- Korean TV Serials in the English-Language Diaspora:Translating Difference Online and Making It Racial
In an online discussion forum for the Korean television serial Love Story in Harvard (SBS, 2004-05), one fan joined in a raucous denunciation of the poor English spoken by the program's lead actors, all three of whom play law or medical students at Harvard University: "I cringe at the sound of every english word they try so hard to pronounce. it's like taking your fingernails and running it across the blackboard. jeez . . . they just do not take into consideration of the viewers outside korea. Have some sympathy for the US audience !! pls !!!"1 Of course, the program, produced by Korean television network SBS, was never intended for the U.S. audience but rather for the domestic Korean market as well as those in the East and Southeast Asian regions. But with the ease of online piracy and the international reach of Asian diasporas, the "Korean wave" (or hallyu in Korean) spreading throughout Asia has become a cross-regional phenomenon, attracting fans from all continents even before legal distribution channels have been established. As the quote above suggests, this underground network of fans has a lot invested in these television serials. The anxiety over poor English is more than a cry for realism; it is an elaboration of an Asian American identity separate from Asia and sensitive to the stigma of linguistic inauthenticity as a population deemed perpetually "foreign" by mainstream America.2 The quote also articulates a sentiment common to many pirate communities in the Asian diaspora: the powerlessness of nonrecognition as a consumer market. The problem is that overseas Asians around the world don't have a voice in the Asian media because they are not included in the target audience. These online communities are alternative spaces in which complaints are lodged and identities are worked through with-or in spite of-other members of the diaspora around the world.
However, first I must acknowledge that these self-conscious elaborations of identity are a rarity in online fan communities like D-Addicts, Soompi, and Asian Fanatics. While the forums for Love Story in Harvard are full of attacks on the program's poor accents (which makes sense, given that these Web sites are frequented by English speakers), very few of the fans connect their disappointment with representation to any political or panethnic agency.3 Fans on these Web sites come from different parts of the globe and thus interpret the dramas (and bad accents) through different cultural contexts and desires that may or may not be related to progressive identity politics. What we observe instead are postings that demonstrate a considerable overflow of emotional investment in Korean television serials. Emotion, not politics, is perhaps a more suitable category through which to explore the forums' fan activity, which ranges from complaints about the use of language, to confessions of sexual attraction to stars, to yearnings for an online store selling the jewelry seen in the television program. This does not mean that racial discourse is absent but rather that race and panethnic affiliations undergird an emotional rather than a political investment in fandom. One can observe the (un)conscious workings of race and ethnicity in the emotion-laden practice of translation-an essential means of maintaining and informing fans in forums where not all users understand all Asian languages. The collective act of translation mobilizes resources from around the world in order to sustain the emotional investment necessary for fandom in the absence of traditional advertising and publicity.
In this article I explore the ways fan communities for Love Story in Harvard on the Web sites D-Addicts, Soompi, and Asian Fanatics exemplify what I call affective translation communities. First, I define this term and how it emerges out of the medium specificity of the online forum. I then show how these fan communities bring [End Page 36] to the ground the various ways in which the global proliferation of media texts and their official and unofficial discourses activate multiple transnational sites of affective engagement along lines of gossip, fashion, sexuality, and especially race. As an international network of English...