So, I’m back after a malaise-induced hiatus to bring you this (initially via the Korean Studies Listserv):
Korean TV dramas find new fans, outlets with online video – Chicago Tribune.
Korean drama portal Dramafever has partnered with Hulu, and now you can find 50 Korean dramas with English subtitles on said Hulu. As far as I can tell, it’s the first non-English language (they have some British comedy) content on the site (please correct me if I’m wrong — I’m no Hulu expert).
Korean drama on the menu
Last month, one of the co-founders of Dramafever posted to the comment section of Wesley Yang’s “Paper Tigers” article inNew York Magazine to defend it, but also refute the stereotype of the Asian American male experience in the article with his own:
I am an Asian American male from a fairly humble background, and though I attended Stuyvesant, I never excelled academically and graduated from a so-so college with mediocre grades. However, I did much better in corporate America and rose up to become the youngest senior level executive in a fairly large business that probably wouldn’t win any diversity awards. I’m neither a Twinkie (most of my friends are Asian) nor the stereotypical tech guy (I was head of marketing). My experience is that being an Asian American becomes a handicap only if you mentally turn it into one.
But I was more interested in what he said about his own site and its users:
I quit that job not because I hit the bamboo ceiling but because I was bored and wanted to start my own company. I co-founded a company called DramaFever (www.dramafever.com) partly because, well as an Asian American, I thought it’d be nice to have Asian pop culture become a bigger part of the American mainstream. We’re streaming popular Asian TV shows and movies as they aired in Asia but with English subtitles. To our surprise, a significant majority of our 700,000 and rapidly growing user base isn’t even Asian but white, black, and Hispanic. When we interview many of our non-Asian users, most of them tell us they stumbled onto Asian stuff accidentally and found it fascinating and interesting. In fact, they find it more weird that our questioning seem to suggest that there is anything unnatural about ordinary Americans digging Asian stuff!
When I did jury duty in New York back in 2005, one of my fellow jurors asked me if I had ever watched “that Korean show about the ancient palace chef” (Daejanggum) on TV, and that he and his wife were addicted to it. He was white, and his wife was Chinese, and he told me they watched it together and separately with English and Chinese subtitles, respectively (at that time, “Jewel of the Palace,” as it was called, was being broadcast on a Chinese language channel and AZN in New York).
A quick look at some of the commentary on other Korean drama portals (d-addicts, mysoju, dramabeans, etc.) shows an extremely broad range of k-drama fans from all over the world, united by their love of treacle and cheese (ha…I kid b/c I love… most of it in spite of myself). I’m interested in this on several levels: despite the Korean government’s promotion of the so-called Korean Wave (hallyu) and efforts to have Korean programs broadcast in other countries, private, often fan-generated websites seem to be the primary source of Korean dramas for non-Korean international audiences. The subtitling for the dramas shown on these sites is done by the site users and fans themselves, and is sometimes much better than the subtitles I’ve seen for big-budget Korean films, which, to this translator bespeaks the need for a close affinity with the source material, or even more basically, someone who is actually interested in conveying the content and sentiment of the original text. Re: dramafever, it’s up there with the AZN cable television network as nodes of Asian American identity that don’t wallow in nationalist earnestness or selective in-group mentality.
I was at a workshop last year where someone gave a paper on the cyberspace subcultures devoted to Korean drama that discussed the different ways in which users were accessing Korean drama online: not only by watching subtitled streaming videos, but through mediated plot summaries, discussion, and still images. I can’t go too far into this because there’s a big “Please do not distribute without permission” at the top of the paper, but I was intrigued by this idea of a sort of bricolage narrative approach to Korean drama, and curious about how that effects the imaginary of the spaces and society portrayed in the drama world. I mean, this is based on the assumption that we all know that they don’t portray the *real* Korea, but then again, plenty of people thought it was possible to have a crap job and live in a giant West Village loft because of Friends.
I’m very interested to see how this new Hulu offering will be received, as I figure out how to find out about that kind of info. Heh. In the meantime, I’ll start catching up on Kdrama again after being overwhelmed by the options in my Korean on-demand cable.