The Rise of Korea

Isaac Coleman, Political Editor

From Squid Game to K-Pop, what else rises with the popularity of Korean Media?

The Republic of Korea is a relatively small nation that has seen its fair share of political turmoil. Through all of this, the U.S. has been highly influential over South Korea and has been the major arbiter for South Korea in many disputes between the two Koreas, while China has been the major arbiter for North Korea.

This constant dispute between the two major powers has likely led to little process in the goal of uniting the Korean Peninsula, a goal of both the North and South.

In recent years the advent of extremely popular South Korean media, known as the Hallyu wave, has led to the Republic of Korea becoming more prevalent in inter-Korean affairs. Pieces of South Korean media are one of the most consistently smuggled items into the North.

This is a form of soft power, the cultural expansion of a nation, think blue jeans, and Coca-Cola. Expertly wielded by the South Korean government, Dr. Maria Ortuoste, a specialist on Pacific relations and professor at CSU East Bay, remarked: “that they have expanded soft power for the past few decades with K-pop and Korean dramas.”

Over time, Korean dramas, or K-dramas, have begun to paint North Koreans in a more sympathetic light, rather than as the villain of the story. They have also begun to paint Americans as obstacles or villains in these stories.

Due to South Korean media being heavily censored by the government, the shift in attitude in the media seems to be a direct result of government influence which could signal a desired policy shift in the near future. One that moves away from American intervention in Korean affairs.

Here in the U.S., South Korean media has taken the average American by storm. Netflix boasts an impressive roster of original K-dramas and extremely popular ones that were never developed by the company, such as Descendants of the Sun.

Today, Squid Game is Netflix’s biggest-ever series at launch, with more than 100 million accounts watching the series in less than a month, according to a CNN interview with Netflix.

South Korea has utilized their international media acclaim in global events as well; having K-pop stars BTS speak at the UN General Assembly shows the strong influence of Korean soft power as it is normally American or British Commonwealth celebrities that tend to find their way on global affairs such as this.

However, the rise of Korean soft power has not been without pushback. China has maintained a ban on Korean media from entering the country since 2017 in part due to the massive success of Descendants of the Sun, a K-drama when the Chinese government blamed the series for massive amounts of divorce, abuse, and plastic surgery.

In 2016, “a 20-year-old Chinese woman was reportedly diagnosed with acute glaucoma after an 18-hour Korean drama binge-watching session,” CNBC reported. The ban was also due to an American defense system being established in South Korea in an attempt to hurt Korean soft power as well as utilize influence over their Asian neighbor. This Hallyu wave has not been stopped by China, however, as China and South Korea came to an agreement to reallow Korean media into the nation earlier this year.

We can not know the full influence that Hallyu may have on inter-Korean, or even international affairs, but we do know that the world is changing due to Hallyu and the spread of the Hallyu wave.