What the Korean eyeball collecting game can teach us

The 2020 lockdown has led many of us urban Indians to explore over-the-top (OTT) platforms. Netflix and Amazon Prime came into our lives with content that was foreign to most of us. I watched Oscar winner Parasite a few months ago, and marveled at the script and direction. My daughter and her friends were addicted to K-Dramas, especially one that portrays an unlikely romance between a South Korean chaebol heiress and a North Korean army officer. One of them informed me that she fell in love with a K-pop group and that she was a Stan. While I was planning to google the meaning of this, one of my students sent me an article about a K-pop group, BTS, which has contributed to the South Korean economy to such an extent that its impact economic impact on South Korea is now called the “BTS Effect”. It was estimated that BTS in 2018 contributed 4 million won of its gross domestic product (GDP) of 1,898.2 billion won, while the cultural content industry as a whole accounted for 6.3%. .

One last piece of news that caught my attention was that BTS won the 2021 Billboard Awards. The band received the “Best Selling Song” award for Dynamite, their first song in English. A Korean tsunami seemed to engulf me!

Intrigued, I read others. As it turns out, the wave of South Korean movies, dramas, and music the world is now used to is far from accidental. “Hallyu” was a term the Chinese used in 2001 (at first pejoratively) to refer to the growing worldwide popularity of South Korea’s creative economy, especially its entertainment industry, including K-pop and other forms of music, television shows, dramas and movies.

I analyzed the Korean government’s position as discernible from various presidential, political and other speeches, to see how the interpretation of Hallyu and cultural exports underwent a drastic change during the period 2001 to 2020-2021. . The idea of ​​using cultural exports as a means of gaining economic power dates back to 1994, when the Presidential Advisory Council on Science and Technology submitted a report to then-President Kim Young-sam. The report pointed out that the overseas sale of 1.5 million Hyundai “pride of Korea” cars would bring in as much revenue as the Hollywood blockbuster Jurassic Park. A development model focused on manufacturing exports gave way to a strategy of cultural exports, especially after the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

The success of this economic policy aimed at boosting cultural exports is no happy coincidence. This involved bringing together several stakeholders, including the government, chaebol (large family conglomerates), small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurial enterprises, state-funded research agencies, and Korean youth and people, to create a creative economy. It was a unique private-public mission. While the government supported the spread of Hallyu’s influence with both financial and non-financial measures, private talent companies and recording agencies were “making” K-pop. This policy was among those that helped propel the country into the league of high-income countries in a very short period of time, from a GDP per capita of $ 6,610 in 1990 to $ 31,846 in 2019.

However, that still doesn’t solve the conundrum of how a genre of music in a foreign language, with singers who, with their soft, make-up appearance, challenged the Western concept of masculinity, has become so successful. The answer lies in what Joseph S. Nye called a “soft power” strategy (hbs.me/3xciy4c). South Korea has used its cultural exports not only as a means of ensuring economic success, but also to increase the nation’s appeal to a global audience. While K-pop idols like BTS, Blackpink, etc. have made Korean food, fashion, language and culture desirable, the government has encouraged a new wave of Hallyu by focusing on teaching the Korean language, promoting cultural exchanges and providing information about the Korean language. foreign. markets and support for translation and online marketing. The fans of K-pop, called Stans, or those of BTS, called the ARMY, also contributed to the appeal of K-pop. These fans are assiduously cultivated by these idol groups themselves, who interact with them via social networks, dedicate their music to them and forge bonds of intimacy and trust. While the BTS and K-pop phenomenon is much more complex, with both positive and negative aspects, the Korean cultural industry presents an alternative model of soft power acquisition and thus development.

How does India compare to South Korea? A review of India’s balance of payments (bit.ly/2REnxvd) reveals that India has continuously recorded a deficit in its exports of ‘personal, cultural and recreational services’, with the gap in 2019-2020 being negative of $ 924 million. Moreover, these exports accounted for a tiny 0.34% of India’s total exports in 2019-2020. Paradoxically, our film industry is the largest in the world.

India can take inspiration from South Korea’s book to boost its creative economy. The starting point would be to measure such an economy and its potential impact, then bring together several stakeholders to make it an industry of the future.

Tulsi Jayakumar is Professor of Economics at the SP Jain Institute of Management & Research in Bhavan. These are the personal opinions of the author.

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