Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Korean Wave

The Korean Wave is a buzz word describing the export of Korean culture; whenever another country does something connected to Korea, it's labeled by Korean as riding/catching/whatever the Korean Wave. Of course taking that logic further means that there's been a British Wave, an American Wave, and to an extent, a Canadian Wave.

While the popularity of the Made in Korea label grew quite quickly, it has yet to make it's way out of Asia. One explanation is that Korea was the first to glam-up existing Asian culture:

Experts offer several reasons for the Korea Wave phenomenon. Among them are the facts that most Asian countries share Confucian culture, that Korean culture professes nonviolence, and that the quality of Korean culture and communications have increased sharply in the past few years. In other words, fans embrace Korean cultural products because they convey similar Asian cultural sentiments in sophisticated packages.
Of course one unique aspect of the Korean Wave is how tightly integrated it is to Korean monocultural identity. For example, if you think that Nascar sucks, it doesn't mean that you hate the USA. Well maybe...

But seriously, a product of monoculture societies like Korea is that any criticism towards the culture wave is immediately interpreted against criticism against the country:
Thus the actor Zhang Guolin has said China is becoming “a giant in importing foreign culture” and watching Korean TV dramas was tantamount to “selling out the nation.” The film magazine Mingxing insisted in December that the Korean government tries to hinder not only agricultural and fishery imports from China but also cultural products, according to KITA’s Beijing office. China’s State Administration for Radio Film and Television (SARFT) also said last December that China had been too generous with the import of Korean TV dramas and called for a stricter screening process. It said China could limit airtime for Korean dramas to 50 percent
Then there's the Japanese criticism that seems to welcome and reject the products of the Korean wave based on a cultural supersaturation.
“I really want to say this,” the director said, clearly exasperated. “To me, Japanese women who flock to see Yonsama (Korean actor Bae Yong-joon) are repulsive. When I see something so repulsive, whoever they are carrying on about, it makes me feel profoundly sick.”

The director was accompanied by his wife who, as it happens, is an admired performer in Japan. Maho Toyota, too, would like a little less of the Korean fare. “As an actress, I feel like the presence of Korean actors on Japanese television is excessive,” she said. “It would be good if all stars could perform freely on the Asian scene regardless of their nationalities. It’s a pity that the current tide is leaning too much toward one particular phenomenon.”

She said she was concerned how long it will last. “I hope this leads to the development of a unified scene where Asian people can exchange their cultures and share them, I hope that Koreans will feel the same way.”
The words repulsive and sick are strong words here, but given this example I find myself somewhat sympathetic.

But of course nothing is simple with Korea and Japan. Kenkanryu (aka Hating the Korean Wave) is the controversial Japanese criticism in comic book form and 혐일류 (aka Hyeomillyu or Hate Japan Wave) is the respective Korean response. Both Gusts of Popular Feeling (who breaks out Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics) and Occidentalism do a good job analyzing the comics and I'll have to take their word for it until I get myself an English translation.

No comments: