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date: 01 October 2022

Race, Ethnicity, and Nation in Selected Contemporary South Korean Television Genreslocked

Race, Ethnicity, and Nation in Selected Contemporary South Korean Television Genreslocked

  • Ji-Hyun AhnJi-Hyun AhnDepartment of Culture, Arts, and Communication, University of Washington Tacoma


The myth of a “single ethnic nation” has long held sway in South Korean society. A recent trend of global migration since the 1980s, however, has caused this powerful myth to become outdated, with a shift toward imagining a new national identity as a global and multicultural Korea. This shift has been largely associated with Korean media culture, which is fitting because media do not simply reflect but, rather, simultaneously construct and reproduce reality.

Mass media, especially television, make visible and provide vernacular narratives about people whose race and ethnicity differ from those of the viewers. These televisual images make familiar and normalize stereotypes about certain groups by reinforcing repetitive representational patterns. South Korean television has for decades functioned as an effective ideological apparatus for shaping and constructing the national identity. Thus, during the period of industrialization and modernization after the Korean War, the South Korean government leveraged television technology to facilitate modernization efforts while at the same time shaping a particular vision of Koreanness that reinforced the myth of ethnic purity. More recently, as Korean media have become increasingly liberalized and commercialized, Korean television has constructed and produced a multicultural reality through visual representations of foreigners, immigrants, and ethnic Koreans.

Since the turn of the century, so-called “multicultural programs” featuring casts made up primarily of foreign residents and immigrants have become popular on Korean television. The multicultural subjects appear across television genres, including dramas and other entertainment programs, human-interest documentaries, and news coverages. This programming has visualized racial/ethnic differences and produced racialized and gendered discourse on racial/ethnic minorities in Korea. The entertainment shows in particular have incorporated diverse racial/ethnic groups. Thus, in dramas, White people have been preferred and represented as the exemplary cosmopolitan citizens, whereas female marriage migrant characters, mostly from other Asian countries, have been represented as sincere caregivers for Korean families. Notably, multicultural families have appeared much more frequently in human-interest documentaries and infotainment shows in part because they have been especially targeted as subjects of social integration in current multiculturalism policies. Furthermore, multicultural families in which one spouse was from a Western country (and usually White) were framed as “global,” whereas multicultural families in which one spouse was from a less-developed country (particularly in Southeast Asia and Africa) were depicted as in need of help.


  • International/Global Communication

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