I don’t want to be a part of it, New YorkEarlier this year I was huffing and puffing toward a brunch place on a Saturday afternoon. It was 2 p.m., and my poor friends had been waiting for me since midday. They were already sipping their third cups of coffee and had begun to send me frantic text messages every 10 minutes to ask where I was. Of course, I had got stuck in traffic as I was heading to their hip new brunch place in upscale southern Seoul.
My poor excuse for being unfashionably tardy was that I did not want to break my habit of sleeping until late on Saturdays. And isn’t that the point of weekend brunch, to enjoy a leisurely meal after a long morning sleep? Well, not on this occassion, which took place back when weekend brunch had only just become hot among so-called trendsetters. Sadly, my definition of brunch as a leisurely, casual affair was not accepted by the majority.
The moment I finally arrived at the brunch place, I could see that I was the only one in a simple outfit. Everyone else obviously wanted to be the four gal friends from “Sex and the City,” and had come dressed in their best clothes. One big element of this brunch fad is New York ― and “Sex and the City” could be the best publicity material ever produced for the Big Apple. Inspired by Carrie Bradshaw and all her friends, trendsetters now treat brunch as a ritual in which they must look hip in a New York kind of way as they photograph the food and each other while they eat their New York-style brunch.
I was reminded of this brunch anecdote after watching a TV commercial for a kimchi refrigerator the other day. It featured a handsome actor providing his expatriate friends with a perfect New York-style brunch using the refrigerator. In my simple Seoul fashion I cannot understand how a kimchi refrigerator made a good fit with a Manhattan brunch, but this New York element now seems to be a must-have for any TV commercial that wants presitige. This kimchi refrigerator is not alone in using the New York element. Another TV commercial features an online shopping mall and a young hotshot saying, “I don’t miss New York anymore,” all because he has that Web site that has made-in-New York products for sale. Recently, there was also a cell phone commercial that seemed a little controversial because it juxtaposed a hotshot man labeled “New York” and a shabby-looking guy labelled “Southeast Asia.” Well, what’s wrong with Southeast Asia? I love Southeast Asia as much as I like New York. Isn’t it just a little bit superficial to equate New York with everything cool and want-to-be? What’s more frustrating is that the New York element sells like crazy here, especially on TV. I love the Big Apple, but not the Big Apple on Korean TV commercials and shows.
It’s not just TV commercials that have fallen into a New York state of mind. Turn on the cable TV channel On Style, whose show “Style Magazine” airs at 10:30 on Saturday nights followed by many reruns. It constantly talks about “hip” and “New York-style” in the same breath. The emcee, TV actress Lee Seung-yeon, seems to cry out constantly, “Oh, this is the New Yorker style.” as if that is the only kind of style worth having in this big, wide world.
I guess I’m too lazy and too Seoul to be true to the New York style, because, even in New York, I have refused to buy anything that carries the “I Love New York” logo. This is just one of my strange foibles, and I’m proud of it. One of my New York memories is a moment when a middle-aged woman I had never met before grabbed me by the arm and said “Watch out, young lady. A young woman was murdered here last night.” Still, you cannot avoid New York in Seoul, especially on a TV screen. The city is everywhere. This may seem like a random thought, but looking at TV commercials takes up a lot of anyone’s time when they watch TV. I’m hoping that, some time soon, Seoul will be chosen to represent style more frequently than New York.
by chun su jin