In South Korea, popular culture serves as a form of modernity and has developed separately from (or in a dialectical relationship to) the state-culture, which was shaped by military dictatorship during postwar economic development. The military regime impacted the field of popular culture through the late 1980s with direct censorship in full swing. At the beginning of the 1990s, however, the ways in which the authoritarian government directly controlled trends in popular culture were no longer possible. Instead, the public committee, although still under the influence of governmental authority, came to be responsible for inspecting cultural products. The gradual marketization of popular culture has seen the rise of the Korean Wave, a global phenomenon that refers to the increasing popularity of Korean culture since the 1990s. In this way, popular culture in South Korea may be considered a field in which the government attempted to suppress the collective desires of ordinary people to further a political agenda. However, the attempt to mobilize the will of the people was not successful, and ironically, precipitated a democratic culture that has paved the way toward consumerism. We recognize the ambiguous contribution of popular culture to democratization in the contemporary history of South Korea—particularly the unevenness of popular culture in the postwar world system, which has brought about the rise of the Korean Wave. The uneven development of the culture industry allowed the Korean entertainment business to gain “primitive accumulation” by taking advantage of geographical differences between cultural importing countries and cultural exporting countries. My argument contends that popular culture in Korea is not only the effect of modernization, but also an affirmative response to capitalism. The culture industry produces cultural commodities, the reception and consumption of which are not merely passive on the part of audiences worldwide.
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