Americanization vs Koreanization: soft power through media and entertainment
When we think about the power of any great country in the past, we might probably refer to ‘hard power’ — something like an armed force, military, tanks, fighter airplanes, all those innovative weapons, and so on. We could say from the world’s history that the stronger army, the more powerful a country. But, history also can teach people. We have learned the result of using force from what had happened. As the world changed and we are trying to be a peaceful world, hard power is rarely used nor effective anymore. Of course, these days countries are still fighting for power and trying to become more powerful. Yet, they mostly rely on ‘soft power’ instead.
In this era, we might probably familiar with the term ‘soft power’ more frequently. It could be used in many terms, but mostly involves culture, political values, and foreign policies. Speaking in general, soft power is the ability to influence and attract other countries through an attraction, in contrast to hard power which emphasizes using force or fear. Therefore, soft power is able to be spread tactfully and widely in many ways. This power could provide a country with bargaining power, respect, and position in the world stage. It doesn’t matter whether you are a big country with a large military, a very-very resourceful country, or a smaller country one. All of that is outdated. You could have the ability to influence the world by building soft power, as the greater soft power you have, the more powerful you become.
These days, we can see many countries that have shifted themselves to use soft power as their advantages. Still, the extent and the way to build and These days, we can see many countries that have shifted themselves to use soft power as their advantages. Still, the extent and the way to build and spread that power to the world are different depends on the countries’ focuses, as the origins of each country are diverse. Soft power can be based on anything such as innovative technology, quality education, global reputation, cultural influence like arts or entertainment, and more. If we look at Germany as an example, their country’s soft power is likely to rely on education development and high-quality manufacturing or globally accepted engineering. Another obvious example of soft power is the English language. The way English has become a universal language also can be referred to the use of soft power as well.
As we are now in the world of media and entertainment, we could definitely say that another trendy efficient way to build soft power is through ‘pop culture’. It’s a channel to send the culture of that country to others. If people in the past looked where we are at right now, they might be surprised that any form of entertainment and enjoyable stuff can provide power to a country, whether movies, music, games, shows, or else, even fashion and makeup. One of the most commonly known country in terms of using pop culture to send its soft power around the world is The United States. As we know, the Hollywood industry is no joke. American entertainment is everywhere for quite a long period. Even so, there is another trendy country that is chasing and also very powerful in using pop culture. The hottest country right now in Asia couldn’t be anyone but South Korea, as the Korean wave has swept all over the continent and the world. Therefore, in this case, we will consider soft power in terms of cultural influence, so would the relations between soft power and pop culture and the way it has presented through media and entertainment of these two soft power juggernauts.
How American Culture Rules the World
‘The United States is one of the most powerful countries in the world.’
According to that statement, we can imply why it is so normal for us to see American culture in every place, everywhere even not in the U.S. However, being a powerful country is not that necessary factor helping bring American culture to be the powerful and popular culture in the world. There are multiple reasons for pushing it to be so.
We could trace back to the end of World War II, as the consequence of the war has become a factor helping enhance the prosperity of American culture. While other countries in the world were suffering from the impacts of the war, the U.S. barely got hurt from it which made it took the lead from many big countries, plus being their creditor as well. It snowballed from that pretty good, and its technology became more advanced when others were busy recovering themselves from the loss of the war. Therefore, the development and technologies the U.S. has got have become a potential supporter to build and spread its soft power.
As we can see, the United States is a country that has many immigrants from various places around the world. The immigrants from each country will represent the connection back to their countries, plus they may portray American culture and combine it with their original cultures as well. It’s like having its own direct channels to reach each country and spread the contents and culture. It has become normal for today when one leaves their country for the U.S. whether to live or to study. Hence, education is another factor that creates the popularity of American culture and becomes a channel for spreading its soft power. As the education system of the U.S. is considered as a very qualified one. There are quite a number of high-ranked universities so many people who seek advancement in their education sometimes move to study there before getting back to their home countries after graduating. Most of the time, when they have returned, they have brought back American culture or at the very least, speaking English in an American accent.
Apart from the connection between countries, westernization also plays a part. For a period that the western-like lifestyles have spread around the world whether in terms of ideology, politics, cuisine, or education system. One thing that is carried through westernization is the culture which is one of the main factors that supports the soft power of the western. Even though there are so numerous factors helping the U.S. become a soft power juggernaut and drive American culture to be worldwide, entertainment still plays an important role as always. In terms of spreading certain ideas, it’s hard to deny the power and ability of entertainment. As entertaining content is something that requires less subjectivity while having a diversity of genres, it can get to mass people easily and increase a chance for new audiences with different preferences. The U.S. as a leader of technology at the beginning has used the advantages of the technology advancement they have, combining with media and entertainment — the film industry, music industry, or else — to approach people in the state, then the world.
As we have already considered the relations between media and soft power, one media that can influence people effectively and easily get to people around the world is the entertainment media — the common stuff that every culture must-have. Again, it is proved that the United States has done so well in spreading both the public media and its entertainment contents worldwide.
Taking about American media and entertainment, the very first thing that comes up in our minds might be ‘Hollywood’. It is obvious that Hollywood is Taking about American media and entertainment, the very first thing that comes up in our minds might be ‘Hollywood’. It is obvious that Hollywood is the largest, most popular, and most influential movie industry in the world. When we look at how successful a movie is, it is quite common that the movies gaining the most profit during each period would usually come from Hollywood. Being from Hollywood is quite a guarantee of being decent. As the industry was produced by diverse people (races, cultures, countries), Hollywood has many agenda, characteristics, and contents to, pretty much, be able to target the whole world as their audiences. Meanwhile, the U.S. also has the biggest music industry (or almost biggest) due to many factors, whether the power of language, the music style itself, the advanced technology which enables them to become the early country exporting their music massively, or else. Not to mention other types of entertainment (video games, fashion, media platforms, etc.), all the trusts they have gained from the consumers in these kinds of products have laid the foundation of success and popularity.
How popular it is
In general, we could see how much the United States has influenced pop culture, and that refers to the impact of its soft power as well. All the American pop-culture products that they have created and sent across the world are one of the main reasons why American culture rules the world as it has been already mentioned that the contents carry the entertainment along with the idea, lifestyles, and culture of the Westerners. Nowadays, we are breathing, one way or another, American products. Many angles in the world of media and pop culture are related to the United States. Imagine when we choose to pay for the subscription to one of the famous online media service providers whether Netflix or Disney+, they are both American. In the same case, if you want to become an online influencer, you might have to think of some online media platforms that you will focus on, then you would realize that most of them whether Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter are from the United States as well. They have spread their (cultural) landmark everywhere — the same as Disney has done with Disneyland. Of course, Disneyland can be seen as a symbol of American entertainment that has been sent and rooted in the other parts of the world.
The Rise of Koreanization
Speaking of the leaders in spreading culture through entertainment, South Korea is also at the top of the list no below than the United States, if not higher.
Moving back to one or two decades ago, the ‘Korean Wave’ or ‘K-Wave’ started to be spread in Asia before transforming into a tsunami that splashes all over the world recently. We may know this phenomenon in another name as ‘Hallyu’ meaning the same/or similar — the Flow of Korea. The word was originated from Chinese when Korean media has tried to expand into China. Later, in the late 90s, it started to go wider and wider until here comes the era of Koreanization. Obviously, to claim that Koreanization has risen because of Korean entertaining media isn’t exaggerated.
South Korea is known as one of the most successful countries in exporting its culture to the world until becoming a soft power juggernaut as we see today. The reasons behind the success of Hallyu or Korean media and entertainment are not only from the creativity of the contents or the competition in business but mostly from the push and support of the Korean government.
Before the rise of K-entertainment
Even though the way South Korea spreading its soft power through media may not be done as a long period as the United States has worked on, it was a well-planned project for the purpose of enhancing the economy or strengthening its position in the world. Korea was very scanty once a period in the past as the country suffered from the impact of wars — it was not really able to focus much on a subject like entertainment. With the attempt to revive the country and economy, South Korea put an effort into the technology and industrial as we see that there are many famous electrical appliances from South Korea: LG, Samsung; or even the automobile industry like Hyundai. The success was from the collaboration from both the government and private sectors, and this success helps build the powerful entertainment industry as well.
As time went by, they realized that the entertainment media is an effective tool to create the country’s income. The country was stable enough to invest in the entertainment industry and begin producing films whether movies or series. It was the start of K-Drama Fever that has laid the foundation of Korean entertainment’s reputation. We can trace back the support from the Korean government in many ways. In which once in the 90s, the government has limited the quota of foreign films showing in Korean to spare the place for Korean films for at least a hundred days per year. Then the move of developing the entertainment industry expanded to the music industry which later became the firework of Korean cultural products — Kpop. Fortunately, by the time that Korean pop culture started to become famous, technology also has got its back to make the perfect timing for the country to spread their content even wider and easier. Since then, Korean pop culture and entertainment have become more important as a channel that has laid the foundation of the country’s prosperity.
Korean Cultural Products
In the sense of Korean media, it is certainly known that it contains and carries ‘Korean cultural products’ to the world. As South Korea has focused on, plus has a big success in, using pop culture and entertainment to spread their culture, the government took it seriously to the point that they have established many cultural organizations such as Korea Culture and Content Agency (KOCCA) to support cultural media and re-package the culture in a modern context in order to ensure it suits the current world and audiences. While there are many forms of media products, four main cultural products that have the most popularity are K-Drama, K-Pop, K-Beauty, and K-Cuisine. We can see that Korean culture has started to become elements of the pop culture in general.
K-Pop and K-Drama
Considering the most trendy one, K-pop has already gone worldwide undoubtedly. We can see the evolution of Kpop since the early 2000s with the popular song like Gee (SNSD), moving to the hottest period of Gangnam Style, until this era that we probably hear the songs of Blackpink or BTS anywhere in the world. Kpop has grabbed the world’s attention to the country, language, and culture. Not to mention the film industry—both series and movies included, we may say that it is one of the very first and foremost things that expose the country internationally, also shows and shares the culture to others. Korean series have been known for quite a while and still gained more fans during its paces through time pass. With the advantages of globalization, the reach to the audience is much wider than before, as we see that K-series started to expand its fanbase to many more countries through multiple online platforms (Netflix, for example).
Meanwhile, it also took much more place in the movie industry, whether in terms of popularity, profit, even the award. ‘Parasite’ as the winner of the latest Oscar has proved it. However, it doesn’t just happen in a second. The Korean film industry has built the audience bases and tried to destroy the language barrier all along by producing a blockbuster like ‘Train to Busan’ to get people to pay more attention to the Korean film industry and dig the way for the upcoming projects. Apart from the movies and series, other types of entertainment are also got hit as well. Many Korean TV programs, reality shows, variety shows are very popular, especially in some countries, and have been adapted to many shows from other nations.
The fruit of Korean products
Korean lifestyles are portraying itself through the art of storytelling as the dramas and movies are very well known all over. Even in the world of social media, many Korean contents have gotten hit as well. We can see that one of the trendy lifestyle videos right now is Korean minimal style vlog, while another famous content which is followed and adapted by many people from different nationalities is an eating show or ‘Mukbang’. All the media and contents that have been shared with the world for the purpose of entertaining also present ‘being Korean’. Therefore, they could export Korean culture to enhance their soft power while gaining more income for the country.
To illustrate, the world has known more aspects of Korean which one of those includes Korean beauty styles. It has become the ideal beauty for many people, whether in terms of beauty products, styles and fashion, surgeries, and so on. There are many people who are willing to spend their money on the products or surgery in South Korea which will help the flow of the country’s economy. No less than Korean cuisine which is become more and more popular as people want to try and follow the menu they have seen on the screen.
The better off of South Korea is that the Korean government saw the opportunity to use the media and technology in order to expose the country worldwide so that they could sell cultural products (foods, attractions, language, entertainment, etc.) to gain both wealth and strength. Even though Korean culture might not have been around as long as American, we can say that the whole world started to be under the wave of Korean more and more.
A tool to shape society
It is clear that South Korea has exported the culture and its soft power to influence the world. However, that media influence does return to their own place and people. Maybe the entertainment was not intended to influence only the foreign as the South Korean government has been planning to use such soft power to persuade and shape Korean society in certain aspects as well. For Koreans themself, the contents they produce will both reflect and persuade the society, to highlight a specific issue in order to slowly adjust or change it. As we can see that social issues have become more important in the globalized era, Korean media is also producing so many contents about social reflection such as gender role, social class, or education by using dramas/movies as a medium.
There are various entertaining media that do its job on reflecting and pointing out the issues, such as movies like ‘Parasite’ or ‘Kim Jiyoung, born 1982’ which emphasize the social class, and gender role in Korean society. The famous TV show named ‘The Return of Superman’ which will assign a celebrity father to take care of his child alone without any help for 48 hours while a mother leaves for relaxing also does the job as a tool to present about the family and gender role. Any little detail can be hidden in the contents in order to be absorbed by the audience — Korean citizens, in this case.
Another funny but true example is that once in the past Koreans used to have a smelly mouth problem as they might not give priority to their oral health. If we watch Korean series frequently enough, we may notice that they encourage people to solve the problem by inserting teeth-brushing scenes in the series, and it surprisingly worked. Not to mention the diversity of plot in Korean series which are produced based on various careers’ aspects to give a view of different jobs to their citizens and encourage their people to value the jobs.
Looking at South Korea, we can clearly see how powerful soft power is in order to approach to the world stage. The country’s culture has become influential and left its mark without being a big country. We can see how much priority South Korea gives to the media and entertainment and how good they are in using media as a tool to control soft power.