I have a friend, Neeraj. Neeraj loves sports, specifically football. He loves this one team, let’s call them Quiverful F.C. Neeraj loves them so much that he sits till 4 in the morning to watch their matches. He tunes into all the press conferences, he argues about their defence positions on Twitter, he has their logo stuck on his car, on the back of his phone, and has a keychain of the same. One day, while wearing an official jersey that cost him two weeks’ salary, he turned to me, muted Sadio Mane (talking in French, a language that Neeraj doesn’t speak) and asked, ‘Why are you so obsessed with K-dramas?’ K-dramas are not the new cult in town. They are media to be consumed like just about anything else. And that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
I was born in the golden age of television, I danced to “Video Killed the Radio Star,” and now, I live in the world of the internet. The internet, which gave me access to more of the world than I had before.
Pre-2010, our consumption of media was narrow. You watched what was given to you. Channels were limited, if you missed your episode, you hoped to catch a rerun, and all of us sat and watched, read, and talked about the same things. In our hungover- from-colonialism society, it meant that what we were watching was Pure WhiteTM. And that was okay. Other media wasn’t as accessible, dial-up internet only got you as far as Hi5.com, and downloading movies on Limewire meant explaining the bill to your parents. In those days, she says with her aching joints, it was a big flex to claim to own all 10 seasons of F.R.I.E.N.D.S in your hard drive. Oof, you and that hard drive were a big commodity. So we watched what we had. We all watched what we had, which led to a nice and homogenous expression of interest.
And then the internet did a snek-snek into our lives in a much bigger way than before. We started watching Japanese horror movies, Brazilian cop dramas, and British sitcoms.
The homogenous interests shifted. We went from painstakingly downloading individual episodes of How I Met Your Mother to watching Euphoria at 2x speed. PirateBay got lost in the middle of streaming sites, giant and otherwise.
It became hard to see the homogeneity in the interests now. It’s increasingly easy in my life today to choose from a huge rota to watch what interests me. And much to the chagrin of those who only appreciated the homogeneity, my interests include K-dramas. shocked gasp K-dramas, in simple terms, do nothing different to what others are doing. Every show comes with a lead actor, who usually has a secondary actor. There’s a plot, some background music, and now we roll the credits.
So why are a lot of us obsessed with K-dramas?
Well, for starters, we aren’t. It is, like anything else, just another thing we like to watch. Just like the rest of the world. For every episode of Itaewon Class I watch, I also watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. For every time I like a post on Lee Minho’s Instagram, I retweet Ryan Reynolds. For every time I say ‘saranghe’ I also say Jake Peralta’s ‘Cool, cool, cool’.
You can say, ‘Oh, I’m such a Ravenclaw’, but I’m the fangirl. You can say, ‘You’re the Monica to my Chandler,’ but I’m the one obsessed. You can say, ‘Winter is coming’ every time the seasons change, but I’m the crazy one. 10 points to anyone who notices the pattern in these examples.
We were taught from a very young age, ‘If It Ain’t White, It Ain’t Right.’ We slather on whitening products, we say ‘skin colour’ for a shade that has never been the colour of my skin, and we watched shows with majorly white/western casts. Casting hadn’t gotten the diversity message when we were kids, you see. So we idolised anything that came from that side of the hemisphere. Their fashion, their language, and very importantly, their media. Anything from our hemisphere was, by all accords, lame. (To truly win those elitism points you also had to poo-poo at Bollywood. Let’s not even talk about the treatment of our own regional cinema).
K-dramas have unfortunately fallen into that trap for years. They just weren’t cool. When they did start gaining some popularity, it was immediately decried for ‘twas just a passion for the gentler gender’, and not for the axe wielding, bear hunting men of the world.
Because in this Man’s World, of course, things that women have an interest in are stupid, duh. (Unless we need to make money out of it; hand cream, anyone?)
The arguments I have heard against me watching something that brings me joy, usually include the following:
• “You don’t speak the language.” True, but I can read subtitles. Also if F.R.I.E.N.D.S can teach me English, why can’t Sky Castle teach me Korean?
• “The names are all so hard to pronounce.”
To paraphrase Hassan Minhaj, we live in a world of Ansel Elgort, Timotheé Chalamet, Kalki Koechlin, and Saoirse Ronan. You’ll survive.
• “It’s all only romcoms.” You massively misunderstood the plot of Squid Game, didn’t you?
• “You only like it because the cast is pretty.” Yep, and Hollywood is famously known for hiring only unattractive people.
• “I don’t understand the appeal.” I don’t need you to understand it, I don’t even need you to like it. I need you to not be bothered by what someone else is doing in their life.
TL;DR? K-dramas are not the new cult in the town. They are media to be consumed like just about anything else. Don’t be thrown by the ‘drama’ in K-drama. There are comedies, thrillers, action packed adventures. They make their shows, the popular ones make merch, because who doesn’t like extra money and the actors gain a fan following. Life is incredibly tough and we all decompress in different ways. Our vice of the moment? K-dramas. So next time instead of reaching for yet another rerun of The Big Bang Theory, try an episode of Descendants of the Sun. Who knows, maybe we’ll get another ‘convertee’?