Hallyu In Danger?: Why Cultural Insensitivity May Kill The Hallyu Wave

In a recent story about the Hallyu Wave potentially being at risk, one fan’s comment really sparked all kinds of ideas for me.

“Hallyu is one sided. Korea is only focused on exporting content to Japan with no interest in importing Japanese content. This can foster negative sentiment in Japan.”

Until the moment I read that comment, the idea that the Hallyu Wave doesn’t allow for a reverse cross over never occurred to me. And, upon further thought, this opened my eyes to what the one-sided aspect of the Hallyu Wave is an indication of, as well as, if Kpop, and its future success is in serious danger because of this?

Kikwang of B2ST

As David Hazzan points out in his article, Korea’s Black Racist Epidemic,” Korea is far from being known as a country that welcomes all races, and creeds, in fact it in 2013 “the Washington Post found South Korea to be one of the least racially tolerant countries in the world.” Artists like Insooni, Yoon Mirae, and Tiger JK have all shared numerous examples of the country’s less than tolerant attitude. There have been countless cases of blackface being used on Korean Broadcast as a form of entertainment with comedians, and even our beloved Kpop idols taking part. Many fans of Korean Entertainment may not see blackface as an indication of Korea being any more intolerant or ignorant than Americans, seeing as there are still cases of blackface being done my American mainstream celebrities as recently as 2013, and I may agree with that sentiment. In fact, there are countless occasions where I believe there is an overreaction by fans, to the use of alleged ‘blackface,’ both in Korea, and America. However, the Korean attitude to blacks are just the tip of the iceberg.

Gyaru-san (Park Seong Ho)

Gyaru-San, a character played by comedian Park Seong Ho on popular comedy sketch show, Gag Concert, draws its inspiration from the popular Japanese street fashion, Gyaru. However, the sketch is far from flattering to Japanese fans, to say the least. The character often took jabs at the intelligence of Japanese people that suggested an inferiority. The acceptance of the sketch by the public, is both surprising and not. Korea and Japan have had a hostile relationship for years, but as far entertainment, Japan is responsible for a large part of Kpop’s overseas success. The Indian Version of 4minute’s Volume Up” MV left a nasty taste in many fans’ mouths for its use of stereotypical images to represent the Indian culture. 2014 has surfaced new controversies for Korean musicians, such as Rain and Gary of LeeSsang, for their exotification, and fetishization of foreign women.

With countless reasons for foreign fans to feel ostracized, and unwelcome by the Korean culture, the Hallyu Wave still does not make a case for wanting to see more diversity in its entertainment. For example, the MNet Asian Music Awards (MAMAs) are held every year, and hosted by Korean based broadcast network, MNET, and though it is the self proclaimed biggest night in Asian music, year after year there is a clear and disturbing neglect of every other country but Korea. The majority, if not all, nominees, winners, presenter, performers, and attendees are Korean, and it seems more and more each year that the MAMAs, despite their name, are yet another venue to broadcast Kpop, Korea and all its glory to the world, rather than to doing that for ALL of Asia.

Another case for the seemingly ‘Koreans Only Attitude’ of the Hallyu Wave, is the lack of a reverse cross over. While Kpop is being broadcast to all corners of Asia, and the world, there is a lack of diversity in the music. While there are numerous examples of Chinese, Japanese, Singaporean, and other foreign born singers, and actors becoming celebrities in Korea, they’re are little or no examples of them finding huge success in their own language. Many Kpop artist have their music exported out of the country in their language, but there are just about no examples of any other Asian country doing so in Korea. The same goes for K-Dramas.

While Korea, and Korean Entertainment have drawn the attention of a larger, more global audience, will the rigidness, and cultural insensitivity of the Hallyu Wave hinder their success? If Korean Entertainment continues to ignore the feelings of their new diverse fan base, will we see the death of the Hallyu Wave in our near futures?

Absolutely! While I don’t think that it would be the sole reason for the industry’s failure to continue expanding globally, it would be a driving force. Bazzan points out that there is prejudice in many aspects of Korean life, from education to daily living. I’ve always felt that, Korean or American, its ridiculous to be a truly die hard fan for a celebrity because it is impossible to know their true feelings about you, and your background. If this is the mentality that most Koreans grow up in, then it is naive to say that of all the Kpop idols, NONE of them continue to believe in the things they grew up believing. My best example of this is that, I am sure Mel Gibson had numerous Jewish fans who were shocked and hurt to hear his anti-semtic rants. I say all this say, that if Korea continues to be lackadaisical in showing that it is culturally sensitive, and aware, then Korean Entertainment will continue to make its newly found international audience feel less and less welcomed, ultimately pushing them away.

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3 thoughts on “Hallyu In Danger?: Why Cultural Insensitivity May Kill The Hallyu Wave

  1. Hello. This was a very good article to read. I became aware of the Asian black-face by way of YouTube some time ago. I didn’t think much of it because I don’t want to seem too sensitive about it. I just chalked it up to cultural ignorance. I know that Korean artist are influenced by American Hip-Hop. (I mean, it’s obvious. Korean rap does sound different).

    Well, I hope Koreans can learn that culture is a two-way street. (Give & take.) Otherwise the Hallyu Wave will crash into the rocks of oblivion. That’s all for now.

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