Global fetishism : dynamics of transnational performances in contemporary South Korea

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Lee, Hyunjung, 1977-

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Using South Korea's transnational performances as a case-study, this dissertation examines the cultural implications of the much-celebrated Korean model of national development. Starting with two contemporary South Korean performances--The Last Empress, the Musical (1995), and Nanta [Cookin'] (1997), a nonverbal performance--I explore how the producers' commitments to South Korea's cultural development are manifested in these productions. Situating these performances within the South Korean social context of the mid-1990s, I explore how the reinvention of Korean traditional cultures represents both national capacity and responds to calls for globalism without losing Korean identity. In the first chapter, my analysis of The Last Empress illustrates how local desire for global success resulted in a perpetuation of a Broadway-style musical in a Korean mode. I argue that, while the play utilizes its female character's pioneering image to claim a place for the musical in the global era, it simultaneously pulls her back into the traditional domain. With Nanta [Cookin'] in the following chapter, I argue that the production's commercial accomplishment lies in its strategic blending of pan-Asian cultural elements and the use of food without language which well co-operated with the burgeoning cultural tourism industry in South Korea. Extending my argument further, I conclude with an analysis of global-national interplay as they were played out at the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup. As a way of understanding the nationalistic fervor during the event, I suggest that the mass festive rally functions as a "social performance." In these performances, Korean nationalism, conjoined with global desire, was reconfigured through spontaneous gatherings, styles, fashions, expressions, and gestures. Like its theatrical counterparts, the World Cup rally insists on Korean-ness as what qualifies South Korea to be a global player. I conclude by offering the concept, "global fetishism," to explicate the complex and even contradictory assimilation of the national into the global in these performances. They are showcases for how globalization taps into the local rhetoric of development, charged by South Korea's inherent nationalism. If for South Korea "global" is synonymous with glamorous cultural success, in each context it is precisely the return to the local which permits global fetishism.