Thursday, December 29, 2011

In the Beginning, there was Netflix streaming. And it was good.

Barring a move to the international space station, I could not possibly live further from Korea than I do. (It’s so far, in fact, that to the best of my knowledge I’ve never once met someone who’s actually set foot in the country.) And unlike many established bloggers, my family heritage is as un-Asian as it gets: I’m a third-generation American descended from French-speaking Canadians. If my grandmother had ever seen kimchi, she would probably have wrinkled her nose and thrown it out, sure it was leftover boiled dinner forgotten in the refrigerator for far, far too long. I don’t speak Korean or have any profound insight into Korean culture beyond what I gleaned from reading a few books on Asian business etiquette for a previous job.

Yet here I am, presuming to post on the Internet about a topic I barely understand. (Of course, one might make the argument that this describes everything on the Internet, but still.) That topic? Korean drama, a diversion that has essentially eaten my life for the past six months.

My first exposure to Kdrama was like falling down the rabbit hole, or swallowing the red pill; it opened my eyes to an entire world I had long overlooked, one that was completely foreign and yet familiar in a lot of fundamental ways. I hold Netflix responsible: If they hadn’t offered Boys over Flowers on their streaming service, I might have lived my entire life without staying up all night to see whether Jan Di would chose Ji Hoo or Jun Pyo, without scouring the internet for information about mandatory military service in Korea, without yearning to call someone “oppa.”

What sold me at first was the realization that, unlike American TV shows, Kdramas have beginnings, middles, and ends. They are not specifically created to draw storylines out over multiple seasons and hundreds of episodes: some degree of satisfying closure is essentially guaranteed for every single drama. True, the shows are sometimes extended or shortened by a few episodes in the middle of their runs, but that’s nothing compared to coming to love a television show only to have it forever yanked off the air after two underperforming episodes. (I’m talking about you, Wonderfalls.)

These finite runs allow for the other thing that initially drove my obsession with Korean drama: love stories. When you need to plan ahead for season 7 from day one of your show’s run, as in America, it’s just not possible to focus on two lovers the way you can in a 16-episode Kdrama. Other than repugnant, Katherine Heigl-starring chick flicks, American culture isn’t something that gets a lot of mileage out of love. Romance is ghettoized onto channels providing “television for women” or serves as a temporary plot point on sitcoms—it’s not something our entertainment is built around the way Korean dramas are. Kdramas are stuffed to the gills with the things we Miss-Independent-style American girls dream of in our secret heart of hearts: big, unredeemably cheesy romantic moments, professions of undying love, and the kind of true gentleman who will piggyback a drunk girl for miles, no questions asked.

As far as I can tell from dramas, Korean culture is different from American culture in a lot other key ways. For one, it values cheerful, smart, hardworking types in a way that’s antithetical to modern America, where “smart” means “geeky” (see Big Bang Theory) and “hardworking” means “too dumb to know better” (see Office Space). In America, we hunger for coolness and independence and freedom, all of which can be great things—but not when they come at the expense of genuineness, and appreciating joy and beauty wherever they appear—all common themes in Korean drama.

Add these things to the sheer number of Korean dramas available for viewing online (7,000 hours worth on Drama Fever alone), and you have the perfect storm for an OCD-level completeist like myself. My motto has become a simple one: I want to watch Korean dramas now, and I want to watch them all—the old, the new, the classic, the trash.

I also don’t want to shut up about them and their cracktacular fabulousness, which is one of the reasons why I’m here, littering the Internet with still more nothing-special ramblings about something pretty special. Another reason? Much to my dismay, there just don't seem to be that many English-language blogs about Korean drama. The few I've found are fabulous beyond measure, but it feels like there's room for one more.

16 comments:

  1. Did you listen to me talking to myself?

    Also we seem to share some heritage, my great grandfather was from Nova Scotia...and I grew up on boiled dinner here in CT.

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  2. We Vermonters occasionally add maple syrup to our boiled dinners ;) Weird that we northeastern girls find ourselves here, in the strange but intoxicating land of Korean drama.

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  3. Your writing is fantastic ... and so spot on. Like you, I don't have any Asian heritage in my background (I am primarily black ... with a little bit of Spanish, French, Portuguese and Lebanese ... from the West Indies) but I am seriously addicted to Korean dramas for the very reasons you listed. Will make sure and add your blog to my regular reading segment.

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  4. Welcome to the world of kdramas!! Your blog introduction was very thought-out and well-written. I'm looking forward to reading some rants, spazzes, theories about why a crazy-ass character is so crazy, etc! Cheers to a New Year full of new experiences!

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  5. Good start! - Lurked over from dramabeans. I live in Virginia USA as an Italian/Irish/Lithuanian mix. Looking forward to more blogging!

    - Shukmeister

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  6. Hi,
    Just wanted to say that I love the picture you have at the top of the page. Is that the Han Ri

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  7. I meant to say,is that the Han River?

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  8. Hey, Anonymous. I hope it's the Han River, but I guess I can't be sure. The closest I've been to Korea is probably Mexico ;)

    Here's where I got the picture: http://www.istockphoto.com/stock-photo-13594528-han-river-at-night.php?st=f411516

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  9. I just found your blog from your link in a Dramabeans open thread. I love your writing style and have fallen hard for K-Dramas for the same reasons you have. I have long been a watcher of Bollywood and Chinese movies, and watched my first K-Drama on Hulu last summer, your description of falling down a rabbit hole is spot on. I live in the Midwest, and we're talking middle of the US midwest... so as well as not knowing anyone who has ever been to Korea, I get some pretty strange looks from people when I talk about my obsession!!

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    1. Teehee...you're not alone on getting strange looks. I'm pretty sure everyone I know is now involuntarily flinching whenever they hear the word "Korea," expecting it to be followed by one of my long-winded talks about the wonders of Kdrama =X

      It's amazing to me that more Americans aren't crazy for Korean television.

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  10. Hi Amanda! Welcome to the wonderful world of Kdrama. I love your writing style, and this intro is so spot on. I'm bookmarking you. I've been a Kdrama addict since 2006, so I can warn you that this obsession is kinda long lasting. But I think it's all worth it. :)

    - Gail, by way of dramafever

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  11. I love your blog! I became obsessed with Kdrama about a year ago and I don't know anyone in my area that is as crazy about as I am so it's wonderful to read your blog and relate. Thanks and keep up the writing!

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  12. Your blog is really fun to read. It's very informative and it's awesome that you're into dramas. The writing on Outside Seoul is a mix of analyzing the drama, as well as just funny ramblings.

    I'm also impressed with how much you know about the Korean dramas =P. Vermont is so far from Korea, yet you're constantly up-to-date with K-dramas!

    I actually live here in Seoul, so when I want to read non-Korean reviews of dramas, your site is one of the sites I check out.

    Keep up the good word and I hope to talk to both you and other international drama fans in the future :)

    -- Jason (aka Jangta) from Green Tea Graffiti

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  13. Hi!
    I came across your blog while searching for reviews of Faith (2012). I have been into Kdramas for well over an year now, but all the people around me (including the ones who introduced me to this stuff) have moved on. And I am the only one still obsessed with all things Korean (lee min ho included)! Its so good to come across your blog and realise that I am not alone. Kudos to your indefatigable passion for K-dramas!!

    Kumao,
    KDrama Fan from India

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  14. Hello! Your blog is as relevant today as it was back in 2011! Thank you for being here, and your Tumblr is fantastic! Keep the kfaith

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