Monday, November 20, 2006

girl, interrupting

Kathreb strikes back against the evil triumvirate of Liminality, Eclexys, and Hairy Chasms by declaring her love of Korean dramas.

I admit I've been in lust with Kathreb's body ever since she posted that one pic of herself bungee jumping, but it is my sad duty to castigate her for her woefully misguided point of view on this matter. She has obviously been seduced by the dark side of the Force.

Keep in mind that the Smoo Times writer I quoted-- the one who made the negative comparison between American and Korean dramas-- is a Korean woman. Kathreb writes:

Unless I am very much mistaken[, our] discussants are all male (and I also think that they all grew up in the US). Not that there is anything wrong with that. I point that out only to suggest that Korean TV dramas are not aimed at US/Western males and therefore, it is hardly surprising that they do not like them.

The Smoo writer's point was that an increasing number of people, primarily Korean women, are being seduced by American dramas. These women know a better thing when they see it. I agree with Kathreb that an action-oriented series like "24" probably isn't compelling viewing for some women, but unless I'm mistaken, "Lost" (which Kathreb also mentions) actually has a very large Stateside female viewership. Kathreb herself might not see the appeal of a show that is essentially Stephen King's version of "Gilligan's Island," and that's fine, but if she's trying to argue that a show like "Lost" is inherently unappealing to women because it's not aimed at them, I'd submit that the demographic data don't back this claim up. "Lost" has broad appeal.

But as I said before, American TV remains 99% shit. Certain American dramas have risen to prominence precisely because the US TV industry as a whole-- from children's shows to home shopping to TV movies-- produces so little watch-worthy programming. If there's any unfairness in the SK/US comparison, it's not in the realm of budgets,* but in the actual shows we are comparing. American TV carries many dramas; most of them aren't particularly good. Comparing the best of American TV to what one usually sees on Korean TV is, I admit, somewhat unfair.

So the question becomes: what if we compare the best of Korean TV to the best of American TV? I'd say that, even here, American TV comes out on top. Something like the overwrought "Morae Shigyae," the gangster/political drama with the Russian musical leitmotif that riveted Korean audiences in the mid-90s, doesn't hold a candle to 90s-era "ER." No contest.

Kathreb also faces off against Charles:

And why not change the plot to viewer demand? The shows are made for the fans, listening to them makes good sense.

I suppose I should let Charles address this, but I think the problem is the degree to which a show's writing is controlled by the audience. Writers often chafe at what gets done to a show, and constant obedience to the audience is the royal road to mediocrity. Wouldn't it be nice to hear, for a change, that a Korean drama was praised for its "sharp writing"? The usual formula of "cry + fight + love triangle + memory loss + oppressive in-laws" wouldn't be so bothersome if it weren't used almost every single episode. If American TV is all id, Korean TV is all superego.

So while Kathreb is free to like (love!?) Korean dramas, I can only shake my head in sadness and bemoan the loss of a beautiful woman who was swallowed whole by the forces of darkness. She will, of course, scorn my adoration, spit upon this essay, and return to her stable of chiseled beaux-hunks. But let it never be said that I stood idly by while one woman's delusional ravings echoed through the alleyways of the blogosphere.

*Kathreb thinks it's unfair to compare US and SK dramas according to budget, since US budgets so obviously outstrip the cash available to SK filmmakers. While it's true that a small budget has a direct effect on production value, production value doesn't necessarily correlate to a show's overall quality. Many well-written, well-acted shows-- Korean, American, or otherwise-- don't require large budgets to shine. They shine because they're intelligently written, admirably performed, and compellingly structured. It works in reverse, too: a large budget is no guarantee of quality. Look at some of the crap that used to air on the SciFi Channel.

There's also little excuse for small budgets in a large, entertainment-oriented economy like Korea's. In a sense, if Charles is right to claim that Korean viewers hold sway over a drama's trajectory (and Kathreb seems to have no problem with Charles's claim and its implications), it may arguably be the viewers' fault that dramas remain low-budget. No demand for higher production values = continued mediocrity in this area.

The larger phenomenon, I think, is that Koreans are, thanks to internet technology, being exposed to what the world has to offer, and they're beginning to realize where they're lacking. This is no slight against Koreans; as I wrote before, I hope to see Koreans take the best of what SK and the US are producing, and turn it into something uniquely Korean. The peninsula's people are smart as hell, and still very hard-working. I see no reason why an innovative Korean writer/director couldn't produce something truly remarkable, something never before seen on TV, anywhere.


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