way To Meet You: Defector Stories

‘Now on My Way to Meet You’, the subject of my individual research study, is by its very nature dependent on a ‘peripheral’ group. As explained in last weeks post, the South Korean hybrid talent show is aimed at challenging the prejudices experienced by more than 20 000 defectors from the communist North. Amongst the singing, dancing, skits and gossip, there is also a serious side to the show as cast members regularly discus their escapes and the families they left behind on the other side of the border.

 The television show provides a platform for defectors to give a voice to their own demands and stories. The final minutes of each episode are dedicated to a ‘defection story’ . It would take a heartless viewer indeed not to be moved by these powerful narratives.

(Note: Again this week I struggled with finding an episode with English subtitles that was not part of a journalistic piece)

 

I was deeply moved by the above defection story. The visible emotion and distress of the audience, helps to convey the sincerity of the show in the sense that the cast, as defectors themselves, are sharing in the pain of the storyteller. I can appreciate that it is a television program, and it could potentially be constructed in the way that it is to maximise ratings, but I believe that the storytelling is genuine.  While I think that as an Australian with a very new understanding of North and South Korean politics, I was equally shocked by the harsh nature of the North Korean regime and devastated for the man who’s sorrow and longing for his family brought on by an oppressive state is one that I will (thankfully and hopefully) not have to endure in my lifetime. While South Korean defectors were able to relate to the story and be sympathetic to the man s plight, I found myself more empathetic, saddened and full of pity.

While the television show itself undoubtedly provides the platform for storytelling, the ability for the stories to be shared online gives powerful support to the heartfelt appeals of those featured on the show. Indeed Russo and Watkins in their article Digital Cultural Communication:
 Enabling new media and co­-creation in South­ East Asia discuss how ‘convergent information and communication technology has promised the delivery of multi­ channel, multi­-platform content where choice is in the hands of the consumer’ (Russo and Watkins, 2005). This describes a shifting of consumption patterns and empowers audiences by enabling access to content on their own terms. There are sites that allow you to download and/or stream episodes, such as Hanbeat and a number of episodes on YouTube that can be viewed (though most are entirely in Korean). In addition, the ‘Now On my Way To Meet You’ cast have been catapulted into the blogosphere: here voted number one in the ’10 Most Amazing North Korean Defectors’, and here in a Marie Claire Australia photo shoot

Allowing the defectors to tell their story on the television opens up a world of possibilities for the potential reach of their story and message.

 

Now on My Way to Meet You

Now on My Way to Meet You (Ije mannareo gamnida) is a hybrid talk and talent show shot in Goyang, a city northwest of Seoul, that brings together a group of female North Korean refugees on a weekly basis. These women interact with host Nam Hui-seok, an additional female co-host and a panel composed of four male South Korean entertainers. Episodes typically open in a lighthearted manner, with conversation about daily life in North Korea, often involving song and dance, finishing with an emotional narrative from one of the border-crossers detailing her exodus from North Korea.

I became aware of the show following a recent VICE documentary and have begun research into it for my own DIGC330 study. I am fascinated by the way in which this show attempts to nurture the integration of North Korean refugees into the South Korean society. In viewing clips I have attempted to draw parallels or similarities with such a politically poignant series or show in an Australian context, but to no avail. I think that is what makes this television show, in my eyes, so unique. My initial reaction was perhaps the show was trivialising extremely sensitive issues. However, as discussed by Green & Epstein in their article Now On My Way to Meet Who? South Korean Television, North Korean Refugees, and the Dilemmas of Representation the personalisation of their plight occurs in conjunction with reminders of a shared Korean identity maintained despite the regime they have fled, which is depicted as cruel, repressive and backward”.

The show has proven a minor hit within South Korea and received coverage from local and global media. Indeed the emotional public response is said to have taken producers by surprise. One guest, Shin Eun-ha, even has her own fan club ‘I wept for the first time in 10 years, along with my husband’ wrote one female viewer. Another said the show had persuaded her and her husband not to divorce.

Participants Shin Eun-Hee and Shin Eua Ha on the set of 'Now on My Way to Meet You'. Photo Credit CHANNEL A @ tv.ichannela.com

Participants Shin Eun-Hee and Shin Eua Ha on the set of ‘Now on My Way to Meet You’. Photo Credit CHANNEL A @ tv.ichannela.com

So what it mean to be beautiful in North Korea, to escape, and then end up as a minor celebrity in South Korea? Less than a decade ago, Han Seo-Hee was a member of an elite, secret music troupe for Kim Jong-il, the iron-fisted late leader of North Korea. Today Han Seo-Hee, stars weekly on Now On My Way to Meet You. Yet the celebrity status is not easy, and works to highlight the cultural clashes experienced by those people the show both features, and the audience it is attempting to help: “I still feel uncomfortable when I have to make people laugh, or perform. I am still wedded to North Korea’s stiff style,” Han told the UK Telegraph. “I was worried that a lot of malicious comments might be posted (on the show’s Internet site)… But when I actually look there, there are a lot of supportive messages, so I think I was right to appear on this show.”

On reflection, while I am inspired by Han Seo-Hee and the other women who feature on this program, I can also appreciate that I am very much caught up in the emotionally harrowing side to their background. In addition, when viewing the program I have been relying on English commentaries (such as the video below), as it has proven difficult to find episodes with English subtitles. For these reasons I understand I am not looking at the television show as an isolated work, my viewing is clouded and somewhat framed by fairly fresh emotions and preconceptions. Having watched the VICE episode ‘Seoul Asylum: The Brutal Existence of North Korean Defectors’ I was surprised at the treatment of refugees in South Korea, and in some ways appalled at the South Korean attitudes depicted in the documentary. This forces me to questions: do South Korean’s share my reaction, a foreigner with a limited knowledge of South Korean v North Korean politics? If not, why has it become so successful? This is something I would love to continue to think about and research more throughout my individual project.

My foray into anime

Anime, manga, cosplay, j-pop, J-PRG are all foreign concepts to me. Until this week, when I timidly began my first foray into anime. My knowledge unfortunately did not extend beyond my childhood viewing of Sailor Moon, and even then, if there were a remake I definitely wouldn’t be running out to buy (or even download) a copy. My first step was to naively search ‘Top 10 Anime’ in YouTube, which only helped to confuse me more. I was genuinely surprised as the amount of pornographic search results, perhaps I needed to break out of my childish Pokemon/Digimon perceptions and realise that anime is an adult genre. Feeling defeated by my own lack of interest in any anime a friend suggested I look up ‘Spirited Away’ (she also provided me with a disclaimer only a best friend can ‘Courtney I know you, you won’t like it’).

She was right. I approached the film with an open mind and while it was enjoyable and very unique, it’s not a genre I would choose to watch purely based on the animation style. Spirited Away is a 2001 Japanese animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. The film was released on July 20, 2001, and became the most successful film in Japanese history, grossing about $270–350 million worldwide. In 2003 it took out the best-animated feature category at the Oscars, the first anime film to do so.

The style of the animation was very much what I expected. With such high-tech animations in many recent Pixar films, the hand-drawn style of animation in Spirited Away is distinctly anime. It didn’t seem to share in the common violent and pornographic themes that confronted me when I blindly searched YouTube, making me think perhaps I chose a weak example. I watched the American version, and although it was an all Japanese cast and crew, it potentially detracted from the authenticity of the film.  I appreciate anime as an art form and have learnt that it has a huge following worldwide. The fact that Spirited Away had a great Alice-in-wonderland-esque storyline and a moving film score were the reasons I enjoyed it most, which makes me think that I probably wouldn’t enjoy any of the ‘Top 10 Anime’ featured below.

Introducing Courtney

Hi DIGC330!

My name is Courtney and I’m in my fourth year of a double degree studying a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Communication & Media Studies majoring in International Media. As far as career aspirations I’m hoping to graduate at the end of 2015 and pursue a career in criminal and/or family law. Starting out at UOW I was a little unsure hence the double degree, but somewhere along the way battling between weekly blogs for media subjects and trawling through dense case summaries and judgments, BCM lost me to law. So for now, I’m riding the BCM wave until graduation where I will perhaps farewell it forever.

I’m pretty stumped by this subject to be honest. I’ve been taking a peek at other blogs hoping that there was something completely obvious that I am missing, but to no avail. I’ve never looked at anime, never played a video game and never watched a foreign Asian film. That being said, I have had the opportunity to travel and spend time in a number of Asian countries including China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong and Indonesia. My experience in each of these countries was so unique. From the people, to the food, the customs and the landscape, no two countries were the same and that is something that I think is amazing about Asia itself and also very misunderstood. When I hear people speak as if ‘Asia’ can be defined and pin pointed as one distinct culture really baffles me because every country I’ve experienced has been so different. To me they just happen to share the same continent!

I’m keen to learn more about all kinds of Digital Asian culture throughout the semester and hopefully spark an area of interest for my own research.

– Courtney