Are K-Pop Stans the Future of Activism?
Plus: Why Study Complexity?, Yak Gig-Board Prototype, and Upcoming Events
This week we continue our #trends-and-futures, and #complexity tracks in the newsletter. Next week, we will return with our regular #online-governance-studies track, as well.
Are K-Pop Stans the Future of Activism?
Sadly, this was not the long-awaited first appearance of Antifa supersoldiers, as continually promised by right-wing pundits.
In this instance(and what has shown to be typical w/r/t “K-Pop activism”), the stans coordinated their efforts completely online. Over the course of weeks, the members of the K-Pop fandom flooded the Trump campaign’s online sign-up forms for the event with fake names, email addresses, and telephone numbers.
Claire Ryan(@aetherlev), a technologist with a background in marketing and data analysis, opined that the Trump campaign would likely have to throw the whole data set out, as it had been “poisoned” with the false accounts.
The history of K-Pop activism actually spans back to at least the late 2000’s, and is much richer, and more nuanced, than the “online savior” angle advanced by mainstream publications.
A Hyperbrief History of K-Pop Activism in America
Origin Story: Scholars point to Korea opening its borders to the general public after the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games as the beginning of the cultural cross-pollination that gave birth to K-Pop. K-Pop started in the early 90’s as a mix of then-current American R&B styles (think “new-jack swing”) and preexisting Korean traditional music and pop music.
Breaking in America: Remember 2012’s “Gangnam Style”? Although it was the first major K-Pop hit to make a massive splash in the United States, critics say it’s actually more of a weirdo, one-off hit. Still, worth mentioning because it established a beachhead for US K-Pop fandom to grow into what it is today.
Greatest Hits: Previous to supporting Black Lives Matter protests and shutting down a Trump rally, K-Pop stans have: rallied to youth protests in Bangladesh, been blamed for inciting student protests in Chile, and donated ticket $16k worth of ticket refunds from a canceled BTS concert to COVID relief.
Bigger than the Beatles: The group Bangtan Sonyeondan (abbreviated as ‘BTS’) are basically the Beatles of K-Pop, far surpassing other acts in terms of sales and popularity. BTS fans are The Army. On June 6th, BTS donated one million dollars to the Black Lives Matter movement. One In An Army, a non-profit charity org comprised of BTS fans, launched a crowdfunding campaign the day after and matched BTS’ donation within 24 hours.
It may seem obvious by now, but what makes the politically-active subset of K-Pop fans so cohesive, is that it’s members spend a lot of time together online.
“I think these young people who are learning today how to use social networking services to do so many things in terms of organizing are going to be a very significant political force in the next decade or so because they know how to organize, how to reach each other, make goals and accomplish them and so much is happening without a single person or overarching leader who is being paid to organize.”
CedarBough Saeji(aka “The K-Pop Professor”), Professor of East Asian Studies at Indiana University
It’s worth noting that, with the exception of sports, fandom subcultures have historically been dismissed as unserious, odd, and for a young audience. Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge that the K-Pop community has its own internal conflicts and problematic actors, just like any community.
In the future, what other online fandoms will we see entering online public arenas to shape the political futures of nations?
Why Study Complexity?
Complexity has been studied for upwards of fifty years. The study of systems goes back even further (to the roots of Eastern and Western philosophy, if we wish to be completely inclusive). There’s already an abundance of maps, frameworks, concepts, models and terms, and even more enter the discourse every day. Additionally, each has its own stubborn champion.
Why has the study of systems and complexity been so persistent? If complexity is what emerges when nature, technology and time collide, how can learning about it help?
Over the years, the study of complexity has unearthed insight about group formation, cohesion and disintegration in different contexts. It has uncovered some of the mechanisms behind collective decision making and the effective coordination of action in a variety of arenas. It has taught us about feedback loops, higher order effects and legibility.
Such insight helps us creep towards proactivity and away from reactivity. It helps us navigate risk, skirt ruin, and seize opportunity. But not all complexity-related knowledge is created equal.
There is a difference between creating an accurate map and effectively navigating a territory. A truly accurate map has a surprising amount of detail. But navigating more effectively, as members of the Yak Collective are trying to do, requires only a sufficient amount of detail.
For non-academics, complexity studies is useful to the extent that it allows us to accumulate sufficient detail and make decisions. For example: in the Yak Collective's Discord server, a consensus related to complexity has emerged. One that is in accordance with a tenet of Agile: "working software over comprehensive documentation." It is the utility of loose heuristics over explicitly formulated rules.
Last week in Yak Talk, Yak Collective member Praful Mathur mused that, "it seems complexity is also a matter of ‘I know it when I see it.'" In complex systems, it's not always possible to pin down why something works (or doesn't). But it is possible to pick up that knowledge and use it advantageously.
In the midst of a pandemic, and with climate change on the horizon and great economic uncertainty looming, it's likely that forays into the study of complexity can offer us ideas for navigating these unprecedented times.
Yak Events and Calls
We are building a job/gig board for Yak Collective. If you are hiring, or would like to otherwise submit an open gig or position, click here to contribute an entry to the prototype we are building.
Yak Collective member Puja Thiel is hosting a webinar on sustainable food innovation on Monday July 20th, at 3:30p EDT. The event is free to join, interactive and open to everyone. Register here.
Apply to become a Yak here.
Interested in hiring the Yak Collective? Send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.