Korean Drama: where the queer crossroads go
Lee Ye-jin
Queer media representation in Korea is reaching its peak in the 2020s and is expected to continue to rise in the coming years. But while the entertainment industry capitalizes on the popularity of homosexual erotica, wider Korean society protests against anti-discrimination laws and openly expresses homophobia. Queer identities introduced in the public domain are thereby accompanied by a mix of expectations and misgivings. Despite the positive trend toward increased visibility, Korean media still relies on superficial and conventional depictions of queer characters; it needs to achieve a deeper understanding of queer lives, identities, and relationships for a more authentic representation of queer dynamic. For this to occur, Korean creators must understand the scope of representation of queer relationships, and hard as it might be in a rigidly heterosexual system, try to overcome the stigma and censure surrounding queer relationships to broaden the spectrums of identity. Extraordinary Attorney Woo and Run On are two prominent dramas that show important shifts in the portrayal of queer relationships. Wowing Attorney Woo: Going Beyond Plot Twists In Korean media, arguments for non-heterosexual relationships often revolve around the conventions of heterosexual romance. Many, if not most, of the popular shows depict a romantic relationship between two people of the same perceived gender. They intentionally draw upon the common ground of monogamous love, arguing that partners of same-sex relationships have similar desires for relationships and marriage. It feels like the only difference between these queer relationships is that the participants of the romance are either two men or two women. A more authentic portrayal of queer relationships would provide alternatives to heterosexual marriage and even convey the actual difficulties surrounding non-heterosexual marriage. Extraordinary Attorney Woo (2022) focuses on queer relationships as a politically controversial issue foremost, depicting same-sex couples and marriage from a legal standpoint. This Netflix original hit follows Attorney Woo, an autistic lawyer in a Korean law firm, and the different legal issues she deals with in each episode. It features Park Eun-bin as Woo Young-woo, a rookie attorney with autism, employed by a prominent Seoul law firm. Despite her unique communication style, which is perceived as unconventional by her neurotypical colleagues,Woo proves herself through her exceptional intelligence and photographic memory. The drama was well-received for its sharp depiction of social issues since it addressed topical issues such as discrimination against people with disabilities, children's rights, gender-based violence, and discrimination against women in the workforce. The drama’s second episode, titled “The Wedding Dress That Slipped Off," deals with marriage laws and heteronormative expectations. In its climax, the episode reveals a plot twist where the engaged legal client Kim Hwa-young, is revealed to be in a long-term, same-sex relationship. At a luxurious wedding organized by a hotel corporation, the bride Hwa-young’s dress slips down when she stumbles, exposing herself. Her father, who arranged the wedding for financial gain, hires Woo’s firm to sue the hotel instead of accepting their compensation. The man pretends to be enraged on his daughter’s behalf, but he just wants more money out of this legal mess. Hwa-young, the actual victim, is unsatisfied and sullen about the whole matter, but it seems like her unenthusiastic attitude toward the wedding is hiding something else. The episode ends dramatically with Hwa-young withdrawing from the lawsuit and declaring independence from her father by announcing that she has a long-term romantic relationship with her girlfriend, Jung Min. While the show successfully served as an entry point for many Korean spectators into queer relationships, boasting the highest viewing rate of 17.5 percent, its discussion of queerness lacks depth. Primarily, it presents a same-sex relationship as merely an alternative to the heteronormative marriage narrative. Each episode, serving as a secondary plot to the overarching legal drama, misses the opportunity to delve into the intricate court rulings surrounding same-sex marriage rights. Instead, the series places the obligated marriage and the indignant father at the forefront of its narrative. Moreover, the show weaves in heterosexual romantic tension between Attorney Woo and her love interest even in this episode centered on queer individuals. Their legal struggles merely serve as the backdrop to the progression of Woo and her love interest’s relationship; the subplot of marriage becomes a convenient vehicle for Woo’s male love interest to see Woo in a wedding dress. Through this tactic, the narrative cleverly draws comparisons between the heterosexual tension of the protagonists and the queer relationship of their client. After withdrawing a lawsuit due to the catastrophic failure of an arranged marriage ceremony, the ex-bride declares, “If I had to marry someone... It’ll be with her. With the person I love.” Two minutes later, the legal episode concludes with the couple slowly exiting the courtroom, their hand-in-hand walk resembling a wedding march. However, I find that this march, while symbolically powerful, replaces—rather than presenting more possibilities departing from—a heterosexually coded processional. Further, Extraordinary Attorney Woo spotlights same-sex relationships primarily as a legal and societal issue. Famed for its portrayal of controversial issues, the drama only handles homosexual relationships as a final plot twist. In Korean society, where rampant homophobia and the legal erasure of queer identities persist, same-sex marriages are indeed a controversial legal issue. Instances of homophobic protests against queer characters in other dramas further highlight the challenges. Considering these voices of opposition, it seems valid for Extraordinary Attorney Woo to focus on the legal and societal dimensions of same-sex relationships, particularly in the context of the father's religious expectations and greed in forcing the arranged marriage. The drama sheds light on factors contributing to the oppression of queer women and expresses hope for the bride's independence from her relatives. However, the depiction leaves me wishing for further attempts to center a queer narrative. While the drama effectively reveals the social stigma against queer identities and provides alternatives to heterosexual marriage, queerness is used for its shock value—a plot twist for the viewers. The frequent naming of queerness at the beginning of several episodes reinforces the notion that queer relationships are mere novelties. The attorneys' frequent use of "wow" and "extraordinary" following the bride's momentous coming out scene reflects the drama's agenda. It is attempting to toe the line by refraining from saying anything radically progressive and coaxing the audience to cheer for this new type of romance. So how could this be improved? Well, for instance, more information could be given about Jung Min, the partner, to give the queer plot more depth. Drawing on the courtroom drama genre, the show could have further explored the current legal standing of queer relationships, rather than just using queerness as a ‘controversy' to add an element of surprise. The legal struggles that occur in reality could have been included in the plot, with each case facing uncertainty about whether the court rule will recognize same-sex relationships. While the drama brings same-sex relationships into the marriage discourse, portraying the couple’s struggles before or after the bride’s coming out would have brought the drama closer to the true struggles of being queer. Running Onward: To a Nuanced Representation A hint of how more nuanced representations could be encouraged lies in Run On, a JTBC love drama that aired from 2020 to 2021. According to the show’s official introduction, the characters “find love and comfort that may not be passionate or intense.” The plot revolves around two main heterosexual couples but goes beyond heteronormative conventions. The first main couple is Ki Seon-gyeom, a marathon-runner-turned-agent who is disenfranchised about his regimented life, and Oh Mi-joo, a subtitle writer who challenges any sympathy regarding her background as an orphan. The second couple is Seo Dan-ah, Seon-gyeom’s ambitious agent challenging her patriarchal family, and Lee Yeong-hwa, a dedicated art student. This drama successfully resists the temptation to tokenize queer identities by allowing these characters to exist authentically within the storyline. While Extraordinary Attorney Woo challenges heterosexual assumptions with its plot twist, Run On questions and destabilizes these assumptions with sufficient character development and exploration. It introduces queer supporting characters, such as Go Yae-joon, a gay childhood friend of Yeong-hwa (the artist), and Park Mae-yi, an asexual character who appears as Mi-joo’s mentor (the translator). These diverse character settings and relationships challenge heteronormative relationships. Though it is not free of flaws—as it was criticized for queerbaiting—, Run On largely explores the complexities of identities and relationships by urging viewers to question fixed stereotypes in romantic narratives. Mae-yi, though a minor character in the overall plot, plays a crucial role as a friend and housemate to the female lead. She boldly presents her sexuality, challenging heterosexual norms with a nonchalant attitude. While she identifies as arosexual (experiencing little to no sexual attraction), she is not aromantic (experiencing little to no romantic attraction). When the main characters discover her romantic relationship, Seon-gyeom poses a question that confuses the aro and ace spectrum, asking why, as an asexual, she is in a relationship or kissing. Mae-yi's simple response is, “Oh, I’m not aromantic.” To the confused Seong-yeom, Mi-joo explains: “Y’know, the spectrum is really broad.” She accompanies this remark with a quick look, asking her lover to take a hint and try not to be rude. I was pleasantly surprised by this, as there has been minimal recognition in Korean society for the meanings of the aro and ace identities, and even fewer instances in the media correctly identifying each aspect. This scene matter-of-factly presents the idea of gender as a spectrum, firmly asserting that heterosexual audiences should not have been surprised. Despite this insertion of a queer lifestyle, the show has not escaped unscathed from criticisms of heteronormative clichés. Mae-yi is, after all, a short-lived character. Much of the show’s flaws come from the portrayal of a more prominent gay character, Go Yae-joon, the third wheel in Yeong-hwa and Dan-ah’s relationship. Throughout the show, we consistently see scenes where Go Yae-joon is pining after Yeong-hwa, his best friend. However, this is accompanied by cliché queer tropes: we witness as he grapples with his first love, attempts to understand Dan-ah, his rival, and open up to his staunchly Christian mother about his sexuality. Marking an idealistic but important moment in Korean media, Yae-joon’s coming out is received with a gradual acceptance from his friends and family. When his family witnesses his conflict with a past male lover, his mother’s immediate response is a resolute refusal of his identity; she continually says “don’t” and “it couldn’t be,” and even pushes religious homophobic rhetoric like "starting this weekend, you’re coming to church with me." Beside her, his younger sister watches with silent but unmasked sympathy. Yae-joon, who looks resigned but resolute, simply responds to his mother with: “You can deny it all you want, but this is who I am.” Although the mother immediately leaves the scene, she repents “not seeing things properly” and not paying attention to his son. This is immediately followed by the younger sister's finding Yae-joon, making a lighthearted yet meaningful remark that "she likes men as well.” These reactions sketch a sympathetic picture of an imperfect but mending Korean family. While the elder generation struggles with diverse sexualities, they try to come to terms with new identities for the family’s sake. The younger generation finds gender spectrums easier to accept and communicate solidarity. Before I end this section, I must address the concerns of queer-baiting within Run On from a scene where Dan-ah falsely comes out as a lesbian. In many ways, Dan-ah’s coming out process confuses the viewers, as it seems incongruous with her romantic entanglements with Younghwa. Until the last episode, the show does not clarify whether she is a lesbian, a bisexual, or simply someone who must escape a forced marriage. Only in the end is it revealed that Dan-ah falsely came out to escape the patriarchal expectations of her family. (Noting the contrast between Dan-ah’s and Yae-joon’s households, viewers will find the show does not enforce only positive perceptions of the family.) Dan-ah is thus reestablished as an independent heroine with a solidly heterosexual identity. But she does not gloss over her mistake or treat the phrase “coming out” as a meme like many other Koreans. Instead, she apologizes honestly to Yae-joon. “[Coming out] might’ve been a lifelong burden for somebody but I used it as an excuse, so I’m sorry.” Yae-joon only faintly smiles in response. We are left to wonder whether the conflict is fully resolved or whether it is a bittersweet smile. Either way, he does not deny the apology, and he does not easily offer words of forgiveness. The confusion regarding Dan-ah’s coming out, I feel, is in part designed to keep audiences interested in the plot by using the “Will-They-Won't-They” trope in romance. But this is not all the story is trying to do. It also brings heterosexual perspectives into a queerer narrative. In my opinion, Dan-ah’s honest apology in Run On can be interpreted in two ways. It might be directed toward those who have been burdened by the process of coming out. Or it might be a pointed remark about how Korean audiences consume queer-coded relationships, without thinking about the interpersonal conflicts and social repercussions within a queer narrative. After all, the confusion regarding Dan-ah’s sexual identity is something all individuals might go through in societies where spectrums of identities are recognized. While watching this show, I found myself asking the question: Are we entitled to know someone’s sexual identity to enjoy a romance show? Dan-ah might be bisexual or demisexual, for all the audience might know. Run On does not end in marriage, nor does it advertise the need for a romantic relationship for all individuals—it recognizes people with their own complicated stories and identities and leaves parts of these characters unknowable to one another and the audience. Thus, the drama forces the viewer to question fixed stereotypes of affectionate relationships by bringing queer identities and relationships into consideration. Queering the Narrative - Where The Crossroad Leads In analyzing Extraordinary Attorney Woo and Run On, a common theme emerges: the need for a more nuanced portrayal of queer relationships in Korean dramas. Extraordinary Attorney Woo introduces same-sex relationships as plot twists, missing opportunities for deeper exploration. In contrast, Run On subverts heteronormative norms, integrating queer characters organically into the plot. Both dramas underscore the crossroads in Korean media's approach to queer representation, calling for more authentic and nuanced portrayals beyond surface-level entertainment. The inclusion of queer themes in mainstream entertainment reflects a broader societal shift towards acceptance; yet instances of censorship and show cancellations highlight the persistent challenges faced by the queer community. As the future of queer representation unfolds in Korean media, a continued dialogue is crucial. Spectators are entitled to, and should, celebrate positive portrayals of more diverse individuals. But in going forward, we must also critically examine the pitfalls and shortcomings in current depictions. The emphasis lies on moving beyond superficial entertainment to achieve a deeper understanding of queer lives, identities, and relationships. In doing so, Korean shows can create a media landscape that authentically mirrors the richness and diversity of the queer experience.
Annoying ads and problematic products: My opinion on TikTok Shop
Emma Hamrick
“Click the link in bio” is a phrase that no longer exists in the world of TikTok. In September 2023, Gen Z’s favorite social media app unveiled a new way to shop online, and quite literally, shopping has never been easier. With that ease comes a mix of good and bad, though I must admit to some hesitance in using the word “good” to describe TikTok Shop. While TikTok Shop has boosted views for small businesses and increased their profits, long-term success is a rare occurrence. Rather, those who have benefitted from the introduction of this new platform are conglomerates in the fast fashion industry. The structure of TikTok and TikTok Shop has allowed for the platform's impressionable young audience to spend money on shabby products at the touch of a finger. And further still, the incessant waves of advertisements that have flooded the For You Page, drowning out other content, have negatively affected the platform’s user experience. My personal issue with TikTok and TikTok Shop is that they have been abusing the For You Page—the main page of the platform—in order to boost sales. I can’t speak for every TikTok user, but I know that the majority of the time that I spend on the app is just me scrolling past advertisements or videos with product placements. I see ads for countless brands on my For You Page, but there is one that is more frequent than the rest: a brand by the name Bloom Nutrition. This brand sells drink mixes which claim to provide users with nutrients and vitamins, and alleges their concoction can boost gut health, while still tasting good. Bloom Nutrition has hired so many different creators from so many different industries that even those who don’t make health-related content whatsoever have created videos promoting their drink. For instance, in these sponsored videos, the creators could be sharing their thoughts on some upcoming political campaign before making a random and abrupt segue about being thirsty. They would then transition into a shot of them pulling out a glass of water and their Bloom mix to make themselves a drink. This constant and indiscriminate bombardment of Bloom advertisements, of course, annoyed TikTok users, so they had to resort to stealthier tactics. Creators then no longer explicitly talked about the drink; they just subtly placed it somewhere in the background of their video to expose the product to users. It got so crazy that TikTok users started playing a game: “Is this a normal TikTok, or is it a Bloom ad?” An insidious element to all this is the difficulty users have in differentiating normal videos from videos that are glorified advertisements. Sometimes the only way that you can figure out whether a video is an advertisement or not is the tiny “#ad” at the end of their caption or the “Eligible for Commission” sticker above their username. This inconspicuous labeling means that unless you are actively remaining vigilant, you will miss the sign marking the video as an advertisement. Regretfully, I did fall victim to the Bloom trend. As someone who struggles with gut health and has a few nutrient deficiencies, I figured that this drink mix would be a great option for me. I would be able to get all the extra nutrients I needed in just one glass of a—supposedly—delicious drink! But when the product arrived, I was utterly disappointed. I ordered the most popular flavor of the greens mix, only to realize that it was not what everyone had been hyping it up to be. Not only was it hard to stomach because of its…shall we say…interesting… taste, I also saw no changes in my gut health. I soon stopped forcing myself to drink it, and the product has since been sitting on a shelf in my cabinet for months. After my poor experience with the drink, I saw countless other Bloom consumers uploading their videos onto TikTok detailing the same shortcomings. Bloom is a brand that started as a small business then skyrocketed to popularity because of its incessant advertising on TikTok, but this hasn’t always been the case. Many other small businesses have gained a lot of traction through TikTok, but since the app is constantly changing the kinds of content that it promotes, presumably to attain user attention, countless new products are exposed to the public eye every day. As such, a lot of the fame that comes from TikTok virality doesn’t last long. This is especially prevalent if the small business cannot keep up with the influx of new orders or if their products don’t live up to the expectations of the buyers. In the cases where businesses miraculously manage to stay relevant, their social media traction might not necessarily equal sales. A lot of viewers who come across small businesses on TikTok don’t end up purchasing the product. This is because these types of shops tend to have higher prices because their products take much more time and effort to produce, and they can’t achieve the low costs of production large corporations can. Since TikTok’s primary audience is fairly young, a large portion of that demographic would probably opt for cheaper alternatives. To this, TikTok Shop once again enters the equation to solve that issue—well, sort of. TikTok Shop began providing a 30 percent off discount, as well as free shipping, for people’s first orders on the platform. This discount was not introduced solely for the use of small businesses, but it ended up benefiting them immensely. It effectively allows people to purchase those more expensive products sold by small businesses at a lower price, while still providing the sellers with the full value of their product. Though this marketing tactic is great for the short term, it is not so great for the long term. Rather than promoting brands by showing the rationale for purchasing their products, TikTok promotes by telling users to buy the products because of how much they would be saving with the sale. However, the one-time use deal nature of this marketing strategy dissuades any possibility of brand loyalty. After that first purchase, users will have to pay full price for the products from then on out, which is much less appealing to the average user. In fact, now that we are months after the introduction of the discount, small business sales are plateauing and many users are also making this exact realization. The biggest issue that I’ve noticed with the introduction of TikTok Shop is the influx of fast fashion present on the app. Many of the products that have been gaining popularity on TikTok Shop are dupes of famous clothing brands or items that chase the latest clothing trend. Unfortunately, most of those items are produced by fast fashion companies. For a full understanding of TikTok’s involvement in fast fashion, we need to examine TikTok’s app economy before the creation of their shopping platform. Many fashion content creators on TikTok used, and still continue, to use “shopping hauls” as a part of their influencer brand. If you are interested in fashion (like myself), your “For You Page” will likely be covered in videos like that. TikTok’s algorithm, which incentivizes creators to post videos every day to stay relevant, encourages fashion influencers to keep pace with the algorithm through the use of fast fashion. Shopping haul reviews of fast fashion companies like “Shein Haul”, “What I Bought at H&M”, “Uniqlo Lookbook”, and so many other similar titles make up the bulk of fashion content on TikTok. Since these fast fashion giants are the only companies that can keep up with the swift trend cycle of TikTok, many creators rely on fast fashion for new items to review. However, with the introduction of TikTok Shop nowadays, those same video titles from before now read something along the lines of “TikTok Shop Haul”, “What I Bought on TikTok Shop”, “TikTok Shop Lookbook”, etc. This is, of course, still fast fashion that’s just been repackaged with a different title. Fast fashion is not a problem unique to TikTok; it is a problem that has plagued the younger generations since the rise in popularity of brands like Shein, H&M, and Uniqlo. The idea that fast fashion is bad has been circulating for a long time now, but it has not been taken seriously by many. Most consumers know that purchasing clothes from fast fashion companies isn’t the best idea, but a majority choose to ignore that sentiment to get cheaper clothes. Or they might think, “Ordering one more time won't hurt, will it?” However, since these mindsets are held by so many people, those businesses grow larger every day. The reliance of synthetic fabrics is what particularly makes the fast fashion industry so detrimental to our society. I personally have not purchased any clothing items off of TikTok Shop, but the only reason that I have not is because I have seen other people’s reviews of the items. I have seen countless scathing videos of creators reviewing fashion items that they had bought on the platform. Jewelry that turns your skin green, sweaters that are falling apart at the seams, shoes that break after one wear, and so much more. Though I am sure that there are some items on TikTok Shop that are good quality, from what I have seen, it is a safe bet to say that most are not. I have purchased clothes in the past from fast fashion brands, before I knew of the negatives of the industry, so I have first-hand experience with the downfalls of products made out of synthetics materials. Synthetic fabrics are coarse, stiff, and just generally subpar. Even still, a lot of those products are thrown away and end up being burned in a landfill somewhere because of their poor quality. It’s at the landfill where an even bigger issue arises. Synthetic fabrics are made out of chemicals that are similar to those that comprise petroleum. Therefore, when those fabrics get burned they release those chemicals into the atmosphere. But this is not the end of the negative environmental effects of synthetic fabrics. Synthetic clothes also release little bits of fabric into the air as we wear them, and as of yet we have no idea what effect these have on our bodies and the environment. The only thing we can be certain of is that it can’t be good. Boosting horrible production practices, pseudo-promoting small businesses, and just being overly pushy, TikTok Shop has stained the reputation of TikTok itself. No matter how convenient the shopping platform is or how many businesses it has made viral, I am positive that it isn’t worth the negative side-effects that it has brought along. Now, if only we could get corporations to care… The past has proven that to be unlikely, but who knows—there's a first time for everything, right?
We didn’t start the fire on Tumblr
Chae Soo-min
Tumblr is renowned for being the original hellsite. Most users on Tumblr call it so in an affectionate manner: a testament to how the site has become a strange comfort zone for users, one that grew on them like mold. While Tumblr has its tendency to grow on users, it is infamously known to be fairly dead. Despite that claim, however, the website does seem to be alive to some capacity. It is worth questioning: will this website ever actually die? By answering this, the website’s convoluted history reveals something crucial to shaping a site’s life and culture. A Cringe History Tumblr is distinct from many other forms of popular social media. As a microblogging platform, Tumblr relies heavily on users personalizing their blogs, creating new content for each of their interests, and interacting with one another as a social media platform. One of the big giants in delivering that engagement and content is fandom culture. Thus, fandoms have occupied a huge part of Tumblr from the start. Historically, Tumblr’s fandoms have had one main trend that has powered the website through the 2010s. Perhaps not so surprisingly, it is a meme of the ages. “Superwholock” was a large but brief phenomenon in the early 2010s. While Tumblr did not invent fandoms, Superwholock was one of the first crossover collaborations between fandoms that profoundly made an impact on internet culture. A mix of three large fandoms (Supernatural, Doctor Who, and BBC Sherlock), the trend was made almost universal on Tumblr. The popularity of this collaboration even led to several users complaining that there was no way to scroll through content without encountering at least one reference to it. This was peak fandom culture on Tumblr, fostered by creativity and connection. And yet the large movement fell apart in an instant in late 2014. Though there are many reasons as to why, one key event that broke Tumblr’s peak was the interference of the website staff, after Yahoo bought Tumblr during its peak period. Under the new management, the tagging system quickly spiraled out of order, along with the filtering system. More importantly, though, changes in the website coding caused reblogs to have more weight than likes in exposure. The unfortunate part about this change was that people did not reblog posts more than they liked them. Since the reblogs had an unskippable pop-up with the option of adding onto a post, users had to click twice to reblog anything (unlike X/Twitter, which has an immediate repost option). Liking was an easier alternative to show appreciation than reblogs, so users largely used likes to mark which posts they enjoyed. But since Tumblr was a website that functioned heavily on reblogs for user interaction, the visibility of posts was greatly affected. The imbalance between the ratio of likes and reblogs, compounded with the problem of reblogs being given more exposure weight destroyed the ability of Tumblr’s fandom audience to connect with each other. Yahoo’s NSFW (Not Safe For Work) content ban exacerbated matters. This change impeded interactions on the website because the ban turned out to be largely ineffectual: the ban flagged posts that were SFW as well. The ineptness of the embargo became such a large problem that it drove content creators off the website, regardless of whether they approved of the NSFW ban or not. With the platform’s ability of creating connections and encouraging creativity severely compromised, many users left the website. All in all, these changes made the creative culture of the community ultimately crumble—which meant that big collaborations such as Superwholock were no longer possible. The Perpetual(?) Cycle of Tumblr Tumblr was considered fairly dead by 2018. Despite this, the people who remained on Tumblr adapted to the new landscape. The community on Tumblr continues to thrive in the year of 2023. The vacuum left behind by Superwholock is filled by other fandoms, such as Homestuck, various anime fandoms, and most recently, Good Omens and Our Flag Means Death. The Tumblr culture continues to live on as it did in the 2010s with Superwholock—by continuously generating fandom content, interacting with others on the platform and collaborating on a smaller scale, and so on. The core components of what made Superwholock such a huge phenomenon have continued to power the website. The creativity of the users allows new content to be created, which in turn prompts others to join in. People can engage actively with the content and its creators, which in turn sparks creativity on both sides. The two components bouncing off of one another is what makes Tumblr a goldmine for fandom people—explaining how Superwholockians managed to become so widespread back in the day. This relay effect of creativity and connection on Tumblr is represented best in reblog chains. While ask boxes can offer one-on-one interaction with content creators, reblogs make up most of the connectivity on the platform. The chains often create richer content than simply posting a single image or fanfic. Various posts are often reblogged through many communities, with many people adding their own drawings and short writing. Thus, a whole new form of content is made via website-user collaboration. As such, the way creativity and connection can interact with each other on Tumblr is testament to how a website gains its value: through user engagement and an environment that can foster a culture that keeps users connected to one another. This is essentially how an online culture is created. By having many users actively participate in the cycle and by continuing efforts to maintain an environment that is appropriate for the key components of the platform culture, a website’s lifespan can be lengthened. The Inevitable End As productive as Tumblr’s creativity-connection cycle is, it is undeniable that it will also eventually come to an end. A website’s popularity will reach its peak, then eventually drop until it becomes obsolete. Tumblr is past its peak popularity; the culture as a whole lacks the momentum it had in the previous decade. Following the large exit of users in the 2010s, Tumblr’s user base has been in a decline. However, Tumblr is not quite dead yet as many claim. Rather, it is currently in a simmer period, or a time when the past peak point is powering the website for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, the website’s own management does not assist in continuing to foster the culture that made Tumblr so popular in its heyday. Tumblr’s major method of community engagement being reblogs is ineffective on a user base that is slowly shrinking. Compared to X, where likes can also have the potential to cause posts to pop up on a user’s dashboard, Tumblr’s reblog-based system is not that effective. The newer addition of post recommendations on a user’s dash (based on a user’s followed tags) is rather hit-or-miss with how engaging it is. Since users on Tumblr are not as actively involved as they were in the 2010s, people are less likely to reblog as rapidly as they used to. More than often, a post’s like to reblog ratio is unfortunately skewed towards the likes, which does not allow users to interact with a wider audience. That, coupled with the ineffective content embargos, has both ends of the creativity-connection cycle rapidly fraying. This can effectively cut the simmer period short, as it did for Tumblr’s peak period. Basically, Tumblr’s administrative efforts to mold it into something else was ill-suited to its user base. Though some adapted to the implemented changes, the damage has already been done. The coding is less user-interaction-friendly, and the implemented content bans not only cut off a type of creative outlet but also interfere with other types of content. The two components of Tumblr culture are effectively cut off, and ultimately foreshadow the website’s inevitable end. The Colors of Tumblr X users flocking out of the website back to Tumblr has brought a moment of “Tumblr revival” talk, and it does look like Tumblr has become a tolerable form of social media compared to some other hellsites. But in the long run, the death of Tumblr is simply inescapable. Even with that peak moment acting as a backbone of the modern day Tumblr, Tumblr will most likely meet its end under a slowly malfunctioning cycle of creativity and connection. Based on this evidence, it can be seen that an online culture at its peak can easily crumble if the environment the culture stands in is forced to undergo changes that stifle the culture’s functioning. While exemplified best by Tumblr, the fact is that every website management has the risk of stifling a platform’s culture to the point of counterproductive management. Therefore, the most important part of theplatform managers’ part is to carefully examine the type of culture the website users cultivate and create something surrounding it. As such, while the age of Tumblr is now coming to an end, it is worth thinking about the lessons it can teach the future platforms that will replace it.
Avoiding the tourist-centric trap: Considerations for travel in the 21st century
Tan Mi Siew
I was blessed with an opportunity to hike in the Karakoram range in Pakistan this summer. My friends and I trekked from Askole to the K2 Base Camp, over Gondogoro La pass, and finally to our last stop – Khaplu. We were a group of six, with a staff of 15—including a guide, cooks, porters and horsemen who accompanied us, or rather, enabled this trip to happen. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience because I was acutely reminded of my own smallness in the face of sublime nature, as well as people who were greater than me in body and heart. But one thing troubled me during the journey—the realization that I was so dependent on the people who came with us, yet hardly knew them. Desiring to reach the base camp and complete the journey without accident, the other people assisting us—however intimately—blended into oblivion as ‘background characters.’ So immersed in my own thoughts and emotions, admittedly, through the difficulties of the hike, it didn’t even occur to me to find out the names of the porters who carried our bags for the whole trip. It was only after the 11 days of the trip, when I wanted to call out to them for a photograph together, that I realized I didn’t know the name of the assistant cook who had filled up our water bottles every morning and every night. I only knew him as “the cook’s brother” or “the guy who is younger than me”. The moment of realization was also a dawning moment of humiliation. In my pursuit, I had become so narrowly focused on a goal that I failed to consider and see that others were also on the same journey as I was. Actually, do we not all have this experience—especially in our travels—of people becoming a means of our own happiness? Travel problematics In A Small Place, Antiguan-American writer Jamaica Kincaid throws shade on tourists in her homeland of Antigua, and by extension, to tourists around the world. To Kincaid, tourists are ugly beings who derive pleasure from being plucked from the “banality” of their existence in their own homes, to be transported to a carefully constructed and barricaded land of their fantasies. Their destination is a place where they can escape the responsibilities of the place they come from, as well as to the place they are now. The tourists’ enjoyment lies in their ability to distance themselves from their location—the tourist is blind, ignorant, and willingly so, to the reality of life for the people around them. Enjoyment is contingent on the maintenance of this imagined fantasy land as a place that exists for the tourist and nothing else. Tensions between tourists and locals in Hawaii are a good case in point for the disconnect between the tourists and their destination. In August 2023, wildfires raged across Maui, one of the main islands of Hawaii, killing over 100 people and destroying over 2,200 structures, a tragedy that is expected to cost $5.5 billion to rebuild. It was the worst natural disaster in Hawaii’s history, and the deadliest US wildfire in over a century. The disaster plunged the islands in mourning, trauma, and anger. A dilemma arose from the conundrum of what to do with the tourists. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, Hawaiians took to social media to tell tourists to stay away. There was a public outcry as a snorkeling company continued its snorkeling tours in the name of raising funds for disaster relief, in the same waters where dead bodies were still being retrieved. The problem was the uncomfortable and contrasting picture of tourists blissfully holidaying right by the physical destruction and emotional devastation of the Hawaiians. Yet, the cry to keep tourists away was accompanied by another fear that they cannot keep tourists away—because tourism is Hawaii’s economic driver. Thus creating a situation where the economy is reliant on tourism, but the locals are uncomfortable with it. Such tensions have been long-standing in Hawaii, and the outbursts surrounding the recent disaster were a symptom, not a cause of it. Is travel all bad? Horror stories about tourists and scathingly disapproving views on tourism question our own implication in objectification, exploitation and voyeurism. Could the answer to the problematics of tourism—both on an individual and collective scale—be to stay at home at all costs, as Kincaid suggests? Could more good be done, both for the individual and for the world, if people simply stayed at home and did not travel at all? Yet voices from the very tourist destinations suggest otherwise. Just as the disconnect between tourists and the environment is the “problem” in tourism, things may be mended through a connection with the location again. John De Fries, the first Native Hawaiian leading the Tourism Authority of Hawaii, is not looking forward to eradicating tourism. In a 2022 interview with The New York Times (NYT), De Fries argues that Hawaii is not for Hawaiians, or at least, not just for Hawaiians. Rather, he points to the bidirectional relationship between tourists and locals—“local residents have a responsibility to host visitors in a way that is appropriate. Conversely, visitors have a responsibility to be aware that their destination is someone’s home, someone’s neighborhood, someone’s community.” Likewise, in another 2020 interview with the NYT, Kyle Kajihiro, an activist and lecturer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, lays out his intentions for tourists to think about for their stay: “Who are you in relation to this place? Are you bringing something that will be of value to the host, the people who live here? What will be your impact and your legacy be?” After all, the benefits of tourism cannot be denied as well. Tourism can help to preserve culture and heritage—by attracting traffic and attention to the very cultural sites that need preservation, thereby accumulating the financial resources required for cultural preservation. For the tourist, visiting these places provides a cultural understanding that transcends book knowledge—a moving of the heart that might not have happened if we stuck to our shores. In an article on dark tourism published in the National Geographic, journalist Robert Reid reflects that his most memorable travel experiences were to sites of macabre— concentration camps, sites of massacres, political assassinations, and battlefields. His experience in these places was a way for him to face the reality of the horrors of men which made history more real for him, and drove to the core of his heart an anti-war message that he would have already heard over and over again. To be harmless: Thoughtful and responsible tourism Tourism boards and agencies are realizing that tourism, if it continues the way it is now, is not sustainable in the long run. An example is Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Renowned for its historical and cultural heritage and its beautiful waterways, Amsterdam has a strong tourism sector and has never had a shortage of visitors. Yet Amsterdam is the quintessential case of a victim of its own success. Problems of over tourism—including overcrowding, disrespectful behavior, and even the displacement of local people—have been a top concern for the city’s administrators for the past several years. However, Amsterdam sets itself apart for its active, and what could be considered severe, stance on tourism. In June 2021, it developed the “Tourism in Balance in Amsterdam” plan— a model of tourism designed for citizens and travelers to cohabit in symbiotic harmony, rather than an extractive relationship. And this vision has necessitated some boundaries and curbs on tourism, namely a maximum number of visitors. To maintain quality of life for residents, new tourist shops have been banned to maintain ‘shop diversity’. Holiday rentals are banned in 3 neighborhoods and large tour groups are also no longer allowed. The administration is also carrying out investigations on the tourism carrying capacity of the various districts of the city. The city also launched a “Stay Away” campaign to discourage visitors visiting Amsterdam from engaging in activities related to alcohol, drugs and sex. A digital advertisement shows ‘nuisance’ tourists being locked up with regret, with the blunt tagline reading “So coming to Amsterdam for a messy night? Stay Away”. These measures might seem harsh, but they are necessary boundaries to ensure that tourism is not at the expense of the locals, so that tourism can be sustainable in the long run. What could regulations, like that of Amsterdam to protect their residents from the detrimental effects of tourism, signal to us? Indeed, governments and corporations have the greatest power to enact change, but unlike in Amsterdam, decisions on tourism may not always be aligned to the welfare of local communities. As tourists, and accepting tourists in home countries ourselves, we can recognise that the locations we visit do not exist in a vacuum—existing solely to make us feel good about ourselves. The locations where we seek rest and leisure are homes to communities living their own lives on this earth; individuals and families work to gain a livelihood as we do, raise families as we do, with hopes, dreams and struggles as we do. Recognizing our common humanity would go a long way in making tourism empathic, responsible, and sustainable, because it introduces an attitude of care. Care for the places we visit and the people we meet. This attitude translates to a more thoughtful approach to traveling and more thought-out decisions whilst traveling: reading up on local laws and customs, checking attractions for human-rights records, choosing sustainable travel operators, making sure that the tourism dollar goes to local communities, avoiding contributing to over tourism and being intentional with photographs. For individuals and communities, it may be short-sighted to say that all globe-trotting is bad and harmful. Travel—even if not leisure travel—has brought benefits to individuals and communities: it can be a viable and sustainable means of income. Overall, cultural exchange has enlightened and broadened perspectives—for the betterness of the individual and the society. The problem could be boiled down to our attitudes and balance. How hosts and guests reap from the exchange depends on how they view each other. I remember one of my group members talking to our guide regarding the benefits of improving the infrastructure and regulations of the trekking tourism industry in Pakistan. As someone who had believed that tourism is inherently extractive (ironic, I admit), it did not occur to me that tourism could be a honorable and viable means of income to these regions. Measures, even severe ones, would need to be put in place to ensure that tourism does not amount to exploitation. Putting a cap on visitors, outlining trekking seasons, imposing fines and punishment for certain behaviors such as littering, and placing a firmer grip on trekking companies are some of the solutions to resolve harmful tourism practices that are already in place. Expectations of tourist behavior are also needed—just as tourists have expectations of their holiday experience. But if done correctly—through an emphasis on mutual respect and a vision of connectedness, tourism may avoid the tourist-centric trap, and be enriching and beneficial to both the hosts and visitors.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Aesthetic Innovation (AI)
Chae Soo-min
“Théâtre D’opéra Spatial” sounds like it is an 18th-century fancy French oil painting. It looks like an 18th-century fancy French oil painting. In reality, it is barely a year old. It is a piece of AI-generated artwork created by Jason M. Allen—which has won first prize in Colorado State Fair’s annual art competition, shocking people across the global art community. The fears have become reality: whether artists like it or not, AI art is slowly seeping its way into an industry once thought to be dominated by humans alone. One of the largest points of current contention in the art community concerns Artificial Intelligence. While barely a few months ago the differences between AI art and artist-drawn art were discernible, the differences are becoming rapidly non-existent. AI image generation has quickly surpassed expectations of generating random, funny images and has become sophisticated enough to create detailed art pieces. While AI-generated art may have been created for casual fun, it still has a significant impact on professional art. In fact, there is so much impact that people have very polarized opinions on the topic. One end of the spectrum argues that AI art is revolutionary. Kaloyan Chernev, the founder of Deep Dream Generator (a company specializing in AI), claims that AI is “rapidly approaching a level of sophistication and complexity that will allow it to generate highly realistic and nuanced images”. Chernev also suggests that AI-based content will not only assist in bettering the art field but also enable new forms of artistic expression. More neutral opinions put forth various ideas on the matter. One of the larger opinion groups suggests that AI, with a faster pace at creating images than artists, can be used in industries and companies that value maximal efficiency. Corporations would thus profit greatly in time and money by using algorithms over artists. While artists take hours to months to create a single piece, algorithms only take minutes to produce artwork with a few typed words. Thus, the production of artwork takes less time and in turn, allows more time to be used on other projects. Economic efficiency is achieved as well, as companies do not need to hire extra artists if they choose to use AI-produced art instead. Such predictions are not in the far future; they have already happened. Nestlé has utilized AI-generated art of Vemeer’s “The Milkmaid” to promote La Laitière yogurt, and large companies such as Google are jumping into the scene to create algorithms for the specific purpose of generating art. Some also suggest that AI art will not degrade or harm the industry of artist-drawn art since AI art will not be able to catch up to the level of works done by humans. Others still advocate the idea that AI art will become irrelevant in the future, just as NFTs have in a short time. On the other end of the spectrum, there are artists who strongly oppose the use of AI-generated images, claiming that it devalues the work of artists. Dapo Adeola, winner of the Illustrator of the Year at the 2022 British Book Awards, says that “the increasing use of AI will also lead to a devaluing of the work of artists”. As negative prejudice regarding creativity-focused industries already exists, “something like this reinforces an argument that what we do is easy and we shouldn’t be able to earn the money we command”. With the worries of artists on the rise, many solutions have been proposed to alleviate this anxiety. One such solution, a new tool for artists, was introduced on March 31, 2023. Glaze, created by a team of Chicago University students, professors, and professional artists, is designed to protect digitally drawn art from mimicry. Artists are suing algorithm companies for mimicking their art styles. Notably, late South Korean illustrator Kim Jung Gi’s art style was copied by an AI software, which was met with large disdain. Glaze was developed to prevent art style copying. Glaze works as follows: it uses a style-transfer AI to recreate the original image in the style of past artists. The styled images are then used as part of a computation, through which the end result maximizes patterns that algorithms will use instead of the original artist’s style. The result adds very small changes to an artist’s artwork before the art is posted online. While the changes are hardly able to be discerned by the human eye, the small details still effectively work as a "style cloak", preventing any algorithms from mimicking the artist’s style. The reactions to this program are starkly divided, with arguments over art-related AI, in general, becoming heightened. Artists who want their art protected from AI celebrate the introduction of such a tool. From their perspective, they are able to produce art without worrying about art theft, with minimal changes to their artwork. However, not all welcome Glaze. People who use AI to create art and develop their algorithms are angry that images that use Glaze, if added to the database, will muddy the results for their programs. What is more, is that the developers of Glaze admit that this tool can only be useful in the short term. According to the project website, "Unfortunately, Glaze is not a permanent solution against AI mimicry. AI evolves quickly, and systems like Glaze face an inherent challenge of being future-proof. Techniques we use to cloak artworks today might be overcome by a future countermeasure, possibly rendering previously protected art vulnerable". In other words, if the art community continues with polarized stances on AI, the future can easily lead to an endless race of algorithms finding new ways to use art for their database and tools being developed as countermeasures against them. With all this taken into consideration, the core issue of AI art is clear. In the process of trying to find a foothold in the art community, it is mainly trying to replace what currently-existing artists can do instead of forging an entirely new path in artistry. This forces the art community into an endless circle of protecting and overcoming instead of progressing in a new direction. AI art so far has been shown as a stepping stone to AI surpassing human abilities and thus replacing them. While not inherently bad from a technological perspective, this is a gross undermining of a technology that could have more potential. In that case, what comes next? The varying views in the AI art uproar show that there is clearly a divide in values of aesthetics that is strongly linked to artistic copyright in the creative community. Those who refuse to acknowledge AI art as part of creative work seem to value human creativity, process, and work put behind the end result. These people put high importance in giving credit where it is due in creative works. Those who support AI, or at least are neutral on the topic, seem to advocate the idea that all creative artwork is an amalgamation of all the knowledge the creator has collected in the past. Thus, they advocate for artistic democracy and everyone being able to participate in artistic creation. Should these two views continue to be polarized, there can be no real progress in artistry for AI. It can be easy to think that this divide in opinions is unable to be bridged. Certainly, the bridging process to come to an agreement can be long and will take a lot of effort. However, history claims that it still can be achieved. Philosophy has had its fair share of furious debates over what kind of purpose art has in life, where it comes from, and what kind of characteristics it has, ranging from Plato to Tolstoy. The most relevant argument to look at, however, is Walter Benjamin’s argument on aura. Benjamin argues that “[i]n principle a work of art has always been reproducible. Man-made artifacts could always be imitated by men…Mechanical reproduction of a work of art, however, represents something new”. He notably points out photography as one such example. Benjamin holds that “the situations into which the product of mechanical reproduction can be brought may not touch the actual work of art, yet the quality of its presence is always depreciated”. As such, the aura surrounding the original art piece disappears, since the art itself can be reproduced through mechanical means, and it can spread through the masses. This is not necessarily a bad thing; however, if anything, it furthered the democratization of art, allowing others to participate in creatives with ease. Some may argue that photography did not democratize art; it monopolized art by taking over portrait painting. Despite this, photography has continued to thrive, and not in the manner of replacing a specific art form. When Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the first photograph in 1822 and later publicly announced in 1839 by Louis Daguerre, the public embraced the new medium. Ironically, the artistic movements in Europe before the 19th century had always been focused on realism. When photography took away the necessity for artists to depict realism, art movements slowly moved away from it, starting with Impressionism and moving on as far as Dadaism. In a way, artists have no reason to fear that AI art will cause artist-made art obsolete or devalued as a craft, as art has always found a way to survive and continue pursuing creativity throughout the years. More importantly, it is worth noting that photographers did not immediately assume photography to be a substitute for portraits and landscape paintings. They spent many years experimenting with the types of photos that could be taken and thinking of what kind of role this new technology would take in society. World War I and II did cement photography as a part of a medium. It solidified photography as a modern way to express culture and World War II photography showed the brutality of war. However, it was the work of photographers giving serious thought to the craft that resulted in photography being a widely respected form of media today. The artistic value clash in the present is an echo of a similar conflict in the past in the invention of a new art medium. Thus, the answers to solving the modern value clash can be found in the past as well. In other words, AI artistry must go through the same process as photography to be accepted as a mode of creating art. While Glaze and plagiarism protection tools to come will function as a necessary precaution, what is most needed in the AI art industry is for the artists to think about their craft. What purpose does their art serve in the industry and to society? What types of technology can be used to make AI art differ from other art forms? Instead of looking to take over the art industry as a whole or replace other media, AI-generated art should focus on its unique strengths to create a new medium, as many hope it will become. All in all, Artificial Intelligence may have come a long way in a short time to develop to the level it is now, but it still has a long way to go in order to be refined into a method of art that all people can accept. In order to break a potentially endless cycle of art-generating algorithms against protection algorithms, AI developers must turn to aesthetic values and forge a new path for their creations to walk.
Crush Culture: The Downfall of Instant Love
Kim Hae-soo
“Crush culture makes me wanna spill my guts out…” This iconic line from Conan Gray’s song, Crush Culture, is exactly how I feel about our generation when it comes to love. We pine for love, we desire love, we feign love. But is this a fault? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not cynical of love—I’m cynical of people who instil the wrong idea of love into young people. As a generation, we have, and we are still being fed the misconception of love. Through our excessive use of social media, our ideals of love have become very superficial. With this fast-food approach to love, we begin to develop an unhealthy relationship with the instant gratification of ‘physical’ love. The ads on the streets are covered in images of what beauty should be like. TV shows only highlight the excitement of physical love. Social media forces us to compare ourselves with ‘perfect people.' Beauty has become a thing we need to achieve, not something that already innately exists in each of us. Love has become something superficial. The music video of Crush Culture (dir. Conan Gray) begins with Conan Gray, who stars as “Bitter Boy” sitting with his supposed lover “Lollipop B****." As Lollipop B**** stares intently at her phone, Bitter Boy receives less attention than the heart-shaped lollipop she is holding. Triggered by all the texts Lollipop B**** receives, Bitter Boy grabs her lollipop and smashes it to the ground in exasperation—hence the name “Lollipop B****” and “Bitter Boy.” These scenes depict the reality of modern love where people have become too fixated on the idea of ‘being wanted’ and where our worth has been reduced to the number of texts we receive. We have chosen to be connected through the Internet, only to be disconnected in the real world. This explains Bitter Boy’s anger and frustration—we meet up with people only to become disconnected within the connected space of what used to be intimacy. Social media has caused us to place more importance displaying our relationships rather than living in the reality of our relationships. We have become more fixated on the idea of the images we can portray, rather than focusing on what already is. We have become reduced to mere instances, photos, and short videos. Bitter Boy continues to disrupt romantic moments between different couples. His lyrics explain that love has become an exclusive ‘culture’ which involves the “kissing cult” where they “kiss then forget you.” A certain catharsis is achieved when Bitter Boy messes up these romantic moments. The constant overhype of love causes many insecurities. We draw up fantasies of love and when we are unable to achieve this goal, we begin to believe that there is something wrong with us. We brainwash ourselves to believe that we have to fit into certain ideals and change so that we can be loved by our ‘crushes.’ The term ‘crush’ itself even suggests that this one-sided love can only end in a ‘crushing remorse,’ or that a ‘crushing’ of one’s original identity is needed to acquire this love. We either crush our identity to fit the other’s standards, or we crush the other’s authentic self in order to fit them into our ideals. The ‘Crush Culture’ of our generation entails the following: unrealistic expectations, the need to ‘show love,’ and self-centredness. These standards isolate us from the genuine meaning of love, making us crave it even more. Social media portrays unrealistic expectations of love—luxury brand gifts have become a sign of how much you love someone, and the size of your wedding dress train or the number of hearts or comments you get from your significant other has become a way of ‘proving’ love. Through this repeated culture of social media, the need to ‘show love’ has become prevalent, and a vicious cycle of unrealistic expectations and the showcasing of love has started to emerge. This creates fertile grounds for competition as we begin to visually accept the fact that some people are loved more than others, and this perpetuates loneliness and insecurities. We begin to believe that we lack certain aspects in the criteria of love which makes it impossible for us to be loved. Our generation’s ‘crush culture’ depends heavily on visual representation. However, when we start valuing others based on their physical appearance, we unconsciously simplify them into an ‘object of desire’ who has an obligation to fill our empty voids. Instant love disregards the truth that love is difficult. We tend to think that ‘real love’ is easy and that it all naturally plays out like in the movies: a damsel in distress, a knight in shining armour, or a villain who disturbs and ironically strengthens their love. This magical, fairy-tale element of romance films is not wrong, but it creates a dangerous, unrealistic image of love. Romance movies should not be condemned. We just need to learn to train ourselves to understand that love is not completed by the momentaneous ‘happy ending,’ but that there is a story after this point. Love requires time, patience, understanding, and sacrifice. The butterflies when we start loving someone don’t last forever, and we can’t expect it to last forever. This good feeling cannot continue if it is one-sided and self-centred. We must put in the work and effort in figuring the other person out. As my English teacher used to say, “love is a verb.” Love is not simply an instant gift, given as a concrete noun – it is an ongoing action. Love is a verb, and this can be seen through the implementation of the five love languages. The five love languages are acts of service, physical touch, quality time, gifts, and words of affirmation. Each of the five love languages requires a ‘verb.' Doing an errand, giving a hug, going on a date, buying flowers, giving a compliment. Love comes with actions, and we need to be willing to love. However, loving someone completely different from ourselves proves to be difficult as we have to learn to navigate the way we love through these differences. Even though these differences may feel like a barrier, they make us grow, as the joy of love comes from learning the differences of the people we love. By getting to know someone else deeply, we subconsciously start to learn more about ourselves. This helps us experience an authentic, richer love. While the media distorts the reality of love, movies depicting the reality of love do exist. (Incoming spoiler alert…) Waymond and Evelyn from Everything Everywhere All at Once are good examples of what real love looks like. At a glance, the middle-aged couple seems mundane, wrapped up in everyday ordeals of running a laundromat. There seems to be no passionate love between them, but rather a stagnant comfort. This dangerous comfort conceals the uncomfortable truths which are later revealed in the film when Evelyn is faced with Waymond’s divorce papers. This, however, is the reality of love (not divorce, the hardships). Passion can easily be outlived and the consequences of love amount to a reality of unwanted responsibilities and the essential sacrifices. The downfall of modern love tropes is that this transformation of love is not depicted after the ‘happy ending.' While the quarrelling couple seem to suffocate each other, the realisation of love begins when Evelyn sees that Waymond chooses to be with Evelyn in every alternate lifetime. No matter how harsh or luxurious their lives are, Waymond chooses to love Evelyn, and this truth becomes a universal truth that binds them together with love. This is similar to the way the importance of love is portrayed in the Netflix series The Good Place. Chidi and Eleanor are characters with completely contrasting personalities who are mismatched as ‘soulmates’ after they die and end up in the good place, i.e. ‘heaven.' However, they learn that “the Good Place” is not necessarily a good place, and with this realization, their memories are wiped out. As the plot goes on, it is revealed that in every simulation of ‘Operation Good Place’ where they are supposed to be tortured by each other’s presence, they end up falling in love. A love that penetrates all memory and time begins to formulate, and this becomes their ticket to ‘real heaven.' No matter how much they fight and seemingly hate each other for their differences, Chidi and Eleanor end up being in love. Every time their memory is wiped, no matter how far apart they are, they end up together, face their insecurities, and become better people together. (No more spoilers from this point) Love only becomes complete when we start understanding each other’s imperfections. While crush culture focuses on the prospect of an already perfect person who will solve all our problems, the reality of love focuses on two people who are able to accept each other’s weaknesses and insecurities. We can only begin to love and be loved when we allow our differences to show. Additionally, love entails the element of ‘choice.' Contrary to popular belief, while we cannot choose who we love, we can choose how we love. We need to choose to love, instead of waiting until we are chosen to be loved. With this choice comes sacrifices, unacknowledged services, and the need for patience; but all this becomes worth it in the face of the people we love. Unlike the instantaneous, passionate love we desire, real love takes time and requires patience and persistence. “All this love is suffocating, just let me be sad and lonely…” Conan Gray truthfully expresses the frustration of our generation when it comes to looking for love. However, in the final scene of the Crush Culture music video, we are betrayed by Bitter Boy as he lays motionless and unsatisfied on a bouquet of broken flowers, until he receives a text reading, “Hey. Wanna date?” We are left with Bitter Boy’s smile, which ironically leaves the single viewers to be “sad and lonely." This shows how unfulfilling superficial love is, which is why when we love right, it is one of the best feelings in the world. Love is a human instinct, and it is natural to crave romantic relationships. How we view love, however, should not be tainted by what is shown in the media. Love is ironically one of the easiest yet hardest things we do.
MZ, Who Are They?
Cho Eun-seo
People who previously spent money on luxury clothes and taxi fares for instant gratification are now drinking 2 liters of water a day and waking up at 7 a.m. for long-term self-improvement, and immersing themselves in the new lifestyle of gatsaeng. Rather than huge goals or significant achievements, gatsaeng’s aim is to feel a sense of accomplishment by starting with small actions that can be done right now. Most of these habits are trivial, like getting up early, working out, drinking two liters of water, and reading. Moreover, they do not forget to post these small practices on social media. Millions of hashtags have already been created, including #owoonwan, used to describe the completion of today’s workout, #miraclemorning, used to describe the practice of waking up early to maximize efficiency, and #gatsaengchallenge, used to describe creating a checklist of daily goals and carrying out these tasks. This emerging lifestyle not only brought about a change in people's mindset but also a change in people's consumption patterns. The millennial generation entered the workforce in the 2010s, a decade marked by a protracted recession. Despite having illustrious resumes, it was difficult for them to find employment. With house prices skyrocketing, it became challenging for individuals to buy their own houses. This phenomenon suggests that, unlike in the past, when how hard you worked directly correlated with the guarantee of home ownership, the effort you put in no longer promised stability and success. As a result, the millennial generation began to reevaluate what success and happiness really entailed. Rather than ambitiously seeking to amass a large fortune or find fame and delaying gratification for the future, they actively opened up their wallets for hobbies and vacations in search of instant satisfaction. In other words, rather than seeking happiness for an uncertain future, they turned their eyes to the happiness of “today”. In addition, YOLO (you only live once)’s motto—”let’s enjoy our one and only life without regret”—further fueled this notion. A life attitude that put today's enjoyment and fulfillment above everything started to take shape. Furthermore, this attitude resulted in a change in consumption patterns for fleeting pleasure. It was clear that the consumption of "useless but pretty goods" and "taxi fare as a reward for my tiring work day" were reasonable enough to lift the mood. COVID-19 has, however, made it impossible to maintain the previous way of life, as it had begun to invade our normal daily life. Even the modest and insignificant joys of life, like spending time with friends or taking a weekend trip, were no longer possible. In this status quo, the millennial generation, once again, started working hard to keep up with their daily lives. But what was significantly different from the past was that they began to concentrate on cultivating the driving force to live better day by day as opposed to transient and immediate satisfaction. Every day, they put effort into creating little but beneficial habits for themselves, repairing their disrupted routines to gain a sense of accomplishment and contentment that at least today had been well spent. In this way, the gatsaeng mindset was rapidly established, in which people set daily goals and carried them out for a productive day. gatsaeng is a neologism, a combination of “god” and “life”, and is used to describe those who attempt to live their life to the fullest and feel a small sense of accomplishment for their efforts. Even though it isn’t extravagant, “갓생” includes drinking more than 2 liters of water a day or waking up at 7 a.m. every morning, i.e. “miracle morning”. People started to value the work they put in to maintain a healthy lifestyle because doing so would eventually allow them to thrive in life. The attitudes of YOLO and gatsaeng in life have one thing in common: they both prioritize “myself" and "the present." However, both have stark differences in how they define the “present”. “YOLO” identifies the “present” as a moment to enjoy without regret, while gatsaeng views the "present” as a part of the process of building good habits. The change of attitude from “YOLO” to gatsaeng also affects patterns of consumption. They started to value the pursuit of consumption that provides long-lasting satisfaction rather than transient and impulsive spending as they have had in the past. The criterion to judge whether or not something is a reasonable purchase depends on whether it could enhance personal value through consumption, especially one that has the utility that we can continue to benefit from. Likewise, the MZ generation has reached a conclusion that investing in oneself from a sustainable standpoint would be appropriate to live out their life full of enjoyment. The term "Meconomy," which combines the words "me" and "economy," refers to the current MZ generation’s consumption trends that spend all of their money on self-indulgent purchases. These "Meconomy" customers long for "Me me land," a lifestyle based on their own standards rather than those of other people. Based on a growing desire to take care of "myself," more and more people continue their consumption alone. Investing a little more in yourself, having a proper meal even if it is just one meal, and being rested and happy according to “my” liking have all become more important. In other words, in all facets of their lives, including their expenditures, the MZ generation places sustainable satisfaction above instant satisfaction. They have a tremendous desire to get better every day, which soon manifests as the consumption of knowledge and self-indulgence. If business leaders create business plans based on the traits of the MZ generation by analyzing the trend of 갓생, they will be closer to reaching their ultimate goal of maximizing profits. So do you currently consider yourself to be a member of the "Meconomy" who dreams of living in "Me me land"?