Call for Papers: The 3rd World Congress for Hallyu

I’ve been asked to pass on the following:

wahs call for papers and contest flyerFrom the accompanying email (slightly edited by me):

…I am emailing on behalf of WAHS to inform you of an upcoming international conference in Dubai on Hallyu Studies. The conference, World Congress on Hallyu, is the third of its kind and aims to bring together academics, students, and organizations who have an interest in the phenomenon of the Korean wave, known as Hallyu. Currently, we have branches of research in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, North America, and Europe.

I have a attached a flyer for an official “call for papers” for undergraduate and graduate students. I hope that you can pass it along to students who would be interested in submitting to the conference or contest. The undergraduate student essay winners are eligible to win a cash prize for their research, while graduate students are eligible for free airfare and accommodation to the conference to present their research. Graduate students seriously interested in attending are urged to sign up for a WAHS membership to receive a discount conference entrance fee and possible stipends for our future spring conference.

More information can be found at the official conference website, via the Facebook page, or via Twitter.

Meanwhile, apologies that a bad flu and the start of the new semester has delayed the follow-up to my last post, and I’ll try to have it up soon :)

On Grandly Narrating…Korean Dramas?

Misaeng(Source: The Huffington Post Korea)

Sorry for the slow blogging everyone. Not just for the last few weeks, but for the last few months. Many of you have noticed and have been wondering, so I thought I should offer a quick explanation.

Long story short, I’ve got much less time than I had in 2014.

I’m doing a Master’s again. I’m teaching more classes this semester. I’m working on my first academic journal article. My daughters have started a (lovely) alternative school for multiracial children, which is a long commute away; it’s nice spending the extra time with them, but that’s another 10 hours a week that I used to spend on other things. And so on.

Still, I could and did work on the blog a little. But then I caught an on-off, debilitating flu for over a month. As you can imagine, now I’m behind on just about everything.

All that said, after 8 years of blogging, I am in a bit of a rut with regards to topics and style, and am looking for new ideas to motivate myself—and hopefully to interest and entertain you too. One possibility might be an episode by episode discussion of the recent(ish) drama Misaeng, which I’ve heard was a very realistic portrayal of Korean corporate life, and especially of the position of women therein. I’ve already watched the first episode, and, although it wasn’t earth-shattering, it was refreshingly free of K-Drama cliches, especially the childish female roles. If, like me, you’ve been disappointed with “progressive” Korean dramas before, this might finally be one worth getting stuck into.

If you’re interested in following along with me, at the pace of one episode per week say, please let me know in the comments. And/or, about anything else you’d like to see more of on the blog. Thanks!

Update (July): Thanks for the comments everyone, and sorry for the false starts in June. I’ll start sometime this month.

p.s. Three Cheers for Halcion, the only way I managed to finally get a good night’s sleep last night!

A Weighty Matter: Deconstructing the Korean Media’s Messages about Body Image, Cosmetic Surgery, and Obesity

Korean Drama Screenshot(Source)

I was quoted in the Korea Times today, on “Korean primetime’s ‘lookism’ problem”. Due to my sloppy wording though, the fact that I was actually paraphrasing someone else(!) got lost in the final article. So, to give credit where credit’s due, and to use the opportunity to provide some helpful links to further reading, here’s my original email quote:

As researcher Sarah Grogan pointed out in Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women and Children (2007), watching more television doesn’t necessarily lead to greater dissatisfaction with one’s body—it’s the messages it gives that are what’s important. So, whether it’s a variety program, a music video, an advertisement, or whatever, if what you’re watching stresses being thin, if it encourages viewers to compares themselves with the ideal men and women presented, and/or if it makes you feel like there’s such a huge gap between your own body and theirs, then you’re just going be left feeling ugly. Television everywhere is guilty of that. Korean television though, really stands out with the sheer amount of programming time devoted to appearance and dieting, with its uncritical narratives that cosmetic surgery is a safe and reliable means to financial and romantic success, and with the seeming unconcern with, even positive encouragement of passing those messages on to children. Call that a gross generalization if you wish, but consider this: although Korean children (of both sexes) are only about average weight compared to other OECD countries, Korea is the only country where 20-39 year-old women are getting thinner. Is it really so strange to suppose that the Korean media might have had something to do with that? So unreasonable to suggest that it could sometimes present more realistic images of women?

To be precise, it’s the 2nd half of the 2nd sentence (from “if what you’re watching” to “feeling ugly”) where I’m paraphrasing Sarah Grogan again (p. 112). But, without my making that clear, then it’s no wonder that reporter Kim Bo-eun didn’t realize, and so didn’t mention Grogran. My fault sorry, and, not just because I’m feeling guilty at the *cough* inadvertent plagiarism, naturally I highly recommend Grogans’ book, although frankly I’d wait to see if a third edition is coming out before you consider purchasing it yourself.

Most the of the subsequent links are self-explanatory, so I’ll just highlight a couple. First, the one to Joanna Elfving-Hwang’s “Cosmetic Surgery and Embodying the Moral Self in South Korean Popular Makeover Culture” at the Asia-Pacific Journal, because it’s a must-read. At best, I can only supplement it myself with this recent translation of mine (with links to many more articles) on how scarily unregulated—and genuinely dangerous—the Korean cosmetic surgery industry is, with a Chinese patient dying just last week.

Next, my latest article for Busan Haps, where I debunk recent alarmist reports about—yes, really—a ‘Korean Obesity Epidemic’, especially among children. To quickly sum up my findings for you here, despite the definite improvements that can be made to Korean children’s health, they are actually only about average weight for the OECD (which I suppose is news for Korea), and Korean adults are still the 5th thinnest overall. Like with smoking however, it is both misguided and unhelpful to think in terms of overall rates rather than specific demographics, two extreme cases in point being young, urban women who are getting more underweight, and elderly, rural, poor women who do indeed tend to be (slightly) more obese than ‘average’. World-Changing Quiz ShowSomething to consider the next time a columnist or show host lectures Korean women on eating less—which will probably be as soon as next week, in the run-up to Seolnal on the 18th (source, right: Entermedia).

Finally, another clarification. By “Korean television…really [standing] out with the sheer amount of programming time devoted to appearance and dieting”, I don’t mean shows explicitly devoted to those subjects as such (although I’m sure that, comparatively speaking, their numbers would still be quite high). Rather, it’s that those subjects pervade Korean programming content, with hosts on Korea’s disproportionately high number of variety and guest shows, for example, frequently commenting on especially female guests’ appearances, either by jokingly fat-shaming those that don’t fit the ideal, or by prompting ‘impromptu’ skits, dance performances, or testimonials about dieting and miracle fat-reduction products by those that do, to the extent that such body-policing becomes an integral component of the entertainment (Kim Bo-eun also mentions some examples in Korean comedy shows).

This is just my strong impression though, which I admit I can’t offer any content analysis to back-up, and which I doubt even exists anyway (would anyone like to do some with me?). If any readers have a different impression of Korean television then, and feel that I’m mistaken, by all means please tell me why!

Help a Korean Wave Researcher!

Korean Drama Relationships(“And you thought *you* had relationship issues”. Source: Sanctu; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This request comes from a friend of mine. So, you already know she’s awesome, and very deserving of your help!

Hi, my name is Marilyn, and I’m a graduate student researching the Korean Wave in the U.S. Specifically, I’m hoping to interview K-drama fans about why they like dramas, how they started watching them, etc. If you are a K-drama fan (even a casual one!), have lived all or most of your life in the U.S., are not of Korean descent, and have never lived in Korea, then I would really like to talk to you about K-dramas. Please email me at if you can help me out.

What are you waiting for? ;)

Must See Korean TV: 21st Century Family (21세기가족)


Thank you very much to Maria, whose synopsis instantly sold me on this recent drama:

…I’ve seen a lot of Korean dramas and they almost always find a way to disappoint me in the way they portray women, sexuality or both. This little drama is quite refreshing. Unusual in that it’s only 8 episodes long, it openly talks about issues like teenage sex, puberty, the difficulty married couples have getting sex regularly, and even one episode about viagra. To be fair, I have taken the last nearly 9 months away from watching dramas, so maybe things have heated up out there when I wasn’t looking. But this is the first time I’ve seen sexually related issues being dealt with so frankly and humorously…

If you think it already sounds a lot like Modern Family, you’d be quite right — it’s explicitly modeled on it, albeit without a gay family. See here for a helpful family tree, starting with Lee Deok-hwa (이덕화) playing the father role that Ed O’Neill does in the US original, and DramaTic for some historical context on Korean sitcoms, which helps you better understand what makes this one so different. In particular:

…the word comedy [was removed] from the show’s promotion to avoid all the implications it brings to the table, at least in Korea – namely, the idea that sitcoms should all be about a relentless succession of mindless gags punctuated by the good old laugh track. It’s an intelligent expedient, which highlights this show’s priorities better than any trailer or presentation would. This, in other words, is a back-to-basics approach, while at the same time exploring different answers to the usual formula.


Perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s so easy to find with English subtitles then — I just watched episode 1 here, and although frankly I found it a little slow after all that build-up, it was still quite enjoyable. Also, crucially, it only had precisely one cringe-worthy moment for me, when Oh Yoon-ah (오윤아) behaves quite childishly in the police-station towards the end. Considering how routinely women behave that way in most Korean dramas, making me turn the TV off in disgust within 5 minutes of watching, it was very refreshing not to see it for a whole 40 minutes here.

Anybody else seen the show, and/or like a detailed episode by episode discussion (à la Dramabeans) over the next 8 weeks? Please let me know!

FINALLY, a Way to Study Korean Through Dramas!


If you’re a Western student of Korean, then probably you’ve experienced the same dilemma I have: you’d like to watch dramas to improve your listening ability and get a handle on everyday language, but are put off by their excessive melodrama, cliches, and often poor quality. Which is not to say that all of them are bad of course, but when you do find one you like, then you can struggle in vain to find Korean subtitles to them. For Korean torrent sites naturally don’t bother to provide them, and Koreans’ rampant illegal downloading means that it’s extremely difficult to find DVDs of Korean dramas (if they even exist).

So, either you have to watch dramas with distracting English subtitles, or struggle to understand the stories with none at all. If only there were some alternate way to study the dialogue in advance, or read it as you go along. Sure, Dramabeans’ detailed synopses of each episode of most dramas are very helpful for the gist, but I think I speak for most when I say we’re really after something more akin to transcripts…

Enter “드라마사진만화”, or “드라마영상만화”: a little like manhwa books, but with photo stills from the drama, rather than hand-drawn pictures. Please see Shanna’s post about them at Hangkukdrama and Korean here for more information, and which so impressed me that I immediately ordered some for Secret Garden. And you can just imagine how I felt when I read that she’s had some for over 3 years, when this is the first I’ve ever heard of them!

Does anybody else already used them? What did you think?

“I’m a Korean Girl”

Despite its title, this is simply a classic rendition of the way young women typically behave in Korean dramas.

The flip-side of the aegyo (애교) phenomenon, that behavior is precisely why I don’t watch them too, and have a real concern about the effects on my 2 daughters as they grow up seeing it every time they turn on the TV.

But don’t get me wrong: the video’s hilarious, and thanks very much to @Mentalpoo for passing it on!^^