This course approaches the impossibly seductive, permanently restless objects, stories, and ideas that comprise the effervescent landscape of East Asian youth culture. Because the “youth” euphemistically signals “popular” and vice versa, this course also examines the influence of young people on national societies and the rise of consumption and entertainment practices linked to the emergence of a distinct “youth culture” in the postwar period across the region. With this twin focus, the course first maps the terrain of popular culture and locates it within socio-historical contexts. Then we take on the task of understanding how popular culture permeates daily life, enlivens social discourse, shapes consumer desires, counters official or dominant narratives, and presents alternative spaces of imagination and play. As the global visibility of Asia’s youth culture and its (media) products increases it is necessary that we also consider the intersection of pop culture with capitalism and transnational markets.

The course is organized around cultural events, commodities, and spaces—films, technology, styles—that also lead us into the labyrinth passages where history, gender, sexuality, government, war, nostalgia, capitalism, and youth all circulate—bumping into each other, possessing and being possessed and all animating the (in)famous figures and figurations that travel across the landscape inhabited and created by youth. In our semester-long journey in this cute and horrifying labyrinth, we will study how these notions reshape themselves and our understandings of what each term alone might mean.

This course is designed to develop and strengthen the critical skills students bring to bear on the youth culture that is so integral to our daily lives and to offer a platform where we can collectively examine how we incorporate and respond to the cultural products woven into our experience of the world.