Half the population of the world gets K-dramas on the airwaves. Understanding the art and business of K-dramas helps us better understand the world today.
I built K-Drama Today to write about the world-wide K-drama phenomenon for non-fans, new fans, and viewers who don’t identify with the label “fan.” I’m comfortable calling myself a K-drama fan, but I don’t really like the word. It comes from “fanatic,” implying there’s something a little unnatural about enjoying K-dramas.
We should be able to watch subtitled television without having to decide whether we’re “fanatics” or not. Choosing a TV show to watch on Netflix isn’t a religious conversion. And though fan blogs are fun and interesting, there should be an easy way for new watchers to get oriented without having to track down fan sites, many of which are relatively hard to find in Google.
K-dramas are widely available in the USA via web-streaming, but I can’t get my real-life friends here in the States to join me in watching them. For good reason: most of them are raising small kids and fall asleep if they try to watch TV.
Luckily, there’s the Internet. Here I can explore my questions about K-dramas with viewers from around the world. Discussing these shows with other non-Koreans gives me insight into the stories themselves and the interesting people who watch them.
I also built this site because I love reading movie and TV reviews almost more than seeing the films and shows themselves. I write my favorite kind of reviews here, the ones that allow you to skip most of the episodes and still ask well-informed questions when you run into a K-drama fan at a cocktail party. (Or your local equivalent of a cocktail party.)
Why South Korean shows?
Korea exports K-dramas around the world. They have a different style than American shows, which widens our ideas about the stories television can tell.
But with South Korea exporting dozens of shows every year, some are excellent—and some are bad. Here I try to weed through what’s out there.
I write about the shows I find most interesting, those set in contemporary times. South Korea produces amazing historical dramas, too. But I’m most drawn to the twenty-first century stories. I like to see what they say—and don’t say—about the strange world we live in right now.
Who is Odessa Jones?
I’m a writer with an MFA in creative writing from American University (in Washington, DC) and an M.Phil. in economic and social history from Oxford. Since I also teach professionally, I’m writing here under my long-time nom de plume, Odessa Jones.
I’m not Asian or connected to Asia in any particular way. I discovered Korean television by accident on the internet. I have spent some time living overseas, but I have never yet been to East Asia. (Trivia: I did once live for a year in a country with only one television station and no internet, so I haven’t always been a TV watcher.)
And if you’re wondering whether to call me sunbae or hoobae, I was born in 1974!
1. I love foreign cultures. In the United States, even if we know better, we’re encouraged to think of the US as the be-all and end-all. K-dramas are a trip outside our borders. And they’re popular from Iran to Singapore to Brazil. How do K-dramas achieve such wide appeal?
2. I love social, economic and cultural history. South Korea’s entertainment industry is global, and competes with American TV “product” in much of the world. When Korean stories are “de-localized” and watched in countries far from Korea, do they have the same meaning they did in Korea?
3. I love women’s history and feminism. In the USA, 80-90% of the K-drama audience is women, mostly younger women. What does this say about the stories women want to watch? And what does it say that the American media mostly ignores these “women’s stories”? Korean society is tough on women, like most societies. So why do these stories of put-upon women often appeal to so many of us?
4. I love writers and creative people, and Korean script-writers are heroes. Where else does a single writer produce most of a 16 to 20 hour show, working under the pressures of the “live shoot”? These script-writers are the Double Ironman champions of world authors. But these writers work in a tough environment, where ratings matter big-time. What do K-dramas tell us about the collision between artful story-telling and the business side of entertainment?
5. I love good stories. The best K-dramas tell stories without bad guys or good guys—just stories about three-dimensional human beings. Compared to American television, K-dramas offer more idealism and fewer zombies. If a K-drama did feature zombies, they’d be idealistic zombies brooding over their Lost First Loves. In later episodes, the zombie protagonist would swear off eating human flesh, move to a cabbage farm and write love sonnets.
This suggests we’re moving into a world where nations specialize in certain kinds of stories: Americans in action, Koreans in romance. What does it mean for our perception of the world, if Americans have to turn to Korean-language television for romances?
I’d love to publish good writing about K-dramas by writers and fans from around the world. If you have a show you’re dying to write Deep Thoughts about, or a K-drama question you want to analyze, this is just the geeky showcase for you.
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Or while you’re here, drop me a line and tell me about your favorite subtitled K-dramas: