A Quick Overview Of The ‘Korean Wave’

While North Korea remains a barren, state-controlled media landscape, South Korea has successfully broken through to the world with it’s stable of music, films, television shows, and games. While still producing arguably a niche portion of the media that the Western world consumes, South Korea has since the 90’s become the face of Asian ‘pop’ culture in particular due, most will agree, to their high income levels, high-quality shows with inexpensive syndication rights, and due simply to proximity; having an understanding of what the Asian market is looking to entertain themselves with. That said, this popularity has for some years now been making headway in the West. Korean pop music in particular has undeniably been a key driving force in the migration of the Korean mediascape overseas, one only has to take a look at the most popular YouTube videos in this category to understand that ‘K-Pop’ is hot on the heels of the Western equivalent. To quote Barack Obama during his visit to Hankuk University in Seoul, SK: ‘It’s no wonder so many people around the world have caught the Korean Wave…’

But this success didn’t suddenly come out of the blue; the South Korean government engineered their culture as an export. As a response to the Asia financial crisis in the 90s, then President Kim Dae-jung pushed for an infrastructure and IT landscape that could accommodate their reformation as a content lucrative state. Affordable, fast internet and telecommunication systems as well as tax breaks and incentives for businesses thrust SK into the technological forefront. Evolving companies like Samsung funded installation of PC’s in schools to give rise to a technologically literate youth, and the government welcomed these youth with open arms, encouraging engagement with technology. In 2000, the ‘Korean e-Sports Association’ was funded, and is today regarded as a not only a national past-time, but a profitable export. Economist reports that their video game industry rakes ’12 times the national revenue of… K-pop’, which itself generates around $5 Billion annually and they’re looking to double that revenue by 2017. In 2005, the government committed a billion dollars to furthering their pop industry, which has clearly more than made back that investment.

More than just fiscal success, K-pop is noted, and often ridiculed, for how commercialized and sponsored much of it comes off as. So too with the dramas that have found success overseas, this media unabashedly advertises beauty products and technologies, as well as through ‘soft power’ the Korean way of life. This subversive advertising brings results, too. When a Korean soap star ordered chicken and beer for dinner, claiming it to be her favorite meal, Chinese imports of the Korean beer rose more than 200%. Furthermore, an estimated average of $2,500 is spent each by 166,000 Chinese travelers in Korea during the ‘National Day’ holiday. Clearly, the world is quite happy to buy whatever Korea is selling; be it technology, machinery, media or the ‘cool’ aesthetic.

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