Hallyu Conference (Middle East Branch/Hebrew University)

Report on The ‘Miracle’ Narrative of the Korean Cultural Industries: Perspectives from the Middle East”
Jerusalem, Israel, May 7-9, 2013

Submitted by Nissim Otmazgin and Irina Lyan,
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The conference, “The ‘Miracle’ Narrative of the Korean Cultural Industries: Perspectives from the Middle East,” was held at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem from May 7th to 9th, 2013. Organized by the Department of East Asian Studies and the World Association for Hallyu Studies (WAHS), it was the first major academic event of its kind to be held in the Middle East.

The purpose of this conference was to contribute to the study of the social and cultural influence of Korean contemporary culture in the Middle East. The discussion panels focused on Hallyu (the “Korean Wave”) in the Middle East within a broader context related to the globalization of Korea’s cultural industries and Korea’s images and presence in the region.

The conference was also a chance to reflect on the state of Hallyu consumption and fandom in the non-Asian and non-Western context. For one, looking at the Middle East allowed us to examine the way Korean contemporary culture is being received outside the geographically and culturally-proximate markets of East Asia and outside the major economic markets of North America and Europe. Moreover, the presence of Korean contemporary culture in relatively distant locations in the Middle East may exemplify the resilience and ability of the cultural industries to go beyond national and regional boundaries, and effectively reach out to audiences of various nationalities and ethnicities.

The sixteen papers presented at the conference analyzed and showcased instances of the way Hallyu has been disseminated and accepted in Egypt, Iran, Israel, Palestine, and Turkey, and examined the way it is reshaping the image of “Korea” in this part of the world. The issues addressed in discussions included:

(a) Harbingers, industries, and agents involved in introducing the “Korean Wave” in the Middle East;

(b) The integration of the Korean Wave within the local, regional, and global popular culture confluences;

(c) The reaction of governmental and media discourse to the Hallyu phenomenon;

(d) Relations between Korean cultural presence and the increase in the learning of the Korean language and of Korean academic studies; and

(e) The role of Hallyu in propagating new images of Korea.

We would like to emphasize three methodological insights that emerged from the discussions. First, the regional context matters. In order to understand better the transnational dissemination of popular culture, including Hallyu, we should look at the regional context and not limit ourselves to the framework of globalization and global-local relations. Viewing the “region” as a framework of analysis may illuminate overlooked practices and attitudes which influence the way popular cultures are accepted or rejected.

Second, earlier historical and cultural encounters matter. This is because confluences of popular culture may build on previous images, appreciation, and presences of the producing country. In the case of the Middle East, the acceptance of Hallyu builds on earlier layers of images of Korea in the region – as a nation divided by war and more recently as an economic success story.

Third, an inter-disciplinarity is useful for analyzing transnational cultural phenomenon. It is productive to utilize various disciplinary and methodological tools to analyze cultural phenomenon rather than staying only within the boundaries of cultural and media studies. In our conference, some of the papers emphasized the historical and political linkages between certain countries in the Middle East and Korea, which have an impact on the way Hallyu is regarded in official and popular discourse. Other papers used ethnographic and anthropological approaches to analyze the way Hallyu fandom is created and institutionalized; or focused on the popular culture text and the messages it delivers; while others used methods prevalent in communication studies to examine the industrial side of the production, marketing, and reproduction of Hallyu.

The conference was supported by various institutions: The Academy of Korean Studies, Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the State of Israel, The World Association for Hallyu Studies (WAHS), The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Development of Peace, and The Louis Frieberg Center for East Asian Studies.