Media Mix, Oct. 2, 2021

Scene from D.P.

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about bullying and abuse in the South Korean military and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. As pointed out in the column, all militaries throughout the world have this problem, and though it isn’t necessarily covered up in Japan, the severity of the problem may be. The reason I mentioned the Netflix drama D.P. is that it shows how popular culture in South Korea addresses the problem in a very direct and accessible way. The same is true in the U.S. (think of movies like Jarhead). I can’t imagine a Japanese TV drama or even movie doing the same thing with regard to the SDF, though part of the reason has mainly to do with what I see as complacency. The Japanese public doesn’t seem to be that interested in the SDF or what happens within its ranks. South Koreans do simply because of the draft and the threat of North Korea, but their movie and TV industries are also more developed and thriving than Japan’s, and they confront social problems as a matter of course. The worldwide popularity of Squid Game isn’t just due to the violence and gore inherent in its bizarre premise. Though it’s total fantasy, the show gets at the heart of the wealth gap in South Korea and how it has twisted society, and this theme, I believe, resonates in other countries even if the specific plot points that deliver the theme are peculiar to South Korea. D.P. does something similar and, in my mind, is a better series, not so much because, as Miran Tanaka says in the article I cite, it’s realistic. Actually, it doesn’t seem that realistic since its entertainment requirements call for lots of thrills and complex detective work. What makes it relevant is the idea that military culture brings out whatever cruelties are latent in male personalities, and that it isn’t an unfortunate side effect. It’s on purpose, because the goal of military service is to prepare men to kill if necessary. At one point in D.P., the lead character says as much, except he’s not talking about killing a theoretical enemy, but rather a flesh-and-blood comrade who has become a monster under such circumstances. The genius of D.P. is the way it shows how this attitude ripples out into the larger society with dire consequences. These kinds of themes are very common in South Korean movies and TV shows, and while certain directors deal with them directly, most incoporate them into works that are ostensibly entertainments. As I said near the end of the column, D.P. is filled with exciting chases and fight scenes. In that regard, Squid Game and even Parasite are not exceptions. They’re representative of what South Korean narrative art regularly delivers because, we have to assume, it’s what South Korean audiences demand. 

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