Progressive TV Shows in South Korea

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Why I love South Korean TV shows such as I Live Alone, Fun Restaurant, and At Work Today

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South Korea TV Shows Are AwesomePhoto by Ciaran O'Brien courtesy of Unsplash

You might think that K-pop is the best export out of South Korea. Don’t get me wrong, I love BTS, MonstaX, BlackPink, and so many more groups and singers. In fact, it was their YouTube videos and the subsequent YouTube algorithm that led me to discover South Korean TV shows such as I Live Alone, Fun Staurant, and At Work Today.

Now, I’m addicted to these TV shows.

What I love about these TV shows is how they give you a slice of life without using conflict as the central driving force.

My favorite show is I Live Alone. Each week, two celebrities, established and up-coming, reveal a day or two in their life. It starts out in the morning, when they first wake up: getting out of bed, what they eat for breakfast, and the various chores and tasks that they do throughout the day. The show is always filmed during a day-off for the celebrity, so it’s more focused on their home life rather than their career.

The TV show only films people who live alone, and it features celebrities of various ages from their early twenties to celebrities in their 50’s and 60’s. I LOVE this show. Mainly because of how it normalizes living alone and how normal public figures are. They’re just like us. Sometimes they have fancier apartments and clothes. Sometimes they shower or don’t shower. Sometimes they like to eat weird things. But they confront some of the same challenges that we do, and they experience moments of happiness and loneliness like everyone else. What this show exposes is that everyone has feelings and that it’s quite normal to want to be with others but also be by ourselves. For a traditional culture that focuses on marriage and having children, this show is extremely progressive. By existing, it normalizes single life and the struggles that we all face in a non-judgmental way.

I also love the TV show Fun Restaurant. Each week, four or five celebrities compete to make a dish that can be sold in mass as a to-go container at a convenience store. Some of the celebrities cook at their own house and some celebrities do research at other restaurants or with experts. Each week, the celebrities cook based on a theme or a particular item such as rice or snacks for drinking. When it is a food item such as rice or sweet potato, it’s usually given attention because demand is falling and farmers are struggling to sell that item. The show takes input from the farming industry. In this way, audiences can have a broader understanding of trade and what’s happening within the country without having to see it on the news. What’s more, audiences can have a better understanding and relation to where their food comes from. For instance, if farmers in South Korea can no longer sell rice at a liveable wage and stop growing rice, then most rice will be imported from another country. In this way, an audience member doesn’t have to learn economics to understand why certain items are imported and why certain items are exported. Education is built into the TV show itself.

Furthermore, a percentage of proceeds from the sales of the winning dish is donated to charities and institutions that support child nutrition. I think this show is a perfect way to demonstrate how different sectors and businesses can work together in partnership with the entertainment industry.

Lastly, another new favorite show is At Work Today. Each week, the segment focuses on three of four different graduates and what they each do. Sometimes it’s a South Korean truck driver in the US, a tire designer, a K-pop stylist, or a model. Sometimes it’s a food taster or an engineer. The show covers a nice variety of different vocations that gives viewers a broad view of what’s possible for them. It also destigmatizes certain vocations and makes each look cool and worthy in their own way.

In the US, sometimes workers in the food industry are considered “low-skill workers.” In fact, the new mayor of NYC, Eric Adams, offended the restaurant community by calling cooks and dishwashers “low-skilled” workers (as reported by GrubStreet). A TV show such as At Work Today demonstrates the importance of all workers, no matter what they do and what their salaries are, which evokes the question, why are certain jobs more valued than others?

There are definitely problematic TV shows in South Korea, but the fact that these three shows exist at all, on major networks in South Korea, indicates that there is a willingness to create entertainment for a different spectrum of audiences.

As a writer and filmmaker who has pitched to executives, I was told repeatedly that people only want to see conflict. These executives would cite their data without a willingness to concede that if they created new shows without conflict, there could be data that proves that audiences also enjoy slice of life, happy, and educational tv programs.

All three of these shows indicate an openness for aspects of life that have been traditionally stigmatized. I think they also motivate and inspire me to be authentic to myself without having to make myself palatable to others.

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Hello! I'm a narrative filmmaker in NYC. These are my private diaries. I write about mental health, childhood trauma & dysfunctional family systems. Come along on my journey as I grow as a person, heal, and pursue my dreams of being a storyteller. I'd appreciate your support! https://www.patreon.com/filmmakerdiaries

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