(A drawing done by Zoraida, one of the Casa Mantay girls during an art workshop!)
A few weeks into my English class workshop with the Casa Mantay girls (a LAFF partner organisation that looks after teenage mums) I discovered that a few of the girls from the home were keen K-Drama fans and were deeply interested in South Korean culture. I had been aware of how far reaching K-Pop and K-Drama fandom has become in the last decade, but would have never imagined it to be popular in Peru (mostly because it’s not in the traditional South Korean cultural sphere of influence), much less with the Casa Mantay girls. Having said this, it’s actually not as unexpected or strange that the girls at Casa Mantay are invested in K-dramas, and have dreams of one day visiting or living in South Korea.
Hayllu or Hanryu refers to a ‘Korean Wave’ of culture that has been expanding and gaining popularity all around the globe since the 90s. Joseph Nye, an American political scientist defines the Korean Wave (Hayllu) as the ‘growing popularity of all things Korean, from fashion and film to music and cuisine’. Starting with the birth and dissemination of Korean pop music (K-Pop), moving onto the rise of South Korean drama tv shows, and ultimately exploding with PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ in 2012, which now has well over 3.2 billion views on YouTube. Most of the success of the latest wave of Hayllu (2010s) can be accredited to the use of Social Media and the Internet. As with most social trends today, the internet provided a platform for South Korean cultural trends like K-dramas to cross borders, first to other Asian countries and then the rest of the world. Today, you will find K-pop fan groups of incredibly popular music groups like BTS and Girls Generation in countries well out of the traditional South Korean sphere of influence like Iran and Peru. There are currently more than 60 fan clubs of South Korean music in Lima!
In 2013 the South Korean government allocated 2% of its national budget to help create and disseminate more Korean popular culture abroad and foster a “new cultural renaissance’ (Yonhap, 2013) – or in other words, to expand its cultural presence, and therefore influence abroad. Thus, South Korean pop culture has experienced a remarkably fast growth of Peruvian followers and supporters who not only help to fuel incentives for a South-South cooperation between Lima and Seoul, but that have also opened the door for many Korean businesses and foreign investors in Peru. Wayne Arnold contends that the reason behind the overwhelming global success of K-dramas and K-pop is that both the social and political messages conveyed by these productions are seen as “non-offensive” – a non-political manoeuvre by the South Korean government. Meaning foreign governments are much more likely to be open to the idea of welcoming and broadcasting the content to their populations.
In fact, as Flores Yapuchura argues, it is these messages and traditional TV drama storylines that have made the success of K-pop and K-dramas so rampant amongst Peruvians, Peruvian teenagers in particular. K-drama series like “Boys Over flowers” are very popular in Peru due to their focus on traditional courtship and family roles, highly dramatised love stories and the depiction of the importance of values such as respect and a strong national identity – something that Flores Yapuchura argues is wavering in Limeñan society. Most of the K-culture fandom is concentrated in Lima, but much of these trends have trickled out into the rest of the country, and eventually into Cusco. Many Peruvian youngsters see the introduction of Korean culture into their lives as something that helps to both solidify their values and their identity, not to mention the entertainment value any TV show or music culture provides – especially when it echoes the tone and overall character development often shown in traditional Latin American telenovelas. As teenage girls, the Casa Mantay girls are no exception to this.
All of this, mixed with an overall increase in Peruvian-South Korean trade and investment has created an increase in demand for South Korean goods and businesses in Peru (particularly in Lima). It has also strengthened links between Lima and Seoul. Not only are about a third of all new cars sold in Peru made in South Korea, but there is also a growing demand for products like cosmetics and food shown and used on K-dramas in Peru. This has helped to make South Korea one of the biggest exporters of culture of the last decade – putting it along the same rankings as the US and UK.
Moreover, very sizeable investments have been made by South Korea in ‘resource-rich Peru’ in raw materials like oil. A very profitable symbiotic relationship have been formed between the two governments, in which “Korea’s advanced technology and Peru’s rich natural resources and excellent labour force” have been combined to create a ‘new Korean cool’ (Ambassador Park, in Mapstone, 2013). Peru benefits by using South Korea as a gateway to Asia, and more importantly Korea benefits from increased levels of ‘soft’ political power with which it can influence not only Peru, but the rest of its cultural importers.
So, the fact that the Casa Mantay girls enjoy chatting about the latest ‘Boys over Flowers’ episode in which the main character travels to Peru, or that they are learning Korean, or that one of the girls’ dream is to be an extra on a K-drama is really not all that strange. In fact, it is a byproduct of a very intentional form of international business and political strategy. Peru hopes to strengthen its economy and enter the international area alongside South Korea. We and the Casa Mantay girls will just get to enjoy some very catchy TV shows and music, while we go to (or dream of going to) our favourite Korean barbeque restaurant in the meantime.
Marina Lanza Muñoz
Flores Yapuchura, A.Y., 2013. ‘¿K-Pop, nueva opcion de identidad Peruana?’ Red de Revistas Científicas de América Latina y el Caribe, España y Portugal [Online}. Available from:http://www.redalyc.org/html/4498/449844866004/
Hong, E., 2014. ‘South Korea’s soft power: Soap, sparkle and pop’. The Economist [online]. Available from: https://www.economist.com/books-and-arts/2014/08/09/soap-sparkle-and-pop
Leong, M., 2014. ‘How Korea became the world’s coolest brand’. Financial Post [Online]. Available from: https://business.financialpost.com/news/retail-marketing/how-korea-became-the-worlds-coolest-brand
Mapstone, N. 2013. ‘Peru: The South Koreans are coming’. Financial Times [Online]. Available from:https://www.ft.com/content/58b28877-42b4-37a5-b727-ce034e77fc5c
Nye. J.S., 2009. ‘South Korea’s Growing Soft Power’. Harvard Kennedy School: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs [Online]. Available from: https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/south-koreas-growing-soft-power
“I GOT A BOY’ by Girls Generation music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wq7ftOZBy0E
“DNA” by BTS music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBdVXkSdhwU
“Gangnam Style” by PSY music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0