This post is part of a series about Korea and the recent transition in Korea to discovering new meaning in money through a rapidly growing capitalist culture. I was inspired to write about Korea after visiting Seoul this summer with my sister. Korea is kimchi-tastic.
It must be good timing on my part to visit Seoul this August with my sister. Apparantly the Korean Wave has hit America and I’m on its tail. If you haven’t already seen its biggest icon, you’ll want to see the following video from South Korean rapper PSY’s “Gangnam Style.” It’s reached 220 million YouTube views and counting.
What’s behind the face of Korean pop culture is also a deeper probing into Korea’s economy and society and their identity in a global culture.
Gangnam is the most affluent neighborhood in Seoul. It gained quick economic status during the 2000’s when the price of high rises in Seoul skyrocketed and those who owned this piece of Seoul rang in money. It’s a trendy place now, with night clubs and affluence pervading Seoul’s trending cafe culture.
I heard while I was in Korea that this has been followed by an equally generous amount of plastic surgery- an embodiment beyond PSY of changes in Korea’s culture.
Plastic surgery accompanies wealth and privilege, and so I wasn’t completely surprised to learn about its growth. One of the most popular surgeries is to make Korean’s eyes appear larger and rounder. The other is double-jaw surgery where the roundness of someone’s jaw is broken to appear smaller and more square. The Confucian emphasis on the family and the body, the vessel that connects us to our biology, contrasts with the wave of plastic surgery that makes what your parents gave you transformable.
While the face of Korea might by PSY for now, the embodiment of culture takes on a different shape when emphasis is on the body itself. As PSY said in an interview on the Today show, “I’m not handsome, I’m not tall, I’m not muscular, I’m not skinny. But I’m sitting here.” PSY puts Korea on the global cultural economy map through “soul” he says, even if Korea isn’t the tallest, the most muscular, and the skinniest culture in the world.
From Gangnam style:
I’m a guy
A guy who is as warm as you during the day
A guy who one-shots his coffee before it even cools down
A guy whose heart bursts when night comes
That kind of guy
This post is part of a blog series about Korea and its recent, rapid shift to a capitalist culture.