Korea’s rapid modernisation has created a relentless race to stay at the forefront of change, however a new found appreciation of Korea’s past has made ‘Old’ the new ‘New’. It has become so popular that goods are being made to echo moments in Korean history. It is mostly evident in media (TV and films) and design (products and interior). Why are Koreans suddenly stopping in their tracks and looking back instead of forward? What caused this movement and what does it show us about changing tides?
Most Korean citizens live busy and hectic lives. One of the reasons why the Korean entertainment industry is booming, is because people want to escape their reality and forget about their worries. Drama and film narratives are set in the period of youth of the viewer, which triggers nostalgia. By definition nostalgia is ” pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again”. Through its reshaped life stories and fictional yet believable characters set in a real time, viewers can explore the past by living vicariously through the screen. The popularity of the ‘Reply’ TV series and the 2011 hit ‘Sunny’ are all catalysts which sparked the trend.
Old = Authentic
Pride and respect comes with age in Korea. The older you are, the wiser and more recognised you are, and this transfers to other aspects too. Establishments which have been in business for many years boast of their authenticity, as many assume that age equals traditional and originality. In some ways it is true; the smallest and oldest restaurants are crystallised moments of history. Since money makes the world go round, businesses have used the ‘olden’ style as a marketing ploy to attract more customers.
Rejection Of Westernization
Korea is becoming more influenced by western commerce and culture every day. Foreign brands, especially American, are thriving on Seoul streets. This comes as no surprise as Korea’s rapid modernization progress has meant integrating successful Western businesses. It is almost impossible to escape foreign influences in daily Korean life. Reverting back to old Korea takes people back to a different and simpler time. Seeking a true Korean experience does not imply xenophobia or anti-American sentiment, it just so happens that a momentary escape a is new and exciting experience.
Korean history was not as sweet and easy-going as it appears on screens. Nostalgia is like looking at the past with a flattering ‘vintage’ instagram filter, and everything that appears on TV and film have been styled. The cosy and rustic aesthetic commonly characterised by retro fonts, art, colour scheme and board signs differs from shiny HD perfection that has now become norm. Consumers are naturally attracted to what is unique and beautiful.
A historical setting and nostalgia triggering items remind Koreans of the struggles Korea has overcome. It gives viewers hope, confidence and national pride as it suggests that overcoming the past means that they are strong enough to face modern issues and just like the golden days they will succeed. Past sacrifices of ancestors naturally builds community and Korean spirit, which reinforce a sense of identity through memory. All ages can enjoy nostalgic films and TV, as the young have a new experience while the older generation reminisce their youth and relate to the material.
When times get tough in modern Korea, retro revival is a joyful escape. However, one should be grateful that the past is merely experienced momentarily because the past has been distorted and perfectly packaged to be consumed. Everything seems more attractive when the problems have been forgotten, but Korea has come a long way to become a better and stronger economy and society. The past will always seem attractive, in the future maybe they will look back and yearn for Korea now.
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