If you spend any considerable amount of time on the internet and consider yourself a television connoisseur much like myself, then you would have heard of K-dramas, A.K.A Korean dramas. What was once a niche fandom, has exploded in recent years, K-pop as well has quite literally taken over the globe. The Korean wave (Hallyu) has sucked us all up in its warm and addictive embrace and there are number of reasons why they are so successful, especially worldwide. However, with great popularity, comes great fetishization of Korean people and their intrinsic culture.
Korean Dramas are produced in great abundance and cover a vast number of genres such as romantic comedies, supernatural, fantasy, sci-fi, historical, and melodrama. Most genres, no matter how intense, will find a way to worm in a gut-wrenchingly beautiful and tragic romance leaving you filled with butterflies at 3 a.m. They provide a platform for representation in terms of diverse Asian characters, whereas in Hollywood they exist as only introverted genius types with little to no character or screen time.
I was very skeptical at first, and was blinded by only mainstream white romances given to me on screen and the occasional Bollywood extravaganza. To begin with, the subtitles are bit disconcerting, the bright lights of Seoul attack your senses as well as the campy effects, and THEY REALLY LOVE SCREAMING. The characters are over the top in every manner; the effects are almost cartoonish and it takes time to adjust to the unfamiliar culture. Though once you let yourself become immersed, there is no escape.
While we are bombarded with hyper-sexualized scenes in American teen shows and generally any drama produced, K-dramas are more conservative. It takes roughly nine episodes for your OTP to hug and then maybe three more for a slight peck, but we take what we can get it.
The cinematography is genuinely breath-taking and is a clear indication of the amount of effort that goes into production. Each drama has their own original soundtrack with music that enhances and encompasses the entire show. Sometimes, it might feature a song from your favourite K-pop band. The dialogue can be cheesy at times, but still manages to feels rather realistic and relatable.
My favourite part is the topics they explore. Typically, we have the dynamics between different classes in society, but there are also depictions of mental illness that aren’t done in an overtly condescending manner. Coming of age stories will have you crying and rooting for the leads while fantasy dramas will have you wondering who you were in your past life and all of them will have you wanting a piggyback ride from your significant other.
As mentioned earlier, there is a dark side to their immense popularity. Korean celebrities, who are called idols, are already flogged with attention from Korean fans, but then once you factor in the rest of the world, it can be overwhelming. Western fanbases have latched onto the idea of ideal Korean men and women and it is dangerous. It sets beauty standards for Koreans abroad and makes them the subject of curiosity to fans who are not within reach of their idols. The K-pop Effect is known to have given rise to plastic surgery spikes amongst Koreans. To be honest, what we know of Korean culture is what we have seen and this in no way can represent the real lives of Koreans, yet fans now abuse this fabricated knowledge as well as the language in attempts to prove their devotion. It is also imposed on other Asians abroad being mistook as Koreans.
I understand the appeal of an attractive coat and polo-neck wearing “Oppa” as much as the next girl, but I can also realize it is problematic of me to hold Korean men on this unrealistic pedestal and publicly pine for one. By lumping the whole Korean population into these stereotypes, we deny them their individuality and make them question whether their identities should conform to the idea we have of them.
One of NerdyPoc’s very own admins is Allison Ku (@ComicAllison), a Korean American who often felt a disconnect with her own culture. She viewed K-dramas a form of primary insight and felt even more distanced personality wise because she didn’t envelop the cute-sy stereotypes portrayed. This just proves how they can create an unrealistic ideal of Korean culture and how actual Koreans may feel pressured into encapsulating these “so-called” norms.
“Racism is not in your intent. Your intent is immaterial in how racist your actions are. This isn’t about you BEING a racist. It’s about you DOING A THING that is racist. Your intent doesn’t change it. Your ignorance of its meaning doesn’t change it. It’s got nothing to do with you as a person and everything to do with the meaning of your action in the context of sociocultural history.”
– Moniquilliloquies (via tumblr)
As an Indian girl who is guilty of some of the things mentioned in this article, I am trying to get rid of that mindset moving forward, because I know I wouldn’t want the same to be done to my heritage and culture.
This post isn’t telling you stop being a fan of K-dramas and K-pop, but rather to be mindful about the manner you go about expressing your devotion. Respect the culture you are learning about and learn to separate reality from fiction and idealised fantasies. We can all dream about a suave Chaebol (conglomerate heir) sliding into our lives, but let’s just keep it as a dream and not actively seek them out.
Author: Faatimah Essack
Editor: Trianna Nguyen
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.