Author: Sam Hazeldine

K-drama: A global phenomena

This is my group research project for DIGC330.

Here is a Prezi where i distill the ideas expressed in this blog into a shorter summary form:

http://prezi.com/-hxpddruo0gx/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

 

Emergence of an idea…

This week I was drawn into the world of K-drama, with an off-hand comment from my university lecturer, I decided I wanted to delve into the weird and wonderful world of Korean drama TV.

I searched the internet for “best Korean drama” and ended up watching a few episodes of The Heirs which felt immensely influenced by its American co-producers. With the vast majority of dialogue in Korean, the scenes at first appear genuinely Korean, however the series progresses to provide a stronger resemblance to a teen drama such as The O.C. with petty drama, betrayal and sunny California peppered throughout.

Heading into this experience I can safely say I didn’t/still don’t, possess a wealth of knowledge in regards to foreign TV and each culture’s subtle spin on the dominant Hollywood narrative style. So when I experienced The Heirs although it was different, it didn’t feel different enough. 

I was in the process of explaining this blog series to a classmate of mine, and I decided to pick his brain for ideas on what I should watch, something with more of the distinctly Korean feel. As he is an aficionado of asian content I decided that he was the man, he suggested that I check out a more recent Korean series called Goblin or Guardian: The Lonely and Great God.

In my own experiences in dramatic Television I was fan of shows such as Freaks and Geeks, Skins (U.K of course) and more recently those which almost transcend any one genre such as Game of Thrones (GoT). These shows mostly follow the formation of identity of the characters lives such as marriages, love interests, rejection growing up and the challenges involved with all of this. It was watching these shows which set me up for entertainment myself with the first episode of Goblin.

Experiencing death, life and love…

Once I left my house and the shitty internet connection behind, I set up my new home – at my local coffee shop and began to watch the first episode of Goblin,you can watch it here with English subtitles. The first thing which I remember from my brief encounter with The Heirs is the length of

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My Setup for this experience

each episode – in excess of 1 hour this makes attention to the subtitles rather hard to maintain, especially with the crashing and whizzing of plates and coffee grinders going on outside my headphones.Despite this, I managed to direct my focus toward the show mostly, as the events unfolded over the duration of the first episode I recorded several epiphanies which are as follows:

  • Early on, there is a strong sense of mystique and the supernatural – Unsurprisingly from the title, this series in particular the first episode sets up the story in an environment where supernatural exists and spirits roam the streets of Seoul and the reaper chases contracts of people’s deaths. In many Asian countries there is still a cultural understanding that spirits and deities roam the earth and affect change on the population.
  • Early comparisons with GoT and feudal conquests. In the introduction to the Goblin’s character, there is scene in particular which reminded me of the young king in Game of Thrones. As the King condemns the Goblin and his men to death, so too did King Joffrey killing the noble Ned Stark and terrorising his people through his royal powers. This authoritarian mentality was the view of the countless leaders throughout the medieval age, from [Bloody] Mary I of England to Ivan IV [the terrible]. This world of dramatic melee battles, wooden merchant ships and evil advisory counsel is easily relatable to GoT although in stark contrast the latter parts of the episode which is set in modern Seoul.
  • Ultra dramatic, almost cheesy scenes of characters ‘in love’ with piano ballads. These very kitsch scenes (in my opinion) are consistent with the overall aesthetic of K-drama as a cultural output, however these scenes do successfully achieve their message and draw in the viewer, so by no means are they out of place in context with the broader story and they are uniquely asian so there is a certain charm felt regardless.
  • The strongest themes of love and suffering are punctuated with fun one-liners which come often unexpectedly. This was the best aspect for me personally – the juxtaposition of scenes portraying the loneliness of the Goblin’s love interest but then her charming wit and jokes make her appear to be truly likeable to the audience and indeed the Goblin. I think this a feature the Korean dramas execute perfectly (particularly in The Heirs), with so much intensity directed towards love, suffering and isolation cracking little jokes make these shows that more watchable and add depth to characters.
  • Time is compressed significantly, with decades taking place when traditional Hollywood narratives take a period of hours and extrapolate from there to fill each episode. The one hour which unfolds in the first episode covers several years of development in characters and although this is a foundational episode there is a massive amount of information given to the audience. This in combination with the language barrier meant keeping up with the storyline became more difficult than possibly if the episode was English or even dubbed. Nevertheless considering the ambition to give the story context was performed in such a short space of time, the producers still did a good job.
  • The quality of the cinematography and special effects are very well produced. It is immediately obvious that both The Heirs and Goblin are of a high production value, elaborate scenes such as castles, beaches and even a Canadian town as well as the buttery smooth camerawork make for an excellent visual experience.

Asia vs the world…

This [cinematography] is one aspect of growing international film products which differ immensely worldwide, other international film producers such as Nigeria and India both generate millions of dollars and thousands of films each year, however this often comes at the expense of quality of production or special effects. To illustrate where South Korea sits in relation to its competitors I have included this graph from Statista:

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 3.48.54 pm

Nigeria is not included among these competitors as the majority of their outputs are produced as ‘straight to video’ films and TV, thus ticket sales are not an accurate marker for their influence, however if you are interested Fortune outlined the rise of Nollywood and their global influence in this piece. Korea has a respectable market share in this graph in particular with the shift to global streaming and digital content distribution.

It’s nearest competitor in China has recently been criticised over their alleged stealing of concepts and details from the South Korean film outputs – known worldwide for their copying of existing products this does not come as a huge surprise. According to Park Si-soo of Korea Times China’s broadcasters of this content don’t share the same reverence of copyright law as the Hollywood studios and as a result intellectual property is a more fluid concept as far as the Chinese are concerned. Here is an excerpt from his article:

“I don’t care.”

It seems to be the hidden motto of some Chinese broadcasters that brazenly copy and paste South Korea’s hit entertainment programs.
From theme to general concept, to story structure, to flow and to the dynamics of the cast, similarities are over the top.

Here are examples he uses to illustrate this simply with the promotional covers:

JTBC’s Hyori’s Homestay, left, and Hunan TV’s Dear Inn.
tvN’s “Youn’s Kitchen” and Hunan TV’s “Chinese Restaurant.”

Well they do say that imitation is the highest form of flattery…

The overall summation…

Largely, my experience of K-drama continues to be quite positive, I was drawn into scenes of romance and suffering where I found myself feeling for the protagonist. The elements I liked from this show in particular were also the ones which generated similar feelings to what I had experienced in shows like Skins and Freaks and Geeks surrounding death and unrequited love. The language barrier is not as much of an issue as many might think as the body language and editing create a non-verbal language which serves to tell the story better the verbal dialogue anyway.

If you are interested in pursuing any of these Korean dramas to learn more about their style or want to beginning a watching binge then I suggest you check out this Korean drama fanatic on Youtube; Hallyu Back her content is very helpful once you get past her oddly cartoonish voice.

Also, if you want to follow the content copying debate surrounding China you can head to the reddit thread and add you two cents if you so desire: https://redd.it/6qvwoa

Originally posted on Coffeehouse Conversations // Click to see previous post

 

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Everything Asia: E-sports athletes

Coffeehouse conversations.

In my experience, as a middle-class Anglo boy from Australia sport was important, consisting of soccer, AFL with a sprinkling of cricket. As a viewer, I spent entire weekends absorbed with the games for that round, hoping for my teams to get the win. As a participant; I began playing soccer 15 years ago, when I was 6; the thrill of practicing my skills throughout the week to put all together on Saturday morning when it counted – the wins were sheer elation, the losses were painful and sometimes they would ruin my weekend, however I became self-aware reasonably young and understood I was not an exceptional talent. This was frustrating at first, however I had that much more respect for my peers I could see working their way up to the top, while myself; still enjoy playing and watching soccer.

As my childhood began to wind it’s way into…

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Youth suicide in South Korea: An auto-ethnography

Coffeehouse conversations.

September 14th – R U OK? day in my home country of Australia, a day created to bring awareness to those suffering with Mental illness. The nature of mental illness means that it is invisible in most cases, this organisation attempts to ask the question; Are you okay? in an effort to bring the intangible into light, to truly uncover the mental state of their loved ones and ultimately reduce the rate of self harm and suicide. The following infographic displays the mental health data from epidemiological study of New South Wales, Australia and how this translates into an economical burden.

The last point made in this graphic reaches me on a deeper level;

However, data measuring young men’s access to mental health care reveals that only 13% received any care for their mental illness.

I have seen this issue first hand, in myself and others as a young man suffering…

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Evaluating my experience: Asian Hip-hop/Rap music

In my auto-ethnographic exploration of the diverse and intriguing Asian hip-hop/rap culture in the blog post; Everything Asia #1: Asian Rap Music I attempted to outline my personal bias, i.e. the lens I was consuming this media from. The ultimate goal was to understand and familiarise myself with this non-dominant media artefact.

“The radical, performance (auto)ethnographer functions as a cultural critic…His [her]…[autoethnography]  becomes diagnosis, not just of him [her] self, but of a phase of history.”(Spender, 1984, p. ix) [Accessed here]

I believe my original blog post achieved my goal through Spender’s process of diagnoses of a phase of history; in this case being the emergence of this [sub]genre of Asian musical culture into the wider consciousness.

However in understanding the need for generalisability and integrity of my writing, in this post I will evaluate the following important aspects of creating an Asian autoethnography;

  • Identifying and addressing the existence of orientalism
  • Dissecting and explaining any East/West comparisons
  • Reiterating any personal bias against or presumptions towards Asian culture

Ellis et. al (2011) place emphasis the eternal struggle of auto ethnography to appear ‘scientific whilst still being artful’. In other words; the author loses interest for the pursuit of the truth or presents an entertaining narrative with little factual basis.

I attempted to walk this line in my blog post by explaining my context in the beginning to set the tone for any possible imbalance in favour of subjective narrative. This combined with my initial skepticism formed a clearer framework to consume my writing and opinions.

As for East vs West, this is absolutely the most difficult part of this topic as the roots of Hip-Hop/Rap are embedded deeply in African-American culture since its conception in the 1980’s. An industry still heavily dominated by this demographic to examine rap as a cultural output is to examine ‘black’ culture. I made efforts to sidestep this tempting comparison by discussing the influence of U.S. imperialism and the effect it has had on all cultures particularly Asian, and not pitching modern U.S. rappers vs Asian rappers. Instead of imposing my perspective of the artists included, I simply embedded curated links for the audience to decide and explore. I did however, slip up and compared the flow of Rich Chigga’s “Glow like dat” to Cleveland rapper; Kid Cudi, an epiphany which I would welcome genuine disagreement on. Instead of allowing the East vs West comparisons to alienate listeners, I took the angle which asserts that many Asian rappers will struggle to break western markets into dominant media channels unless they alter their sound towards the current norm.

So what about orientalism?

Edward Said  understood the concept of orientalism to be that ‘Middle Eastern and Asian cultures are undeveloped and static societies compared to the west. Implicit in this fabrication, writes Said, is the idea that Western society is developed, rational, flexible, and superior.’

Thus, to have the slightest sense of orientalism in one’s writing, involves the comparison of the east to a culturally-imperialist west. Although there is passing comment made in the initial blog it is hard to see even a faint sense of cultural inferiority/superiority.

I am glad I chose to research and represent this topic in my blog as I have now been listening to more and more of this music and am beginning to realise just how easily this cultural output transcends language barriers, i am hooked on the artistic fusion of many of the artists introduced to me by the 88rising record label.

**All references are in the form of hyperlinks**

 

Diving deep into: Asian Rap Music

Coffeehouse conversations.

Hip-Hop/rap has long since become a subculture in music which attracts certain personalities – there’s those who want to prove something to those who doubted them, those who have a young family to support, those who seek to break the cycle of poverty and then there’s those who want to be a part of that lifestyle. By that lifestyle I mean excess; designer threads, diamond chains, European cars and American money showers.

As a suburban kid growing up in a conservative household in Sydney in the early 2000’s, the only exposure I got to anything resembling edgy hip-hop music was censored Eminem or Nelly tracks. These would come on compilation CD’s of the season’s greatest Pop music called ‘So Fresh’, as a white boy from the ‘burbs this was my first taste of rap and an influential part of my listening identity.

As the proliferation of music file sharing broke…

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Auto-ethnography: Explained

Below is an infographic I created to explain the research practice and methodology of auto-ethnography, I hope it makes it easier to understand what is often an overtly abstracted idea.

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Resources:

 

 

Godzilla, Cinema and Cultural Construction

In this blog post I will be delving into my understanding of the 1954 Japanese classic, Godzilla (ゴジラ). Using my understanding of auto-ethnography I will attempt to interpret this film’s cultural significance as an artefact of time.

godzilla-1954-4

During the week I watched this film for the first time and live tweeted throughout using the #DIGC330 hashtag on my Twitter (@hazeldinesam).

Even as the film starts there is immediately a distinct feeling that you are watching an old film, the aesthetic of projection wobbles and jerking, grainy black and white film and jarringly sparse use of music and sound effects. This automatically places the viewer at certain point in time, which for me as a millennial creates more a sense of regressive novelty rather than a nostalgic reminder of my earlier years. My nostalgic ‘early years’ of experiencing film are best understood as the era of flip phones, Justin Timberlake with ramen hair and the beginning of the never-ending Fast and Furious saga. So context for me took a while to be understood and formed as the viewer.

As it progresses growing suspicions of the film’s didactic plot I perceived were to illustrate the devastation of World War II and atomic weaponry, moreover reinforce the need to avoid such destruction for future generations. This approach by the director to use cinema as a warning to future generations that ‘big actions have big consequences’ is a common idea which film has used for decades to establish popular narrative.

In particular, throughout Cold War era Hollywood there appears to be a necessity to demonise the enemy (usually Russia) and condemn any opposition to western cultural imperialism. Examples that immediately spring to mind are the Roger Moore and Sean Connery

James Bond films, which without exception have an oriental, middle eastern or soviet enemy – all of which remain alien cultures to dominant U.S. narrative.

This idea of cinema as a tool of persuasion is undoubtedly a powerful concept, I suggest checking out this article from Business Insider which goes deeper into Hollywood’s impact on the Cold War.

More relevant to the ideas shown in Godzilla I believe this film was a part of a recognition process in Japanese culture. What I mean by this – this period of history for Japan unquestionably shook the nation’s identity, being overpowered by the might of the western military in 1945 was humiliating for their proud culture. As part of the years following the war, this film helps to form a common recognition of the scale of devastation and loss – in the film this is manifested as WMDs and a mutant lizard. With the real life experience being the allied bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima resulting in similarly horrific circumstances.

Of course, this is an armchair analysis from someone who admittedly knows little about the Japanese cultural construct, however to be able to remain detached of emotion towards the ‘facts’ is half the battle. Furthermore, I believe that in the present era of information proliferation, it is exponentially easier to understand the inevitable two sides to every story.