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How Popular Film Shapes the Image of Poverty in South Korea

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1 How Popular Film Shapes the Image of Poverty in South Korea
Yongmie Nicola Jo DPhil Candidate in Social Policy University of Oxford

2 South Korean Context Rapid economic development since the Korean War ended in 1953, currently ranking 14th/ 190 countries by GDP (nominal) (World Bank 2010) Capitalistic Market Economy Democratic Republic : Semi-presidential representative system Individualistic culture is coming to replace traditional Confucianistic social value system


4 Changing Meaning of Poverty
In the past, in a more feudalistic and Confucianistic Korea, Immorality = Losing Face, as a family member Now, social respect and pride comes with economic wealth Poverty = Losing Face, as an individual

5 Film’s Shaping of Poverty

6 Everything is lost in poverty
Focus on an individual’s life story ‘All or Nothing’ Money does not promise happiness, but without it, the person’s loses everything is violated by external powers in every aspect of ones life Living in a poor housing & living conditions Facing Health problems & mounting costs Alcohol and drug abuse Relationship breakdowns (social exclusion from any relationship) Violence and crime; physical insecurity Helpless in the face of unfair and humiliating treatments of others; looked down upon, despised

7 Individualistic explanations for why one is in Poverty
Being born into an impoverished family (low-educated parents or no parents at all) Neighbourhood environment: Affiliation with gangster crime and violence (e.g. low-rank gangster, pick-pockets) Incapable to find a better-paying job, and being in stereotypical jobs of earning low income (e.g. retired boxer, artist, musician, service sector work) Naively followed childhood dreams Unemployment, business failure due to large economic downturn (IMF)

8 Poverty is a matter of self-pride
Bearing scars upon strong pride → Fighting for pride Weak, reckless and helpless (e.g. physically challenged, illness) Too naive and too good in heart to survive in competitive setting Aggressive or violent Incapable of managing economic of the household Unable to protect ones children from physical harms

9 How one should escape poverty : Hard work of the individual
ex) ‘The Game’ Realizing ones aspiration comes to mean nothing if it does not accompany economic success, which brings social respect and living security. In turn, aspiration becomes practicality “Glove is the only means for a fair fight. Boxing is neither difficult nor easy. Only the hard-working one can win victory.” ‘I might be the world champion.’

10 Shaming of Poverty in Film
Focus on the individual’s capacity in bringing economic success and failure = Placing emphasis on individual’s responsibility to earn back pride through finding ones way out of the situation = Blaming the people for falling into poverty Attaching social values to wealth, as if it is the ultimate and the only means to restore ones pride and living as a whole Poverty and any signifiers of poverty are automatically associated with loss of pride & shame

11 Summary ★ Focus on each individuals’ life stories – Individual’s capacity and effort coming across as the only means of escaping poverty – Loss of pride (self-esteem), and everything else that is dear to oneself (e.g. family ties, friendship, aspirations, social respect) ★ Pursuit of the individuals is earning back their pride – To fight and win over an unavoidable battle to gain back the lost face in the hopes of restoring ones life as a whole

12 About the Research Film analysis as a case study for understanding the cultural perception of poverty within South Korea Sampling : South Korean popular films that - Featured poverty to a significant degree - Most widely watched films at the cinema - Produced between 1970s – 2000s 35 Films / 1600 film synopses Today : 10 Contemporary Films (2001 – 2010)

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