Blackpink and a can of Coca

Blackpink and a can of Coca

Tuan rewarded his child with a nearly 10 million dong ticket to see Blackpink after she passed the public high school entrance exam in Hanoi.

The ticket was made due to the promise of “anything you want after passing the exam”, but he shared with me that “he still has doubts about the worthiness of the amount and how the excessive idol worship will affect his child’s personality”.

These two dilemmas are typical of two approaches to idolatry in the context of cultural globalization. One is from an economic perspective – when art becomes a mass-produced product, associated with overconsumption. Two is from a social perspective – foreign idols increasingly play a large role in guiding young people’s spirits (from fashion to lifestyle), leading to conflicts between contemporary and traditional values.

Interestingly, in the Blackpink 2023 event, the economic approach almost dominated; quite different from the trend of criticizing the “craze” for Korean idols starting from the 2010s – completely approached from a social perspective.

The peak of the previous approach was when ethicists and educators got involved, expressed through the university entrance exam for Literature block D (2012): “Admiring idols is a cultural beauty, but being obsessed with idols will be a disaster”. At that time, not a few fans left their exams blank.

Dr. Do Anh Duc, in a 2015 study, argued that fears of moral decay (moral panic) by idols in Vietnam are associated with changes and strong impacts of opening up, globalization, Westernization.

Especially of information technology; less stemming from economic class disparities rich – poor as in the West. After 10 years, when these changes become normal, fears of moral decay gradually disappear, giving way to an economic approach.

Blackpink’s tour is dissected as a commodity produced from many aspects: Who presides over this production; This product pays royalties according to what formula; The average ticket price is high or low compared to Vietnam’s per capita income and compared to the region; How much room booking in Hanoi increases, whether it attracts many international guests; International show income equivalent to how many percent compared to traditional manufacturing industries (TV, cars) of Korea…

These concerns show that Vietnam has become a part of the global cultural consumption chain dominated by the Korean entertainment industry, and people have realized the material power of the cultural industry.

When approached economically like this, what worries about young people is excessive material culture worship and uncontrolled consumption.

The thinker Walter Benjamin, in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935), pointed out that when works of art turn into commodities – can be reproduced thanks to printing or filming techniques, sold en masse on a large scale – then the public has a burning desire to possess works, even in duplicate form, instead of having to stand far away and admire them in museums.

This explains the desire to own idols in tangible form even if it is a small piece (pictures, records) or a close contact moment (watching shows or gathering in front of hotels).

In the dawn of the entertainment industry, the economy that accompanied the previous generation’s desire for ownership was limited to collecting idol photos cut from Hoa Hoc Tro newspaper or begging parents to buy superhero toys worth a lunch.

However, in the inflated machinery of cultural commodity production at a global level and huge profits compared to any other profession, owning commodities associated with idols is increasingly becoming an economic force that has a significant impact on the overall economy.

The success of McDonald’s BTS Meal can be seen as another example of how a brand collaborates with a K-pop group as part of a strategy to reach more audiences and, of course, consumers. BTS is known as the highest-paid CF (commercial film) star in Korea. The BTS Meal contributed about $8.5 million to the income of both BTS and McDonald’s.

The overspending becomes more complicated when luxury brands work with the K-pop industry to reach younger targets, Gen Z. They appoint Korean stars as brand ambassadors, such as BTS for Louis Vuitton, Itzy for Burberry, and Aespa for Givenchy.

The consequence is that young people who are not yet financially independent are tempted to buy luxury goods to show that they are part of a fan community (fandom), not being drawn into the traps of limitless consumption that the Western – Korean industry collaborates to adjust the behavior of an entire generation.

However, it is difficult to separate between economic nature and the need to create cultural identity of young generations through public phenomena. Walter Benjamin also pointed out that the cultural industry does have a positive aspect when it challenges conservative value systems, thereby paving the way for new values ​​on the market, that is, becoming a part of life.

In the past, my introductory lecture on Globalization was about Coca Cola cans going around the world, along with economic and cultural values. It is associated with my generation’s childhood memories: the reward for each high score could be a can of Coca.

Today, with their new type of reward, I want to use Blackpink phenomenon for students to see how cultural globalization is operating, how money is flowing into international entertainment centers and how values ​​are subtly shaped.

From that knowledge, I believe, whether to go to a show or not, the decision is up to them.

Lang Minh

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Blackpink and a can of Coca.

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