In a previous issue of Korea View, KEI called attention to the growing popularity of cultural products in South Korea that explore difficult societal issues. In addition to the movie Parasite, recent examples of this trend include the TV show Taxi Driver (모범택시; not to be confused with the 2017 movie) which focuses on a group of vigilantes who exact revenge on fictionalized versions of real-life criminals who roused public anger for their lenient sentencing. Adding to this genre of socially conscious products, Netflix released a new TV show called D.P. (“Deserter Pursuit”) and it is jumpstarting more widespread discussions about conditions that conscripts face in South Korea’s military.
D.P. follows a fictionalized portrayal of an actual unit in the Korean military that chases down deserters. Through this plot, the show indirectly draws attention to prevalent cases of mistreatment within the military. Public response to the show was reminiscent of Taxi Driver, which also gained a widespread following due to existing social dissatisfaction with the justice system’s perceived failure to properly castigate child abuse and digital sex crimes.
Despite its popularity, it is not immediately clear whether the popularity of D.P. will lead to tangible changes. Stories about conscript abuse are not new and the military has not been immune to public pressure. Following a series of highly publicized incidents between 2014 and 2020, the government loosened rules around family visitations and cell phone usage in the barracks. However, these reforms have not fully abated cases of sexual assault, bullying, and other issues within the institution. It will be interesting to see whether the employment of popular culture will translate to real changes.
This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.
Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Marina Dickson, Yubin Huh, and Janet Hong. Picture courtesy of Netflix.