Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More Chicago Hallyu

Here's another speaker from the recent Chicago Hallyu event. Full audio of the event is available thanks to Chicago Public Radio's Chicago Amplified series.

Dr. Laura Miller, Professor of Anthroplogy at Loyola University Chicago, is author of the books Beauty Up and Bad Girls of Japan, and admitted avid fan of Korean TV drama Dae Jung Geum . Miller focused on the cultural impact of the successful Korean TV shows Winter Sonata and Dae Jung Geum in Japan. Since I'm reporting from the audio, I didn't get to see the slides and examples of Hallyu inspired products that got a big response from the audience.

In 2004 “Japanese newspapers were full of denigrating reports of Bae Yong Joon's reception by fans of Winter Sonata" at the Tokyo airport. The fans were portrayed as a “horde of hysterical nymphomanic old biddies” who were said to swarm the airport. “Estimates grew from 3,500 in early news reports like in the Japan Times, to 5,000, and then yesterday I found a source that 6,000 women were there.”

“The old girls were reported on with much contempt for buying expensive memorabilia and for doing things like holding group birthday parties” in honor of Winter Sonata star Bae Yong Joon. "The Winter Sonata boom is important for many reasons, besides the juicy opportunity for journalists to poke fun at female fans.” “The Korean Wave also put a formerly denigrated and neglected market segment, women over thirty -- and by the way, whenever the news accounts say middle aged women, they include women right at thirty -- into the public limelight and presented them as active cultural agents.”

“If it were only female fandom that was at stake, interest in the phenomenom would have passed quickly." However, “in Japan, the Winter Sonata machine alone generated billions in revenue,” from sales of DVD sets, soundtracks, novels guide books, photo books, Korean language texts, biographies and testimonials. Also from items such as a $291 teddy bear, hand cream, socks, treats and chocolates, tours, Korean food and theme restaurants.

“Scholars have pointed out that there was already an increasing interest in Korean popular culture among young people prior to the Winter Sonata explosion,” evidenced by World Cup soccer mania, travel to Korea, interest in Korean food, and a 1990s fad of aesthetic travel to Korea for “mug work“ and sauna treatments. The term Korean Wave, thought to originate in Taiwan or China, predates Winter Sonata in Japan, appearing in a newspaper in 2001.

While travel to Korea has fallen from its peak, in January 2004 through October 2004, 2 million Japanese traveled to Korea, up 40% from the previous year. Many of these tourists flocked to Korean drama locations.

Other cultural effects of Winter Sonata include influence on fashion, hair, and glasses. There were also Winter Sonata style weddings, and specualtion of Winter Sonata inspired divorces “due to women who suddenly became disenchanted with fuddy duddy husbands who didn’t compare well with Yon-sama (Japanese honorific name given to Bae Yong Joon and his character by the fans)."

Yon-sama “also changed Japanese willingness to give donations, not a normal part of Japanese culture," by giving 300 million Won to tsunami victims. Former Prime Minister Koezumi said ”I will make great efforts so that I will be popular as Yon-sama." The New York Times speculated that Yon-sama had qualities lacking in the average Japanese man: “sincere , pure, giving, passionate and soothing.”

In the book Japanese Style Korean Wave, Japanese sociologist Mori Yoshitaka, Interviewed many Japanese fans (including his own mother -- how's that for sourcing) and was unable to “find any easy generalization that could characterize why fans were drawn to the series.”

The Dae Jung Geum series “offers even more ideas for why Korean dramas are popular in Japan.” A historical drama about the first female physician to the Korean court. The story involved not only her rise, but Korean cuisine and herbal medicine. “The series generated a lot of interest in Japan in traditional Chinese medicine and in Korean cooking.”

“It had great historical interest for Japanese viewers of all ages, both male and female. They recognized a shared continuity in ancient East Asian cultural flows, and Chinese cultural elements suchas a writing system, Confucian norms, and herbal medicine.”

“The story appealed to Japanese self-help ideology as well. The inspirational tale of personal struggle and success was presented in an imagined world of fair competition in which Jung Geum succeeds by studying and working hard.”

“The series portrays modern gender models that many found redeeming.” Strong female characters who combined traditional traits ("Hard-working, obedient, pretty, cultured"), with modern traits ("professional, focused,scientific, innovative, self-reliant, and independent").

“Optimists have expressed the idea that this new Japanese fascination with things Korean might help ease political tensions between the two countries. However, most scholars haven’t found evidence that the political situation has changed very much.”

“Even so, the Korean Wave has had a very positive effect on people’s general image of Korean and their interest in Korean culture and history."

The Chicago Hallyu event featured other speakers including Robert Cagle, who contributed some fascinating analysis to Cult Film Confidential via a recent interview.

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