Disclaimer: Obviously, this isn’t exclusive to Korean dramas. I understand that it’s quite universal and happens everywhere. I’m attacking the domestic violence culture, one that’s prevalent across the world. Furthermore, I’m not saying this is all Korean dramas. Also, I’m slightly rusty. A lot of rambling, too.
There’s something awfully off about some Korean romantic dramas. For a while, I couldn’t really pinpoint it. It was like there was a deeper, darker undercurrent that I couldn’t really recognise. Because under the portrayals of docile girls and dogged men, under the chaste kisses under blossom trees and under the soft, piano tones of the OST, there was something that irked me. I couldn’t really recognise what it was when I watched Korean Dramas like Boys over Flower and Playful Kiss as a naive 12 year old. Being a pre-teen, may I say, with quite a malleable personality, I ate all that romance up. The future relationship I so desperately wanted to have (with hot Korean men) was mirrored on what I consumed on the screen. The wrist grabs! The surprise kisses! The teasing! I remember my heart did, like, ten somersaults when the infamous cold Baek Seung Jo did his, or rather every single male protagonist’s go-to “I’ll make your heart melt and your ovaries explode”, sudden wrist grab. And even though I knew back then that it was so cliche and a overused trope, I loved it. I adored the fact that every single time the poor Oh Ha Ni was left desolate, her shoulders slumped from Seung Jo’s relentless mental abuse, that he would forcefully grab her wrist and drag her towards him.
That was twelve year old me who didn’t really know any better.
So, what set me off? A whole six years later? Recently I turned to Netflix to watch TV shows. Romantic comedies, actually. And then I thought to myself, what better way to fill the empty and eternal abyss in my heart than Korean dramas! Nothing like a good old return to the feels and the heart lurches. So, I stumbled upon the most cliche drama I could (because honestly, that’s what I felt like I needed) called Noble, my Love. So, what did I expect? Lots of divine moments of conversation under the stars, spontaneous accidental kisses and longing gazes. And what I expected, I got. The drama was a flat-out cliché, and a pretty horrible one too. Plot-wise, it was monotonous and repeated every single overused drama trope I’d ever watched. However, it’s “ability to make me swoon” was strangely adequate, however. It frightened me a little. Because the more I watched the drama unfold, the more I realised there was something horribly wrong every time a scene triggered butterflies.
Every single time the selfish, wealthy love interest forcefully shoved the female protagonist into the wall, sending her body hurtling, my heart flipped.
Every single time he blackmailed her into staying in his building (yes, there were absurdly many times this happened. He was a bloody rich CEO), twinkling romantic music commenced playing in the background.
And every single time he locked her wrists, leaving her unable to fight back against his clear invasion of her personal space, the camera proceeded to zoom in on the proximity of their faces. As if harassment was a reason to initiate romantic intensity.
And then I realised: The use of violence and force was being romanticised.
This kind of behaviour promotes rape culture.
The romanisation of domestic violence promotes rape culture.
My sudden revelation made the rest of my experience uncomfortable. Seeing the female protagonist hopelessly fall in love with the abusive, manipulative and controlling love interest didn’t feel right. And even though the director shrouded it in aesthetically pleasing cinematography and saccharine music, it couldn’t completely hide that the relationship was seriously flawed and it wasn’t romantic at all. Because with all those components stripped away, the bare relationship between the protagonists didn’t feel like the cute and pure love story that was so desperately trying to be portrayed. There were specific moments where I thought to myself, maybe, this isn’t too bad. When the terribly toned CEO was forced to eat cheap junk food with her, I was grinning ear-to-ear. The ambiance and romantic intensity in the tango (or was it salsa. I don’t know the difference) made me squeal and rendered me a piece of desperate mush. (Desperate for….someone to tango with me). But the fact that shrouded behind all these moments, behind the rose-coloured glass, was the normalisation of a hurtful relationship, worried me.
It made me apprehensive for the 12 year old me; the naive and oblivious 12 year old me who blindly accepted whatever definition of romance that was thrown in front of her. The mooney-eyed girl who would soon normalise, even glorify, forcible kisses and disoriented women being shoved against walls in a so-called show of freakish bravado and masculinity. Yet, it didn’t only make me worried over the growing acceptance of derogatory and violent behaviour amongst young girls. What petrified me even more was the implication that this could possibly have on young boys, young boys who will eventually grow up to be men. This kind of behaviour that’s lauded in the media as romantic and intimate is what the future generation of men will duplicate. What’s worse is that they’ll think it’s ACCEPTABLE. Unfortunately, some of these young boys will not have a voice dictating the consequences of such behaviour, the embarrassment, the humiliation and the disempowerment of victims.
The devastation lingering in the shadows of hurt and pain.
I refuse to accept this portrayal of romance in the media. That rubbish is the furthest thing from romantic. It’s outright abuse. While some may see it as crucial to the gradual change of the rude, abhorrent male character to a sweet, loving teddy bear, a change elicited by the always hopeful and oblivious female character, this is what I say to you. It’s not character development unless you portray it frankly, in its true form. So, that excuse doesn’t cut it.
All it does is endorse the notion that violence and force equates to love.
Unfortunately, the existence of such an equation is a deadly one.