The popularisation of Korean culture across Asia has aided in the country's globalisation efforts. It began in the West, and has since expanded across continents rapidly. Particularly, in Japan, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, India and for a decade in Bangladesh, interest in Korean television dramas, music, and movies grew quickly.
More screens, be it broadcasting or internet-streaming, are now showing Korean movies, music, and dramas than at any other time in history. The K-culture hype is changing the behaviour of consumers in Bangladesh, and teens are becoming major players in this transcultural market economy.
According to a 2017 poll conducted by the Korea Tourism Organisation, K-drama has had a significant impact on tourism in South Korea. It also found that almost half of international visitors to South Korea opted to visit the country after viewing Korean dramas or films.
The filming locations of popular K-dramas have become tourist hot-spots in South Korea. Since the early 2000s, a large number of Asian women have travelled to the country in the hopes of meeting and marrying a Korean man who is as strong, attractive, and affectionate, like the Korean male leads they see on television.
South Korea's thriving medical business has seen an influx of tourists every year looking to get cosmetic surgery in order to appear like Korean actors or actresses. Similar aspirations and appreciation of K-beauty and K-culture can also be found among the Bangladeshi K-fans.
The popularity and success of Korean dramas in Bangladesh demonstrates unequivocally that language is not a barrier to Bangladeshis watching foreign media content. Rather, it is their resemblance to real people and their focus on human sensitivity issues such as lifestyle, values, and family that have contributed to the success of Korean dramas in Bangladesh.
Korean dramas meet the emotional demands of Asian viewers through similar cultural context and by being emotionally expressive. Over the course of the pandemic, the hype for conventional rom-coms from the West have gone down, with scores of Bangladeshi viewers opting to watch K-dramas.
We saw a curious effective turn towards K-contents and unprecedented expansion of K-fans in Bangladesh during the restrictions imposed due to Covid-19. When the pandemic halted foreign travel and drove people into their homes, many people relied on in-house entertainment to stay connected to the outside world virtually.
As individuals spent more time online, K-pop musicians, including BTS and Blackpink, became household names. Korean food exports reached a record high in 2020, largely facilitated by online posts from Asian entertainers and the popularity of the film Parasite. Korean food trends like Mukbang and dalgona coffee became pleasant distractions during the imposed isolation period. And when people ran out of things to watch, they hopped onto K-dramas and got hooked immediately.
In Bangladesh, the exponential growth of subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime videos and Disney+ during the pandemic was largely caused by K-lovers. The year 2020 turned out to be a watershed year for Korean dramas.
According to a Netflix spokeswoman, viewing of Korean content throughout Asia grew fourfold in 2020 in comparison to the previous year. Needless to say, the Korean survival drama Squid Game has had a major impact on Bangladeshi media culture.
Curiously enough, under-18 viewers were mostly drawn to Squid Game, which is intended for adults, given that it is a TV-MA rated show. We can see the impact of Squid Game in the Bangladeshi consumer society, with restaurants and popular cafes displaying signs and symbols from the show into their aesthetic. And Squid Game outfits are dominating teen fashion.
The growing popularity of Korean culture has significantly contributed to shaping consumer behaviour in Bangladesh. Evidence of this can be found from the restaurants to super shops, from OTT platforms to the mainstream media.
TVCs promoting Korean consumer products seldom go unnoticed by a viewer when skimming through TV channels at the peak hours on any given day. A commercial for Korean Noodles even played frequently in breaks during a cricket match of the Bangladesh Team. The same commercial has also received more than two million views on YouTube, where it was first posted. In a way, this commercial exemplifies the convergence of the media, market, culture, and consumerism.
The impact of Korean culture in altering national cultural values needs to be discerned. The changing trend of consumer behaviour vis-a-vis the popularity of K-wave in Bangladesh needs to be carefully watched.
In a modern society with some postmodern symptoms, a framework of transcultural communication in fathoming the cultural impact and changing values in society needs to be deployed. It is imperative to understand how media material may communicate values, cultivate new forms of transcultural values and re-configure the consumerist principles in the wake of neoliberal capitalism and consumerism.
The popularity of Korean style and K-cultural phenomenon in Bangladesh is a signal towards such mediated reformation of consumer culture in contemporary times.
Dr Ratan Kumar Roy is Coordinator of International Research Centre, SIMEC Institute of Technology
Hamida M. Moniea is a Faculty of North South University
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.