A wave can bring good things as well as bad things. Hallyu is one kind of a cultural wave.
First, I want to make clear that in my opinion, to judge Korean dramas as only constructive or destructive is a biased point of view. If we say that they are good, we haven’t observed enough what happens. On the contrary, if we label them as bad, we deny the creativity, pathos, cultural and educational values that Korean dramas deliver. Yet, this question still needs to be asked and answered, even in an unsatisfied way, because Korean dramas have affected an enormous amount of people, most of whom are adolescents who are building identities, gaining perspectives and shaping their dreams.
Knowing how frustrated people are with an in-between answer, my take is still: it depends. Age, cultural background, personal taste and knowledge all come in as factors and affect how Korean dramas get to a person. Also, regarding the negative side of Korean dramas, sometimes we have to admit that the problem does not lie in the Korean Wave, but in the society, parents and the audiences themselves. I mention “age” because there are diverse responses from fans belonging to different age groups. Teenagers tend to swoon over appearances, fall into shallowness, get addicted, and make fanatical comments. The admiration they have for idols are now not simply expressed by fan artworks, blog posts, DVD purchases or wall posters. Some go far to spend money on expensive gifts, stalk and chase after idols like, frankly, maniacs.
Lee Min Ho is a South Korean actor who has risen to fame from 2009 after the drama “Boys Over Flowers”. He has 2.33M followers on Twitter. I couldn’t finish watching this video because I find it disturbing. Are fans really fans if they are not respecting their idols’ privacy?
Gorgeous actors and actresses make them overlook flaws and become less critical of the dramas’ quality. The anonymity on the Internet allows some to bash other celebrities and fandoms without substantial reasons and evidences. Furthermore, as many develop a fetish for Korean fashions and styles, some teenagers forget to express pride in their own cultures and uniqueness. As mentioned by an ASEAN-Korea Blog Correspondent in the article “Hallyu in Vietnam: Good movies, good dresses and plastic surgery…” Vietnamese fans behave, act, make up and dress similarly to Hallyu celebrities. One examples of this is the tendency to use “aegyo”, meaning being cute and childlike despite age. It is important to note that dedicated fans at this age can and are willing to spend a lot of time and if possible, money on their idols.
Besides the time spent on watching dramas and using dozens of other social media platforms to indulge their interests, fans also organize food supply events or buy tickets to meet idols. I was surprised when reading a fan’s journal of her adventurous trip to provide food supply for a celebrity. I respect people’s choices of expression and love the kindness fans show, but I cringe when they display an unjustifiable obsession with a celebrity whose image has been modified and scripted by the media. Fans’ money and time can be used for better reasons and causes. Besides praising Hallyu stars’ appearances, fans can pay attention to whether their idols do charitable events and support those instead. Fans should also be more aware of media tactics and question news regularly, because they are precious audiences, not targets easily exploited by the Korean entertainment industry. On a flip side, I have witnessed how K-dramas’ appealing family story plots and humane values comfort adults, bring family members together and educate children to be good people. For me, shows such as Ojakgyo Brothers work as a mirror that reflects my mother’s life. Rarely having R-rated scenes, Korean dramas are appropriate for children to watch while learning to distinguish between wrong and right. Furthermore, some older fans show that they are reasonable, critical and very knowledgeable of the industry. Beyondhallyu.com, dramabeans.com, eatyourkimchi.com, orionramblings.net, thegrandnarrative.com are some websites I often go to for new perspectives. A lot of fans along the way pick up blogging skills, learn how to make videos, use Photoshop, debate, write well and especially voice against the injustices or behind-the-scene issues. Cultural backgrounds affect how the audiences perceive K-dramas. If you are from a culture where people suppress how they feel, you may find an interest in how Korean characters are very expressive with their feelings. Some even have anger management issues and prefer violence to talking. Or, for instance, while young adults in the United States often live independently, stories of three generations living under the same roof usually happen in Korean dramas. The drinking culture can also come as a surprise to many.
Personal taste is another factor, because if you hate clichés, the excess of emotion or plot holes in the story, you just can’t stand it. You will say, “Unrealistic” or “Cheesy” or scream, turn and go away.
If a person had little to no understanding of Hallyu as well as what happen behind the glamour of Korean dramas, s/he may develop unrealistic expectations of the real world and falsely support an entertainment industry that has many issues. In the second episode of season 2, at minute forty, the variety show 2D1N showcased the story of a Vietnamese woman who is a Korean wife. She is one of thousands of women. In poorer Southeast Asian countries, the Korean dream emerged partly because of Hallyu. Young uninformed girls want to marry Korean husbands because they are poor, lack of opportunities and fed with the unrealistic expectation from Korean romances. That is, if she is chosen to become the wife of a Korean man, she can escape from poverty. People can also be influenced to think that it is acceptable, even charming to perform forced kisses or drag a woman around like what Korean male characters often do.
A forced kiss in “Iris”
Moreover, women continue to be portrayed as servile, moody, helpless and aggressive while men are often wise, rich and passionate about relationships. The thing is, it is so easy to know what kind of personality a character has from only watching some first episodes of a drama. Reason? They all fall into archetypes of character.
But, many fans are aware of the issues contained in K-dramas. They point them out through blog posts, social media and comments. Some hardly enjoy patriarchal behaviors portrayed in dramas or the harsh working conditions actors/ actresses have to work under. Finally, sometimes Hallyu is not the problem. It is the responsibility of the societies, parents, teachers to teach kids how to think critically and question, “Is that idol really the person that media glorifies? Does this make sense to like someone this much from one side? Is it healthy to binge-watch K-dramas? What good can I do besides screaming celebrities’ names? Am I respecting the idols if I stalk them and chase after them?” The audiences who have access to technologies and news can set aside a little time to do research about Hallyu, or simply look up to find exactly what it means to call a person “Oppa”.