eat your kimchi

반성 (reflection)

What has studying the Eat Your Kimchi community taught me throughout my study? How does Eat Your Kimchi fit into the South Korean context?  How does my experience of the EYK community and South Korea fit into the international fandom of EYK?

I have learnt to see Eat Your Kimchi as a window. A portal. A way to access something new and exciting (South Korean culture, being part of an international fan community) while still being comforted and accommodated by something familiar (English language, YouTube as a medium of expression and community). The key to stepping into the rabbit hole has been using the autoethnographic method to serve as a gentle helping hand in forging a connection with my subject, bridging the distinction between personal, immersive experience and scholarly study (Doty 2010). It is the human aspect that has been very fascinating for me, the fandom which supports EYK/Simon and Martina like a boat, often physically and metaphorically ferrying EYK to new shores (for example, they have now twice travelled to Scandinavia to meet with fans and attend festivals/conferences, and have travelled to Australia for SBS and to see their Aussie fans).

Each post has been an extra push into participation in the EYK community. 한류 (korean wave) gave me perspective on how I saw EYK when I first discovered them; as a white South Korean couple, a strange revelation, which has shown me that cultural identity is not necessarily something tied to nationality or ethnicity, but from my perspective, something that is generated by passion for, assimilation within, and recognition of a distinct cultural identity. 유명인사 (celebrity) brought me to terms with my identity as an actual ‘fan’ of EYK rather than a viewer/consumer of EYK content, and further expanded on how Simon and Martina are a conduit into South Korean culture. 외국의 (foreign) brought me face to face with my cultural assumptions surrounding South Korea and prompted a revelation: EYK have become part of the ‘soft power diplomacy’ used by South Korea to break into new media markets. 공동체 (community) allowed me to come to terms with how valuable the EYK fandom has been to EYK, yet also challenged me to tackle with the question: how DOES an autoethnographer effectively represent their research? I needed an way to represent this relationship that was immersive yet gave perspective to the author. 장애물 (barrier) demonstrated my engagement with the autoethnographic technique of reflexive ethnography; attempting to interact with South Korean culture and entertainment, while also reflecting on barriers which caused the process to stutter and start, such as language barriers and the media via which we consume a culture. 제공 (contribution) brought the EYK community back into focus, and my research revealed to me the medium for my Digital Artefact, while also allowing me to investigate what makes digital fandoms different: the amplification of participatory culture and the complimentary nature of a producer’s relationship with their supporters. 참가 (participation) revealed to me the importance of place, communication and culture in the exchange between fandom and the subject of fandom, and how perspective and the audience’s position in relation to the subject augments the exchange of meaning involved. My research also zoomed in upon the interaction of fans internationally, brought together by the flexible space that is the digital, and came to terms with how my Digital Artefact could fit into and accentuate this symbiosis.

This is what my autoethnographic experience of Eat Your Kimchi and South Korea has taught me. The digital has brought Asia, especially South Korea, closer into focus for those living in cultural isolation from their culture. Eat Your Kimchi not only provides the diffusion of South Korean culture into a simpler, more easily consumed dimension for people all over the world via language, medium, inclusivity and physical and digital spaces, but has also created a valuable exchange between people of differing cultural and social perspectives with a passion in common: South Korea.

External reference:

Doty, R. L. 2010, ‘Autoethnography- making human connections’, Review of International Studies, Vol. 36, No. 4, pp. 1047-1050

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참가 (participation)

Upon reflecting on what I personally experience as a fan of EYK, I could see a multilayered, physical and intangible quality to the EYK fan experience, which has grown from EYK’s focus on giving fans an unique, customised insight into South Korea which recognises that “social interaction and knowledge work effectiveness depend heavily on user engagement” (Orsatti and Riemer 2012).

Firstly, it is inherently important  to define what constitutes a ‘fan’, in order to understand how important interaction with EYK is in the context of this discussion. According to Brough & Shresthova (2012), “fans are typically understood to be individuals who engage deeply with, and often assert their identity through, popular culture content.” Thus it is important to reflect on how deeply fans are permitted to engage with the content and the hosts of the channel, physically and intangibly, and how much the content creators are facilitating the integration of their culture into the identity of fans.

Simon and Martina’s approach to YouTube has changed significantly since they started vlogging (video blogging) in 2008. To once again experience this change, I took a step back in time to their archives channel. The format and filming/commentary style was the immediate change I noticed; I felt like I was intruding on personal holiday videos, a pure auto-ethnographic approach which focused on their reactions to new cultural experiences. In comparison, their current filming style is much more professional and performative, almost educational in tone, and they place a very high importance on the opinions, interests and engagement of their fans. This is demonstrated most obviously in their TL;DR videos (Too Long; Didn’t Read, crowd-sourced questions about South Korea and comparisons with other cultures/countries are answered by Simon and Martina) and F.A.P F.A.P.s (Food Adventure Program For Awesome People, videos which help viewers understand Korean traditions and culture).

The Eat Your Kimchi Studio! Credit: @leechangsun

The Eat Your Kimchi Studio!
Credit: @leechangsun

Secondly, Simon and Martina’s establishment of a permanent physical presence in the heart of South Korea provides fans a space to amplify their fandom experience and extend their learning experience. The Eat Your Kimchi studio, where Simon, Martina, Leigh and Soo Zee film videos, edit, hang out and conduct interviews with KPop bands, is a tangible space where they can meet up with fans and where they also film one of their highly interactive video formats: LiveChats. During LiveChats the EYK crew interact with fans through Twitter and YouTube comments and open fan mail. They also do this at their recently opened cafe in Seoul, the You Are Here cafe, an additional physical space for fans to engage with EYK and become part of the content themselves!

The You Are Here cafe Credit: DailyBap

The You Are Here cafe
Credit: DailyBap

 

Finally, Tumblr, a slightly underrated part of their digital presence, is a great demonstration of how deeply EYK values their fans and exemplifies how much EYK has become part of fans’ social interaction, hobbies, and happiness,  e.g.

 

 

1. mightaswellbeonjupiter:

So this girl walks into the lounge while I’m listening to some music and studying when I notice she has a “Soy un Dorito” shirt on. I was so excited and then suddenly, Sherlock started playing. It was drama-like fate.

EYK: Did you become bestest best friends? I hope so!

2.

yeshisson:

tumblr_n9j659gMR31qfeivao1_500

The promised fanart for EYK! 😀

EYK: AAAHHHHHH!!!  THIS IS AWESOME!

 

 

 

Looking at examples like these clearly demonstrates the value of participation and engagement to both fans and the object of the fandom. I hope to demonstrate this relationship on the EYK Compendium, and maybe add to or amplify the role of this relationship within the culture of Eat Your Kimchi.

제공 (contribution)

Struggling with a direction to take my digital artefact in (which I had previously decided would be a visual representation of the international Eat Your Kimchi fan community, possibly a word-art gallery, and which subsequently changed to a simple prezi), I decided to reflect on what made the EYK fan experience so unique compared with other YouTubers that I have come to love.

Louis Cole, host of the channel FunForLouis is a comparable example from the United Kingdom, as his approach to YouTube is much like Simon and Martina’s (EYK’s two hosts) in a few ways:

  1. They both have multiple forms of media attached to their main channel in order to interact with fans (Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc)
  2. They both have fan meet-ups in countries all around the world, including Australia (FunForLouis) (EatYourKimchi) ,so that they can connect with and appreciate the support that has steadily grown for them in many communities
  3. They both have merchandise shops (Louis) (EYK) which help support their channel, providing a way for fans to both show their support for the YouTubers and identify themselves as fans to the wider community (as I have by buying an EYK shirt, see previous post 유명인사 (celebrity))
  4. They both have huge international fan followings; Louis has just achieved 1 000 000 subscribers in the last few days and fans actively try to independently meet up with him in every country he travels to. Similarly, EYK often encounters fans on the street and in other countries when filming their videos, and post pictures with fans/’nasties’ on Instagram and Twitter.

These channels are both great at integrating fans into their content and they both have a creative approach to editing and presenting their videos. Additionally, they both started their channels by documenting their daily lives highlighting changes or new learning experiences. So what makes Eat Your Kimchi different? Is it the content creators who make the difference, or the fans themselves?

To me, it’s the actual fandom of EYK which stands out. Their passion, dedication, creativity, general sense of community and acceptance, and willingness to contribute their own opinions and knowledge of cultural experience is evident across YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and in real life e.g. during filmed fan-meet ups and encounters with Simon and Martina in public spaces.

Trying to think of a way to describe, display, analyse and interact with this fandom in a meaningful way, I realised that Prezi was not going to work in this context, especially considering that I have identified an innate personal need to somehow show my interaction with and interest in the world of EYK. What makes digital fandoms so unique and simultaneously personal and inclusive of difference is the participatory culture which the Internet and blurring cultural distinctions have emphasised and cultivated (Brough & Shresthova 2012). So how do I play into this culture? How do I both participate in and study the fandom of EYK?

I have decided to create a space where I (and possibly other fans) can shine a spotlight on different aspects of the EYK fandom, somewhat in the vein of Pottermore or the Pokemon Wiki. Introducing the EYK Compendium: The Fantastical Fandom of Eat Your Kimchi, brought to you by WordPress (the central fandom hub), Instagram and Twitter (two methods of additional engagement where I hope to connect with fans and use hashtags to find content and EYK fans).

공동체 (community)

Thinking of a way to turn my research of South Korean culture and Eat Your Kimchi into a Digital Artefact was proving to be quite difficult for me. I wanted to convey my identity as a fan and investigator of EYK, my fascination with South Korean culture, and my autoethnographic experience in a way that I myself could be interested in. My experience with the production and editing of videos, creation of code, and the production and compiling of music is quite limited, so those weren’t viable options for me. I also found it a little difficult to push my mind past the examples that we have seen so far, such as tumblr blogs, Sabato Visconti’s Glitch Artworks, playlists and collations of videos or pictures, or subreddits, as I didn’t feel that any of these fit what I wanted to convey.

It is clear to me that the Eat Your Kimchi fan community has been incredibly important in the success of the blog, as without their fans, Simon and Martina (the couple who make the content for EYK, along with business manager Soo Zee and intern Leigh) may have found it much more difficult to remain in South Korea beyond teaching. The fan community supported their transition to full-time YouTubers in 2 ways

  1. YouTube offered EYK a monetary partnership when their channel surged in popularity as their subscribers/fans grew substantially around 2010
  2. Simon and Martina had their IndieGogo campaign successfully funded by their fan community (a total of approx. $113 000), which allowed them to apply for a South Korean business licence and rent an apartment closer to the centre of Seoul (the capital of South Korea)

Looking at this wave of success that the EYK crew have been riding since they started blogging in 2008, it’s really obvious to me that there’s a lot of love, passion and curiosity coursing through the veins of the EYK fan community. When looking at the EYK community and how it is represented digitally over many different platforms (Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit and on their blog), I find it equally as worthwhile to mine through the comments sections as consuming original EYK. There so much to learn from these spaces. Not only do they provide added ethnographic context to EYK’s observations on South Korean culture and entertainment, but they also build upon the opinions and ideas offered in the videos. These forums are, to me, a comprehensive representation of the majesty and power of a fan community (already well-represented by their ability to keep EYK going through funding), reflecting the quality and insight of the EYK content.

In order to capture this ecology I have decided to design a blog in which I will reflect on my personal understanding and learning, following my observation of these spaces. I hope to design a Digital Artefact that provides a visual representation of my observations and interpretations, whether it be through a graphic, word visualisation or other performance medium, showcasing various comments, the original EYK content, and my derived autoethnographic experience.

 

유명인사 (celebrity)

Eat Your Kimchi’s channels have collectively gained them almost 207 million views, generating advertising revenue which has became sufficient to support their transition from teachers on temporary visas, to full-time YouTubers/educators/entertainers on business visas (especially after their Indiegogo funding campaign). Since their transition, they have set up an EYK studio and have just (in the last WEEK!) opened a cafe with a fellow YouTuber (Hyunwoo from Talk To Me In Korean), both in South Korea’s capital city, Seoul.

My EYK tshirt which I bought from their online shop! Came with a hand-written note from Simon and Martina :)

My EYK tshirt which I bought from their online shop! Came with a hand-written note from Simon and Martina 🙂

Despite the fact that EYK ranks among the most popular YouTube channels in South Korea (particularly notable considering the commercial giants that dominate South Korean YouTube popularity), their ‘celebrity status’ does not denote the same ‘arm’s length’ relationship which KPop idols have with their fans. Simon and Martina let their fans into their lives, sharing personal tid-bits through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, actively engaging in discourse with fans on Reddit, playing video games with fans on PSN, and organising fan meetups and dinners whenever they travel. Indeed, Simon and Martina still can’t believe that they have reached the level of notoriety that they have…

“We’re still totally shocked, we act like how we do in real life, so we thought people won’t be interested (in our videos).”

I can believe it though. Simon and Martina provide a valuable bridge between their mostly international (foreign) audience and the quirky, complex culture of South Korea. Their fame seems to work in both directions, despite what you may expect considering that they are an outsider’s conduit into South Korea; they get recognised on the street by both foreigners and native South Koreans. Here there is a key difference between their fame and the celebrity of KPop idols; while Simon and Martina’s fans are “cool and polite”, KPop idols “get mobbed, and hounded for photos and signatures”. They provide valuable experience in the distinction between commercial popularity and what we perceive as ‘internet popularity’:

“People don’t treat idols kindly in public. People are always awesome with us, and we’re really thankful for that.”

Rifling through the depths of Reddit I came across an entire thread seemingly dedicated to both hating on EatYourKimchi/claiming Reddit hates Simon and Martina, and directing attention to a Tumblr called Unpopular EYK Opinions. This website exists purely to criticise EYK for not speaking satisfactory Korean, and to complain about how they run their blog and channel. To me it seems petty and unnecessary, and I think it completely misunderstands the point of EYK, which to me is to express passion for the KPop genre and to help those who don’t live in South Korea understand the culture. This hate doesn’t seem to translate to Simon and Martina’s public/celebrity experience or live chats; they are always embraced with nothing but love and joy when they travel the world to meet with their ‘fans’. This recording is an auditory representation of their fame, recorded on their recent trip to Melbourne, Australia: