How the K elements in the West have influenced the imagination and esthetics collectively.
The cultural assimilation in the West and especially in Hollywood has been rather slow and questionable. It was with the advent of globalisation that Hollywood flew open its doors, even though hesitantly, to the world and especially to the Southeast Asia.
Being an economical-political process, globalisation resulted in a huge cultural impact upon the lives of the people in the West. The ending of the Cold War and the failure of the Eastern European Communism and the Soviet Union ensued in liberalisation, free trade and the opening of the world economies.
Moving back and forth through time and space, the role played by Asia in defining and altering the cultural and visual aesthetics has been colossal. Along with the flow of capital and people, the monolithic and hegemonic structure of Hollywood too got coerced into assimilating and incorporating Southeast Asia into its Oscars and Emmys.
The mammoth success and fame created by the Southeast Asian movies, especially Chinese, triumphed over the attempts made by the western visual culture in closing off the outside elements. The movies of Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jet Lee among others became synonymous with the exotic and exuberant culture of Southeast Asia.
The movies that were dubbed or released with sub-titles took the Hollywood society like a whirlwind. The altered immigration policies adopted by the West towards the East too accelerated the acceptance and assimilation of the culture and its nuances into their society. The gargantuan Southeast Asian diaspora in the West is one of the best specimens for the introduction and the popularity for anything that which is South Asian beginning from culinary traits to fashion genres.
The birth of the K-genre
The 1990s witnessed the Korean wave or the K-wave, which gave popularity to the South Korean culture. It mainly included the K-dramas and the K-pop that swept across the East, Southeast and the South Asia and taking advantage of the internet and the social media, the K-culture drilled its tendrils deep into the visual and cultural modalities of the West as well as the East.
The turn of the 21st century witnessed a huge leap in areas of South Korean culture and tourism with its administration promoting and encouraging the creative forces that nourished and exported their aesthetics world-wide. The numerous social networking services and video-sharing platforms revolutionised the Western visual culture with the incorporation of the K-dramas and pop into their mainstream cultural and art conscious niches.
By 2017, OTTs further bombarded the imagination and esthetics of the world with the serialised version of K-dramas. Created in English, dubbed or with sub-titles, these wholesome and terribly perfect shows won the attention and fascination of the world and especially the West.
Embracing the ‘glass skin’
What made these shows stand apart from the rest of the soaps is their thematic wholesomeness and over perfect cast and sets. The men and women who appear in these shows are eye achingly beautiful and perfect. The appearance of men catches one’s interest very easily. Men, usually looking like teenage boys, flaunt and celebrate their butter smooth skin and feminine attributes.
One may find it hard to believe a man for being this perfectly made with smooth skin like that of a woman. Such appearances paved way for the introduction of the K-beauty into the world. The fad behind attaining ‘glass skin’ led the cosmetic companies to introduce ‘never- heard of’ ingredients like that of snail mucin and honeybee pollen into their products for their authenticity and approval. The major endorsements by various Hollywood celebrities further accelerated the fame and vogue of their beauty brands and its (un)ethical products.
Food and its visual appeal
Yet another import of this K-culture is their food fashion. The introduction of eating anything and everything under the sun got repulsed and cheered by many in the West and it resulted in the draining up of the Atlantic with its marine flora and fauna. Chopsticks became the latest fad and various condiments, and oils permeated the culinary and sensory traits of the West. This fascination for Korean food resulted in the popularity and success behind ‘mukbang’ or live eating sessions where men or women are recorded eating and they are seen indulging in voracious eating of colourful and spicy foods. The slurping and the crunching sounds (ASMR or autonomous sensory meridian response videos) made by the person is the main highlight behind such videos.
This visual feast or food voyeurism soon spread its popularity into the West with the help of social networking platforms like that of Facebook and Instagram. Men and women hogging down large quantities of colorful, spicy food instigated some sort of raw and ‘porn’ kind of satisfaction among its viewers.
Dance to new beats and rhythm
As far as the K-pop is concerned, BTS and Black Pink have taken the Grammys in a rather shocking manner. The attention towards the Korean music genres began with the ‘Gangnam Style’ pop song by PSY and its popularity around the world. It went this viral that it literally affected and influenced the popular music culture worldwide. It became a chart topper in as much as 30 countries and re-wrote many of the existing musical hierarchies.
Even though the term ‘Gangnam’ is a neologism about the lifestyle and attitude of the people residing in the Gangnam suburb in Seoul, the singer’s dancing steps, and the rather pleasant beat of the song made it a chart buster for so many months. PSY single handedly turned the eyes and ears of the West with a single song and even paved the way clear for those who followed his prints.
The current fascination and popularity of BTS is yet another facet of the cultural assimilation in the West. BTS, which is a boy band, shook the modalities of masculinity and ‘pretty’ men caught the attention and fascination of the West. Glass skin and feminine men sang and grooved to the rhythms of the beat that went beyond the musical imagination of the world. So is another band, Black Ping – a girl band with highly famous songs and fashionista looks.
Original plots and gripping scripts
In case of Hollywood, the cultural assimilation has been rather slow compared to the other various sectors of the society and its culture. Even though Chan and Lees permeated the Hollywood screens since 1980s, a major shift in the esthetic paradigm happened in the year 2019 with the release of the movie Parasite.
Grossing in millions, this movie caught the Western attention due to the ‘Oscar effect’. With six nominations at the Academy Awards, Parasite proved the meticulous movie-making expertise of the Koreans and deconstructed the age-old norms set down by the Western media moghuls and conglomerates. Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho, in a way, opened wide the avenue for many South Asian movies and series to rejuvenate and replenish the western imagination and movie modalities.
Games Koreans Play
The impact of the pandemic Covid altered the visual culture worldwide with the OTT platforms gaining forehand and replaced the collective watching to that of individual viewership.
Yet another K-series that caught the wild imagination of the world is the Squid Game which is a thrilling drama where the participants are lured into participating in a child game with deadly stakes. This series just bombarded the fancy and interest of the western world with its ear catching BGMs and seat gripping scenes.
In short, the K elements in the West, even though a recent phenomenon, have replenished and nurtured the imagination and esthetics collectively. The part played by the visual attributes in the process of the cultural assimilation in the West and in Hollywood is withstanding.
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