Between cultural diversity and fantasy: hybridity, pop cosmopolitanism and transnational media fandom
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] This study examines the complex, multidirectional process of media transnationalization and online media fandom within the new media environment, focusing on the transnational media flows from the East to the West. To explore the growing phenomenon of Korean popular culture in the West through case studies of online fandom surrounding two genres--Korean pop music (K-pop) and Korean television drama (K-drama), I conducted a seven-month online ethnography, from July 2014 to January 2015, that focused on participant observation, one-on-one interviews with self-identified Western K-pop/K-drama fans, and analysis of fans' online posts and comments. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the appeal of Korean popular culture to Western fans, fans' embrace of pop cosmopolitanism and creation of hybrid identities, fans' creation of collective intelligence and affect, the role of fans in the spread of Korean popular culture in the West, and fans' construction of a transnational fan community using a network of sites and resources. The findings from this study suggest that Western fans were drawn to K-pop for its complex mixture of familiarity and difference, or hybridity; yet, K-drama fandom was primarily driven by the romantic fantasy the genre creates and its structural uniqueness and difference. Embracing pop cosmopolitanism and actively seeking out and consuming Korean popular culture, Western fans changed and strengthened their cultural views and created hybrid identities that embrace cultural diversity and a global perspective. Fans were also an active part of creating a hybrid online fan culture that focuses on collective creation of meanings and affective experiences. Fans' voluntary work in promoting and spreading Korean popular culture has significantly contributed to its growing popularity in the West, heightening their engagement and affective pleasure. Western fans who feel stigmatized for their investment in Korean popular culture created an affirming community online that accepts them and their interests through a network of sites in the new media environment. As a result of my ethnographic analysis, I argue that scholars should take a closer look at transnational media fandom as a key site for identity negotiation and construction, embrace of pop cosmopolitanism, and creation of supportive online networks. In total, this examination of the transnational fandom of Korean popular culture offers a rich account of how Western fans' investment in Korean popular culture and participation in online fandom influenced their worldviews and identities, and how the new technologies and fans' voluntary work have increasingly influenced transnational media flows, making them more complex, accelerated, and multi-directional.