Monday, December 3, 2012

Infotainment: From health to...liberating North Korea?

In examining the role of international communication and how it may affect development, Prof. Liew Kai Khiun presented a fascinating article ("Informatization–Dramatization: Communicating Health in East Asian Television Dramas") in a recent issue of the International Journal of Communication. He noted that scholarly "recognition of television’s ability to invoke a deeper 'structure of feelings' (Ang, 1985, p. 40), has led to wide acknowledgment that popular entertainment probably shapes lay images and discourses of health more significantly than do official sources" (2041). Evoking examples of "health films" produced as a part of TV and film productions in Japan and Hong Kong,  Prof. Liew goes on to explain that such films "predominantly associated with official, nonfictional, instructional health-related messages (HRMs)" that promote greater awareness of diseases and treatment (2040).  He notes that HRMs distributed through dramatized TV and movie productions are a "response to an increasingly literate publics’ demands for less explicitly instructional health narratives and for dramatic demonstration of knowledge through para-performances in television serials" (2040). This demand for adult infotainment in East Asia is very interesting and certainly relates to the challenge of adulthood in 21st century Asia where one is seemingly torn between fulfilling one's Confucian obligations to family as a filial daughter and one's individual desires to fulfill personal dreams and ambitions. 

That TV dramas and movies may serve as educational material for health information and awareness in Asia is excellent. Even more curious, however, is the particular role of South Korean TV dramas and movies in educating the public in the hermit state of North Korea. According to a BBC report:

In a survey of 250 North Korean refugees and overseas travelers in 2010, 48 percent said they had watched foreign DVDs while inside the country, up from just 20 percent two years earlier, the study said."  
The study's principal author Nat Kretchun, associate director of the InterMedia consulting group, said that South Korean dramas - popular across Asia - their northern neighbours a welcome break from their usual diet of stern, humourless propaganda. 
"When you get very well-produced, compelling South Korean dramas - a picture into a place that you've been fascinated with your whole life, because so much North Korean propaganda revolves around South Korea - that's extremely powerful," he said.

The study found that today, "North Koreans have more access than ever to outside media, including radio, TV and DVDs" (BBC). Some of these DVDs have been purposefully dropped over the border. Since DVD players are not illegal in North Korea, the popularity of South Korean k-dramas has reportedly spread like wildfire since the genre made its first inroads to the country in the early 2000s. (See here: DVDs of the Korean soap operas--along with other foreign films, such as Titanic--have probably been made available through Chinese traders and the black market in North Korea. 

As TIME magazine reported in 2009:
In recent years, bootlegged South Korean dramas have been flooding into the northern neighbor — part of a recent explosion across Asia in the popularity of South Korean TV shows and music known as the Korean Wave. On the black market in North Korea, American DVDs go for about 35¢; South Korean ones go for $3.75, because of the higher risk of execution for smuggling them in, according to two recent defectors from Pyongyang. 
The nation's films and dramas have become so widespread across North Korea that the regime launched a crackdown this fall on North Korean university students, the movies' biggest audience, and smugglers at the Chinese border, charging some with promoting the ideology of the enemy state. "The government is terrified of the ideas North Koreans are getting about the outside world," Myung says. "The people are starting to ask, 'Why are we poor?' And they point to South Korea."
The number of defectors from North Korea has increased over the past decade. As Melanie Kirkpatrick documents in her new book, Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad, there are approximately 24,000 North Koreans that have managed to flee their country to seek refuge abroad. Countless thousands are also hiding in enclaves in China, fearing discovery and deportation by Chinese authorities. 

Information is value in North Korea and it is likely that any foreign information--via DVDs, radio broadcasts, or market goods--obtained within the country has an enormous impact on its recipient. As some interviews with defectors have revealed, seeing K-dramas that reveal a life of plenty in South Korea (with modern appliances, cellphones, and food) may convince just about anyone to question their reality in North Korea and their loyalty to the regime. Perhaps, in the future, we can explore the effects of K-dramas on the North Korean public. This of course, would be possible only when North Korea opens itself up. And perhaps, with the newest K-drama craze over "The King 2 Hearts," a show on South Korea's MBC channel, reunification is in the cards. From the ground--or TV screen--up. 

No comments:

Post a Comment