Why are Korean cultural products going global when many other countries around the world also have a robust and dynamic domestic TV, music, and cinema scene? Some observers point to the Korean government’s direct support as the differentiating variable. But Sciences Po Paris lecturer Jimmyn Parc argues in a recent paper for KEI that the government’s direct support for the cultural industry had less to do with Korea’s recent success than is often claimed.
While it is true that the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (MCST) has provided a substantial amount of monetary support to cultural industries since the 1990s, Parc questions whether those receiving the aid are actually the pioneers of the Korean Wave. Subsidies are extended to smaller companies while cultural exports are largely led by large companies: CJ and Lotte for the film industry; Hybe, SM, YG, and JYP for the music industry; and Naver and Kakao for webtoons.
Parc also highlights instances where the government’s involvement may have actively hobbled the cultural industry. In addition to successive administrations interrupting the work of artists and leveraging their fame for diplomatic engagements, the government routinely imposes regulations that pose headwinds to the cultural industry. A lion’s share (73%) of the country’s cultural export income comes from the gaming industry – despite its invaluable role in the economy, these companies enforced a government-mandated curfew for domestic players under the age of 16 until 2021.
This is not to suggest that the government has played no role in promoting Korean cultural content. In particular, the Kim Dae-jung administration’s decision to build a robust broadband infrastructure likely played a decisive role in helping Korean cultural content compete online. But as Parc reminds readers, this was an unintentional outcome of public policy.
Lessons for countries that want to follow in Korea’s footsteps? Creating a good environment for creators and providing them with the right infrastructure might be more important than attempting to directly cultivate winning cultural products. Read Jimmyn Parc’s paper here.
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 Janet Hong and Yubin Huh. Picture from the flickr account of Republic of Korea