American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
In recent years, Hallyu or the South Korean Wave, including South Korean popular music and television dramas, has attracted devoted fans in Cuba in part through its distribution via what is known as the “weekly package:” one terabyte of pirated media information that is circulated across the island via flash drive and hard drive on a weekly basis, thus circumventing state control over distribution and ongoing limitations to internet access in Cuba. This paper draws on ethnographic research conducted in 2018 with Hallyu fans in Havana to analyze how Cubans are mobilizing new forms of digital media piracy and the genres whose circulation it has enabled – here, the South Korean Wave – to reimagine modernity at a time of significant economic and political change in Cuba. Specifically, I argue that it is the moral neoliberalism of Kpop and Kdrama that resonates with Cubans. Hallyu’s messages of self-discipline, hard work, and loyalty to friends and family provide fans with a means of reconciling new consumerist desires with values of solidarity long associated with the Cuban Revolution. Fans’ reliance on offline digital methods, meanwhile, helps reinforce a sense of local solidarity as well as feelings of both connection to and distance from global centers. The reception of Hallyu in Havana thus demonstrates both the social impact and the specificity of transnational digital media flows in a location where impediments to accessing the internet and digital technologies remain significant.