The Media & South Korean Public Diplomacy

(Editor’s Note: Some students in the International Media program at American University are now researching their final capstone projects. These projects will take the form of either scholarly papers, or professional and creative projects. We are posting proposals and updates on these projects to demonstrate their progress.)

by Ashley Turner
Special to Sutradhar’s Market

There are two things the South Korean government is completely sure of – that the local pop culture has been good for the country economically and that it has carved out a distinguishing trait that correlates with the country’s desire to become more dynamic in the eyes of the world. South Korea has successfully individualized itself in Asia by forming a mainstream culture that has increasingly isomorphic qualities in the Eastern Hemisphere. This also coincides with the government’s public diplomacy strategy of successfully promoting Korea as a brand.

However, South Korea now has its sights set on moving beyond that region into one where cultural values tend to be more segregated: the West. This alone will not halt any progress currently being made, but with a still-developing tourism industry, the knowledge and resources will be necessary to repeat that same success on the other side of the world. South Korea is already reaching out to expand its network, which in Asia already has vastly embedded connections. However, they are missing integral connections to bridge those connections in Asia to create a substantial network in the West. There are already preparations for this in the country’s active involvement in globalization. There is a need to be noticed and appreciated by the rest of the world, and the connection with the United States is still fairly weak. If seriously pursued, South Korea will proceed to export its popular culture westward after which it will undergo another change courtesy of its usage of transnationalism.

South Korean pop culture, sometimes chastised for copying other countries and their cultures, is really becoming its own hybrid by absorbing neighboring music, art dance, cinema and fashion into its own. In a sense, South Korea has devised its own way of handling cross-cultural communications, and there is reason to believe the method will not be utilized for Western consumers as well. The question is whether it will be as potent as before. Prior forays have been wrought with complications – popular movies are remade with all-American non-Asian actors; Eastern singing superstars such as Rain (the stage name of Jung Ji-Hoon) or BoA (the stage name of Kwon Boa) have some recognition, though limited. Rain starred in the globally released Ninja Assassin which performed modestly; however, he is likely more recognizable to Americans due to a five minute cameo on the popular television program The Colbert Report. BoA tested waters by releasing an English-language album in the U.S. to little fanfare. BoA was also criticized by some fans overseas due to a darker, sexier image she used to promote her U.S. single, “Eat You Up.”

That’s where the extensive network will become viable – other Korean pop artists are looking westward for debuts, but only after long development stages in the States, including meetings with influential record producers, companies and opening spots on small tours. Korean female group the Wonder Girls are anticipating an English debut this spring. Prior to that, they had been living in New York City for three years. Some are afraid that by effort of appealing to another culture one may lose their own, however, by gaining a better understanding of the infrastructure of the country where they are marketing South Korean artists can use what is unique about its own culture to its advantage. Generally South Korean culture is not as easily recognized in the States as is Japanese or Chinese, but all that does is leave an opening for the South Korean government to bridge that gap whether it is with music, art, film or other aspects of its culture. Taking time to expand its network means giving the opportunity for information to flow both ways, and along with that, understanding.

(The film poster for Ninja Assassin is from distributor Warner Bros. and is used here for promotional reasons following fair use and fair comment guidelines.  To see the bilingual video release of “Be My Baby” from the K-pop stars the Wonder Girls, please check below.)

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