A woman states her flat refusal to her ex-boyfriend on getting back together and leaves the restaurant. Shortly after, the man — unable to accept his current situation — runs from the restaurant and catches up with the woman who is walking back home. He drags her forcibly into a remote alley while the woman shouts, “Let go of me!” and wrestles to free her arm from the man’s grip. He pushes her to a wall. Suppressing her, he tries to embrace and kiss her. Meanwhile the woman keeps trying to get out of the situation, screaming and struggling, but her rejections are rendered useless due to the disparity in power.
This is a scene from a K-drama titled, “Our Gabsoon.” When confronted with such situation in reality, many people would recognize the severity of such violence and regard the man as oppressive and violent. For those who are familiar with the term, they would definitely call it a fair example of “dating abuse.” However, there is another part of the world that regards this scene to be “sweet,” or “endearing.” This far-fetched response can be easily witnessed from many K-drama viewers.
▲Dating abuse scene in a drama called “Our Gabsoon”
What then is “dating abuse” exactly? Dating abuse, also called intimate partner violence, is a pattern of actual or threatening acts of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, perpetrated by an intimate partner. Many people in Korea perceive the seriousness of physical abuse. However, the problem is that they become less able to discern what is wrong when seeing the other two kinds of dating abuse when those are shown through K-dramas. According to a research that investigated the awareness of dating abuse conducted by Trendmonitor, a market research firm, only half of the respondents answered that the oppressive and unilateral show of love depicted in K-dramas is something that disregards the other side’s opinion and therefore it is surely an undesirable behavior. In other words, the other half could not find any problems in the scenes involving dating abuse. Even more serious, among the latter half, 10 percent responded that those kinds of behaviors look “cool,” or “impressive.”
With the help of the drama industry, even dating abuse that demonstrates violence can be significantly glamorized. Actions that involve physical violence, such as dragging someone by force, lifting someone up, and pushing a person to the wall all fall under the category of dating abuse; but ironically, they are also used as clichés to stimulate viewers. Apart from the physical violence, emotional and verbal abuse also has a long way to go before finally being recognized as serious violence by drama viewers. Recklessly driving while having someone in the car, publicly announcing something related to the other person without consent, forcing someone to get off a car, and stalking the person after a break-up are some of the most commonly discovered scenes of dating abuse in dramas, but rarely treated seriously. Those who do not regard such as dating abuse claim that the victim did not ‘reject.’ However, this cannot justify these actions. In fact, they all have a certain extent of compulsion allowing them to be classified as dating abuse. What matters is not whether the victims rejected, but whether or not there was a mutual agreement. However, many people who enjoy watching K-dramas seem to neglect this quite easily.
What Makes Dating Abuse Hard to Recognize
In a viral clip on Youtube video, people from other cultures spoke up against certain dating abuse scenes in Korean media, stating that they do not understand the purpose of the scene or why such behaviors are normalized and romanticized in the media. This kind of immediate awareness to the seriousness of dating abuse scenes is seriously lacking in Korean viewers. Then what sociocultural background has caused them to lag behind in recognizing the problem?
The ignorance is attributable to the specific ways K-dramas use to portray dating abuse. Consider the previous example from the beginning. The horrific scene where the woman is caught and seized, finally to be kissed by force, is not depicted in a way that normal crime scenes are. Romantic background music that has been playing since they were in the restaurant continues even as the man catches the woman. The way woman’s response is shown also exacerbates the problem; after all her struggling to get out of the situation, she eventually closes her eyes and accepts what she is being forced to go through. This sudden change of the victim’s attitude, the gentle music and the overall sweet and mellow atmosphere all lead viewers to think the scene is just part of a fine romance.
Remaining Confucian culture of Korea dating back to the Joseon Dynasty also influences a way people regard couples’ behavior. Among the many aspects of Confucianism, patriarchal way of thinking still lingers in the Korean society. According to Carmen M. Cusack’s study titled, ‘Feminist Inquiry into Intimate Partner Violence Law, Policy, Policing, and Possible Prejudices,’ such patriarchal thinking can indeed contribute to dating abuse. The superiority in strength that men assume to have in terms of gender roles justifies aggression and violence towards women. The woman’s gender role, on the other hand, is usually found to be submissive and passive. Especially in Korea, as the Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education states, a man playing the leading role and women passively being controlled is easily idealized as romance.
Abuse, Not Romance
Times are changing, and so does the ideal image of dating along with the trend. Nonetheless, dramas, which is a cultural content that should be most prompt to reflect reality, are still showing a distorted, improper and anachronistic way of loving someone, which is a relic of the past. This should be corrected; influential media contents like dramas must bring forth change. The drama industry should create new romance codes that can replace scenes that are provocative and even violent in order to win viewers heart again. To direct and display a dramatic scene cannot be an appropriate excuse for featuring dating abuse scenes. This brings too many consequences, implanting a wrong set of values in people. In turn, the general public should also be aware of the dangers of dating abuse. It is high time that viewers became aware of dating abuse and played an active role in criticizing such scenes within dramas. Fortunately, many viewers nowadays are starting to feel uncomfortable about certain abusive clichés frequently used by drama producers. Following this change in trend, the social atmosphere of regarding violence as romance should also change. People should not consider lovers’ arguments only within the boundaries of love as expressions like “matrimonial quarrel” and “Lover’s quarrels are soon mended” suggest, but rather regard it more seriously in a social dimension.
By Moon Gyu-ri (Culture Reporter)
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