[Viewpoint] Dramas that do not reflect life

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[Viewpoint] Dramas that do not reflect life

Three major television networks are engaged in an intense contest involving three new drama series on Monday and Tuesday nights. They offer a variety of episodes for viewers who are more or less confined to warm living rooms due to the recent unusual cold weather and heavy snowfall.

But the ratings competition has forced the networks to try hard to attract larger audiences.

MBC’s romance-comedy series “Pasta,” staged in a kitchen of an Italian restaurant, opens with the line, “Your cooking is better than sex.” Of course, this kind of explicit talk may be trifling considering viewers are already used to frequent sexual references whenever teenage female stars and singers are mentioned on TV.

Drama often mirrors the desires of reality.

But more worrisome is the front-runner in the ratings race. KBS’s “The God of Study” is based on a Japanese animation series, revolving around the struggle of rebellious underprivileged high school kids training to get into elite universities. The drama has become an instant hit with middle and high school teenagers and parents. The life on the screen provides an outlet for our innate desires and fantasies. But let us come down to earth for a moment.

For a public broadcasting network to proffer a secret formula to send students to prestigious universities for entertainment purposes and at the same time deliver a “decisive solution” to quell the education frenzy is distasteful.

The drama, which stars popular teen stars in order to target a young audience, preaches that in order not to be stepped on, the students must be rule-makers. To become someone who makes the rules, he or she needs a degree from an elite university. The school sets up a special classroom devoted to sending kids to selective colleges, suggesting that is the answer to public education problems.

But the drama hides the uncomfortable true picture of our society. It pushes away the harsh reality of wealth’s equation with education to instead feed the illusory hope that anyone who tries hard can get into elite universities. A study by a state-run think tank found an upward spiral in private spending to educate children and warned that if this keeps up, the poverty cycle may persist because students without private education will find it harder to enter college. Yet the drama plays the old-fashioned theme that where there’s a will, there’s a way.

A collective obsession with success can paralyze human society. We’ve seen the fallout from a society swelling with winners. The pie has gotten bigger and workers with an annual salary over 100 million won exceed 100,000. But they are no match to the jobless who top 4 million. There are over 4 million underage people obliged to pay real estate taxes, but tens of thousands of children go without a decent meal a day.

Our enchantment with the flowery rhetoric of neoliberalism now weighs heavily on the shoulders of the younger generation. The young were led up the garden path to believe that their future will be guaranteed once they get into universities. But they soon learn the grim reality of a slim job market. They face fierce competition.

Young love and sentimentalism have long been luxuries. The older generation feels pity and remorse more than contempt for the younger generation, which places individual happiness and achievement over social or community gains. They live richer yet hollower lives.

A society is like a living organism. If the heart can only pump blood to the head, the body will slowly die. Eighty percent of society is still hungry. A society’s happiness does not come from competition and prosperity, as we have learned the hard way.

We must revive the values of distribution and coexistence.

Ed Diener, an expert on happiness, advises that psychological wealth, rather than financial wealth, will bring happiness and help people overcome tough times. Life’s pleasant moments come from interaction with people and meaningful activities, not from goods and luxuries.

We too should re-evaluate ourselves and seek to replace growth and competition in order to build psychological wealth. Our society must provide more than one path for the upper crust and underprivileged to pursue happiness. Then nobody will sit around to watch how to be the God of Study in order to succeed.

*The writer is a professor in the visual media department at Seoul Women’s University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Mi-ra
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