Asia is the revolution. Nowadays it’s most obvious in the music industry. As an Asian and a K-pop fan, I’m so happy and proud that K-pop has truly become global. That the biggest girl group in the world, BLACKPINK, and the biggest boy band in the world, BTS, are conquering the West.
This is all part of a cultural shift. Asia is not just a consumer of Western pop culture. Asia is creating global pop culture, and this is just the beginning. I’m looking forward to other Asian countries dominating global pop culture as well. In fact, even before the hallyu or Korean wave, Japan basically defined geek culture. Every otaku is grateful to Japan for blessing the world with manga, anime, video games, and cosplay. Japan even uses the Cool Japan (Kūru Japan) strategy as a form of soft power, just as South Korea does with hallyu.
Beyond Japan and South Korea
Sure, J-pop hasn’t become a global phenomenon like K-pop, but that has more to do with the fact that Japan likes what it likes and doesn’t really pander to Western taste.
Plus Japan is the second biggest music market in the world after the US. So Japan has less incentive than South Korea, the world’s sixth biggest music market, to export its music.
When I say Asia is the revolution, however, what I mean is that we will see more and more Asian countries exporting their culture globally, and conquering the West. I believe that for years we have been moving toward a post-Western world, and that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated that process.
Strong culture, soft power
China being the world’s most populous nation, which is also set to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy, should be a natural candidate for exporting its culture and dominating global pop culture. But as an interesting article that my friend Tonyo Cruz shared on Twitter points out, China still has a long way to go in learning how to use soft power.
According to the article, soft power is something South Korea has mastered because it believes in the strength of Korean culture.
“Kim had a great deal of confidence in Korean culture’s ability to stand out on the world stage. He liked to note that although Korea was influenced by Chinese culture for 2,000 years, Korea was never Sinicized unlike, as he saw it, the Mongols of the Yuan Empire or the Manchus of the Qing Empire — because Koreans were able to accept international culture and create their own unique version.
“Kim also believed that culture grew through exchanges; any attempt to shield a culture from international exposure would lead to stagnation. Most importantly, Kim recognized that the government had a role supporting culture, but it must not overstep its boundaries. In a 2007 interview that revisited his administration’s achievements, Kim made this belief clear: ‘Intervention kills the arts. Creativity must flow freely. But artists are economically weak, so the government should support them financially. Help them with money, but do not intervene.'”
In fact, it was Tonyo’s suggestion that we “Filipinos could learn a lot from how South Koreans used, developed and protected their art and culture” that got me to reflect and eventually write this column piece.
While I agree that the article is an interesting read and that South Korea offers many lessons, I tweeted that it’s tougher to do for Filipinos. First, South Koreans are actually proud of being Koreans and have a national identity.
“Filipino” in many ways is still a fiction. We even appropriated the term “Filipino”, which originally meant a Spaniard born in the Philippines, back when we were a colony of Spain for over three hundred years.
Manila, in fact, was the capital of the Captaincy General of the Philippines that governed the Spanish East Indies, which encompassed several territories, including the Philippine Islands and the Caroline Islands.
After we declared independence from the Spaniards on June 12, 1898, our erstwhile allies the Americans betrayed us. They had already negotiated with the Spaniards and bought the Philippines for US$20 million under the Treaty of Paris.
This was followed by the Philippine-American War, which is basically a forgotten period in American history. I highly recommend that you read “Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream“. You’ll find out why the Philippines was actually America’s first Vietnam and how this bloody war put an end to Roosevelt’s imperialist dreams.
Anyway, the long and short of it is that the US conquered the Philippines, and we became a US colony for 48 years, from the time the US bought us from Spain in 1898 (though the Philippine-American War raged from Feb. 4, 1899 to July 2, 1902, shocking the Americans, who thought it was going to be a cakewalk) until they “recognized” Philippine independence after World War II on July 4, 1946.
What’s Filipino culture?
So because of these quirks of history, the Philippines has become somewhat disconnected from the rest of Asia. Generally, Filipinos identify more with the US and the West.
We also have a lot of similarities with Latin America because of our shared Spanish heritage, as any Filipino who watched “Coco” will tell you.
Spain, by the way, governed the Philippines via Mexico, and our two countries were connected through the Galleon Trade. Most Filipinos and Mexicans, however, barely know about the roles we played in each other’s history.
Secondly, as the Foreign Policy article said, South Korea actually has a Korean culture. A strong culture that assimilates foreign influences but puts its own unique spin, just like what Japan does.
What’s Filipino culture? Sure, our different provinces and regions have their own culture. But mainly Filipinos are cultural chameleons. We even take pride in being so Westernized. And we still act as if this makes us cooler than other Southeast Asians.
Many Filipinos act like brown Americans. Mestizos act like Spaniards. Our entertainers try to out-white white people, and out-black black people. Being a chameleon is how we’ve survived all over the world. Heck, we even think English is a measure of intelligence, when it’s just another language.
Even in tech, for the most part we still take our cues from Silicon Valley instead of our Asian neighbors. It’s part of our colonial mentality. As if we’re in denial that we’re Asians. When all over Asia, tech companies and startups are booming and leaving us behind.
Why Asia is the revolution
I may be rambling, and I don’t really have an answer as to what Filipino culture is. Maybe it’s something we still need to create. But whatever it may be, I believe it’s time for us to embrace our Asian roots. And build stronger ties with our Asian neighbors.
Our ancestors founded thriving kingdoms. They had a sophisticated culture long before the Spaniards stumbled upon these islands. That’s why I’m glad my wife, daughter, and I were able to see the Philippine Gold exhibit at the Ayala Museum, which also made some of the pieces available in an exhibit organized by the Asia Society in New York. It made us more aware of our rich pre-Hispanic past that the colonizers tried to erase.
I’m also happy to see initiatives in helping Filipino music artists make a global impact. For example, a Korean entertainment company trained SB19 under the Korean Idol System. Meanwhile, Globe Telecom and 88rising joined forces to create a new music label that will push Filipino music globally.
Moreover, it’s wonderful to see the Filipino youth, and other Asian youth, for that matter, choosing to consume more local and Asian content. This is the golden age of Asian pop culture. And we haven’t even talked about India’s Bollywood films, Thailand’s lakorn (TV dramas), and so on.
Asia is the revolution. Now is the time to embrace it and conquer the whole world.