June 24, 2012
The Korean Dream
The United States became the major cultural force in the world during the 1950s and 1960s, putting forth through its media and its cultural institutions an image of a better life in a free society. The United States offered a powerful vision of a society wherein the individual could realize his or her dreams without the terrible institutional and cultural limits that hold back so many. That image of a good life in the United States was known as the “American Dream.” The American Dream was accompanied by significant intellectual and ethical content such as democratic process, social responsibility, the rule of law and excellence in scholarship and the arts that inspired the world to strive for something greater.
Not everything in the United States was as perfect as the vision given to the world. There were dark aspects of the United States such the hypocrisy of racial discrimination in a nation that spoke of equality and the ruthless pursuit of national interest in a nation that spoke of universal values. Nevertheless, the American Dream inspired people around the world to strive for something greater, to raise their standards for education, for fairness and for democracy to a new level. They stepped forward to demand changes in their countries, to innovate and to create a new society in every corner of the world.
In recent years, Korea’s cultural power has grown at a stupefying pace. Korean movies, popular songs, television, cosmetics and food are sweeping the world. That Korean Wave started in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, but is extending to Central Asia, the Middle East and even Africa and South America. Simultaneously, developing nations are sending their experts from government, business and education to Korea to benchmark and to learn essentials skills for success in the modern world. Groups of experts from Kuwait and Turkmenistan, Mongolia and Malaysia arrive daily in Incheon Airport to learn about e-governance and smart grids, to benchmark manufacturing facilities and high speed trains.
For many developing nations, Korea’s know-how is far more easily adaptable to their needs than that of advanced nations like the United States and Germany and Korea’s influence on how Cambodians or Uzbeks perceive the world and themselves is profound.
The time has come launch a Korean Dream for the world. People are attracted to Korean culture because of its image as a freer and more prosperous nation. Korea’s technology and business acumen further increase that lure. But entertainment is not enough. The Korean wave must have real substance, must present a vision not only of a better material life, but also a vision of justice and fairness, of a more human society. The songs of K-Pop should be filled with messages about caring for others and striving for a more human world. Korean TV dramas need only add a few scenarios in which the protagonist works with poor people to secure a brighter future, or stands up for justice in the face of indifference. If the fans of Korean drama around the world are exposed to attractive and urbane Korean actors who talk about the serious challenges of education, of social alienation and of the destruction of the environment, the impact will be huge.
A parallel in the United States from the previous generation might be Pete Seeger whose popular songs “If I had a Hammer” and “Where have all the Flowers Gone” had clear messages about the possibility of a better world. So also Gregory Peck in the iconic American movie “To Kill a Mockingbird” put forth a riveting image of a privileged member of society who takes the side of an African American who is falsely accused. Such songs and films made the American dream something more than just consumption.
The promotion of the Korean Dream is not a benefit of Korea’s economic development to be savored and boasted about. The Korean Dream is a necessary part of Korea’s new critical responsibilities in the world. Korean culture is no longer for just local consumption; it has now the potential to bring out the best in all of us, everywhere.
If Korea promulgates as the Korean Dream an image of Koreans who have a deep sense of social responsibility who care about the environment and strive for world peace, millions, even billions, of people around the world will absorb that message and in their own way emulate that noble model that Korea presents.
If, on the other hand, the Koreans in dramas and movies are self-absorbed people who are lost in the pursuit of material wealth and care little about the environment, if they live in spacious mansions and drive in enormous cars, people around the world will seize on that vision as their goal. The results of such cultural influence culture could be apocalyptic as a run-away consumer society destroys the world as we know of it.
Even more than the United States, it is Korea that must set the precedents for a new culture and lay the foundations for a civilization of sustainability through the Korean Dream. Now is the time for Korea to focus on the message that is promulgated through the Korean Wave and to put forth an inspiring Korean Dream that can transform the world.
Korean Version from Munhwa Ilbo