Monday, October 6, 2008

Korean Soap Operas: Good for Korea, Good for the Philippines, Good for Asia

Additions in blue.

The 'Korean wave', the spread in popularity of Korean soap operas and music across East Asia, has been occurring for a while, and is continuing. This trend is good for Korea, the Philippines, and all East Asia.


For South Korea, the advantages of the dispersal of Korean media is obvious. Korean film and music companies have access to a market of over two billion. Koreans can spread knowledge of their culture and history throughout the region. Soap operas are a useful means of advertising Korean high technology. Korean televisions, cell phones, mp3 players, and other electronics are a common feature in many of the dramas. Another perk is that the opinions about Koreans among East Asians is heavily influenced by what they see on television: the Koreans are pretty people who love and are generally good--even if the bad guys are conniving and cruel. Many foreign viewers would probably develop an interest in visiting Korea, or even investing. Economically and culturally, Korea can sell itself to the rest of East Asia for a huge profit, literally and figuratively.

Also, as in the United States and probably every major country, Korean dramas offer social engineering in Korea. Concepts such as marrying for love, and not being preoccupied about saving face are tackled. By mentioning other countries and cultures, Koreans are at least slightly presented with an acknowledgment of their neighbors, usually without a negative or hostile connotation.

the Philippines

About the Filipino psyche:
"If any peoples could benefit from believing themselves to be the master race, Filipinos would be one of them."

For the Philippines, the advent of Korean soap operas, which is a relatively new phenomenon compared with other Asian countries such as Japan, is good because it helps sever Filipino audiences from both Western media and the local film industry. In the Philippines, the actors and actresses are often members of the de facto aristocracy. The Filipino elite use their power in the economy, the government, and the media to keep their positions, and keep others out. Of these, the segment which serves the most to keep the Filipino people placated with their obscene situation is the media. As with many peoples, Filipinos love their actors. It is just that their actors also happen to be or be related to the government officials and businessmen who are gouging the country and blocking accelerated development.

Korean soaps also give an Asian physical ideal, whereas the Philippines is used to the concept of 'true beauty is white beauty'. Many films are imported from the United States and the West, while much of the local 'talent' contains Caucasoid mestizo Filipinos. Although the Korean actors tend to be lighter than the average Filipino, and they too seem to exemplify a somewhat European ideal with Korean actors tending to have double eyelids, narrow noses, and longer faces than the typical Korean, for Filipinos admiring Korean actors is still a step up from aspiring to look like 'white' actors.

There is also a cultural advantage. A common description of the Philippines is '300 years in a convent, 50 years in Hollywood,' describing the eras of Spanish and American rule of the country. Even today, Philippine culture is heavily influenced not just by American culture, but especially by what Filipinos see of American culture via American movies. As any American can tell you, Hollywood is not a good conveyor of American culture. This is part of why the Philippines is so culturally screwed up (there are MANY ways besides this why the Philippines is culturally defective). Add onto this that the closest match to 'real' Filipino culture is Hispanic.

Korean soap operas in the Philippines offer a way by which the Philippines can de-Westernize, de-Hispanicize, and re-Asianize, and even Northeast Asianize. This is basically something which I strongly advocate: a qualified de-Westernification; a complete de-Hispanication; and a qualified re-Asianification. I especially support the Philippines taking on aspects of Confucianism. Confucianism, after all, was specifically made to unify culturally a bunch of warring Chinese states, and led to a mono-cultural, unified China which exists up to this day. However, only qualified Confucianism; for instance, Confucianism leads too much to giving power based on seniority rather than merit.

Anyway, Korean soap operas introduce Confucian concepts to the Filipino people, a nation divided on several levels, such as: Tagalog, Cebuano, Mindanaoan, Pampangan, 'overseas Chinese' (something very odious about that), Spanish/'American' mestizo, Chinese mestizo, Aeta, etc. There is in effect no real Filipino nation, just a bunch of people resulting from Spain grabbing as many islands as they could. The 'overseas Chinese', and various mestizo groups lord it over the Malay 'purebreds'.

With Korean dramas, Filipinos are introduced to a society where it is the majority 'purebred' population who lords it over their few 'mestizos'. Being 'pure' is deemed to be good. Having foreign admixture is considered shameful. Because of this 'purity', Koreans view themselves as one family, one nation bound together by blood. This extends to culture, where many Koreans are unwilling to admit the huge (and primary) influences on Korean society by China and Japan, even going to such absurd lengths as to suggest that Korean civilization birthed Chinese civilization, rather than the other way around. In essence, Koreans bring nationalism to the point of racism.

While I definitely do not support the racism which is so prevalent in Korea (and Northeast Asia in general), the Philippines could use a lot more nationalism--and even (for now) nationalism just crossing over the border into racism. Filipinos have a huge inferiority complex. They will try to tie themselves to any other culture, be that Arab, Indian, Indonesian, Chinese, Spanish, British, American, even Japanese (because of World War II when Japan made the Philippine economy contract by 60%, practically obliterated Manila, and murdered and raped thousands of Filipino civilians)! They will try to claim practically any foreign blood and descent. Because foreign cultures and foreign blood are superior to Filipino culture(s) and Filipino blood and descent, at least in their mindsets. Add onto that that Filipinos do not have what would be considered a full-fledged culture to begin with. That is, in fact, the great secret behind Filipinos' famous tendency to assimilate into the cultures to which they emigrate--the new cultures are superior to the old, and the old was not really a complete culture.

It is also why the Chinese, in both Southeast Asia and the West have such an appalling record of assimilation. They are (too) proud of their native culture and 'race'. You have people whose ancestors immigrated from China over half a millennium ago calling themselves Chinese. The Chinese intermarriage rate in the United States is miniscule in comparison to the Filipino and Japanese, even though the Chinese community is the most established of the three 'old' Asian immigrant groups. There are far more Chinatowns than Little Manilas or Japantowns, and far more Chinese schools than Japanese schools--and there is no corresponding Filipino school.

If any peoples could benefit from believing themselves to be the master race, Filipinos would be one of them.

Filipinos could afford to be more stuck up like their northern neighbors. It would help build confidence in themselves and their nation and country.

Filipinos have to stop selling themselves short, and need to start having a little pride in who they are. And even though they do not have a culture (they are culturally fragmented; as much as a nation can be anthromorphized, the Philippines has multiple personality disorder, and the personalities are not even fully fleshed out), Filipinos have to realize that they can still build one. Cultures had to start somewhere and sometime. Coming up with a new name for the Philippines, Filipinos, and Filipino/Pilipino would be a start, as would be the reintroduction of baybayin, albeit in (heavily) modified form. Quashing out languages other than Tagalog and English (Filipino/Pilipino should strip the Spanish words and revert to pure Tagalog) and removing all tribal identification would be another route. I actually find Philippine languages to generally be too unwieldy (excessive repetition of complete syllables to indicate plurality, and even basic words having multiple syllables) and not pleasant-sounding, but there is the pride issue.

But back to the topic at hand, the introduction of Korean soap operas into the Philippines.

Even though many of the Korean soaps actually are critical of parts of Confucianism, they are supportive--and therefore promote-- of other parts of the philosophy. The Philippines could use a LOT of Confucianism to help build a unified, proud nation which values 'harmony' and working as a part of a greater whole.

By making Korean soap operas popular in the Philippines, for once the Philippines is doing something in unison with much of the rest of East Asia. As Filipinos are engrossed in Korean dramas, so to are Japanese, Chinese, Malaysians, and Koreans themselves.

So, Korean soap operas could help Filipinos by showing pretty people who look a bit more similar to Filipinos than 'whites', by spreading Confucianism and useful values, and making Filipinos feel more a part of Asia, rather that set apart (both by Filipinos themselves and by ostracization by other Asians) from Asia. Also by undermining the aristocracy and displacing Hispanic and Western cultural values (many of the Western 'values' the Philippines picked up were the bad ones, anyway).


Korean soap operas are useful for all East Asia because they help to promote East Asian cultural unity, something which will be needed if East Asia unifies economically and especially if the region is to unify politically. By spreading Korean culture, and inserting Korean culture and values into the audience cultures, the dramas help to homogenize--even if in a small way--all East Asian cultures. The dramas, even the older ones, often make a point of including other Asian countries in some way, either by mentioning some country or in a few cases even setting part of the drama in a foreign state.

I am not too keen on entrusting East Asian cultural unification to the Koreans. I have previously mentioned that Koreans seem to be the most racist major Asian 'race'. Considering Korea's history of often being a protectorate of either China or Japan, and having relationships with only those two countries (there's a reason why Korea is referred to as the 'Hermit Kingdom'), that a xenophobic and racist attitude would develop in Korean culture is understandable, if not good. And to Koreans' credit, they seem to be moving toward a less racist stance at a faster pace than their two larger neighbors, who have much less reason to be racist (China for instance neighbors multiple countries and 'races' even if for much of history those other countries were less developed than China....). Japan has been part of the 'international community' for over a hundred years and is only barely less racist than Korea. Ironically, Northeast Asians tend to be particularly racist towards South Asians--and 'blacks'. After China, India was the most powerful state, or collection of states, during the last millennium until the European colonial era. And civilization reached India before China. But when did racists let history stop them from perpetuating their fantasies?

Still, I would rather Thailand be put in charge of East Asian cultural integration.

But that has not happened, and Korea has been put in charge. And so far they are doing decently. The actors have a wide range of appearances, some even being able to pass for Southeast Asian. Although there might be a slight tendency for the bad guys to look Southeast Asian or South Chinese moreso than the good guys, this tendency is very slight, if it exists at all.

More pressing is that while many of the actors are what I would consider dark skinned (although considerably lighter than the typical Southeast Asian man), the actresses are almost uniformly light skinned. The darkest I have seen to date would still be considered light by Southeast Asian standards, although within the natural range, before skin whitening pills or creams (or both).

The contrast between Korean soaps and Latin American telenovelas is stark from a racial standpoint. Firstly, the Korean soaps contain far more dark-skinned characters. Notably, both dark and light skinned actors can play primary or secondary roles, or act as 'extras'. In telenovelas, it is pretty clear what the directors/producers are getting at, deliberately or subconsciously. The dark skinned, less European, people are the servants and get very minor roles. The light skinned, more European, get the primary roles. None of the servants are very light skinned, and none of the big wigs are very dark skinned. Dark people's place is on the bottom of the social and economic totem poles, and off on the sidelines. Light people's place is to at least be above the dark people. This contrast is even more striking when considering that, proportionally, Korea contains far more light skinned people than Latin America, and yet is willing to give dark skinned people prominent roles.

Korean dramas have light and dark skinned bosses and servants. So, Korean dramas are much less racist than telenovelas. I have just seen something which does probably cross over the 'color' threshold. In a soap, a girlfriend was introducing her boyfriend to her friends. Two of the girls were light skinned, the other dark. The camera focused primarily on either the two light skinned girls, or all three. Additionally, only the light skinned girls had multiple-word lines and lines which were unique and not shared by all the friends (basically one word exclamations which they all said). But this is just a single case; so I don't know whether this was just a coincidence or discrimination against dark skinned girls.

Another downside is that the characters sure do drink a lot of soju (seems to be basically the Korean version of sake) and get drunk. I suspect that drunkenness is accepted and even encouraged in Japanese and Korean society because of those cultures' tendency to have people mask their opinions and feelings behind a veneer of politeness and a 'don't make waves' attitude. Being drunk offers others a means of seeing the 'real you', without the societal constrictions. (A bad part of Confucianism). Considering that all East Asian populations tend to be alcohol intolerant (they tend to have a gene mutation which is less efficient at breaking down alcohol--Amerindians inherited this faulty gene, too), excessive drinking of alcohol is not a 'value' I support for Korea, the Philippines, or Asia.

Moreso, and Korea is hardly alone among Asian countries in this regard, Korean dramas--from what I have seen--do treat the mentally disabled extremely offensively.

Also, oftentimes in the dramas the men will grab a woman's arm, and occasionally spinning her around, to prevent her from leaving, rather forcibly--this would be pushing the boundaries of what is considered assault in the United States.

Still, even though Korean soap operas could be a force for good in weakening the domestic violence which is rampant across Asia, but as of yet are not, overall, Korean dramas help to unify Asia and help various Asian peoples be aware of each other and not view each other as enemies.

As you can see, this post takes a LOT of blogging liberty in being very ill-formed. Yet I hope that you can agree with or at least consider the points which I have made here, even if they were not set out in the most structured way.

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Found this article interesting? Check out:
History: The Roadmap to the Future.
History: The Roadmap to the Future--Africa.
History: The Roadmap to the Future--Asia.
History: The Roadmap to the Future--Europe.
History: The Roadmap to the Future--Latin America.

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