Updated: May 17
Growing internet exposure of Korean media and popular culture has highlighted a phenomenon common to Korea for more than 30 years: media celebrities ‘acting black’ for public consumption, while denying accusations of racism.
This paper analyses the link between media representations of Korean nationalism and celebrity blackfacing by analysing recent blog and website debates on the phenomenon and argues a direct correlation to a form of Korean nouveau-riche nationalism. It looks at public commentary – both Korean and international – produced over blackfacing acts by ‘K-Pop’ groups such as Girls' Generation, Beast and Bubble Sisters, which debate reasons for the media idols' expressions of racism, ethnocentrism and attitudes towards the others, and whether these attitudes are expressed (un)knowingly, and with/without malice.
Historically, Korean media has included such negative depictions of African-Americans for more than 30 years, with the depictions generally taken at face-value and as ‘normal’ comedy by Korean audiences. During the pre-internet 1980s, Korean comedians regularly performed skits with Rasta wigs and darkened faces without attracting criticism. However, increasing internet viewership has focused critical attention on K-Pop celebrity blackfacing, particularly on its active manifestation of Korean nationalism and African-American mimicry.