Wednesday, April 16, 2014

From The Outside, KAL's "7 Star Hanok Hotel" Showcases Excellence in Freight

Remember Korean Air's "hanok hotel" project in  Songhyeon-dong(see "Korean Air Grounded : Seoul 7 Star Hotel Delayed")? Rather than traditional Korean architecture, the first aerial views bring to mind plane hangars ("Excellence in Freight"?), computer chips, old tape recorder keys, or maybe the kind of golden piano keys Liberace's diamond-laden fingers would love to strike:


Source "7성급 한옥호텔'이라더니…귀퉁이 영빈관이 '고작'"  (News1 - 20140417) via Naver
The architect KIM Won - who worked with the great KIM Swoo-geun at Space Group - went as far as wondering if this was truly the work of a renowned colleague (Mario Botta, who did the round part of the Leeum), and how this thing could pretend to be inspired by hanok.

Yes, if you look closely in the upper left corner, you do find a couple of hanoks, but they sound very much like the "Hanok Alibi" I wrote about last year in "Build a hanok and they will come - Marketing impostures and genuine slow urbanism":



twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/310299015470256128
And you can't even see them from the street the way you do for the Office of Royal Genealogy at the nearby MMCA Seoul*..., but that's consistent with a non-inclusive, resolutely exclusive 7-star concept that, otherwise and regardless of its degree of hanokness, seems optimized to leverage on intense foot traffic at a key touristic intersection, with a gallery facing Insadong. 

Note that unlike in Blingblingistan (a.k.a. Dubai), hotel classifications don't reach as far as 7 stars in Korea, but that's another story. At least - speaking of stories - this high-profile project remains low-rise...

... and at ground level for the moment, because the land has remained untouched so far. I took this view from across the street a couple of years ago...

November 2011
... and News1 published this close-up yesterday: 


Source "서울 호텔 이용률 78.9%, 공급과잉 우려"  (News1 - 20140416)
News1's shot was taken not far from where the gallery will be erected, at the bottom righ corner in the aerial view above. This angle prolongs the Insadong axis, and you can see the Folk Museum, Cheong Wa Dae, and Bugaksan in the background.

Note that this last picture illustrated an article about the mounting risk of hotel rooms oversupply in Seoul, a recurrent topic on my own "Korean errlines"**, and an issue raised yesterday by the CCEJ (Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice) during a meeting where the so-called 'hanok hotel' came under fire.

Intense lobbying eventually paid for KAL, and leveraging the government's recent deregulation frenzy, an obviously tailor-made reform took care last month of the law that had blocked the company for years (no hotels could be built near schools, and there's a couple of them just next door):


"Law changes to allow hotels near schools. Will #KoreanAir build its 'hanokized' 7-star near #Anguk?" (20140327)
twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/449016361151242241




So if you want an aerial view from a hotel with hanok, I suggest the one I took a couple of days ago from the 23rd floor of The Shilla:

"#Jangchung Gymnasium in its #Colosseum stage (in the distance, #DDPSeoul, #Doota Tower)"
twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/455589503902568448
Following a bottom right - top left diagonal:
  • in the right corner: the hotel's Yeong Bing Gwan, a 1967 hanok used for weddings and receptions
  • in the center: the old Jangchung Gymnasium, beheaded during its renovation, almost looks like Roma's Colosseo
  • in the background: on the way to Doota Tower, the shining flank of the giant squid (the DDP - see "Sneak peek inside Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park")
And of course, Wongudan's Hwanggungu Pavilion is still standing on Westin Chosun territory.

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* BTW if you fancy more animated aerial views of this block, re-watch "MMCA Seoul from above")
** along with the future magnets on each side of the Gyeongbokgung: this KAL hotel and the Four Seasons (see for instance "Four Seasons Seoul", "A 6 Star Hotel in Gwanghwamun?")

Korea Upside Down

One month after Malaysia's MH370, the Sewol tragedy expose Korea's own failures in crisis management.
24 hours after the incident, most of the 475 people on board (mainly students) remain trapped in a ferry that had plenty of time to be evacuated before it sank.


"Cruise ship w 500 'people on board calling for help by #Jindo. Sinking?"
twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/456228964269178880 (20140416 - 9:33 AM)
"For 140 mn, a nation watches its kids die. Incomprehension in #ChosunIlbo and across #Korea"
twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/456575173366276096" (20140417 - 8:29 AM)
Tragic incompetence on board, utter confusion on shore, this nation seems projected 20 years back in time, when the Sampoong Department Store collapsed.

Let's hope more lives will be saved, and lessons learned for the future.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Redrawing Korean Maps - Innovation Clusters

Maps time!

More than ever, the NW-SE axis forms the industrial backbone of South Korea. Since 2010, the regions of Yeongnam (Busan-Gyeongbuk-Gyeongnam-Ulsan-Daegu) and Hoeseo (Chungnam-Chungbuk-Daejeon-Sejong) have boomed much more spectacularly than Sudogwon (Seoul-Incheon-Gyeonggi):


Korea's main industrial regions in 1980 and now - the purple dots mark sites added after 2010 (Yeongnam clearly ahead of Hoseo and Sudogwon)
The recent adoption of a system of innovation clusters certainly contributed to a phenomenon facilitated by improved infrastructures, particularly in transports. Each region has now clear "verticals", knowing that, of course, not all regions and clusters are not created equal:


Clear "verticals" for each region

Zooming in, the regional hubs and their interfaces (simplified maps):


Sudogwon (Seoul-Incheon-Gyeonggi) - Paju among the missing hubs
Chungcheong, where Samsung invests massively in displays for instance in displays
Yeongnam Daegyeong (North) - NB: I'm glad nothing is planned around Andong
Yeongnam Dongnam (South) - Busan the natural magnet
Honam - a less dense network
Gangwon - new infrastructures (e.g. railways) shall help this laggard of a region catch up. As long as they don't spoil Seoraksan..
On the Korea Industrial Complex Corporation's e-cluster.net website, you can also get all details at the mini-cluster level. Here, Seoul, where the DMC and the G-Valley (around Guro) play key roles:



The Korea Industrial Complex Corporation promotes a global vision and consistency in a complex system where some major industrial parks are directly under the authority of the government, while many are attached to local authorities**. Launched in 1997 to replace a system of regional management corporations, the KICOX started the following year with the Paju publishing hub, and led the shift towards innovation clusters in 2004.

Naturally, only a few clusters may become international leaders, and there's always a rob Peter to pay Paul effect, not to mention environmental impacts. But as we speak, Korea's map keeps being redrawn.

And such clusterfucks as Saemangeum will probably keep popping up: in Korea like anywhere else, you'll never prevent all politicians from nurturing pharaonic pet projects.


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* "4곳뿐이던 산업단지가 30년만에 131곳 `진격의 충청`" (MK News 20140410)
** just like with the special zones (FEZ - Free Economic Zone / FIZ - Foreign Investment Zone / FTZ - Free Trade Zone...)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: the first test shot taken from the first North Korean drone

South Korea recently found North Korean drones containing records of aerial views of such strategic sites as Cheong Wa Dae or NeNe Chicken farms. 

These high tech Unmanned Aerial Vehicles were built to avoid detection, with hand-painted cardboard recycled from a piñata, super 8 cameras, and elaborate engineless propulsion systems (forensics detected traces of Mentos and Coke). South Korean authorities don't know how many drones roamed the country, but each one was numbered.

A student found drone #1 on Yeouido while studying cherry blossoms and spring bottoms, and we managed to get the records (from the UAV, not the student's shameful snapshots). They include the first picture taken during the drone's maiden trial in a North Korean military facility.
 
We submitted this exclusive document to eminent Baekduologists:


Exclusive: the first test shot taken from the first North Korean drone

Experts overwhelmingly see a 2-ton missile, complete with a nuclear warhead and an activation button. Bolts look like they may have been fashioned in Pakistan, but the hairdo is definitely North Korean. 

On the second picture, which we submitted to the NIS (they seem to have lost it), alarming fumes rise from the warhead. From a tubular part branded Pyongyang Paeksan Tobacco, which leads to a Pakistan-DPRK JV, and may confirm the covert role of Abdul Qadeer Khan in North Korea's nuclear program.

See also: "KIM Jong-un's Movember Selfie"

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Monday, April 7, 2014

China reaches high speed into North Korea... and post-Juche East Asia

KBS detailed yesterday* a high speed line to be built by China across North Korea. It would follow the Pyongui Line (Pyongyang-Dandong), and furthermore the Gyeongui Line that connected Seoul with Pyongyang.

According to KBS, the DPRK Economic Development Commission confirmed in February a December 2013 agreement that would change the whole region, even if in the short to medium term only a minority were to use the infrastructure.

If the line falls short of reaching into China and the DMZ by stopping at Sinuiju and Kaesong, it gives a clear advantage for China and its technology in post-Juche Korea. South Korea will have little choice but to connect - or to try the alternate Rason route with Russia.

Construction would last 6 years, with two waves that have not been fully detailed yet:
  • 1st stretches: 80 km
    • From the North: Sinujiu Station - Tongrim Station (Sinujiu-Dongnim, 40 km)
    • From the South: Kaesong - Yonan (Gaesong-Yeonan, 40 km)
  • 2nd stretches: 296 km
    • From the North: Tongrim - Chongju - Sinanju - Pyongyang (Dongnim-Jeongju-Sinanju-Pyongyang, 147 km)
    • From the South: Yonan - Haeju - Sariwon - Pyongyang (Yeonan-Haeju-Sariwon-Pyongyang, 149 km)



It also mean that Chinese executives and engineers will roam the country for a long while, including at the doorsteps of Kaesong Industrial Complex. China will operate for 30 years on a BOT basis (Build Operate Transfer), likely into post-Juche DPRK. 

Note that this agreement happened around the JANG Sung-taek purge, and that over the past few months, China also gained long term concessions to use North Korean land.

The silent "Hanschluss"* seems well under way. And this Northeast Project of a railway doesn't even need to rewrite history: it's the economy, stupid.

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*  "개성~신의주 고속철 북중 계약 체결" (KBS News 20140407) - NB: thanks Nikola "Kojects" Medimorec for the link!
** see "Game over for the 'Hanschluss' scenario?", "Re-engaging North Korea - A Four Party Talk"(on blogules: "China-North Korea : the Great Hanschluss still the base case scenario")... 

20140409 addendum (remarks and reminders):
. This KBS story has not yet been confirmed by any other media, and a MOU is by no means the final deal. We learn how long the construction would take (6 years), but not when it would start, if it does. What matters here is the nature of the concessions made by the DPRK as they (re)negociate with China.
. Note that the Shenyang-Dandong high speed section will be inaugurated in 2015 ("China to open high speed rail link to North Korean border in 2015"). Dandong and Sinujiu are separated by the Yalu River, but I don't know if, among the many new bridges planned by China between both nations, some are already planned as rail-friendly. Shenyang shall also be connected with Beijing, Harbin, and Dalian.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave (Part III)

I've been receiving a couple of requests every week about my piece for the "First World Congress for Hallyu" (October 2013) ever since I mentioned it* last year. I might as well post it here.

I'd been asked a paper on Hallyu and ethics, and seized the opportunity to raise the alarm on a few abuses, and to call for a better respect of cultural diversity. Clearly, as it is defined and marketed now, Hallyu can't survive long. And it shouldn't without a complete overhaul, because Korean culture as a whole can be hit as collateral damage.

There was so much more to say, but I was not going to write a whole book on this topic (well maybe I should, it would most certainly outsell my absurdist fiction).


Stephane
PS: it had to be split into 3 parts to fit this blog's format. See also Part I and Part II.


***


Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave:

Summary
  • Understanding wave dynamics – learning from nature
    • Defining waves: always bear in mind that waves are disturbances
    • Defining Hallyu: a simple wave, a current, or a vast ocean?
    • Revealing a vast ocean in movement? Easier than carving every day the perfect wave
  • Respecting cultural diversity – at home and abroad
    • This is not a competition, this is not a “Clash of Cultures”
    • Think nurturing beyond preserving: don’t build seawalls, grow mangroves!
    • Diversity is the key to sustainability, ‘consistent’ doesn’t mean ‘constant’
  • Nurturing an ethical, open, and fair ecosystem – showcasing cultural leadership
    • Free creative forces across the nation and beyond, liberate time and space
    • Economic leaders must act as true cultural leaders, open up and embrace change
    • Most exposed at the crest of the wave, ‘cultural sectors’ must lead as role models
The spirit of Hallyu
© Stephane MOT - August 2013
***


III) Nurturing an ethical, open and fair ecosystem - showcasing cultural leadership


“Respect” is the key word in ethics. We’ve seen how important it is to respect nature and what it teaches us, to respect diversity within our own culture, or to respect other cultures as much as our own. Korea can leverage rich and diverse cultural assets to transform the “Korean wave” into a larger, stronger and more sustainable movement, and in many ways, Korean culture has already become an international model. But to reach beyond the “success story” dimension of the model, and to become a true cultural leader, the nation must make sure that its whole ecosystem is exemplary.

No one owns culture, but everybody is a stakeholder and contributes: citizens, companies, associations, local authorities, governments… Korean culture radiates according to how each one behaves, impacting the way others perceive it (and by the way, most radiations happen to be waves).

Nurturing an ethical, fair and open ecosystem is also a business imperative: not only to secure today’s activity, but also to generate new revenues in the future.

a) Free creative forces across the nation and beyond, liberate time and space


Because culture is first about how people live, use time and space, those are fundamental dimensions where Korean culture can grow stronger and more sustainable. Korean culture success nowadays was also made possible because over the past decades, more Korean people have claimed more free time and space. Before the 1997 crisis, enjoying leisure time was almost considered a crime against national competitiveness, and now all the talk is about securing competitiveness through creativity.

If creativity is not restricted to the happy few so-called “creative people”, a nation cannot decree creativity. Still, creativity can be stimulated and facilitated, potentially creative forces can be liberated to enable the miracle of creation, or the more simple miracle of creation meeting its public.

Let’s make sure all citizens have chance to contribute and to give their full cultural potential. Particularly when dealing with key issues in Korean society, we should always consider this essential dimension:
  • A persistent gender inequality: impossible to develop grand things without empowering half of the nation. The focus is usually on around work and maternity, but empowerment must be total, and culture is an essential dimension for every individual.
  • An aging society: senior citizens have not only a lot to share on Korean culture and its past, but also often both the time and motivation to contribute to its future. Local authorities are already inviting students to come share with them, but Korea also needs its elder citizens across its land and cities, to give sense to territories, to help re-cultivate them.
  • A dystopian education system: Korean kids love to read and discover, but sooner and sooner, they’re turned into exam performers deprived of time and occasions to think by themselves. Hopefully, very positive changes are already coming to what has become a uniform system destroying creativity: alternative schools propose sound education for kids who refuse the system (potentially the most gifted to help it evolve), creative paths are now open beyond kids from wealthy families, and the top students, who used to go for engineering, then for law, now opt for custom ‘bibim’ / DIY programs where they can pick the courses they fancy across the university…
  • The multicultural / international challenge: again, mixed families and foreign communities are a chance, and essential contributors to Korean culture. Seoul developed an expertise in leveraging energies from foreign communities to improve the daily life and cultural experience for all citizens, through the Seoul Global Center. Programs like Global Seoul Mates or Korea Clickers pool enthusiast bloggers from around the world to share about Korean culture and daily life.
  • A pervasive competitiveness, a stressful work environment: the vast majority of cultural contents are now instantly generated and shared by ordinary citizens, and Korea is already leveraging an almost ubiquitous connectivity, multiplying participative / collaborative initiatives (sometimes in artistic projects, such as “Seoul Our Movie”, under the direction of Park Chan-wook). Slow life and slow food movements are also gaining momentum. At work, why not give employees time to develop pet projects, time for non-competitive, creative, collaborative activities?
  • … the list could go on endlessly: again, a better, fairer society contributes to a better, fairer culture.
The way space is used or misused is fundamental in the perception of a culture, and respecting the cultural potential of spaces is the first and most natural way of opening more space to culture.

Korea long suffered from the scars of occupation, war, or the industrial boom, but each of them, in return, produced very valuable cultural assets, such as the old Seoul Station (now Culture Station 284), the DMZ, or the industrial heritage that became Incheon Art Platform.

Seoul has evolved from a ‘hard city’ to a ‘soft city’ and a tourist magnet, and every city or county across Korea knows how to highlight their cultural assets. Unfortunately, the “new town” model continues to thrive, erasing whole neighborhoods with priceless cultural assets, or ruining cityscapes and even the countryside with uniform monoliths that negate not only the past, but all social and environmental trends. With Gyonam-dong, for instance, it’s not just hundreds of hanok, but also charming alleyways and villages that disappear. And the impact on the image of Korean culture is catastrophic: foreign visitors are chocked by the destruction, and mourn Seoul alleyways as much as they cry for Beijing hutong. Korea cannot herald creativity and diversity overseas if its cityscape negates them at home.

Building without a long term vision is not an option anymore, particularly considering Korea’s demographics. Innovation and creativity are welcome, but some ‘touristic’ landmarks supposed to exhibit culture and creativity actually generate the opposite effect: because of overdone design, they look too flashy and artificial, and obsolete before they are even erected.

Hopefully and at long last, Korea is starting to reconsider its urban and architectural heritage, to restore forsaken landmarks, to protect hanok clusters, waterways, and mountains, to give a new purpose to previously neglected spaces (even rooftops or wastelands), to grow culture from uncultivated land. Furthermore, beyond the structures, life spaces are revived, that were on the decline if not bound for destruction: traditional markets, charming neighborhoods, “moon villages”… The residents are either involved at the core of the project, like in Seochon’s Tongin Market, or at the origin of it, for instance when ordinary citizens reconquer their shared space to make it livelier and welcoming, sometimes with their own art that may look clumsy at times, but feels often fresher than many more ambitious and expensive projects.

And when a place is condemned, why not leverage constructively from destruction, for instance by turning it into a cultural event in itself, or an opportunity to culturally strengthen a community? In Paris, the XIIIth District and Itinerrance art gallery secretly invited tens of street artists from around the world to transform an old apartment tower into an ephemeral street art museum (Tour Paris 13). In Seoul, the residents of Bogwang-dong were invited to collaborate on a book collecting memories of the neighborhood about to be destroyed. For years, the Seoul Museum of History has been leading a considerable effort to stimulate a dynamic preservation and transmission of micro-cultures and memories across a city that has lost a lot of villages over the past decades, looking for the soul of Seoul directly at the heart of its neighborhoods and citizens.

Beauty and emotion don’t necessarily come from the most glamorous places, people, or moments. Thanks to such great photographers as CHOI Min-shik or KIM Ki-chan, the Korean and beyond, the World’s cultural heritage is richer in touching moments exposing life, cities, and humans as they truly are.
b) Economic leaders must act as true cultural leaders, open up and embrace change


The previous section focused on ordinary citizens and life spaces because they are too often overlooked when culture is mentioned, but of course Korea boasts vast communities of talented artists, associations, and professionals in cultural sectors, and over the past decades the nation has considerably multiplied its spaces devoted to culture (museums, galleries, libraries, event venues…).

The following sections focus on the ‘economic’ dimension of Korean culture. Because at the business level too, Korean society’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats find their mirror image in Korean culture, which will grow stronger and more sustainable as the ecosystem becomes more open and fair. Before raising issues specific to the ‘culture business’, let’s start with Korea’s business culture.

And in Korean business culture, the lack of fairness is clearly identified as a key obstacle to growth, innovation, and creativity. Besides, cultural change at this level is a recurrent political priority, be it in Lee Myung-bak’s ‘fair society’, Roh Moo-hyun’s ‘balanced national development’, or Park Geun-hye’s ‘creative economy’ visions. If this culture of unfairness permeates the whole economy, Chaebol stand out as 800-pound gorillas showing the wrong example: they’re often blamed for controlling value chains and key entry points from the production to the distribution, or for sharing little of the value with third parties. Even with the emergence of the internet and one-click-away competition, small and medium players struggle to emerge and survive.

The strongest ecosystems do need big fishes, but also thriving independent communities, significant challengers that are allowed to grow into big fishes, a wide array of players that spur creativity and bring positive changes benefiting the whole market, starting with the ‘big fishes’ who share a much bigger pie and learn how to evolve constantly, gaining in fitness and in relevance in a coopetitive world and a genuine network society.

Hopefully, ‘Big fishes’ are starting to realize that an ocean without biodiversity is a dead ocean, that absorbing or choking the most promising fry as soon as they hatch undermines innovation and long term value for themselves as well as for the whole market, that ultimately, evolution is the only way for them to save the Korean seas they live in, and to succeed in more open waters. And you can’t survive by growing your own ecosystem, even with the best in-house incubators. AOL thought they could control the ocean, they dominated internet access in its early stages, but even after absorbing Time Warner, they lost their leadership because fundamentally, they didn’t evolve and open up to adapt to a truly open web.

Just like they play a major role in Korean society, Korean corporations and chaebol often play leading roles in the promotion of Korean culture, and even when they are not directly present in cultural sectors, most groups own art foundations, support creation, design, or cultural preservation. But only a few can be considered as true cultural leaders: because they’ve already embraced the long overdue Korean revolution in business culture, they’re already followed as ethical models, and respected because they are respectful of the ecosystem, not because they are feared.

Most likely, more regulations will be needed to accelerate the process, but this culture change is ineluctable: for the ‘Big Fishes’, that’s not only a matter of image, but also sound strategic thinking, and very good business. And again, imagine the formidable impact on Korean culture once this revolution is achieved, the liberation of creative forces, the positive power of attraction for innovators and entrepreneurs from all horizons…
c) Most exposed at the crest of the wave, ‘cultural sectors’ must lead as role models


Naturally, for Hallyu, nowhere is this “economic culture change” more urgent than at its core, particularly around the production and distribution of cultural contents, where a few cases of unfair business practices can cast a very negative impact on the whole industry, and Korea. For instance, as K-pop became mainstream in Europe, scores of journalists came to investigate the phenomenon in Korea, quickly exposing the dark side of the industry in sensational documentaries denouncing cases of abusive contracts and working conditions. Because they exposed moral scandals, they hurt much more than the classic criticisms that denounced a ‘culture industry’.

Last April, the Korean movie industry agreed on a standard labor contract that ended a long tradition of exploitation of film crews. A lot remains to be done, for instance to reward creators and scenarists or to better redistribute value across the ecosystem according to international standards, but the single fact that major producers, distributors, and labor unions collaborated with a shared ethical vision marked a very significant change. Here too, everybody wins in the end, including audiences that are more likely to enjoy a great movie. Here too, and particularly as Korean players emerge in the international spotlight, turning a blind eye to wrong practices is not an option anymore; to the contrary, fighting against them must be a priority. Even in Hollywood, the usual suspect for ‘big entertainment’ accusations and not exactly the symbol morality and fair business, they’re very bad PR if you’re running for an Academy Award!

Of course, in cultural sectors like everywhere, Korea boasts several ‘big fishes’, such as “majors” in entertainment and communication, that are often at the same time key assets at the global level, and enjoying dominant positions on markets where independents have a tough time being distributed beyond YouTube and minor venues or theaters, even if content-wise, the “indie” tradition is very strong in Korea.

Significantly, KIM Ki-duk is more popular in France than in Korea where, even after claiming the prestigious Golden Lion in Venice Festival, the director cannot be screened on prime time in multiplexes that mostly rely on blockbusters and in-house productions. According to Korean Film Council (KOFIC) data, concentration keeps rising and diversity decreasing: the top 3 multiplex groups raised their share of screenings from 62.2 to 86.7% between 2008 and 2011, and reduced their proportion of independent movies screenings from 7-10% to 1-2% between 2009 and 2012. The Korean public is no more trained for diversity on smaller screens: even with many cable TV movie channels, the variety remains very low, particularly on prime time. There is no point creating a mangrove if diversity is not supported within it and typically, Korean screen quotas should not be considered at the nationality level only: in France, respecting cultural diversity, financing and screening independent creation are obligations broadcasters must follow if they want to keep their licenses. And because more audiences have developed a taste for a wider variety of movies, at home and in theaters, multiplexes can optimize their revenues even when blockbusters fail to deliver, leveraging a much wider catalog of movies, including of course many indies. Again, everybody wins, and the pie grows bigger.

It’s also high time to tear down the artificial seawalls erected within the local ecosystem. When every major broadcaster propose their own yearly TV awards, rewarding only in-house programs, it tells a lot about the room for improvement. And change is coming PSY showed a very positive example by inviting stars from rival talent agencies in his videos.

If Hallyu is a national cause, all stakeholders must collaborate to make this very rich ecosystem reach its full potential. This will take new regulations, new shared platforms, more cultural leadership from market leaders. Seoul Digital Media City has been designed for that moment, as a key convergence point rich in infrastructures and incubators where, ultimately, all players shall cohabit, cooperate, coopete for their common good in a cluster that could become a global model. They already proved they could work together, they must show the way for the rest of the nation. As true cultural leaders.

The spirit of Hallyu

Korean culture is a rich and diverse ocean in motion. We’ve barely scratched its surface today, but Koreans are particularly aware of its value (starting with such essentials as Hangeul or hansik), and not just because its very existence has been threatened in the past, or because education and literature have traditionally been considered more important than material matters. They all know that it is a defining part of themselves, they feel eager to share it, and the same can be said from foreigners who fell in love with Korean culture. This contagious passion is one of the most formidable strengths of Korean culture, maybe the very spirit of Hallyu. Again, the main challenge may not be letting other people know that this vast ocean in motion exists, but trying not to overwhelm everybody with our enthusiasm!


*
See also Part I and Part II.

*

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* see "Heralding cultural diversity: a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave (1st Congress - WAHS)"

Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave (Part II)

I've been receiving a couple of requests every week about my piece for the "First World Congress for Hallyu" (October 2013) ever since I mentioned it* last year. I might as well post it here.

I'd been asked a paper on Hallyu and ethics, and seized the opportunity to raise the alarm on a few abuses, and to call for a better respect of cultural diversity. Clearly, as it is defined and marketed now, Hallyu can't survive long. And it shouldn't without a complete overhaul, because Korean culture as a whole can be hit as collateral damage.

There was so much more to say, but I was not going to write a whole book on this topic (well maybe I should, it would most certainly outsell my absurdist fiction).


Stephane
PS: it had to be split into 3 parts to fit this blog's format. See also Part I and Part III.


***


Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave:

Summary
  • Understanding wave dynamics – learning from nature
    • Defining waves: always bear in mind that waves are disturbances
    • Defining Hallyu: a simple wave, a current, or a vast ocean?
    • Revealing a vast ocean in movement? Easier than carving every day the perfect wave
  • Respecting cultural diversity – at home and abroad
    • This is not a competition, this is not a “Clash of Cultures”
    • Think nurturing beyond preserving: don’t build seawalls, grow mangroves!
    • Diversity is the key to sustainability, ‘consistent’ doesn’t mean ‘constant’
The spirit of Hallyu
© Stephane MOT - August 2013
***


Respecting cultural diversity – at home and abroad


Culture is about identity and community, codes and symbols that are not just meant to be preserved but ‘cultivated’, experienced, transmitted, assimilated, enriched and shared among humans.

A true cultural leader doesn’t destroy nature and its rivals. A true cultural leader is respected because he’s respectful of the whole ecosystem, of all cultures and all stakeholders. A true cultural leader respects cultural diversity at home and abroad, and he makes sure the ecosystem remains ethical, open, and fair.

a) This is not a competition, this is not a “Clash of Cultures”


Moments of contacts between cultures are not supposed to be conflictual. Let’s not transpose the so-called “Clash of Civilizations” imposture into a sterile “Clash of Cultures”, and let’s refer to nowadays intense “competition” in the media between regional or national cultures as a constructive “coopetition”.

This is not about being “the best”. Korean culture is already the best, at the same level as the American, French, or Dogon cultures. When one focuses on delivering the message that one’s the best, one misses the point, and only demonstrates a lack of confidence in their own culture. Being respectful is not a sign of weakness but a sign of confidence. To gain respect from other cultures, one must respect them as much as their own, on equal terms.

This is not about winning “market shares”, claiming new territories. What’s more important: Hangeul becoming the first alphabet to put the Cia-Cia language in written form, or Bau-Bau tribes joining the rest of the Indonesian community, as part of a nation that adopted the Latin alphabet decades ago?

Korea is typically acting as a cultural leader when it promotes young foreign talents along Korean ones for the ASYAAF (Asian Students and Young Artists Art Festival), or when it hosts a Korea-South Asia Culture Ministers meeting (September 6) and encourages international cooperation in Gwangju, site of the future Asia Culture Complex - to the condition of course that this relation doesn’t evolve into condescending patronization. 
Likewise, multiculturalism is a chance for Korean culture. Everything must be made to favor the integration of migrants and the assimilation of mixed kids in the community, but not with the intention to replace one with the other, and always keeping in mind the potential of enriching both cultures with new dimensions.

Opposing different dimensions of culture, for instance tradition and modernity, also undermines the cultural continuum to which they belong. Korea often suffers from what I call the “Wonjo Syndrom”: the original is so much protected that all originality is lost. For example: some great masters are considered as national treasures because they perfected the art of hanji or pansori, and that’s very positive, but they are deterred from trying something new, and sometimes too much protected, as if to prevent contamination from modernism. Yet to the contrary, they have the power to disseminate, to transmit a priceless heritage, to enrich both tradition and modernity. Their role shouldn’t be restricted to maintaining traditions, but extended to inspiring creativity: typically, they should be, from time to time, invited to meet with young designers, who can invent something new from a shared DNA. Korea already proves that it can combine the national/international and tradition/modernity as a cultural leader when it sends young Korean designers to Laos to meet with traditional textile manufacturers who have an original know how, but are not familiar with modern design: each party learns from the other without losing their identities.

Cultural issues can become conflictual, but at different levels, for instance at the commercial level (‘cultural wars’) or at the political level, when ‘Northeast Project’ revisionists claim that parts of the Korean culture (Goguryeo, gimchi…) belong to China. But then, conflicts shouldn’t denature culture itself, and the defense and illustration of the Korean culture should always remain positive, never tainted by nationalism, which opposes people instead of bringing them closer together, and ultimately harms Korean culture.

b) Think nurturing beyond preserving: don’t build seawalls, grow mangroves!


All waves face some resistance and eventually withdraw, sometimes taking more than they give. The negative impacts of aggressive waves are not only measured in terms of public image: fragile ecosystems can be wiped out, and new defenses be erected to protect the shores from the next tsunami.

The short-sighted have the reflex to build seawalls, the wise ones plant mangroves:
  • “Seawalls” are protectionist measures that will stop all waves, but also block evolution (e.g. banning contents from one nation). That’s “tin-can preservation”: you can keep food on a shelf for years, but when you open the can, the food has lost all freshness, and never tastes like the real thing. Preserving identity remains important, but building walls between cultures, or within cultures, as we saw earlier between tradition and modernity, amounts to choking each ecosystem. Korea already knows very well where isolationism leads: Emperor Gojong bitterly regretted his “Soegukjeongchaek” (쇄국정책) policy that precipitated the fall of the Joseon dynasty. 
  • “Mangroves” are natural defenses that also nurture the local ecosystem. They absorb the impact, and the ecosystem grows stronger, more resistant (because the protection comes from within, like an immune defense system), predictive of future changes. 


If Korea’s screen quotas or France’s “exception culturelle” are perceived as protectionist seawalls by the US, they’re actually mangroves guaranteeing diversity and spurring creativity everywhere. Hollywood lobbies against such measures, but ultimately benefits from them as well: without them, ‘Tinseltown’ wouldn’t be able to adapt or remake as many already tested concepts, source as many new talents…, and improve its own capacity to address diverse markets at home or abroad.

NB: Regarding the most particular case of North Korea, South Korea smartly softened its ‘seawal’l: it used to block all image from the North but now, media decrypt the propaganda, South Koreans measure much better the gaps, and they are much better prepared to face any situation in the future. Now if the North could do the same…

Food is typically a cultural domain where Koreans excel at creating new experiences at home and abroad, from street food to fine fusion dining. And even to Nanta, where it becomes a universal language. Inviting foreign chefs to discover Korean food and to adapt it, like in the Seoul Gourmet initiative, shows a willingness to share and to evolve in an open world. If you erect seawalls, your shores can’t be the place where cultures meet, where innovation and creativity blooms. Like in Montparnasse heydays, when artists came from Spain (Picasso, Dali, Miro, Bunuel), USSR (Chagall, Soutine, Zadkine, Orloff), Italy (Modigliani), Romania (Brancusi, Tzara), the Netherlands (Kees van Dongen), the US (Ernest Hemingway, Louis Armstrong, William Faulkner, Man Ray, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound), Belgium (Django Reinhardt), Ireland (James Joyce), the UK (D.H. Lawrence), Japan (Foujita)… at the individual, national, and global level, culture progressed everywhere, including of course France (Matisse, Prevert, Cocteau, Poulenc…).

Korea has multiplied the occasions for foreign creators to come and meet, during festivals (e.g. PIFF) as well as for longer periods (e.g. artists in residence at the various Seoul Art Centers). Never have so many young and confirmed talents, Korean and non-Korean, roamed the country. Note that foreign students are another wonderful opportunity for Korean culture: within a decade their number grew from 3,000 to 100,000, many start their career or spend their most creative years in Korea, and all have the potential to remain ambassadors of Korean culture when they come back home or move to another country.

If creativity is infinite, our world is finite. All seas are connected, cross-fertilizing each other. They’re all part of a vast water cycle that sources and reaches everywhere. Just consider the epitome of Italian food, tomato pasta and expresso: tomato came from the Americas, noodles from Asia, coffee from the horn of Africa! Italians welcomed these ingredients to enrich their own culture, and to share with the rest of the World.

An exemplary nature is expected from Korea as it emerges as a cultural leader embracing diversity  and welcoming other cultures. We can be ambitious and confident, but never arrogant, and always respectful – typically, are we respecting multicultural Koreans as well as we should? And as a general “global warming” for Korean contents raises sea levels everywhere, it minimizes the efforts needed to promote them, but also increases the necessity for Korea to act responsibly.
c) Diversity is the key to sustainability, ‘consistent’ doesn’t mean ‘constant’


Like the wind for sea waves, media are the key factor for projecting to distant shores. Many nations are intensively promoting their culture and tourism, particularly across Asia (e.g. China, Japan, India, Korea, Malaysia…), and beyond classic advertising, they leverage pervasively on viral marketing innovations and social networks. But being ‘always on’ and consistent doesn’t mean being invariable and constant.

The capacity to sustain the effort in time and space is an advantage, but not a guarantee for sustainability: a seascape where all waves would always have the same amplitude and frequency would look not only fake, but also boring. People enjoy staying by the sea because it’s at the same time consistent and never quite the same, never fully predictable. Cyclical events of bigger amplitude help forge habits and nurture specific expectations, for instance when surfers anticipate the nth wave, or when tourists flock for events associated to high and low tides. Beyond that, each sea must have the power to surprise you sometimes. But if it surprises you all the time, only a minority of fans will keep coming. It can be useful to have a beach or two like that on your shores, but not all over your country if you aim at mass tourism.

Likewise, when all events and festivals enjoy the same level of hype and promotion, they all become non-events, and the noise breaks promising waves before they have time to grow. Proven successes and truly exceptional events need to be distinguished from the mass to help potential attendees take decisions. And in order to give a chance to every event, specific editorial lines must be developed for specific audiences.

An ocean cannot be carried by a single wave, even a popular one (and it shouldn’t, for the ecosystem’s sake). For instance, using K-pop stars to promote K-food might help K-pop fans get interested in K-food, but also make people who dislike K-pop despise K-food, if they happen to receive the message on mainstream media. Besides, Korean food has the potential to reach much further by itself, starting with food lovers who are generally not in the same demographics as K-pop fans.

Furthermore, audiences evolve. After years of TV domination, Hollywood managed to bounce back during the seventies thanks to blockbusters turning new generations into avid moviegoers. But the young Americans who came for E.T. or Star Wars grew up, and the industry had to design relatively more mature movies, sometimes coupling young stars with confirmed superstars, for instance Tom Cruise with Paul Newman or Dustin Hoffman (“The color of money”, “Rain Man”). Disco or Star Wars enjoyed another ‘mainstream’ period decades later but in between, only hardcore fans remained loyal all the way.

The Korean wave will grow much wider if it taps deeper into Korea’s rich and diverse cultural assets, not as one generic wave, but as thousands of messages of all shapes and sizes under a common umbrella, each one touching a relevant shore with the relevant impact. Exposure to the sun, the air, and new shores will also stimulate content creation in layers that didn’t have that chance previously, but may prove powerful.

Of course, the Great ‘Gangnam Style’ Tsunami of 2012 splashed across continents and demographics, and what started as a shallow parody made millions want to venture into deeper parts of Korean culture. But such ‘monster waves’ can never be repeated, and certainly not guaranteed on demand, when and where you need them. If PSY didn’t take the risk of going for something different, the risk he took was even greater: forcing direct comparisons at all levels with a phenomenon of unique proportions, that couldn’t be reproduced in a laboratory (let alone across the globe): ‘Gentleman’ did pass the 500 M views mark on YouTube – a remarkable success –, but also for a ‘mini-Gangnam Style’. Each new wave can strengthen the continuum if it is distinct from the previous ones, if it presents a different facet of the ocean.

A long but shallow horizontal wave is often less efficient than shorter but more focused slices that cut through deeper layers and target segments. “Verticals” can help specific audiences grow interest in Korean culture through relevant entry points. Beyond market verticals (e.g. teens, seniors, business travelers, honeymooners…) and content verticals (e.g. music, literature, movies, sports, food, tourism…), transversal themes are often used to pool all contents and options in order to better address specific needs, interests, or tastes (e.g. nature, adventure, party, culture and history, romance, health…).

Even when promoting one dimension of Korean culture, it is essential to display variations in rhythm, contents, to leverage all dimensions of that dimension... Again, this is a vast and diverse ocean in motion. And at the same time, you should always respect its identity, its soul. For instance, Korea shouldn’t been ashamed of its shamanic traditions, but accept them as highly valuable and differenciating assets, identity markers. Refusing diversity, showing only the polished and glamorous sides of a culture, that’s negating it and ultimately destroying it. An ocean without biodiversity is a dead ocean.

Nurturing an ethical, open and fair ecosystem - showcasing cultural leadership


“Respect” is the key word in ethics. We’ve seen how important it is to respect nature and what it teaches us, to respect diversity within our own culture, or to respect other cultures as much as our own. Korea can leverage rich and diverse cultural assets to transform the “Korean wave” into a larger, stronger and more sustainable movement, and in many ways, Korean culture has already become an international model. But to reach beyond the “success story” dimension of the model, and to become a true cultural leader, the nation must make sure that its whole ecosystem is exemplary.

No one owns culture, but everybody is a stakeholder and contributes: citizens, companies, associations, local authorities, governments… Korean culture radiates according to how each one behaves, impacting the way others perceive it (and by the way, most radiations happen to be waves).

Nurturing an ethical, fair and open ecosystem is also a business imperative: not only to secure today’s activity, but also to generate new revenues in the future.

a) Free creative forces across the nation and beyond, liberate time and space


Because culture is first about how people live, use time and space, those are fundamental dimensions where Korean culture can grow stronger and more sustainable. Korean culture success nowadays was also made possible because over the past decades, more Korean people have claimed more free time and space. Before the 1997 crisis, enjoying leisure time was almost considered a crime against national competitiveness, and now all the talk is about securing competitiveness through creativity.

If creativity is not restricted to the happy few so-called “creative people”, a nation cannot decree creativity. Still, creativity can be stimulated and facilitated, potentially creative forces can be liberated to enable the miracle of creation, or the more simple miracle of creation meeting its public.

Let’s make sure all citizens have chance to contribute and to give their full cultural potential. Particularly when dealing with key issues in Korean society, we should always consider this essential dimension:
  • A persistent gender inequality: impossible to develop grand things without empowering half of the nation. The focus is usually on around work and maternity, but empowerment must be total, and culture is an essential dimension for every individual.
  • An aging society: senior citizens have not only a lot to share on Korean culture and its past, but also often both the time and motivation to contribute to its future. Local authorities are already inviting students to come share with them, but Korea also needs its elder citizens across its land and cities, to give sense to territories, to help re-cultivate them.
  • A dystopian education system: Korean kids love to read and discover, but sooner and sooner, they’re turned into exam performers deprived of time and occasions to think by themselves. Hopefully, very positive changes are already coming to what has become a uniform system destroying creativity: alternative schools propose sound education for kids who refuse the system (potentially the most gifted to help it evolve), creative paths are now open beyond kids from wealthy families, and the top students, who used to go for engineering, then for law, now opt for custom ‘bibim’ / DIY programs where they can pick the courses they fancy across the university…
  • The multicultural / international challenge: again, mixed families and foreign communities are a chance, and essential contributors to Korean culture. Seoul developed an expertise in leveraging energies from foreign communities to improve the daily life and cultural experience for all citizens, through the Seoul Global Center. Programs like Global Seoul Mates or Korea Clickers pool enthusiast bloggers from around the world to share about Korean culture and daily life.
  • A pervasive competitiveness, a stressful work environment: the vast majority of cultural contents are now instantly generated and shared by ordinary citizens, and Korea is already leveraging an almost ubiquitous connectivity, multiplying participative / collaborative initiatives (sometimes in artistic projects, such as “Seoul Our Movie”, under the direction of Park Chan-wook). Slow life and slow food movements are also gaining momentum. At work, why not give employees time to develop pet projects, time for non-competitive, creative, collaborative activities?
  • … the list could go on endlessly: again, a better, fairer society contributes to a better, fairer culture.
The way space is used or misused is fundamental in the perception of a culture, and respecting the cultural potential of spaces is the first and most natural way of opening more space to culture.

Korea long suffered from the scars of occupation, war, or the industrial boom, but each of them, in return, produced very valuable cultural assets, such as the old Seoul Station (now Culture Station 284), the DMZ, or the industrial heritage that became Incheon Art Platform.

Seoul has evolved from a ‘hard city’ to a ‘soft city’ and a tourist magnet, and every city or county across Korea knows how to highlight their cultural assets. Unfortunately, the “new town” model continues to thrive, erasing whole neighborhoods with priceless cultural assets, or ruining cityscapes and even the countryside with uniform monoliths that negate not only the past, but all social and environmental trends. With Gyonam-dong, for instance, it’s not just hundreds of hanok, but also charming alleyways and villages that disappear. And the impact on the image of Korean culture is catastrophic: foreign visitors are chocked by the destruction, and mourn Seoul alleyways as much as they cry for Beijing hutong. Korea cannot herald creativity and diversity overseas if its cityscape negates them at home.

Building without a long term vision is not an option anymore, particularly considering Korea’s demographics. Innovation and creativity are welcome, but some ‘touristic’ landmarks supposed to exhibit culture and creativity actually generate the opposite effect: because of overdone design, they look too flashy and artificial, and obsolete before they are even erected.

Hopefully and at long last, Korea is starting to reconsider its urban and architectural heritage, to restore forsaken landmarks, to protect hanok clusters, waterways, and mountains, to give a new purpose to previously neglected spaces (even rooftops or wastelands), to grow culture from uncultivated land. Furthermore, beyond the structures, life spaces are revived, that were on the decline if not bound for destruction: traditional markets, charming neighborhoods, “moon villages”… The residents are either involved at the core of the project, like in Seochon’s Tongin Market, or at the origin of it, for instance when ordinary citizens reconquer their shared space to make it livelier and welcoming, sometimes with their own art that may look clumsy at times, but feels often fresher than many more ambitious and expensive projects.

And when a place is condemned, why not leverage constructively from destruction, for instance by turning it into a cultural event in itself, or an opportunity to culturally strengthen a community? In Paris, the XIIIth District and Itinerrance art gallery secretly invited tens of street artists from around the world to transform an old apartment tower into an ephemeral street art museum (Tour Paris 13). In Seoul, the residents of Bogwang-dong were invited to collaborate on a book collecting memories of the neighborhood about to be destroyed. For years, the Seoul Museum of History has been leading a considerable effort to stimulate a dynamic preservation and transmission of micro-cultures and memories across a city that has lost a lot of villages over the past decades, looking for the soul of Seoul directly at the heart of its neighborhoods and citizens.

Beauty and emotion don’t necessarily come from the most glamorous places, people, or moments. Thanks to such great photographers as CHOI Min-shik or KIM Ki-chan, the Korean and beyond, the World’s cultural heritage is richer in touching moments exposing life, cities, and humans as they truly are.
b) Economic leaders must act as true cultural leaders, open up and embrace change


The previous section focused on ordinary citizens and life spaces because they are too often overlooked when culture is mentioned, but of course Korea boasts vast communities of talented artists, associations, and professionals in cultural sectors, and over the past decades the nation has considerably multiplied its spaces devoted to culture (museums, galleries, libraries, event venues…).

The following sections focus on the ‘economic’ dimension of Korean culture. Because at the business level too, Korean society’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats find their mirror image in Korean culture, which will grow stronger and more sustainable as the ecosystem becomes more open and fair. Before raising issues specific to the ‘culture business’, let’s start with Korea’s business culture.

And in Korean business culture, the lack of fairness is clearly identified as a key obstacle to growth, innovation, and creativity. Besides, cultural change at this level is a recurrent political priority, be it in Lee Myung-bak’s ‘fair society’, Roh Moo-hyun’s ‘balanced national development’, or Park Geun-hye’s ‘creative economy’ visions. If this culture of unfairness permeates the whole economy, Chaebol stand out as 800-pound gorillas showing the wrong example: they’re often blamed for controlling value chains and key entry points from the production to the distribution, or for sharing little of the value with third parties. Even with the emergence of the internet and one-click-away competition, small and medium players struggle to emerge and survive.

The strongest ecosystems do need big fishes, but also thriving independent communities, significant challengers that are allowed to grow into big fishes, a wide array of players that spur creativity and bring positive changes benefiting the whole market, starting with the ‘big fishes’ who share a much bigger pie and learn how to evolve constantly, gaining in fitness and in relevance in a coopetitive world and a genuine network society.

Hopefully, ‘Big fishes’ are starting to realize that an ocean without biodiversity is a dead ocean, that absorbing or choking the most promising fry as soon as they hatch undermines innovation and long term value for themselves as well as for the whole market, that ultimately, evolution is the only way for them to save the Korean seas they live in, and to succeed in more open waters. And you can’t survive by growing your own ecosystem, even with the best in-house incubators. AOL thought they could control the ocean, they dominated internet access in its early stages, but even after absorbing Time Warner, they lost their leadership because fundamentally, they didn’t evolve and open up to adapt to a truly open web.

Just like they play a major role in Korean society, Korean corporations and chaebol often play leading roles in the promotion of Korean culture, and even when they are not directly present in cultural sectors, most groups own art foundations, support creation, design, or cultural preservation. But only a few can be considered as true cultural leaders: because they’ve already embraced the long overdue Korean revolution in business culture, they’re already followed as ethical models, and respected because they are respectful of the ecosystem, not because they are feared.

Most likely, more regulations will be needed to accelerate the process, but this culture change is ineluctable: for the ‘Big Fishes’, that’s not only a matter of image, but also sound strategic thinking, and very good business. And again, imagine the formidable impact on Korean culture once this revolution is achieved, the liberation of creative forces, the positive power of attraction for innovators and entrepreneurs from all horizons…
c) Most exposed at the crest of the wave, ‘cultural sectors’ must lead as role models


Naturally, for Hallyu, nowhere is this “economic culture change” more urgent than at its core, particularly around the production and distribution of cultural contents, where a few cases of unfair business practices can cast a very negative impact on the whole industry, and Korea. For instance, as K-pop became mainstream in Europe, scores of journalists came to investigate the phenomenon in Korea, quickly exposing the dark side of the industry in sensational documentaries denouncing cases of abusive contracts and working conditions. Because they exposed moral scandals, they hurt much more than the classic criticisms that denounced a ‘culture industry’.

Last April, the Korean movie industry agreed on a standard labor contract that ended a long tradition of exploitation of film crews. A lot remains to be done, for instance to reward creators and scenarists or to better redistribute value across the ecosystem according to international standards, but the single fact that major producers, distributors, and labor unions collaborated with a shared ethical vision marked a very significant change. Here too, everybody wins in the end, including audiences that are more likely to enjoy a great movie. Here too, and particularly as Korean players emerge in the international spotlight, turning a blind eye to wrong practices is not an option anymore; to the contrary, fighting against them must be a priority. Even in Hollywood, the usual suspect for ‘big entertainment’ accusations and not exactly the symbol morality and fair business, they’re very bad PR if you’re running for an Academy Award!

Of course, in cultural sectors like everywhere, Korea boasts several ‘big fishes’, such as “majors” in entertainment and communication, that are often at the same time key assets at the global level, and enjoying dominant positions on markets where independents have a tough time being distributed beyond YouTube and minor venues or theaters, even if content-wise, the “indie” tradition is very strong in Korea.

Significantly, KIM Ki-duk is more popular in France than in Korea where, even after claiming the prestigious Golden Lion in Venice Festival, the director cannot be screened on prime time in multiplexes that mostly rely on blockbusters and in-house productions. According to Korean Film Council (KOFIC) data, concentration keeps rising and diversity decreasing: the top 3 multiplex groups raised their share of screenings from 62.2 to 86.7% between 2008 and 2011, and reduced their proportion of independent movies screenings from 7-10% to 1-2% between 2009 and 2012. The Korean public is no more trained for diversity on smaller screens: even with many cable TV movie channels, the variety remains very low, particularly on prime time. There is no point creating a mangrove if diversity is not supported within it and typically, Korean screen quotas should not be considered at the nationality level only: in France, respecting cultural diversity, financing and screening independent creation are obligations broadcasters must follow if they want to keep their licenses. And because more audiences have developed a taste for a wider variety of movies, at home and in theaters, multiplexes can optimize their revenues even when blockbusters fail to deliver, leveraging a much wider catalog of movies, including of course many indies. Again, everybody wins, and the pie grows bigger.

It’s also high time to tear down the artificial seawalls erected within the local ecosystem. When every major broadcaster propose their own yearly TV awards, rewarding only in-house programs, it tells a lot about the room for improvement. And change is coming PSY showed a very positive example by inviting stars from rival talent agencies in his videos.

If Hallyu is a national cause, all stakeholders must collaborate to make this very rich ecosystem reach its full potential. This will take new regulations, new shared platforms, more cultural leadership from market leaders. Seoul Digital Media City has been designed for that moment, as a key convergence point rich in infrastructures and incubators where, ultimately, all players shall cohabit, cooperate, coopete for their common good in a cluster that could become a global model. They already proved they could work together, they must show the way for the rest of the nation. As true cultural leaders.

The spirit of Hallyu

Korean culture is a rich and diverse ocean in motion. We’ve barely scratched its surface today, but Koreans are particularly aware of its value (starting with such essentials as Hangeul or hansik), and not just because its very existence has been threatened in the past, or because education and literature have traditionally been considered more important than material matters. They all know that it is a defining part of themselves, they feel eager to share it, and the same can be said from foreigners who fell in love with Korean culture. This contagious passion is one of the most formidable strengths of Korean culture, maybe the very spirit of Hallyu. Again, the main challenge may not be letting other people know that this vast ocean in motion exists, but trying not to overwhelm everybody with our enthusiasm!

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See also Part I and Part III.
 
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* see "Heralding cultural diversity: a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave (1st Congress - WAHS)"
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