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«Ethnic Media in the Globalising Context: Transnational quest for identity of different generations as portrayed in the Korean-Australian media GIL-SOO ...»

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Ethnic Media in the Globalising Context: Transnational

quest for identity of different generations as portrayed in

the Korean-Australian media


Monash University, Melbourne and 2 Victoria University, Melbourne


A significant influx of tertiary education students in the Korean community in Australia

has been a significant economic benefit to the Korean community. Together with the provision of share houses, church services, food and groceries, the Korean community has seen a few newly established weekly magazines catering to this group of young and shortterm stayers. The paper analyses the ways in which the represented personnel in the weekly magazines are in search of their identities, values and life goals. The represented personnel and readers of the magazines appear to live in a fantasy Western world that they dreamt of for a long time. The paper also analyses a prize-winning autobiography of a Korean-Australian business migrant. The autobiography is an illustration of the reality of ‘cold’ immigrant life that has been observed by many studies. Interestingly, these two groups of people not only demonstrate that they are different in terms of their life goals and their perceptions of life in the West, but they are at times in the relationships between employees and employers. How they can reconcile in terms of their values and life goals may have a significant bearing on how the Korean community can stay in harmony and also constructively in the broader Australia.

1. INTRODUCTION The Korean community in Australia consists of 60,873 individuals with full- or partKorean ancestry, according to the 2006 ABS Census. This is a modest increase from the 1986 ABS Census figure of 10,264, in comparison of the population growth of other minority groups. The economic prosperity of Korea since the 1990s has led to a large influx of Korean students, tourists and other short-term stayers in Australia. For example, in 2006, following China (90,287) and India (39,166), Korea supplied the third largest number of students to Australia (31,257) studying at schools, higher education institutes and English language schools (Australian Government 2006). In addition to these influxes of Korean students, the actual Korean populations of major Australian cities are far greater than the figures provided by the ABS Census at any point in time. It is estimated that there are about 100,000 Koreans in metropolitan Sydney and more than 20,000 in greater Melbourne.

By far, the church remains the most significant Korean ethnic institution in terms of maintaining Korean ethnicity and interaction for economic, cultural and educational purposes (Han 1994c). A range of media such as print media, television and radio also constitute an important institution which keeps the Korean population informed of news and information from Korea, the Korean community and the broader Australian society.

Generally speaking, the media in the Korean community not only has a role to play in exerting a positive influence on personal and group identity formation, but it also reflects closely the breadth and depth of the socio-economic reality of Korean migrant life.

Despite its significance, the media in the life of Korean immigrants in Australia, has not been given the scholarly attention it deserves except for Kwak (1991).

This paper, which is part of a larger project on the media in the Korean community, is designed to start filling in this gap and (1) explore and describe the ways in which Korean ethnicity is depicted through the media consumed by Korean migrants in Australia; (2) discuss the significance of the media as affecting the formation and maintenance of Korean identity (3) and discuss some selected dimensions of production, distribution and consumption of the media. Cunningham (2002, 268) notes that ‘minoritarian public spheres’ created and utilised by ethnic minorities are different from typical large scale and dominant public spheres, ‘but are nonetheless vibrant, globalised but very specific spaces of self- and community-making and identity.’ We intend to explore the Korean-Australian media’s depiction of ‘self- and community making and identity,’ bearing in mind that the Korean-Australian community and its media operates within the given political-economic context of Australia, Korea and the world system. In light of these, the paper analyses Korean ethnic weekly magazines in Melbourne and a prize-winning short autobiography by a Korean business migrant. Korean migrants in Australia often assume that the young and short-term stayers (sojourners) maintain their own values and pursue life goals that are significantly different from those of permanent residents. This paper attempts to explore how these different values and life goals are portrayed in the contents of the magazines and the autobiography.

Postmodernist perspectives have celebrated their prominence in most disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, especially over the last three decades. Individuals and minority groups have been re-invigorated with such concepts as ‘active audience’ and ‘decentred’ individual subjectivities (Ang 1996). It is undoubtedly important to acknowledge that minority communities, for instance in Australia, have a significant degree of control over respective media cultures through their own patterns of production, distribution and consumption of media texts such as ethnic magazines, satellite TV, and DVDs containing materials originating from their home countries (Cunningham and Sinclair 2001, 6). However, it is also important to examine how the consumption of such media texts takes place in the broader context of the often marginalised life of migrants;

how they cope with, and eventually, overcome their dis-located identities. That is, contemporary industrial society has a number of new and unique characteristics that have been brought about by new Information and Communications Technologies, but the fundamental premise under which contemporary society and its media operate still has much more in common with modern society than is often proposed. That is, similar to industrial society or that of modernism, contemporary society can also be discussed using concepts such as dominance, mainstream and peripheries (Cunningham 2002, 269). This is the broad context in which the subjects of analysis of this paper are located.


‘The Ethno-specific Mediated Sphericule’ is a concept theorising ethnic media and audience developed by Cunningham (2002, 270) and he illustrates that there are four central components therein. Some of the components are extracted and elaborated for the purpose of this paper as follows. Firstly, they are ‘sphericules’ without critical mass, thus remaining as social fragments. Ethnic media connects an ethnic community to a diverse range of diasporic communities within host environments and around the world, and articulate ethno-specific identities of a given community. Cunningham (2002, 271) notes that no single ethnic community in Australia has been sufficiently well established to be able to fully enjoy the economies of scale in its own right. This indicates that diasporic media in each ethnic community may be limited in terms of their ability to generate their own news and information and take ‘a fully-fledged role’ in the public sphere. This may engender an extreme degree of commercialisation (Naficy 1993; Kolar-Panov 1997;

Cunningham 2002, 272).

Secondly, Cunningham (2002, 273) notes that ‘ethno-specific public sphericules are not congruent with international taste cultures borne by a homogenising global media culture.’ Much of the diasporic pursuit of identity is often about remembering past memories, maintaining emotional and/or pragmatic commitment to their past homeland, as well as utilising their links to it for their business opportunities. What Cunningham (2002,

273) calls ‘long-distance nationalism’ can separate an ethnic community from the host country, and cause division among the people within an ethnic community. The latter may precipitates the renewal of the community’s identity and future directions. The consumption of media from the homeland is one of the most common ways of staying in touch with it.

Thirdly, the diasporic media has far greater significance in each ethnic community than the significance of the mainstream media on the general population. The media make up the recognised significant sources of information and entertainment in the ethnic community, and few other mediators are available. Diasporic media may generally pursue commercial benefits and compete severely against each other, without enjoying economies of scale in part due to a small ethnic population, that is, in the context of ‘not fully fledged markets’ (Cunningham 2002, 274). Cunningham (2002, 275) notes that ‘this is small business commercialism which deals with the practical specificities of cultural difference at the local level as an absolute precondition of business viability.’ Fourthly, due to the marginalisation of the ethnic community in the broader host society and its lack of political representation and other opportunities, diasporic media take the key roles of communication beyond some specifically significant organisations such as the churches and temples in specific ethnic communities. According to Cunningham (2002, 275-276), this media-centricity precipitates ‘new configurations of the information-entertainment’, whereby there is also ‘a constant blurring of the informationentertainment distinction, giving rise to a positive sense of a “tabloidised” sphericule.’ Cunningham’s theorising has notable value in understanding ethnic media and audience and it is worth exploring the applicability of his concepts with reference to a range of diasporic media in many ethnic communities. What is less than explicit is the depiction of the marginalised immigrant life of the uprooted or transnational audience. In fact, it is this political-economic dimension of immigrant life which creates specific needs of a diasporic audience and determines media resources for consumption and how and what kinds of diasporic media texts are produced and distributed. As some critiques of Habermas’s original ideal/historical model of the public sphere have noted, the ‘general public sphere’ ignores women and non-whites (or NESB migrants), especially in the era of globalisation (cf. Fraser 1992; Couldry and Dreher 2007).

3. PRINT MAGAZINES In Melbourne, there is one Korean ethnic weekly newspaper (Melbourne Ilyo Sinmun).

There are also four weekly magazines published in the Korean community in Melbourne:

Melbourne Sky; Melbourne Story; Melbourne Journal; Raon by Korea 21 (Raon is a Korean word meaning literally ‘happy together’). Melbourne Journal is the longest and best established magazine of the four and its target readership is the ‘established’ Korean migrants of Melbourne. Apart from Melbourne Journal with its several years’ history, the rest are no more than a few years old, Melbourne Story being six months old. Their readership is targeted at tertiary Korean-Australian students and medium- to long-term stayers with tourist or working holiday or student visas. Melbourne Sky (or Melbeon-ui Haneul, the Korean weekly magazine) is a little over two-years-old, publishing its 107th issue on 10 March 2009. The cover stories of recent issues of Melbourne Sky and Melbourne Story are the foci of the analysis in this section. A broad analysis of the randomly chosen Melbourne Sky’s 107th issue and Melbourne Story’s 25th issue of 9 March 2009 is also provided.

3.1 A Brief Description of the Magazine The Melbourne Sky magazine contains 168 pages including the covers, consisting of a cover story, Australian news in brief (3 pages), 2-3 current affairs and issues from Korea (2 pages), sensational news from around the world (3 pages), brief news items from Korea (2 pages), sports news from Korea (3 pages), news about celebrities from Korea (3 pages), world news items (3 pages), know-how on dating, sexual health, romantic histories, psychology of the sexes, cartoons, a profile of a successful professional person, exemplary success stories, classified advertisements. Melbourne Story has 144 pages in total and the composition of its contents is remarkably similar to that of the Melbourne Sky.

3.2 Melbourne Sky Cover Story – women’s narratives of their life Every issue of Melbourne Sky has a female cover model or a representative reader. This section is perhaps a creative way to ‘stay in touch’ with the readership. The female cover models are chosen from medium to long-term stayers rather than permanent residents in part because the latter are often known to each other in the relatively small Korean community in Melbourne and they may not necessarily be proud of being a cover model.

The March 10 edition contains one full page advertisement (p.153) and two more partial page advertisements (pp.37, 157) looking for models. The magazine pays the selected a $50 reward. The cover page of Melbourne Sky portrays the model while pages 4 and 5 carry two more photos and her brief life story.

3.3 A summary of the Cover Story of Melbourne Sky Ms JY Lee majored in fine arts and graduated from a Korean university in January 2008.

She saved her wages, working for three months day and night, sleeping about 3 hours a day. Ms Lee’s plan to attend World Youth Day 2009 in Sydney in the presence of the Pope Benedict XIV was an opportunity for her to escape the uncertainty of whether or not she should continue to pursue fine arts for her career. Ms Lee thought that her university life was ‘stained’ by the extra-curricular activities she was involved in for making income to support her expensive art school program. Eighty youths from Incheon city attended World Youth Day of whom she was one. Attending the Convention, Ms Lee stayed on under a working holiday visa. She soon travelled to Melbourne as she had planned in advance. Whilst Ms Lee expected a lot of ‘positives’ out of the city of Melbourne, she felt lonely and unwelcomed. A complicating factor here was the breaking up of her four-yearlong relationship with her boyfriend soon after their attending the Convention together.

Walking along Swanston Street in Melbourne, she was overcome by loneliness and emptiness, and cried aloud for a while. She found it amazing and fascinating that no one paid her any attention at all. Ms Lee suddenly found herself completely liberated from such restraints as the need to be conscious of what she should or should not be wearing and any ‘trivial’ surroundings around her which she had to be conscious of in Korea. That was her last lachrymal episode in Melbourne after which she decided to be ‘successful,’ telling herself, ‘I will eventually succeed.’ Following her determining moment, she walked into a Korean grocery store and picked up a copy of the Melbourne Sky which provided her with basic information on English language schools, share houses, part-time jobs. Her life as a back-packer in Melbourne ‘settled’ within a week.

I have completely overcome the sadness resulting from breaking up with my boyfriend. I spend quality time with classmates from my English language school. I eat yummy foods and create great memories with my housemates. Working as a salesperson in a shop, I get to know many foreigners. When I have spare time I pick up my digital camera and visit every corner of Melbourne, riding on trams and trains. … There are so many places worth visiting.

The more I see the more I am deeply immersed into Melbourne. One important lesson I have learned is that I should not be in a hurry. I was always anxious and worried in Korea everyday. I am convinced that my life can work out perfectly okay even in the midst of leisurely life in Melbourne. … In my journey back to Korea I might find myself free of all the burdens and worries that I brought to Melbourne with me. I am rediscovering myself and my mind is filled with hope and happiness under the beautiful sky of Melbourne. (Melbourne Sky 10 March 2009, 5)

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