3 Lessons the African Creative Arts Industries can Learn From South Korea
Hallyu. Never heard of this word before? Have you ever opened a friend’s (or even your own) Netflix account and found multiple Korean Rom-com series being suggested? Or perhaps you’ve heard of BTS, the modern-day version of The Beatles, a K-pop band that has swept the music industry off its feet? Surely, you have heard of Parasite; the very first foreign language (non-English) movie to win an Oscar! If you haven’t heard of “Oppa Gangnam Style”, then you really have been living under a rock. But fear not, you are in the right place for a quick catch-up! Well, all of the above are classified into one word: Hallyu! Hallyu, a word that means “The Korean Wave”, refers to the widespread popularity that South Korea’s culture gained through the country’s entertainment industry since the 1990s first in Asia and to the rest of the world more recently. Usually, but not always, this term is used particularly while defining the widespread of Korean culture through K-drama and K-pop. The Korean wave also includes variety shows, fashion and cosmetics, video games and also food.
Quick word definitions with a contextualized explanation. Try to remember these as you read through the rest of the text, okay? Here goes;
K-drama refers to Korean drama movies and television shows. These are the first packages of content that Korea exported to the rest of the world. “South Korean dramas typically deal with family issues, love, and filial piety in an age of changing technology, and often reinforce traditional values of Confucianism as “an ethical system that is taught in Chinese schools as a religion that is based on affection towards parents, family, and friends”. (Ryoo, 2007, p. 140)
K-pop According to Wikipedia, K-pop (Korean popular) music is a genre of popular music originating from South Korea (En.wikipedia.org, 2019). It is usually characterized by heavy audio-visual production and flamboyant music videos.
Now that we’re all caught up, let’s talk about how Hallyu or the popularity of the Korean entertainment industry across the globe was implemented and how it not only helped to spread Korean culture but also attracted the world to spend big bucks on Korean products and in the process boosted the country’s economic state. South Korea’s main focus is on exports as the country has minimal natural resources (Comen, 2018). Besides being technology exporters, South Korea is famous for its entertainment industry as it exports movies and music. According to this article, BTS, the K-pop boy band alone contributes around $4.65 billion to the Korean GDP. That, apparently, makes the band “as valuable as multinational giants like Hyundai and Samsung”!
Isn’t that crazy? South Korea, like most African nations, is a country that faced a politically charged war that drove the general population into poverty and was considered one of the poorest countries for over a decade until it ended in 1953. As of 2018, South Korea was considered number twenty-five among the richest countries in the world by looking at the Gross Domestic Product per capita. South Korea’s main focus is on exports as the country has minimal natural resources (Comen, 2018). With this, we can then discuss the lessons that the general African creative arts industry can take from South Korea’s Hallyu to boost the continent’s economy and cultural influence upon the rest of the world.
Lesson 1: Governments Must Give a… Care?
According to a publication, the government of Korea endorsed the Hallyu or Korean wave as an economic development strategy (Kim, 2011). Between 1962 and 1992, the government, which was then authoritarian and controlled by the military, regulated the international media influence and waited until Korea’s media was sustainable on its own without foreign influence. Basically, this is when K-pop and K-dramas became a major influence inside of South Korea. Now, of course, this is a touchy subject because it might not be clear if modern-day African governments can somewhat bully their citizens into only consuming internal media for a certain period of time. Would this be ethical even if it had great results in the end? That’s a discussion for another time. What African entertainment industries can learn from this, however, is that a country’s or even the continent’s cultural influence can not be spread further out to the world without the governments’ deliberate intervention. The governments should care about the creative arts industry enough to invest in it and support it because at the end of the day the money spent on products made by the country comes back to contribute to the taxes and the economy in general.
Lesson 2: Sell the Whole Package
In a 2006 article posted on the USA National Public Radio website, Louisa Lim writes:
“On a rainy afternoon in Shanghai, hundreds of people, mostly women, wait outside a pharmacy for the appearance of Lee Young-ae, a South Korean television starlet. This is the visible proof of what’s being called the Korean wave — a wave of enthusiasm for South Korean pop culture that’s sweeping Asia. On television, Lee Young-ae is a doctor in The Jewel in the Palace, a historical soap opera set in the past. The actress was in Shanghai to publicize a popular Korean product — the medicinal ginseng root. But in essence, she was really selling the whole idea of Korea — the country, the culture, and the products.” (Lim, 2006)
The South Korean entertainment industry found a way to spark their consumer’s interest in not only the products that they invest their time and money into but also other products made in the same place. It’s like when you go to the market, at that one place where you usually buy fresh tomatoes that make your soup taste amazing, and being told by the seller that they have equally fresh onions that will make your soup even better. Most people will trust the seller and go home to enjoy a tasty tomato and onion soup (Ew! should have used another example, but you get the point). Entertainment industries on the continent should be able to also attract people to the diverse cultures of Africa, to become investors in African nations and their products because of the quality they saw or heard in movies or music productions. This, in fact, goes beyond just music and movies. This could include photography, books, video games and basically anything else related to the entertainment/creative arts industry.
Lesson 3: Encourage Tourism
The following is an extract from this research that shows the influence of movies and music on tourism.
According to Mintel (2003), one in five tourists visiting the UK found Britain inspired by British television programs and movies, and 50% of those who visited Scotland chose Scotland as their summer resort by Scottish TV dramas and movies. In New Zealand, the number of foreign tourists increased by an annual average of 5.6% after the opening of the movie ‘The Lord of the Rings’ in 2001, and 9% of tourists were affected by the movie (Mintel, 2003).
From the same research, it was presented that the popularity of Korean music, performance, Tv dramas, and movies had a great influence on the increase in the number of tourists that choose to visit Korea. To be concise, creative industries across Africa should be as creative as can be to reel in people and help them spend money as they travel the vast beautiful lands of the continent.
We have seen that for the creative arts industries across Africa to grow, they need the help of their governments, they need to encourage their consumers to spend on other products made in their country or Africa at large, and lastly to do all things possible to attract tourists.
Now you may ask, what can an average person like me do to support the creative arts industry in my country or, generally, Africa? Well, consume more products made in your country or, generally, Africa. I’m not telling you to STOP consuming products from outside of Africa, but significantly increase the number of “African” movies, music, books, etc that you consume. Spend money, stream, consume more of the products ON the continent. In fact, let me recommend something. Please go ahead and (legally) stream Queen Sono. It’ll be worth your while.
Well, that is all the time for me. Thank you for reading through! I would love to hear your comments so please don’t hold back.
Comen, E. (2018). Richest Countries in the World. [online] 247wallst.com. Available at: https://247wallst.com/special-report/2018/06/12/richest-countries-in-the-world/2/ [Accessed 14 Dec. 2019].
Kim, M. (2011). [online] Mediacom.keio.ac.jp. Available at: http://www.mediacom.keio.ac.jp/publication/pdf2011/10KIM.pdf [Accessed 14 Dec. 2019].
Lim, L. (2006). NPR Choice page. [online] Npr.org. Available at: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5300970 [Accessed 14 Dec. 2019].
Ryoo, W. (2007). Globalization, or the logic of cultural hybridization: The case of the Korean wave. Conference Papers International Communication Association, 1-27. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete Database.