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QUARANTINE DIARIES: The Social Relevance of K-Dramas

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 August) — I first got introduced to K-Dramas by my co-workers through the series Descendants of the Sun. The main come-on was how it helps in releasing everyday stress and that it was about peacekeeping and medical mission. Very apt and relevant to what has been my work for many years.

Lessons on health and medical profession were among the take-aways so I got interested and got copies of all the episodes. That was in 2017. True enough, I was so impressed with the cinematography, screenplay and the script and thought of local fare that pales in comparison. It made me wonder whatever happened to the much ballyhooed glory of Philippine cinema.

There was no occasion again for me to get hooked on K-dramas until COVID-19 pandemic came, when what everybody talked about was CLOY. I could not keep up. Then came April at the height of enhanced community quarantine and with my daughter’s prodding, I was able to finally find the chance to watch the series. We spent three nights to complete binging on the series. It was then I was able to confirm why said K-Drama was such a hit among Pinoys. With Netflix accessibility and too many free time while under lockdown, online shows became the most convenient means of entertainment.

While the universality of love as a most powerful force is the thread common among many K-dramas, contemporary themes most Filipinos can very well relate to are interwoven in them. From the importance of family as a basic unit of society to community solidarity to prevalence of corporate and government corruption, criminality and drugs to gender-based violence and women empowerment to systemic ills and rottenness of society to geo-politics of North and South reunification and proxy war between US and China. One can learn a bulk of history, geography, political economy and current events just with the sub-plots, backdrops and contexts that come with the K-dramas.

I tend to believe that many Filipinos got to appreciate Korean dramas more than their Filipino counterparts tackling the very same issues found in the former. I surmise it is because of the breath of fresh air by which the K-dramas are offered along with novel sceneries, different looks, outfits, culture, architecture, etc. that make everything in them more attractive and interesting.

So what is the effect of K-dramas to us Filipinos? On a personal level, it’s deep. When I see urban-poor setting in a Korean film, I would always say to myself, oh so they also have slums and stinky canals only to realize it does not make me feel as repugnant or revolting as when I see similar images of squalor in the slums and esteros of the country as these are all instantly associated with social injustice and inequality.

When I stumble on beautiful sceneries and tourist places depicted in K-dramas, I am always tempted to compare them with and be reminded of the Philippines’ own scenic spots. Their Jeju Island must be like Palawan or Batanes. Their beaches are no match to our Boracay and Coron. Their financial districts are like Makati, Ortigas and Bonifacio Global City. But the Korean lower middle class condominium apartments are far better than those in the Philippines.

Korea and the Philippines share a lot of similarities in colonial history, government systems and cultural practices. I love very much the mix and reconciliation of traditional cultural values with distinct Korean modernity and contemporary mores. In fact, I envy them for the premium they bestow on the values of integrity and nationalism. How Koreans uphold respect and honesty is to me very admirable. And this brings me to the point of how socially relevant K-dramas may be for us Filipinos.

The categorical depiction in K-dramas of corruption, political patronage, manipulation and conspiracy, sexism, violence against women, and drug-related criminality including even extra judicial killings must awaken in us a better sense to distinguish right from wrong.

This makes me think about the DDS in our midst. I wonder how many of them patronize K-dramas. Don’t they see the parallelisms and similarities pertinent to political and socio-economic themes? Who do they side with, the protagonists or the antagonists? Do they find connection and relevance to current national events and issues confronting our government and our people and relate what must be rightfully done to how stories are often resolved in the end of K-dramas? With goodness shown always triumphant in the end and evil always doomed to fail, are they not moved and repulsed by the extent of corruption in our present day government as they must have felt with portrayals of national situations of abominations in K-dramas?

K-dramas for me have practical social relevance. As many of our people perceive that most media outlets are biased either for or against something or someone, and pronounced divisions and animosities abound offline and online and many media products are branded with political colors and tainted with partisanship, I guess the neutral and apolitical grounds by which we can partake of amusement in the net could come with the shared desire for consumption and enjoyment of K-dramas.

My hope is that as more and more Filipinos are getting hooked on K-dramas they’d be able to fully imbibe and internalize the good lessons they impart on nationalism and patriotism; love of family and neighbors, solidarity, truth, justice and human rights.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Carmen Lauzon-Gatmaytan is a human rights and justice advocate. She has been involved in various women, peace and security initiatives in Mindanao since the 1990s. She is currently a civilian protection worker of an international peace-keeping NGO based in Cotabato City but because of the pandemic has been working from home in Davao City)




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