Earlier, the flow of exchange (information, culture) was unidirectional or one way where there was a clear distinction between the disseminator (mostly western developed countries) and receiver (Eastern developing and under developed countries). The nature of the flow could range from foreign direct investment, research and development knowledge sharing, popular cultural exports (not limited to but mostly American ), etc. Interestingly, with the rise of neoliberalism, the exchange is becoming more multidimensional (not just binary exchange model but including more actors working at the same) thus giving rise of transnationalism. With transnationalism, we observe increasing cultural hybridisation. According to Ryoo (2009), cultural hybridisation is defined as “not merely the blending and synthesising of different elements that ultimately form a culturally faceless whole, nor is the idea properly understood as the mere summation of difference where eclectic symbolic elements coexist“. What he is trying to say is that with hybridisation, borrowing of elements from here and there will eventually give rise to a new form.
He also states that transnational popular cultural flow or glocalisation can be
described as “how local people appropriate and articulate global popular cultural forms to express their local sentiment, tradition and culture“. An example of globalisation is how the global brand McDonalds introduces a new menu products or twerks existing menu products in different countries according to their local tastes (check out http://www.foodnetwork.co.uk/article/crazy-meals-mcdonalds-menus-around-world.html because some products are really unique!).
The recent popularity of Korean popular cultural products ( movies, dramas, music, fashion, food, video games) is known as Hallyu. This boom has caused an uproar in academic spheres due to the nature and medium of its dissemination. Through the blog, I will try to look at the rise of Hallyu, a transnational cultural phenomenon in the context of cultural hybridisation.
One of the many, but most important reason for Hallyu’s popularity is its hybridised nature. It means that Hallyu or South Korean wave is not entirely South Korean for that matter. It is a combination of traditional South Korean and western elements making it a perfect example of how local agents have been able to attract global appeal. It is a the right mix of western images and modernity with a tang of Asian romanticism (Jang and Paik, 2012).
The hybridisation was augmented with the rise of technology and was/is crucial for Hallyu’s further dissemination. The rapid growth in social media services like Facebook, Youtube, Twitte, Instagram, etc have made it possible to expand the South Korean wave beyond Asia to Europe, the U.S, Latin America and Africa- with the digital age dawning or already dawned upon us , the cost and effort of promoting South Korean culture has reduced significantly.
When we breakdown Korean dramas, we observe that it usually revolves around family, issues, love and filial piety, a cultural affinity which all Confucian societies share. In contemporary times, such dramas bring out the struggles of retaining traditional values with increasing modernity. On the other hand, American and European audiences find the dramas as relaxing, cheerful and uncomplicated (Jang and Paik, 2012; Desideri, 2013). In both cases, it highlights the contemporary yet traditional nature of Hallyu. It is a similar experience for all other Hallyu cultural products.
Since South Korea doesn’t have any negative historical baggage, the dissemination and consumerism of its products have been less complicated and more accepting (unlike in the case of Japanese products). However, too much of anything is bad and anti- Hallyu sentiments and demonstrations portray concur with that.
Additionally, the South Korean State has been actively supporting the Korean wave through financial aid, infrastructure and policy. The State has adopted different approaches for promoting their products (product placements, strategic celebrity endorsements), national brand image (emphasis on cultural policy and establishment of National Brand Committee, Korea Foundation, KOICA) and attraction to the State itself (reference to soft power). For the anti-hallyu demonstrations, the State along with other agencies (entertainment companies) have started collaborating with local artists, hosting and financing local shows, arranging festivals and supporting bilateral flows for mitigating the backlash.
For me, Hallyu represents the power of technology in aiding multidimensional sociopolitical and economic cultural flows. It thus actively advocates globalisation, localization and regionalisation. Its hybridised nature is contestable on grounds of it being just another versions of cultural imperialism however I beg to differ. The internet has influenced countries for breaking away from the earlier power hierarchical structures to more horizontal structures, thereby giving room for possibility for more than one centres. I think that it has been able to achieve a cultural centre status, like many other centres, in a big yet connected, global village.
We truly live in the information age and it is interesting to witness the shift. In the backdrop of Hallyu’s sudden popularity, an electronic ad copy in Seoul captures the sentiments of their bewilderment by saying, “The world knows us better than we know ourselves“(Hae-Joang, 2005).
- Ryoo, W., 2009. Globalization, or the logic of cultural hybridization: the case of the Korean wave. Asian Journal of Communication, 19(2), pp.137-151.
- Shim, D., 2006. Hybridity and the rise of Korean popular culture in Asia. Media, culture & society, 28(1), pp.25-44.
- Lie, J., Introduction to “The Globalization of K-pop: Local and Transnational Articulations of South Korean Popular Music”.
- Oh, I. and Lee, H.J., 2014. K-pop in Korea: how the pop music industry is changing a post-developmental society. Cross-currents: East Asian history and culture review, 3(1), pp.72-93.
- Yoon, K., 2014. The social mediascape of transnational Korean pop culture: Hallyu 2.0 as spreadable media practice. New media & society, p.1461444814554895.
- Walsh, J., 2014. Hallyu as a Government Construct: The Korean Wave in the Context of Economic and Social Development. In The Korean Wave (pp. 13-31). Palgrave Macmillan US.
- Cheng, L.C., 2008. The Korea Brand: The Cultural Dimension of South Korea’s Branding Project in 2008. SAIS US-Korea Yearbook 2008, pp.73-85.
- Desideri, N., 2013. Bubble Pop: An Analysis of Asian Pop Culture and Soft Power Potential. Res Publica XVIII, p.43.
- Hae-Joang, C., 2005. Reading the ‘Korean wave’as a sign of global shift. Korea Journal, 45(4), pp.147-182.
Jang, G. and Paik, W.K. (2012) ‘Korean wave as tool for Korea’s new cultural diplomacy’, Advances in Applied Sociology, 02(03), pp. 196–202. doi: 10.4236/aasoci.2012.23026.