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Cultures in all societies develop over time and family values are one part of a society’s culture that has always been intriguing for me. So many factors can impact the way in which family values develop and there are many different ways in which you can see a reflection of that. In order to have a meaningful discussion about the modern family we have to dive into the history of Korean family values first and some of the biggest factors that have altered culture. I will discuss the history of this from the Confucian values, how the Korean War made massive impacts and how that leads us to Modern Korea. This brings me to the main question for this essay. Globalization has been the most influential factor in the changing structure of Korean Families. I want to explore how this has been represented in pop culture. In my opinion, pop culture really is a very good representation of how Korean family values have changed over the years and how it is affecting societies. Media forms and pop culture make people ask the hardest questions about their societies.
To begin with we need a good starting point for our historical context. For the purpose of this paper, I have decided in unimportant to focus on the specificities when one would usually have this information for historical writings. For the purpose of this research, history only plays a part in understanding traditional cultures. This being said, what we can deem traditional for this purpose spans over a very large time period. Until the dawn of the twentieth century, Korea existed as the Chosun Dynasty. This dynasty was, in most part, a society built on the ideals of Confucianism. Furthermore, even past this point into Japanese colonial rule, we can still say that this was the main ideology and culture in Korea. Put shortly, for the purpose of this study I will take a look at this period as though it were one era of traditional Korean culture.
The main culture that is visible from any standpoint on traditional Korean family culture and structure is that of the patriarchal household. Men in Korea traditionally benefited from this “men first” family culture. One example from early traditional family cultures is the belief that family was to be handled as a benevolent monarchy, which the eldest male was the head of the household. Clearly, the segregation culture would have created interesting dynamics within families. Continuing on from this theme, “under the old family system parents arranged marriages without the consent of their children, either female or male”. This makes it very clear that in Korea family cultures were influenced by the agricultural nature of their society. In urban societies, much like South Korea today, such strict family structures would not be sustainable for families. One last example of traditional family culture is that in Korean Households the elderly are taken care of by their family. Although in recent years this has become quite the heated debate in Korea.
Moving on, after Japanese colonial ruled another wave of influence was spread around South Korea in the form of US intervention. However, let me begin this part of our discussion with a brief word on the nature of war and its effects. For anyone that has studied war or been a part of it, it comes as basic knowledge that war separates and destroys families. In the case of the Korean civil war, we can say that this was even more amplified since it was a war based on ideological disagreements in Korean society.
As with wars of this nature, families have to pick sides and it’s not always the same one. As Americans, we can somewhat relate to this political tension in our modern day settings. Right-wing politics vs. left-wing politics, I know from personal experience that during our most recent election families were also torn apart. Furthermore, another obvious assessment of war would be that of casualties. This directly relates to how the family structure in Korea was impacted and evolved. A whole new generation of women and children that were left husbandless and fatherless was created. With that in mind, Korea also underwent very rapid modernization during this time as well. For me, there is a clear relationship between this and the rise of more independence for woman in Korea.
Korea is a country that went through the process of rapid modernization, today it is one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world. Their industry is dominated by a group of companies called the Chaebol which are some of the biggest multinational companies. All of this success is in part due to the effect that globalization had on the country. So many changes came to Korean Society with this shift. Nonetheless, after the Korean War, it is clear that the most significant steps towards modernization were taken. In addition, this process, from that point, has had the largest impact on the Korean household.
Industrialization, as a result of initial globalization pressure, changed the landscape in how people lived. People quickly began moving into cities and with that change large family households was shortly eradicated from familial cultures. Furthermore, ideological changes leaned South Korean society away from patriarchal familism in favor of democratic ideas about individualism. Lastly, with the growing influence of the USA in South Korea, we also see a clear relationship between the growth of Christianity. Naturally, this caused tension between the different ideas of familial that traditional Korean ideologies taught and, the ones that came with the different forms of Christianity. In general, there was the spread of Christianity, modern law, the popularization of modern education, urbanization and institutionalization as a result of globalization. This leads us into the world of mass media and pop culture we live in today.
The rapid modernization of Korean technology has resulted in families spending more time than ever interacting with some form of media. With about 98.5% of South Korean households owning a TV, it’s safe to say that tech culture is highly prevalent. There are many studies that show “That television, as a medium, exerts the strongest influence on people’s everyday lives”. Considering there is such a high penetration of TV media into the Korean market, this argument carries quite a bit of weight (Korea). With Korean media having so many foreign influences (specifically western), the lifestyles represented are often bound to conflict with many of the traditional aspects of the Korean family structure. When consistently subjected to this form of influence, it “may elicit certain audience behaviors”. Now many of these behaviors may just be purchasing activity, however, it’s unlikely and unfounded that the influence would just end there. For example, with the rise of K-pop in Korea, more and more women are taking on non-traditional roles by working in the industry. Furthermore, these same women are portraying non-traditional roles on screen. Each of these examples acts against the traditional patriarchal household from two different directions, one being removing women from constrictive roles and two by widely portraying them in non-traditional roles. Although the rise of K-pop and Hallyu might not seem like closely tied to family structures the complex relationship between family values, globalization, and the media is an undeniable one.
The Handmaiden – This movie is one of the first very famous films about homosexuality in Korea. It is highly sexual and clearly explores some more “deviant” acts and fantasies (Korea). The film was widely popular and maid 37.7 million in the box office. The fact that this film could even gain such popularity indicates a changing atmosphere. While this certainly is not a family movie, it is exploring different roles for women that traditionally would not be accepted. Traditionally women are expected to marry a man and to work and/or take on household duties. Men as well have expected duties and that is to work hard and provide for their families. Alongside the increasing representation of LGBT persons in the media, Korea is also seeing a rise in LGBT movements. The Pride Parade in Seoul this year had roughly 120K people in attendance. Smaller pride parades also took place in other cities around Korea. The parades, of course, receive certain levels of publicity in the media which further disseminates the movement.
Another example of media influence on family culture would be the song I Don’t Need A Man by Miss A. The name is pretty explanatory, as the song is about how they are fully capable of taking care of themselves without the help of a man. The song also mentions how they do need the financial aid of their parents either. Feminism is a highly contested movement in Korea as the traditional culture is highly patriarchal with very misogynistic tendencies. It is songs like this one that again, act against traditional roles in two ways. One being women having a non-traditional, independent career and also singing about a non-traditional perspective on relationships.
Although there has been a very rapid cultural change for families in Korea there is still a significant part that still remains traditional. The main example of where traditional Korean family structure still remains is in the patriarchal nature of their society. The Korean family still maintains a male house head. Even in the face of the massive presence and grip that media, and globalization, has on South Korean society. The structure of the family remains with peripheral changes for the most part. As a result, Confucian values that have shaped Korean culture is still a great force in Korea.
Finally, I come to my own feelings after researching the evolution of Korean family values and structures. Firstly, I like the way that traditional Korean cultures have been able to be maintained by families. With so much western influence and pressure, I thought for that we would only be able to see tiny remnants of it. Furthermore, I also found it so interesting that even under Japanese colonial rule Korea was able to resist cultural change. This made me think about the possibilities of why they did not adapt to all the Japanese ideas that were being forced on them. In the end, it seemed fairly obvious that it was the forced nature of Japanese influence. With the US people in South Korea were happy to allow outside influence into their societies because it came from a much more positive place.
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