Update – As I’ve learned from this comments thread, satire and irony is much more common in Korean popular culture than I gave it credit for. However, they’re also definitely used and expressed in very different ways by Koreans and Westerners, as this comment there makes clear.
Update 2 – Consider this quick observation about sarcasm too.
To put it mildly, Koreans don’t often use satire and irony in their popular culture. And when non-Koreans do? Hell, that can even get them deported.
Which explains many of the Korean reactions to the video above, at first sight part of a US-made documentary dismissing Korean claims of cultural theft by foreigners. But actually, it’s one of a series of commercials by the Korean company Mr Pizza (미스터피자). Not only hilarious in their own right, I’m struggling to think of any similar Korean send-ups of real-life examples of excessive, often downright looney Korean nationalism. Or at least by as prominent a source as Jeong Woo-hyeon (정우현), chairman of the company since 1989.
Granted, some things Koreans are proud of only appear absurd in translation. But then there are cases like this completely serious claim that Christmas trees the world over are Korean, for instance, and that consequently the world owes Korea royalties. Live in Korea, and one hears of similar things every other week, let alone faces a daily deluge of related advertisements and government and NGO campaigns.
Indeed, many of these are referenced and joked about in the commercial, which is part of what makes it so funny. For starters, take the man at the beginning holding a placard saying “도둑” (thief): no big deal to most foreign observers, it encourages a double-take by those who expected it to say “독도” (Dokdo) instead. A little later, many of the images on the college dropout’s computer and on his walls are well-known on the Korean internet (especially that map). And so on.
As of yet though, unfortunately the campaign doesn’t seem to have been picked up by the Korean media. While I expect it will be eventually (as I type this, a duplicate YouTube video has nearly 100,000 views, and many more comments), it has to be said that, expats aside, it will have the most appeal to Korea’s more cosmopolitan consumers, who are more likely to think out of the box. But that’s a good start, and indeed one of them is busy emailing her friends about it in the next room, many of whom are overcoming their instinctive defensiveness and ultimately enjoying it just as much she did!^^
(Many thanks to dogdyedblack, both for passing on the video and his astute observations about it. For more posts in the “Korean Creative Advertising” series, see here)