[Outlook]Can Seoul create its own culture?Here are the ingredients for today’s recipe: Skinny jeans, Starbucks coffee, clubs in Hongdae, the brunch cafe Suji’s in Itaewon, Boeing sunglasses and a Motorola mobile phone.
Today’s menu is New York style. One eats a freshly baked croissant and drinks a cup of coffee from an espresso machine. In a black suit and a white shirt with a Samsonite suitcase hung over the shoulder, one goes to work reading Time magazine. One checks the Wall Street stock index every now and then. After work, one drinks wine at a wine bar. On weekends, one eats brunch at an outdoor cafe or goes to see a musical.
In central Seoul, many New York-style bars and restaurants are opening. A catering company that offers New York-style party food is doing great.
The U.S. TV series “Sex and the City,” which portrays the life of 30-something single New Yorkers, is very popular in Korea. Have all Seoulites become suddenly cool like Carrie?
Of course, not every Seoulite has adopted the New York lifestyle, expressing luxurious urban taste while enjoying freedom. The unemployment rate is surging among young people in their 20s and even in their 30s. But even for these people, the American lifestyle is a norm.
They go online all day or watch cable channels all day, indulging in chicness presented on the station On Style. When they go out with friends, they might eat noodles for 3,000 won ($3.23) but they drink Starbucks’s caramel macchiato with lots of whipped cream on top for 5,000. That makes them feel stylish.
They are addicted to U.S. TV series and Hollywood movies and observe New York style in them. They absorb American culture every day.
Businessmen also need to become familiar with upscale New York style and culture. They take a course on wine and watch a musical and an opera.
According to Pierre Bourdieu, consumers demonstrate their class, education, capital power and originality by their choices.
Urbanites in Korea are immersed in the fantasy American lifestyle. McDonald’s and Starbucks have become household names in Korea.
If we go back in time, in the 1980s, Koreans enjoyed traditional paintings, traditional folk songs and traditional festivals. When one moved into a new place, the family shared traditional food, such as rice cakes, rice wine, kimchi and tofu, with the neighbors.
Of course, there is no point to draw a clear line between the Korean and the American lifestyle and cry out for nationalism.
There are no clear boundaries between serious sports fans who lose sleep to watch U.S. major league baseball and NBA basketball games and the Red Devils, the supporters of the Korean national soccer team. In their daily life, there are no distinct boundaries between countries or people. Korea has become a hybrid.
Just one thing: One wonders if Seoulites feel they are New Yorkers when they eat brunch in a cafe in Cheongdamdong.
In an article introducing a cafe, a woman in her 20s says, “I feel cool when I’m eating brunch in the midst of foreigners. It sounds better and feels better to say, ‘Let’s have brunch’ than ‘Let’s have lunch’.”
However, just doing what someone else is doing is not good enough to create urban chicness. To wear brand-name clothes and follow fashion does not make a person refined with high culture.
Korean young people appear to identify themselves with someone else on a very superficial and fragile level, creating a new type of culture. The number of Korean students studying abroad surpassed 150,000. Others travel overseas with backpacks or stay abroad for a while to learn a foreign language. Many people on the street in Korea are wearing shirts that read “I Love NY.”
Is there a way to create one’s distinctive culture without subordinating to global capital? In metropolitan Seoul, what is the creative fashion style?
I hope that Koreans will create an active and unique culture of their own.
*The writer is a professor of Korean literature at Pyeongtaek University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Yong-hee