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Author Topic: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?  (Read 7633 times)

Offline jaakked1

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Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« on: November 30, 2011, 03:26:20 PM »
So there is currently a post that states that the world has huge fascination with Koreans.This "observation" pertains especially to k-pop culture.

Many readers(including myself) have felt that many,many people know very little about Koreans.

Most people I know,including very well educated folks, know next to nothing about Korea. Are we the exception?

Pop culture aside, Korea does have a thriving export based economy and low crime among other things.These are not small items of notice these days.

Why are people not taking note of this and modeling there ?

I am starting this post because I believe the other post "why are so many people fascinated by Koreans?"
is simply not accurate on a global level.I have nothing against Korea or Koreans. In fact some of my best friends are Korean.
« Last Edit: November 30, 2011, 05:57:29 PM by Davey »

Offline Yu_Bumsuk

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Re: Why aren't people so fascinated by Koreans?
« Reply #1 on: November 30, 2011, 03:35:26 PM »
Whenever I'm back home and bring up anything to do with Korea people usually change the subject quickly. Obama has probably done more to make people think about Korea (it's awesome education system) than K-poop.


Offline southcareer

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Re: Why aren't people so fascinated by Koreans?
« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2011, 03:37:06 PM »
I think the point is that most of us come from countries where we have a hugely disproportional influence on the world economically and culturally.  I think it was the thread you mentioned where someone posted a pictorial image showing how the US plus a few others dominate the music market.  Movies would show India.US,Nigeria similarly.  When it comes to exporting culture, the US rules the roost hands down.  Korea probably has more than average exposure.

The one that gets me time and again is China.  20% of the world, man.  How much do people actually know about China.  How many famous Chinese people can you and your foreign friends name.  How many American cities can Brits name?- now- how many British cities can Americans name?  Questions of these sorts reveal a pyramid of popularized knowledge with the US right at the top.  I appreciate that this is not exactly research, but Korea has had an Olympics and a World Cup in most people's living memory.  I estimate that had Park Ji-Sung been run over when we was eleven, then most people in the UK would know about half as much about Korea as is currently the case. 

If you wanted to (this may have been done) you could try to approximate the extent to which a nation has managed to project itself into the popular mind of the world, using images, music, questionnaires to attempt to approximate the extent to which nations are 'known' in various aspects worldwide.  Any graphic representation of this would doubtless show the US as the sun, dwarfing a few other sattelites, with the majority of the world 260ish nations mere space dust.

Offline Davey

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Re: Why do a lot of people know nothing about Korea?
« Reply #3 on: November 30, 2011, 05:03:02 PM »
Put bluntly, it isn't really known for anything and it's overshadowed by other Asian countries (in particular China and Japan) in many ways.

« Last Edit: November 30, 2011, 05:06:19 PM by Davey »
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Offline Squire

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Re: Why do a lot of people know nothing about Korea?
« Reply #4 on: November 30, 2011, 05:18:22 PM »
I don't think many people know nothing about Korea. You'd have to be a very ignorant person to know nothing of the Korean War and North Korea. I imagine most British people know who Kim Jong Il is, and also the majority of men will know of Park Ji Sung. I'd also expect more people to have an awareness of the 2002 World Cup, 88 Olympics and Korean F1 than any awareness of K-Pop

hilarity ensues

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Re: Why do a lot of people know nothing about Korea?
« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2011, 05:49:49 PM »
I guess the topic has changed now.

It's just a general ignorance of Asia, I think… and because of Japan. 

I'm not going to do a lot of research, but I would guess that Japan is so recognized because they had a head start in the west… when China was closed and Korea was third world, Japan was open and beginning to westernize… and eventually they became rich and started making electronics and excellent vehicles. They made quality products that were also efficient and economical. They invented the Walkman. They made stereo equipment that would last forever and sound amazing. They made business trips to America when Korea was still trying to sort itself out. They also became more of a threat to America's global economic dominance in the 80s and it forced people to take an interest.

Japan was also free to export their culture and had the money to make films and Nintendo games… and they did it so WELL. When I was in elementary school my friends were obsessed with ninjas… and the action movies started popularizing martial arts, which in the 80s were always linked to Japan. Ninja Turtles, Ninja Gaiden, Super Mario… all kinds of original creations reflecting the Japanese influence and identifying it by name.

There are also iconic creations like Godzilla, the connection between samurai films and westerns, robots, Transformers, The Karate Kid, manga, geisha, zen gardens were popular with businessmen in the 80s, Buddhism… and what's more is that they also seemed to genuinely love Western culture, which in turn made it easier for western culture to love them back. They loved baseball and Star Wars. They had a friendly, courteous, non-threatening image… even if the stereotypes weren't exactly flattering, they were still pretty much impossible to hate. Also the atomic bombings… they were pretty glamorous for a long time, considering the world was on the brink of nuclear annihilation for a very long time, especially in the 80s... and you couldn't really mention the subject without talking about Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

You could almost say that Asia itself was popularized in the west by Japan… at least, for this generation. Japan was always the 'free, wealthy and accessible' part of Asia that Americans/the west always had this sort of love/threat relationship with… and the fact that they had a very distinct and vibrant culture made them easy to love and identify. China was in America before, but not at a time when America was as open and curious about other cultures… or when the media had the means to spread the word as far and as mercilessly… and this was when people tended to trust the media a lot more. Japan was in the right place at the right time.

Basically, there's only room for one Asian culture in the popular mainstream, and Japan owns that niche… and they own it well. Japan is hip, edgy and exciting where Korea is melodramatic, harmless and kinda behind the times. It doesn't help that a lot of their exported brands sound Japanese.

So yeah, Korea isn't well-known in the west because Japan got there first… actually, I think Japan kinda wrecked it for them. AGAIN.
« Last Edit: November 30, 2011, 06:05:31 PM by hilarity ensues »

Offline unclefrank

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Re: Why aren't people so fascinated by Koreans?
« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2011, 06:21:36 PM »


The one that gets me time and again is China.  20% of the world, man.  How much do people actually know about China.  How many famous Chinese people can you and your foreign friends name.  How many American cities can Brits name?- now- how many British cities can Americans name?  Questions of these sorts reveal a pyramid of popularized knowledge with the US right at the top.  I appreciate that this is not exactly research, but Korea has had an Olympics and a World Cup in most people's living memory.  I estimate that had Park Ji-Sung been run over when we was eleven, then most people in the UK would know about half as much about Korea as is currently the case. 


I understand and agree with China, how we neglect to know more about the country. I'm not sure what you mean about America being at the top of the popularized knowledge, but I think I get the idea. I'm an American myself. I still have people back home who think I'm in North Korea teaching English. They get the thought of leaving America to teach English somewhere, and they automatically think Korea is some third world country and I'm living in a shack teaching poor black children English. In that regard, I'd hope some other Americans would agree that our education lacks in teaching us about other cultures. In a nutshell, they only teach us about America. I majored in Geography, so seeing these things make me cringe. Not exaggerating, I'd say at least 75% of Americans can't name the capital of Canada. I wouldn't bet on them knowing much about the Korean Peninsula. 

Offline southcareer

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2011, 06:51:15 PM »
The point about Japan is true, but the difference between Japan and Korea is near-irrelevant comparing asia to Europe-America.  All Koreans know who Leonardo da Vinci is, Franklin, Einstein etc. etc.   How many influential Asian historical figures can we name when three or four of us get together (and we're all graduates!).  Saying re: Japan, "SONY, Nintendo, Asahi etc. etc.- we know about Japan"  Is so ironic!  Japan/Korea have famous companies (India/China have almost none), but that's almost beside the point.  Beyond the economic/brand thing, there is a more important and fundemental and simply enormous imbalance in cultural dominance of the world.  Japan got the leg up from the USA before Korea (only after the Phillipines had been well and truly shafted), fair point.  Most westerners think of Japan as cool and know they make computers and TV's- but history/music/culture etc.- same as Korea.  What i'm getting at with the graphic/cultural dominance thing is about that- the economic dominance of the USA is miniscule compared to the cultural dominance.  Largely, the US is norm-providing.  If we learn anythign about any aspect of any asian country, we are considered intellectual and edgy.  Yet, we're shocked when a student hasn't heard of Jimi Hendrix.

Offline ytuque

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2011, 07:20:50 PM »
Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?

Because S. Korea's cultural footprint on the world is miniscule. Korea has not given the world much reason to take notice.  Hopefully this will change, but k-pop is not the answer.

Offline woman-king

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2011, 09:11:30 PM »
Like hilarity said, it's because Japan already dominates the East Asian image in the West.  I had way too many people tell me they were jealous of all the great sushi I'd be getting here in Korea before I left.  Ha.  It's not that Korea is entirely unknown--everyone has heard of it--but it's assumed to be just another land of fast internet, quirky technological inventions, girls doing the peace sign in photos, Hello Kitty stuff everywhere, all the things the West associates with East Asia. 

I don't really see this changing anytime soon--Korea has many things to be proud of, really proud of, but I don't think they're going to be able to export a cultural image strong enough to distinguish themselves from Japan in the West any time soon. 

Offline bb

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2011, 06:39:10 AM »
How much does anyone know about Birkino Faso? How much does anyone know about Oman? How much does anyone know about Chile? It's a big world. You pretty much gotta start a war or a viral youtube video to get noticed.

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2011, 08:16:13 AM »
I'm going to be very blunt with this. I don't hate Korea, I actually enjoy it. Having said that, let's begin.

As others have said, Korea is tiny compared to China and Japan, in almost every way. They have a lower population, smaller economy, landmass, etc. Korea didn't even step onto the economic stage until the past few decades. They have been under the thumb of larger countries. Mongolia invaded them, China invaded them, Japan invaded them. They were Japan's little play thing until after WWII. They were then divided by a war and demolish. Korea, post Korean war, in the mid-1950's consisted of rice, rubble, and dead bodies. They had a weak economy until the 1980's-1990's. Japan was already an economic and social powerhouse. They were dominating Asia in many ways.

As my Korean friend says, "We are in the middle of everyone. It bad for us. We in middle of China and Japan. They can walk over us." Let's not forget most western countries tend to overlook or not care about many Asian countries. I had family in the Korean war and it was never mentioned. My family worked for GM, so the hatred for Asian cars was driven into me, no pun intended. Add all of this together and what do you get? A lot of people not knowing about a tiny little peninsula in Asia.

Offline teachermc

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #12 on: December 01, 2011, 09:24:07 AM »
Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?

Because S. Korea's cultural footprint on the world is miniscule. Korea has not given the world much reason to take notice.  Hopefully this will change, but k-pop is not the answer.

I agree with this sentiment.  Coming from someone who came to Korea ready to learn all I could about Korea's art, music, and history, only to be presented time and time again with Korean food, nationalistic/racist pseudo-science, and Kpop, it is hard for me to imagine how people who have never been to Korea would be very familiar with the country.  Of course, Korea has been subject to cultural and governmental domination for plenty of its history, but their insular attitude, even at times with other cultures in the region were opening to international communication (Dutch and Portuguese traders) has certainly contributed to their small voice globally.

Electronics and media might fill up your time, but it is not likely the venue through which someone becomes interested in a civilization.

Offline ytuque

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #13 on: December 01, 2011, 09:33:52 AM »
Hungary with a population 20% of S. Korea's has produced 11 Nobel Prize winners in the sciences and literature compared to ZERO for S. Korea. Hungary is also significantly poorer than Korea and with an equally troubled history. An internet search of "hungarian inventions" versus "korean inventions" tells the story.

Frankly Korea has not had the cultural and scientific achievements of many smaller and poorer countries and with equally tragic histories.

Offline popeye2u

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #14 on: December 01, 2011, 11:53:57 AM »
M.A.S.H was my favorite tv show and I still didnt care to know about Korea back in the day.  Now when I see re-runs I laugh hearing about some cities in Korea that I recognize.  And yes, M.A.S.H wasnt really a good portrail of Korea, but its the only place where you heard Korea mentioned weekly.  Where I lived i met Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Taiwanese students.  I never met a Korean!
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Offline FloridaGator314

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #15 on: December 01, 2011, 12:04:59 PM »
I never knew much about Korea for most of my life and always assumed it was slightly different, smaller version of Japan. After living here for over 6 months, I know a lot about Korea but still think of it as a slightly different, smaller version on Japan. There are 108 countries bigger than South Korea and 23 with higher populations and there's not that many things about Korea that really make it stand out on the global stage.

I love Korea and all, but I wouldn't expect many people back home to take any interest in it.

Offline cracker

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #16 on: December 01, 2011, 12:17:59 PM »
Quote
How many American cities can Brits name?

Loads - they're all named after UK cities!  :P

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #17 on: December 01, 2011, 12:29:57 PM »
On one hand there's a desire amongst Koreans for foreigners to know more about their country than just economy cars and plasma TVs. On the other hand (and this mirrors the thinking on trade overall) there's a hesitance to import as much culture as they export. I guess it's a byproduct of their history.

It ain't called 'The Hermit Kingdom' for nothing.

Offline McGenghis

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #18 on: December 01, 2011, 12:34:43 PM »
The sad/funny thing about Korea.Inc is that any time bibimbap or the Wonder Girls get a mention in any third-rate rag in Saskatoon or Raton, New Mexico it is presented to a Korean audience as "Korean's ubiquitous famous hallyu wins the day."

Not to be mean-spirited, as Koreans by and large are a very friendly people, but you know as soon as the Korea.Inc seeps in to the conversation. Take a bit of national insecurity, add a measure of historical grievance, and fill to the brim with fierce competitiveness and you end up with things like VANK (www.prkorea.com), that 'Nu7Wonders of Nature' fiasco, and completely humourless full-page Dokdo ads in the New York Times. A treasure trove for satirists in the land where satire comes to die.

Korea.Inc advertises itself as crassly and as ham-fistedly as those ads that tell me I am the 1 millionth visitor or ask whether or not I will have an ugly baby. I usually cringe in embarrassment when I see a Korean Tourism advertisement on TV. There was one a few years ago that was just plain ghastly.

That being said, Korea is a pretty neat little place to visit. Me old Da came and stayed for an entire month with me and had a great time. I guess the trick was that I was not constantly gushing over and seeking validation for things like bulgogi and the Cheonggyecheon but rather allowed him to judge these things on their own laurels. Surprise, surprise, he thought most things here were swell.




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Offline southcareer

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Re: Why do a lot of people know next to nothing about Korea?
« Reply #19 on: December 01, 2011, 12:50:50 PM »
The sad/funny thing about Korea.Inc is that any time bibimbap or the Wonder Girls get a mention in any third-rate rag in Saskatoon or Raton, New Mexico it is presented to a Korean audience as "Korean's ubiquitous famous hallyu wins the day."

Not to be mean-spirited, as Koreans by and large are a very friendly people, but you know as soon as the Korea.Inc seeps in to the conversation. Take a bit of national insecurity, add a measure of historical grievance, and fill to the brim with fierce competitiveness and you end up with things like VANK (www.prkorea.com), that 'Nu7Wonders of Nature' fiasco, and completely humourless full-page Dokdo ads in the New York Times. A treasure trove for satirists in the land where satire comes to die.

Korea.Inc advertises itself as crassly and as ham-fistedly as those ads that tell me I am the 1 millionth visitor or ask whether or not I will have an ugly baby. I usually cringe in embarrassment when I see a Korean Tourism advertisement on TV. There was one a few years ago that was just plain ghastly.

That being said, Korea is a pretty neat little place to visit. Me old Da came and stayed for an entire month with me and had a great time. I guess the trick was that I was not constantly gushing over and seeking validation for things like bulgogi and the Cheonggyecheon but rather allowed him to judge these things on their own laurels. Surprise, surprise, he thought most things here were swell.

I don't think i've ever agreed more with anything anyone has ever said on this forum.