The Blog for the "Global Perspectives on Public Diplomacy" course at the School of International Service, American University.
That was an informative podcast regarding the popularity of South Korean pop culture. At the end of the clip, they were talking about how South Korean dramas are becoming popular in Hawaii. When we were talking in class about the popularity of South Korean pop culture, we noted asked how long can it last? The podcast was done in 2006, Winter Sonata was released in 2002, and now its 2009 and the “Korean wave” is still happening. The Korean Herald, February 2, 2009 (http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/Showbiz/Story/A1Story20090202-118752.html) was talking about Rain (Bi)- [a Korean pop star voted as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential in 2006] and how the Discovery Channel was doing a documentary on him and that it will be aired in Oceania and Asia. Korean culture is not only popular in East Asia; it is popular in Southeast Asia (this is because there is a wave of Korean dramas being dubbed Thai, Cambodian, and Vietnamese). Also, the podcast noted that the South Korean government is using pop culture as a diplomatic tool and making it popular in Asia, but Korean dramas are also popular in the United States due to fansubs, which are individual-subtitled episodes to facilitate a wide viewership. There are fansubs in English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, and even Arabic. Technology today makes it easier for people around the world to access popular culture from around the world. I would say that the spread of Korean pop culture is therefore facilitated by the grassroots level. Regarding the backlash, there will always be resentment in the Asian region regarding each other because it is a cultural identity. The region has had history of violence, so in a way it is normal. But at the same time, with globalization, technology, and the convergence of cultural ideas in the region the younger generation in Japan, China, and Taiwan might be more tolerant of Korean culture. The popular Korean pop singer BOA, for example, sings in both Japanese and Korean. Some Korean dramas are influenced by Japanese manga (comic book) story lines. In the future, I won’t be surprised if pop culture in East Asia becomes a hybrid of Japanese, Chinese and Korean cultures.
After listening to the broadcast, I also thought that it was informative to hear. I have seen some episodes of Winter Sonata, and think that the broadcast was interesting. Yet, in regards to the idea of pop culture as a diplomacy tool, I wanted to mention two things. First, as a student of Japanese culture, I worry that the tone of this broadcast seems to paint Asia as wanting to be all of the same, all emanating from Korea. I know I mentioned this in class, but that seems to be an assumption primarily from the American NPR opinion. The broadcast also mentions in the beginning how American shows such as Desperate Housewives are being neglected in favor of the Korean wave. But, I had to personally disagree with this, primarily the quote that “Asians in their millions are embracing the Korean wave as a mainstream counterpoint to American culture.” I think this is an unfair assumption. I think that Americans like to believe that the world over, everybody worships blue jeans, coco-cola, McDonalds, and wants to be American. Perhaps twenty-thirty years ago they did. Yet, from my experience with Japanese young people, I haven’t found this to be the case. Japan has built up its own respective popular culture, and this was built neither as a counterpoint to American or Korean pop culture, but rather, on its own.I don’t disagree that the popularity of the Korean wave has gotten some Japanese (or Chinese) thinking about Korea more. Yet, I can’t say how much of a serious role this has played. For example, despite the Korean wave in Japan, discrimination against ethnic Koreans is still a serious problem in Japan. Things haven’t been so rosy on the Korean side either. I know that truly important public diplomacy programs between Japan and Korea have also been cut. On a personal note, the prefecture that I happened to do my home stay in Japan used to have an elementary school exchange with a Korean school. This was cut recently, on the part of the Koreans, who cited politics as the main reason. While it is true that all over Japan grandmothers are excitedly watching ‘Winter Sonata’, what about the Japanese youth, who have important exchange opportunities cut out from under them, in the name of politics? While I don’t doubt that popular culture does play a role in international communication, especially in the world today, I think it is important to not exaggerate. I say this because I believe that if this occurs, then truly important work may not be done. For example, more home stay or international programs between Korea and Japan could be the key. Important dialogue and communication needs to occur. While pop culture does play a role, I worry that it may not be enough.