"Boys like Smart Girls More Than Pretty Girls": Young Korean Immigrant Girls' Understanding of Romantic Love in American Popular Culture

Article excerpt

Despite the importance of understanding children's interpretations of popular culture in the United States, young children's voices have not been sufficiently explored in studies. Moreover, the perspectives of American immigrant children hardly have a presence in studies of popular culture. Thus, this paper explores how young immigrant children perceive American popular culture by focusing on young Korean immigrant girls' understanding of romantic love in Disney films. In order to do this, the paper discusses two major characteristics they considered important for love--namely, being nice and being intelligent. It also investigates their perspectives on physical attractiveness, which was not seen as significant for love. Then, it reflects the Korean cultural context by connecting it to the girls' responses about the importance of being intelligent. Finally, this paper provides some suggestions for future research.

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Children have been exposed to a great deal of popular culture over the last couple of decades, and there has been much concern about the negative impact of that culture. Specifically, popular culture in the United States has been more criticized than that of many other countries, since it tends to use cultural imperialism to establish American cultural power and hegemony throughout the world (e.g., Cannella & Kincheloe, 2002; Dorfman & Mattleart, 1975; Giroux, 1995, 1999; Steinberg & Kincheloe, 1997). As an exemplary symbol of such American popular culture, Disney films has been said to be particularly detrimental to children around the world. According to several scholars (e.g., Bell, Hass, & Sells, 1995, Giroux 1995, 1999; Jackson, 1996; Kasturi 2002; Rollin, 1987; Smoodin, 1994; Ward, 1996; Zipes, 1995), Disney films ignore complex socio-cultural issues, as well as the cultural differences and struggles of various groups, by representing only the social norms of the American white middle class.

The studies mentioned above are important in that such content analysis helps us understand how American children's popular culture embeds specific social ideologies in these cultural products that support a certain group of people. However, these studies have merely criticized popular cultural texts without considering the perspectives of the viewers--in this case, children--and their socio-cultural situations. More important, the voices of young children from different cultures in the United States have hardly been included in such studies. Although many immigrant children learn about American society and its socio-cultural values through popular culture (Olsen, 1997; Pyke, 2000), the area of studies that explore what the children think of American popular culture has been neglected. In light of the importance of examining minority children's perspectives on American popular culture, this study is focused on Korean children since they have received little social attention (e.g., Lee, 2002; Zhou, 2004) in spite of their increasing numbers in the United States.

This paper particularly investigates young Korean girls' understanding of romantic love in Disney films, as most Disney films have always focused on female characters who fall in love with male protagonists (e.g., Giroux, 1999; Wasko, 2001). It thus explores what these girls considered important characteristics for love by emphasizing two major characteristics: being nice and intelligent. It also addresses their thoughts on physical attractiveness, which was considered a complicated matter to these girls. The paper then discusses the Korean cultural context as a possible influence on the girls' interpretations of what it means to be intelligent. Finally, I provide suggestions and implications of the study for researchers of popular culture to consider in future studies.

Methodology

Film Selection

Three Disney animated films have been chosen for this study: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. …