Tag Archives: K-drama

Day 27: How Is Your Culture (and Are You) Treating Homosexuality and LGBTQ Population?

14 Mar

While visiting my grandparents in the province, I have had to travel to a place where I have limited internet access. I apologize for the delays, but there is no way that I would give up on the last 4 days of my blogging project, so don’t worry J. What I ended up doing, instead of writing, was reading lots of articles, way more than I usually would, because I still had some internet access through my phone. And I thought a lot about how I could connect those to my writing, and here’s one topic that I will talk about today.

I ran into a very interesting article on the LA Times, which featured a Korean actor, Hong Seok-Cheon. He is not one of those Korean drama stars, but he has acted in many series acting in supporting roles. What is so significant about this guy is the fact that he has been an openly gay public figure since 2000.

You may think, so what? If so, good for you, since it may mean that you don’t really feel any prejudice against homosexual entertainers and individuals alike around you. Or maybe you just think that that’s an irrelevant topic to you, although you may feel a slight discomfort with the subject and want to avoid discussing about it. Or maybe you just feel pure disgust by even thinking about it. Within Korean culture, which is still very much conservative at its core (although it has been changing quite rapidly), being openly gay means risking everything in your life. It was even worse about a decade ago when Mr. Hong came out, especially as a public figure.

Hong had to have a press conference as he could not live in the dark (“in the closet”) anymore. He wanted to be someone who he really is, and that is all he asked for, but to make it so public, I am sure it required extraordinary courage. He was on several shows, but he was kicked out immediately. According to the article, he remembers it as the moment where everyone turned back against him, and he even received many death threats. I still remember his “coming-out” event which happened when I was in middle school. It was a shock to me at first, but then I never gave it a serious thought about what kind of impact it would have on the individual and the society as a whole. I was simply too young, while I was living a “normal” life as a majority in which everyone I knew was living a heterosexual middle class life.

Then several years later, I attended a camp called AnyTown during high school in the States. It was a camp to expose teenagers to diverse cultures and social challenges (racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, etc.) so that they can build up more tolerant and vibrant future. I was attending a private school, and it was a privileged environment where I didn’t necessarily experience much diversity. However, AnyTown totally changed my view towards the world as I was exposed to a huge range of social issues besides racism, which I was already interested in. It was my first time to make friends with people who were of LGBTQ origins and to learn about them. Previously, it was not an issue that I had to deal with or was concerned about, because I didn’t have to as a heterosexual female. And the only issue that I had to deal with was mainly related to that of race, being a racial and linguistic minority in the US. But being in the same small group with them, sharing meals, chats and tears, and discussing about intensely personal issues, I became very much aware about the challenges that my friends had to go through in the conservative social norms and hatred-driven (and unreasonable) views towards them. I became a totally different 16-year-old by accepting the diversity that is beyond black and white racial dynamics.

I really believe that anybody can overcome her/his ignorance if s/he is willing to acknowledge the ignorance and prejudices from it. However, I really (and sadly) think that not many people have the ability and courage to do so. Instead, many people learn to dislike/hate others first in the midst of hugely competitive era, where everyone must be a winner of some sort while oppressing those who have some level of disadvantage in the society (whether that be race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical disability, etc). I cannot help but think that we all end up hating ourselves in the midst of the ugly fight, and then hate others even more, just fulfilling a terrible cycle.

Mr. Hong does not have to suffer such extreme hatred anymore. He is now back on TV and is a successful restaurant owner. His restaurant is very famous for the great food and atmosphere, and people want to meet him. He takes picture with the people and proudly walks around the restaurant asking people if the food is alright. Just like a normal person. Nowadays in Korea, I heard that there are even some cable TV channel and social network celebrities who have marketed their “gayness” so well that people actually think that their being gay is actually very “cool.” But there was also an incident about a year ago when a Korean drama series featured a gay couple, many organizations, including national parents’ associations and Christian associations, put a huge ad on a major newspaper saying that “SBS (the broadcasting company which aired the drama) should be responsible if our children die of AIDS.” The advertisement wrongly claimed that the series will make the children want to become homosexual, which is wrong apparently (and where did they get the idea that being homosexual will directly cause AIDS?). Well, have they ever thought that many Korean dramas featuring divorces and couples cheating on each other were actually giving more unhealthy examples of relationships and challenging social norms hence they would be more harmful to their children? Of course, the very same people have not said a word about the influences of such Korean dramas. At least the gay couple in that particular drama actually had a very healthy relationship. What is more family-friendly in this case? Take that.

And for God’s sake, no one has the right to judge someone, because s/he is in love. And everyone should support love, no? Cultures are their to change, so shift your prejudices NOW.

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Day 11: On Korean Drama Series…

22 Feb

I have a lot of time nowadays. In fact, I have enormous amount of time that I end up doing the least productive things throughout my days. One of the (terrible) hobbies that I picked up to fill up my time during my “post-school transition period” is watching TV. It’s one of those habits that once you pick up, you can’t get away from it, sort of like an addiction problem (gasp, it might actually be addiction!).

So today, I decided to do something productive out of my mindless hobby: writing about the things I observe and being the critique of it from a gender analysis perspective. I admit that I’m pretty rusty on all the feminist theories and what not, but heck, I’ll just do what I’ve been doing over the past 10 days, and hope you’re OK with my critiquing on K-drama scene.

Living in Southeast Asia for a while, I experienced and lived through the popularity of Korean pop culture. Unlike in the US, I think there are much more common threads between Korean and Southeast Asian cultures, hence Korean drama series are very popular. Trust me, I met so many people who are very much into Korean drama series or Korean novelas as Filipinos call them. It was, in a way, a shock to be reconnected to the culture that I was not a big part of, and hey, I think it actually improves the reputation of Korean people in general in the continent, so I have nothing against the overall positive outcomes and influences.

And now, I’m based in Korea, I get to watch many more of them, and every day, I go in front of the TV at 10pm to watch my regulars. While I watch them without thinking so much, I feel a little bit of guilt, especially looking into the very apparent stories that I know for sure how it’s gonna end, especially in terms of relationships. Yes, the actors and actresses are unbelievably good looking, and that for sure is unrealistic. But what I’m trying to point out is not so much of the unrealistic looks, but more of the gender role that female characters play, and how the media at large is reinforcing how women should be like if they want to have their fairytales and happy endings achieved.

Firstly, I have made a list of female characters that may show in Korean drama series.

Type 1. The beautiful one who has lost everything but has the men of her dreams nearby

This is the most common one I think. As I said earlier, most of the actors are beautiful in the series, but the female protagonist is always the most beautiful one. She often possesses next to nothing (maybe an orphan, or with an alcoholic father, or left with younger siblings that she has to support by herself), but she is always an optimist. She is unbelievably nice, so the world may give her all the difficulties possible, but she always survives, often with the help of a nice guy (that she will end up being together “happily ever after” by the end of the series). She doesn’t know how to be angry, so a jealous girl (who will be explained as a “type 2” character) may do everything possible with her will power and money, but she eventually wins. There are usually two guys, who are very handsome of course and hey, very wealthy as well. They can be cousins or very good friends who end up competing for the unfortunate nice girl.

Female Type 2. The beautiful one who has it all but wants to take away the main male character from the nice girl

She seems to have everything, wealthy family, a good job, and what not. The world envies her for what she has, and she is admired by those who surround her. But she is often very unhappy and bitchy. All she wants to do is taking away the only happiness that the Type 1 girl has: the main male character (who is really nice, good-looking and rich). She does anything and everything possible to get his attention, and he may pity her as a friend, but his heart is always with the type 1 girl. She will never get her happy ending, because she is the “evil” one who pursues what she wants.

Female Type 3. The lovely tomboy who eventually realizes her feminine side eventually (and gets to live in her fairytale eventually)

This is the newest development in K-drama, I believe. More of romantic comedy material character. She is someone who is definitely not perfect in terms of her behavior. She makes a lot of mistakes, and she sometimes acts like boys (and this is supposed to be the proof of her imperfection). She is clumsy, too. Usually, the main male character doesn’t consider her has a potential romantic partner, but hey, it’s OK. The way she acts is so lovely that he will eventually fall for her. She gradually develops her love for the guy and tries to act more “like a girl” so that he will pay attention to her. By going through lots of accidents together, they eventually realize that they are in love, hence, happily ever after.

 

Yes, these are stereotypes, and each story carries different characters, but I think these are pretty much what I have seen over the past years when I have had the chance to watch a series even partially.

As I said in my previous posting, I believe that the media tells the viewers a lot about how they should be like in their everyday behaviors, while the ideal is often impossible. Whether we want it or not, the drama series are of great influence on the society’s imagination of “perfect womanhood.” And the influence that they have on women, especially young women in their 20s and 30s, is rather uncomfortable for me.

Through the unreal characters like the three types above and their romantic and human relationships in general, the viewers unconsciously learn about how their behaviors and relationships “should be.” The shows tell the viewers how women should be like if they want to be loved, whether by a potential romantic partners or by the world. If one wants to be liked, she has to be nice, but it’s OK if she is clumsy and not so smart. She is always in need of help, and the prince will surely help resolve the issue, while she by herself often can’t get out of the mess that she is in. But she should never be assertive, because being assertive means that she speaks her minds, and of course no one likes a girl who is expressive. She doesn’t know how to actively pursue what she wants (whether social status or the love of her life), but she sits there and waits until they come to her. And hey, don’t forget that she is flawlessly beautiful. In other words, a smart, confident, go-getter woman cannot be someone who is loved, but someone who is just foolishly nice and needy can achieve a successful relationship with the man of her dreams and with the world. WHAT?

Yes, it’s easy to tell people, “well don’t watch the shows if you don’t want the influence.” But how could that be even possible while internet portal sites are talking about the stories, the main topic of conversation amongst your friends are about the series, and the current cultural trends simply carry these stories in our everyday lives? Everyone knows that they are not real.  But the shows magically realize our fantasy world as if they can become real, something that could potentially happen. The show producers constantly produce and reproduce the unreal images, and they sell really well, not just in Korea, but in many other countries, too.

But how many more of the three types of women do we have to bear, simply to satisfy our voyeurism for impossible fairytales?