Cheongdam International High School, which charges 100 million won in annual tuition, is not for the faint of heart. Seeing parents from the lower class opposing the operation of the ‘aristocratic school,’ students at the school say. “Why don’t you let your kids go to our school too, they’ll love it.” Students scoff at a “commoner” tutor who says it’s a waste of money to buy a 5 million won bag. “My mom told me that people in Korea look down on people who don’t have what they want, especially the poor.”
This is a scene from the 10-episode drama “Cheongdam International High School,” which was released on online video service (OTT) Wave and Netflix on March 31. It’s a story about Hye-in (Lee Eun-sam), a “dirtbag,” and Jena (Kim Ye-rim), a “royalty” at an “aristocratic school,” who become entangled as witnesses and suspects in a murder. While there have always been cram schools where children are divided by their parents’ wealth, such as (KBS2) and (SBS), it has recently been pointed out that the dialogues and situations are more blatantly portraying ‘poverty as shameful’. Last year’s “Gold Cutlery” (MBC) also featured a setting in which the protagonist used a ‘gold cutlery’ with mysterious powers to swap her poor parents for her rich friend’s parents.
not only defines ‘earthen spoons’ and envies ‘aristocrats’, but also divides classes by saying that they are “different from birth”. Aside from the violence against the ‘dirtbags’ who were admitted as special students, saying that “being poor is a sin in itself,” their friends usually stay away from them if they are known to be in a lower class. When Hye-in pretends to be a ‘gold digger’ by accidentally posting someone else’s luxury bag on social media, she is told, “You’re a gold digger, you’re a low-class person, say it straight.” In this drama, poverty is portrayed as something to be ashamed of.
A producer of a youth drama about the gap between the rich and the poor said, “In the past, dramas that dealt with the gap between the rich and the poor featured characters who lived strongly in difficult environments, but in recent years, dramas have become more and more about instilling in the viewer the perception that poverty is a sin. It seems to be a phenomenon that occurs when the gap between the rich and poor is shown to an extreme for the sake of impressiveness.” A drama writer with experience in youth-themed works said, “The expression ‘dirtbag’ is heartbreaking because the word itself includes the parents’ situation. I hope that dramas featuring teens and twentysomethings will be more careful with their words, considering the hurt that viewers in similar situations will feel.”
<The Queen of Masks. Courtesy of the channel
Poverty isn’t the only setting that’s “crossing the line” as drama competition heats up. Disability and illness are also on the rise. Recently, “Dr. Cha Jung Sook” (JTBC) received complaints from viewers for misrepresenting Crohn’s disease. In the current drama Queen of Masks (Channel A), the main character Joo Yoo-jung (Shin Eun-jung), who has an uncomfortable leg due to the after-effects of polio, becomes angry when she learns about a man’s personal life before her wedding. The man says to Joo Yoo-jung, who is pregnant. “I don’t have to marry you, I can always marry a woman with a normal body. Go home and have a good time giving birth안전놀이터, and I don’t want another Mojiri like you to be born.” A female viewer in her 50s with a crippled leg from polio said, “At first, I was surprised that the main character had a crippled leg, but later on, I felt bad that she used it to get beaten up by bad men and thanked the men who loved her. It’s like they’re telling me that I shouldn’t do that, because I’m living my life proudly and well.”
. More TCO, courtesy of ContentOn
Some settings take history too far. The movie “Wolf Hunt” (coming in 2022), which Netflix released last month, presents victims of forced labor during the Japanese occupation as “monsters”. In the gore-filled movie, a forced laborer is experimented on by the Japanese military during the Pacific War in 1943 and is transformed into an “Alpha,” a human weapon mixed with the power of a wolf. Alpha’s indiscriminate and extreme violence, fueled by post-traumatic stress syndrome, leads him to kill without distinction between good and evil. Many viewers who watched the movie said, “There are real victims of forced labor, but the setting of showing them as monsters and killing everyone is unnecessary and meaningless.
Last year’s “Weak Hero Class 1” (Wave) controversially featured a scene in which a politician told an openly adopted child, “You’re not a good seed,” or “I’m going to kill you as soon as you arrive in the Philippines,” among other things. “Media portrayals have a huge impact on the image of adoption,” says Kim Ji-young, secretary general of the National Federation of Adoptive Families. The wrong direction can hurt adoptees and create prejudice against adoption,” said Kim.
While some argue that dramas reflect reality and that misguided desires are real, others say that using them in dramas just because they can is a breach of professional ethics. “Dramas don’t necessarily have to give a message, but when dramatizing settings such as historical victims, disease, and poverty, they should keep in mind that someone might get sick and consider whether it is necessary,” said Jung Deok-hyun, a pop culture critic.