Hallyu learnings: New fatherhood and mindful living

March 1, 2014

The Korean Wave well and truly alive in Australia

There's no doubt that hallyu - aka Korean Wave, which refers to the increase in the popularity of South Korean culture since the late 1990s - has well and truly reached Australia’s shores.

Earlier this week, we witnessed roadblocks in multiple parts of Melbourne CBD as fans of the immensely popular Korean variety show Running Man (think Amazing Race + guest celebrities + urban adventure games) amassed at rumoured filming locations. #RunningManInAustralia trended on Twitter and Instagram, and Federation Square, Mapo Grill in Lt Lonsdale and the Royal Exhibition Building became part of a human gridlock. 

Running Man fans flocked around stars like Rain at Federation Square, Mapo Grill and REB on Monday. Sources (L to R): SBS Asia, Instagram user @_yuikk_, Instagram user @gure516 

Korea rebranded: A strong country in soft power (UNESCO chief, 2014)
Korea has often been touted as a heavyweight of soft power[i]. 

In exceptional cases, soft power can rebrand a nation. Through the lens of traditional sources of national power, Korea's insignificant geographical size, small population and scarce natural resources mean that it was dealt a weak hand. However, since the late 90s, hallyu has transformed the country's standing in Asia to such an extent that the foreign ministry talks of "hallyu diplomacy".

Korean pop culture has been the driver behind much of that. The likes of pop stars like Rain, Wondergirls, Super Junior, and lately Psy are parodied in Western pop culture. Cinematic gems like Strokes of Fire (2002) and Oldboy (2003), and 3-Iron (2004) and Pietà (2012) have taken top awards at Cannes Film Festival and Venice International Film Festival, respectively.

A fertile space for innovative social experiments

The confidence in their cultural currency has fostered a fertile platform for innovative social experiments and entertainment that dares to explore the definitions of what it means to live in today's world.

Much has been written on Korea's soft power, so I won't dally on that. Instead, let's take a look at powerful macro themes coming through Korean pop culture at the moment that could inform the way we think about our own culture.

(i) Dad at the helm again

The Return of Superman tagline: "Fathers may not be perfect... but that's alright if they aren't perfect! There's nothing like a father's love to boost our spirits. The dads who used to spend all their time working have returned home on 'The Return of Superman'."

Shows like Dad, Where Are We Going 아빠 어디가(2013- present) and The Return of Superman 슈퍼맨이 돌아왔다(2013- present) put fathers at the helm of parenting.

This is not the typical 7-9pm parenting after the work day. Instead, fathers are put in the hot seat and spend uninterrupted time with their young children. They trade work for the milk bottle, taking on the traditional motherly roles of feeding, cuddling, coaxing and teaching... Hilarity ensues.

To watch the character growth of both Dad and children is remarkable. In one tear-jerking instance (for me anyway), one father recounts the impact of his presence on his son. The young boy tells him that before spending time with his father, it was in his nature to be afraid of taking risks, of trying new things. Since spending time with his dad, he has unconsciously taken on his father's traits and is more confident in his day-to-day.                      

These progressive TV programs that explore the status of this generation's fathers are an interesting mix in the conversation of what it means to be a father.

(ii) Conscious living - The core of being human

The Human Condition 리얼체험 프로젝트 인간의 조건 (2013-present) features diverse and true-to-life episodes on the experience of life without 'daily necessities'. The premise of the show is based on six comedians living for seven days at a stretch without modern conveniences. Based on each episode's theme, this could mean cellular phones, access to the internet and TV. Their time is spent instead on discovering what reading, travel, friendship, etc. mean.

Through the episodes, they discover things they didn't know about themselves, the importance of a man's word, and as the implications of more free time on relationships and health (mental and physical).

More than anything, this speaks to the idea of conscious and mindful living that is bubbling to the fore this year.

(iii) Realness in today's world

Screening humanity 인간극장 (2001-present), which could be better translated into ‘The Theatre of Life’, provides insight into what it means to be real in today's world. It's one of the longest standing unscripted variety shows in Korea, and gives a stage to different groups of people, those who don't normally get scripted into a movie.

It's an intense experience, watching different protagonists live with grit and determination, and begs the question of what is the real currency in today's world - money or character?

(iv) Soap Opera 3.0 – dealing with nuanced relationships and class relations

And finally, the (infamous) K-Dramas. Thousands of sites are dedicated to streaming these Korean TV series, and with a global audience, the content of these soaps has been increasingly thought provoking. Old fashioned and dilatory plots have faded to the background and recent works, represented by The Heirs and The Stars, have shown more nuanced plot lines about relationships and power struggles among the upper-class.

If anything, it's an interesting look at how a culture adept at escapism has begun talking about their social relations. 

Daniel and I will exploring the influence of Korean music on the global stage, in his upcoming piece on SXSW 2014. 


[i] The ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce, use force or give money as a means of persuasion.