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The Korean Wave: An Asian Reaction to Western-Dominated Globalization*

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AbstractIn this article I analyze “the Korean Wave (hallyu),” the term coined by Chinese media towards the end of the last millennium to describe the meteoric rise in the popularity of Korean pop culture in Asian countries. It has attracted the attention of not only the general public, but also academic and other researchers because of the far-reaching ramifications in terms of the Korean national economy and the cultural unity and exchange among the Asian peoples.The world of popular entertainment has seen a high degree of globalization with Hollywood as its utopia. However, Hollywood has proved to be a dystopia to the peoples of Asia, in that it is dominated by non-Asians, and underpinned by the contemporary Western ethos, i.e. individualism, commercialism and sensationalism. Scenes containing unadulterated sex and violence, which offend the sensitivities of the Asian general public, are almost an integral part of many a commercially successful film. Opportunities for big roles are almost non-existent to ethnic Asian actors. Romantic heroes and heroines are very rarely played by Asian actors, who usually appear as weird villains or, very rarely, wizards with supernatural powers.In contemporary Korean cinemas, TV dramas and pop music, globalization is also evident. The stars follow the world trend in performance, presentation and fashion, and emulate their Western compatriots. English is often used as lyrics in songs. However, the big difference is that the performers have distinct Asian physical features, and the dramas reflect the traditional Asian values and ethos, which helps to make the Asian fans feel at home. The “Asian-ness” is no longer something weird or marginal, but takes center stage. Therefore there is a sense in which the Korean Wave is a reaction of the Asian people to the West-dominated globalization in popular culture. But what distinguishes the Korean Wave from other similar phenomena, such as Bollywood and Nollywood, is the juxtaposition of globalized and traditional Korean cultures.

Affiliations: 1: The Royal Anthropological


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