Simon and Martina

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:

 

한류 (korean wave)

The first time I experienced the culture of Korean wave/KPop (or Hallyu as it’s known in South Korea) I was on the couch in my Australian lounge room with my Australian family watching an Australian television channel. The Truth Is…? was a short series shown on Channel Ten, focused on challenging popular misconceptions about culture, history and human experience all around the world. I was bewildered by the ‘foreignness’ of the culture I was experiencing on the screen; don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed it, but it was challenging my (stereotypical) understanding of Asia and making it (confusingly) apparent that what I understood as ‘Asian’ culture was fragmented and differed enormously based on region (South and East Asia) and more subtly between cultures (KPop and JPop).

Before watching the segment on the Korean Wave, KPop and EatYourKimchi, I had an extremely limited knowledge of Japanese game shows and anime, kawaii culture, and art, and a little about Southern Asian countries. I had certainly been exposed to the meteoric rise of Psy and his single Gangnam Style, but I don’t think I knew anything about KPop itself. I also didn’t know what ‘kimchi’ was (if you still don’t, it’s a spicy pickled cabbage/vegetable dish that is served frequently as a side dish in South Korea).

Untitled-1_0

Groove Korea

This episode really opened my mind to the blooming, viral Korean Wave, a culture I want ed to know more about as soon as I finished the episode. The stars of the episode (at least in my eyes) were Simon and Martina of EatYourKimchi, described as expats living, teaching and blogging in South Korea to an international audience. They have now become very well known (and liked) to Koreans as well, even though their blog isn’t necessarily aimed at this market.

Now, reflecting on my first proper, memorable experience of South Korean culture and re-examining the media which informed me of this culture, one particular point stands out. Simon and Martina understand the Korean Wave to be a branding strategy of the Korean government to make their country as recognisable to the world ‘as Coca Cola’. This was a bit of a revelation; I had never thought of culture in this way before. This strategy is seen by the South Korean government as a way to wield ‘soft power diplomacy’, weaselling their way into the cultural consciousness of travellers around the world and infiltrating our own personal and societal conceptions of culture. This particular approach expresses the uniqueness of South Korean culture and explains why I am so fascinated by it. South Korea seduced Simon and Martina to stay much longer than they had planned, and subsequently, altered their individual cultural identities. Maybe South Korea is seducing me too.