Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Expressive Values and the Creative Products of the Korean Wave

Posted on | December 6, 2014 | No Comments

Invited Respondent Remarks at The Korean Wave: Branding Korea in the 21st Century
November 25th, 2014
Hannam University
Daejeon, Republic of Korea
Hosted by the Linton Global College

First, I want to thank Dr. Doobo Shim for his excellent keynote speech and Dr. Jean-Luc Renaud for moderating this event.[1]

What I want to talk about today in terms of a response are some ways to analyze and understand creative products, especially in light of the current popularity of a number of Korean films, television dramas and “K-pop” – one of the unique musical styles of the “Korean Wave” phenomenon. I want to introduce you to the term “expressive value” as a way of thinking about the aspects of culture that are drawn on, and used to commodify and circulate such products.

I will also introduce several categories of expressive values and words related to them. These terms can be helpful in identifying cultural characteristics that can be used in the analysis of, or utilized in the production of, a broad range of meaningful cultural artifacts and expressions.

Yesterday, I saw a trailer on Youtube for the new Jurassic Park film called Jurassic World that is scheduled to be released in June of 2015. I was reminded of a book chapter by Dr. Shim where he recounted the story about when the administration of President Kim Young-Sam recognized the power of cultural industries, particularly movie-making. A year after the first Jurassic Park (1993) movie was released, President Kim was informed by the Presidential Advisory Board on Science and Technology that the revenues from Jurassic Park (1993), with a budget of US$63-million, had exceeded the sales of 1.5 million Hyundai cars. Lined end to end, that many cars would reach from Seoul through China, Afghanistan and Iran and all the way to Baghdad. That is a lot of metal, glass and plastic.

This was a major conceptual change or “paradigm shift” for those in the administration who saw South Korea’s future as one of dominating heavy industries like cars, but also steel, shipbuilding, apartment-building, etc. One of the results of this “Jurassic Effect” was a new law by the National Assembly in 1995 that promoted the film industry by providing tax incentives and attracting corporate capital. Subsequently, the major chaebols starting investing in the “visual industries,” including television and film.

Since then the Korean government started to earmark part of the national budget or low-interest loans and subsidies for cultural industries. Current President Park Geun Hye recognizes the role of culture. Despite being the world’s seventh-largest exporting nation, she argues the country needs to look beyond making hardware based on western technology and stimulate ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ throughout the nation’s economy.

Now, I’m not going to analyze South Korea’s cultural industrial policy as Dr. Shim and others have already done significant work in this area. Instead, I want to switch to one way of examining what is distinctive about the Korean Dr. PenningsWave, including film and other cultural industries. That is that they traffic or trade in what has been called “expressive values,” acts of creative expression that can be legally protected, primarily through copyright. These expressive values draw on our hungers for various types of meanings and experiences. They help us understand and appreciate our world. They help us understand and appreciate our lives.

Professor David Throsby of Macquarie University in Australia is well known for his work in this area. He suggested six categories of expressive values: These are aesthetic, social, spiritual, historical, symbolic, and authenticity values. I don’t have time to cover them all but let me describe a relevant few, starting with…

Aesthetic value. Words we might associate with this expressive value include Beauty, Harmony, and Form.[1] We see this in Architecture, Fashion, and certainly in South Korea’s plastic surgery industry as it crafts new Asian faces. In China and increasingly in other parts of Asian, people are taking what are known as “beauty trips” to come to Korea for plastic surgery. The Brown Eyed Girls (BEG), a K-Pop band, recently appeared on the Korean Saturday Night Live with the above parody of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” called “Plastic Face” – drawing attention to the social dynamics associated with this trend.

Social– Words we might associate with this expressive value include Community, Duty, Justice, and Security. We see this in movies such as Shiri (1999) or The Suspect (2013), both draw on the military and political tensions between North and South Korea, one of the most confrontational divisions in this part of the world.

Spiritual – Words we might associate with this expressive value include Insight, Awareness, Truth, Wonder, and Oneness. Korea’s interesting religious mix of Buddhism, Christianity, Shamanism and Confucianism are sources of cultural dynamism that the country is working through socially, and exporting as well.

Historical – Words we might associate with this expressive value include Identity, Time, and Continuity. The separation from the North and even earlier period narratives presented in movies like The Admiral: Roaring Currents about the remarkable naval victories against the Japanese in 1597, provide historical substance for new cultural forms.

Another one that I would add is Individuality and words we might associate with this expressive value include Accomplishment, Creation, Redemption, and Validation.

Now, these categories should only be considered starting points. The problem that I have with them in terms of analyzing Jean-Luc-4 (1)Korean Wave is that rather than drawing strictly on Korean culture, K-Wave is a diffusive, hybrid culture phenomenon that combines many aspects of Asian and Western cultures. It is a dynamic collage of cultural elements. A lot of what the Korean Wave expresses is a youthful dissatisfaction with the established order, with the older generations, and with the demands of living in an educationally and technologically intensive age. K-Wave offers the promise of change, of being different; enticing for kids in socially demanding Asian societies.

Other parts of the world, especially Southeast Asia, are looking at the Republic of Korea in light of its success to see why they have become a power and perhaps more importantly, how they are adjusting to being on the cutting edge of the new global economic order.

Thank you. I hope I gave you some ideas to think about.


[1] Dr. Doobo Shim is a professor of media and communications at Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul, Republic of Korea.
[2] I used an interesting book, Making Meaning: How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences, by Steve Diller, Nathan Shedroff, and Darrel Rhea to find some words to add to each category.


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.


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