Last week I looked contrasted Now On My Way To Meet You with international examples and examined some of the similarities/differences in terms of themes and content. This week I shifted my focus back to South Korea, and worked to understand how Now On My Way To Meet You is to be understood within the contexts of South Korean society and South Korean popular representations of North Koreans.
In order to understand the context, I had a look at some facts and figures regarding refugee demographic within South Korea. After the 1950-1953 Korean War, South Korea’s military dictators treated the North as a grave and existential threat, arresting political dissidents and accusing them of harboring regime sympathies. However stirred initially by the North Korean famine in the 1990’s, the number of North Korean arrivals, or talbukja, climbed to an annual level of 2-3 thousand in the period between 2006-2010. The rapid growth has also been accompanied by a shift in gender distribution of refugees, with the majority of early defectors being male, more North Korean women began to cross into China, and travelled on to South Korea. In 2013 there exists a substantial community of roughly 25 000 North Korean refugees in South Korea; 70% of these are female.
The number of North Koreans living in South Korea coincided with significant developments in governmental approach to the North. The Sunshine Policy was introduced in 1998 by South Korean President Kim Dae Jung. The policy aimed as softening North Korea’s attitude towards to South by encouraging interaction and economic assistance. The policy resulted in greater political contact between the two states and in 2000 Kim Dae Jung was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful implementation of the policy. Before this, an even still to a lesser extent today, there was a deep-rooted, inherent misunderstanding between the people of the two Korea’s. Southern portraits of North Koreans mostly treated their counterparts as evil communists, and downtrodden, brainwashed automons.
The format of Now On My Way To Meet You can also attribute to its acceptance in South Korea. The show has the ability to appeal to viewers that may be apathetic to North Korean issues. The show operates within a tried and tested formula of chat/game shows. It shows that attractive North Korean women, referred to in the show as ‘the beauties’, are able to engage with South Korean society. Personalities emerge and, just like in the way we choose our favourite X-Factor contestant or Big Brother housemate, viewers of Now On My Way To Meet You are encouraged to bond through ‘regular contact’ as the show airs weekly.
(One of ‘the beauties in action’ – apologies to all our non-Korean speaking readers like myself, now hopefully you realise my own frustration)
Understanding the context behind the show has really helped me to change my perception of Now On My Way To Meet You. When looked at as a vehicle for self expression instead of as taking advantage or making light of serious struggles of North Korean refugees, this week I can appreciate the value of the show in terms of bridging a societal gap. Without an firm grasp on some of the important events leading up to Now On My Way To Meet You’s context, the show seems trivial. It makes me feel close-minded in the sense that I can be completely unaware of such massive world event just because they do not, and have never, connected with my own personal past, culture or experiences.