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Pakistanis and Koreans: Interested in the other or in the familiar?

Pakistanis have been caught up in the Korean Wave and are slowly but surely falling in love with K-content. Even though Vincenzo came out almost two years ago, it is still one of the most watched TV shows in Pakistan on Netflix every week. K-content isn’t just watched by people who are used to English subtitles or English dubbing on Netflix. A wider local audience also watches K-dramas like Crash Landing on You (2019), Guardian: The Great and Lonely God (2016), and Penthouse (2020), which have Urdu dubs and are shown on Urdu1 and LTN Family.

Some K-pop groups have noticed that Pakistan is becoming more and more interested in Korean material. Recently, the boy band Blitzers went on a tour of the country. While in Lahore, they went to historical places to film a music video.

Spotify said on World Music Day 2022 that Pakistani fans love to stream music from K-pop groups like BTS, BLACKPINK, TOMORROW X TOGETHER, Stray Kids, and TWICE. K-pop groups, especially BTS, are becoming more and more famous. Their concert movie, BTS: Yet to Come, was shown in Pakistani theaters in over 10 cities in February, and fans lined up to gush over their idols.

Fans of BTS aren’t just active on social media sites like Twitter and Instagram. They also organize volunteer events, which helps them feel like a part of a group. Froza, one of the people behind the social media group BTS Pak Army, said, “Locally, I’ve been in touch with a group that collects money given to different charities for different reasons. Every year, someone tweets, “Hey, we should do this for this member’s birthday,” and the ball gets going and the word gets out.” The money raised goes to each member’s favorite cause. For Namjoon’s birthday, for example, it was to plant trees. The money was given to cat shelters for Yoongi’s birthday. On Hoseok and Jimin’s birthdays, they generally give money to places for kids.

The Korean Wave or Hallyu Wave, which is a strong interest in Korean popular culture like food, music, fashion, TV, and movies, is the reason why Korean cultural products are becoming more common. In 2021, along with 25 other Korean words, the word “Hallyu” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. This was done because of how popular the above things were around the world.

Because of streaming services like Netflix, Hallyu has made Korean pop bands famous all over the world and made Korean shows well-known all over the world.

Part of Netflix’s recent lead over other streaming services is due to its growing popularity of non-Western media, especially Korean TV shows. In The Soft Power of the Korean Wave, writer Hyejung Ju argues that this spread of Korean culture, history, and experiences creates an unexpected interest among foreign viewers by exposing them to different parts of Korean culture, history, and experiences. This makes viewers from the wider Asian region interested in what is both “other” and familiar in some ways.

Froza called it “appeal” instead of “fascination” because Pakistani and Korean societies have some things in common and some things that are different. She said that both cultures are “conservative,” which means that many of their beliefs and rules are the same. Their TV shows, in particular, show a collectivist society and close-knit families, which makes them easier to understand.

Asma is an art history major at NCA and has been a fan of BTS for a long time. She said that Korean culture, language, and history are eerily similar to those of Pakistan, which makes Korean content feel more like “home” than Western content. So, it gives some Pakistanis a chance to live vicariously through those characters, which is made easier by the fact that they are from the same culture. This is a lot like the boom in popularity of Turkish dramas, which will hit its peak in 2019 when the Urdu dub of Ertugul comes out. The show was popular with Pakistani viewers because it was about historical people from the Muslim world.

Froza, who runs a fan group, said that another reason why Korean content is so popular in Pakistan is that the clothes and language are “modest and appropriate” for people who grew up watching ARY Digital and HUM TV dramas. Even in slow-burning romantic dramas, there isn’t much “skinship” between the male and female leads. This is a direct response to the overly sexualized nature of American TV, which Pakistani fans of K-content find strange. As an older person who likes K-content, she says that K-dramas and K-pop don’t just appeal to young girls but also to older people for the same reasons. She also says that Korean parents don’t let their kids watch American media because they think Korean media is more “children-friendly.”

Consumers may be trying to fill the void left by Pakistani content with repetitive stories of toxic masculinity and female victimhood. Haania, who runs a Twitter account for fans of the boy group GOT7, talked about how Pakistanis reacted to Korean content just a few years ago and how it was very different from how they react to it now. People thought that Korean content was “weird and had racist undertones.” This was because of the “bishounen” beauty standard, which makes male idols and artists look “effeminate” because they show a softer side of manhood and have delicate looks.

Pakistanis still have mixed feelings about Hallyu. For example, a sign of BTS member Jungkook was recently taken down in Gujranwala because a politician said it “supported homosexuality” without any proof. The politician made a wrong guess about Jungkook’s sexuality based on how he looked.

The Korean Wave has taken Pakistan by storm, but it’s important to remember that the industry is more than just the image it wants to show the rest of the world. SheThePeople says that the K-pop industry is known for making female idols into sexual yet innocent objects. This is a microcosm of the widespread sexism and patriarchy in South Korea and is a part of Hallyu that many international fans don’t know about.

For example, the members of the newly formed girl group NewJeans range in age from 14 to 18. They released a song called “Cookie” that caused a lot of controversy because it had lyrics that were too suggestive for girls who were barely adults to sing. This made people question how responsible their agency was.

This argument isn’t meant to scare away the average consumer, though. Instead, it’s meant to encourage a more socially aware relationship with the material they consume. Without this, the problem is that some people put South Korea on a high as an idealistic center of culture, almost to the point of making it a fetish. Through K-content, South Korea is made to seem perfect, romantic, and one-dimensional. It becomes only a personal playground and romantic fantasy to flee to. It becomes a glossy travel brochure advertising a “unique cultural experience” instead of a complex society with its own problems.