Literature is the pulse of the civilization. When you kill literature, you destroy the soul of a nation.(Schumacker, 2019).
These statements support what I have in mind: literature doesn’t die. For me, literature should have no end. It doesn’t end because this is why we lived and when a thing doesn’t end, might as well be immersed to it and celebrate it.
This is one of the reasons why I’m making a literary criticism about an amazing piece of oral literature – Itaewon Class. It is a South Korean television series starring Park Seo-joon and Kim Da-mi. This series is an adaptation from a webtoon of the same name. As I was reading reviews from this series, I have found out that the webtoon author made the script for the drama himself. This is an amazing feature because it can actually preserve the webtoon’s essence and sincerity. And it did, I have seen and read the early chapters and I was amazed because it doesn’t go far from the script and dramatization in the actual series.
Am I a K-drama Fan?
Personally, I didn’t want to watch tons of K-drama (short for Korean Drama) because I have internalized that they just let the viewers, especially the teens, become idealistic about their life of romance. I prefer to watch science fiction and fantasy instead. It’s just that I have noticed that when my friends watch K-drama, they seem to be expecting that their lives might become the same with the characters of the series they have watched. They hope that they would find their own “oppas.” They will become too immersed by the fate of the couple in a K-drama that they forget the realities of life – worst-case scenario. As a result they become idealistic. These are just some of my assumptions and reasons why I don’t patronize K-drama that much. However, my mind has taken a shift from something when I realized that these are still literary works. They are still worthy to be patronized at some point, especially when there are life lessons to be learned (and more factors to be considered if you’d ask me), and celebrated. Undeniably, a vast number of viewers, readers, and listeners do not recognize and appreciate literature but it doesn’t make the value of literature any less though. Maybe I just hated the idea that they have taken those literary works so lightly and not even giving credits to the minds, especially the writers, behind those.
“Learn as if you will live forever.”
Finally, I didn’t patronize K-drama a lot because I don’t want to waste my time watching them for hours and get nothing but excitement in return. I want to learn something from everything I watch, read, and listen to. I am glad, then, to realize that is not rightful to overgeneralize K-drama as a mere vessel of idealism. Itaewon Class has helped me think this way. In fact, this K-drama series has magnified the seemingly unaddressed issues in our society such as abuse of power, social injustice, racism, gender discrimination, stereotyping of all sorts down to family and friendship.
Abuse of Power
The events in the story started to rise when the main character – Park Saeroyi refused to kneel down after punching his classmate who was bullying another classmate even if it meant expulsion from his school. Throughout the episodes I realized that power is an overwhelming thing to acquire. Undeniably, most people want to have this. When you have power, you can either use it for your own good and not care for other people, or do it for the benefit not just of yourself but of others. This was shown in the early episodes of the series. Saeroyi refused to kneel down because he wasn’t sorry at all. It even made his father quit his job but interestingly, his father was so proud of what Saeroyi has become. He is living with integrity.
Social injustices are sometimes a result of the abuse of power. Some of these include bullying inside the schools, and teachers become more of like puppets. It is a shameful thing for a teacher to forget what is the essence of the oath he/she has taken. It should be the teachers who teach fairness and justice inside the classroom but what good is it when a teacher forgets it to preserve their jobs? Truthfully, one will do anything just to survive. The only difference is that not all people just exist to survive. This has been portrayed in the series when Park Saeroyi chose to be expelled from the school and his dad quit his job from the Chairman who asked his son to kneel down before them. The school administration didn’t even object. Admittedly, these unjust actions still occur in our world today.
One of the strengths of this K-drama series is that it has a wide range of character focus. It didn’t just focus on a pair of characters. Take this very significant character being portrayed as an example – Kim Toni. He portrays a character of an African-Korean man who went to South Korea to look for his Korean father. Truthfully, this racial injustice and discrimination does not just happen and seen in South Korea but around the world. Apparently, one’s physical attributes matter in the cruel society we’re in especially the skin color. It can be a medium for a particular person to be not given the same privileges that other people get. It is quite interesting that Itaewon Class has this in the storyline. I mean, admit it, racial injustice is not always seen and addressed to in many multimedia platforms.
As what I have mentioned above, Itaewon Class is a unique K-drama series because it has a wide range of character focus. Another significant character in this series is Hyun-yi – the chef. The character has been discriminated when the people in the broadcasted cooking contest knew that she’s transgender. This discrimination is very present in our society. People can be so cruel to those in third sex. Our stereotypes consume us and forget that they are just like us. Does it benefit us when we continually discriminate them, then?
Stereotyping is accordingly to have a set idea about what a particular type of person is like, especially an idea that is wrong. Amazingly, Itaewon Class did show a number of stereotyping issues. One of these is this 20-year old girl who didn’t go to college because she thinks it’s useless when she is so competent, influential, and intelligent and went to get a job in a small pub as the manager. And later on, she largely helped it to become the top food company in the country. The chairman of which didn’t even finish middle school. We have loads of stereotypes fleeting. It’s not even fair to have a fixed mental picture that people who do not finish schooling can never achieve great heights. Fortunately, this K-drama can break some of stereotypes we have in mind.
“My strength comes from people.” Saeroyi mentioned this as the events are reaching the climax. He emphasized that he can overcome things because of the few good people he has by his side. And he did. He has shown his reliance on his friends as he was on his way of achieving his dreams.
Essence of Living
“Was that life? Well then! Once more!”
This line came from a book that Yi-seo was reading. Obviously, one of the focuses of the series is how did the main character live a bitter life because of those who abuse their power. It emphasized that life can never be always “bed of roses.” It will cause you pain, terrible pain. But it’s worth living for when you knew the reasons why you live not just to survive.
“I’m going to embrace my yearning heart.” – Park Saeroyi
He said this when he met his father in his dreams. He admitted that he was still grieving and that he misses his late father but Saeroyi freed himself from that when he convinced himself that he will just simply embrace his yearning heart. As for me, this is one of the best ways to free yourself from pain or grief and decide to let go of it in a matter of time. Life is composed of all good and ill feelings. Might as well embrace them and turn it something for your own good instead.
Love That Fills Us Up
“It’s all you.”-Park Saeroyi (to Yi-seo)
One of the things that amazed me while I was watching Itaewon Class is the slow progress of the main characters’ love affair. I find it dull when a TV show is solely focused on a couple’s love life. This is when my K-drama prejudices come in. I’ve seen a number of K-drama series before but it was solely focused on love affairs. This feeds the viewers idealism of some sort. In my own opinion, this is one of the reasons why not all literary pieces are celebrated. On the other hand, one can never ignore the need of this most intimate affection – love. As a Christian myself, I believe that one’s life can never be complete unless you find out that you need love and have it. I have read poems, novels, songs, letters and mostly parables and stories from the Bible that will lead us to an understanding that we are empty. A human heart will always be empty without love. And in this K-drama series, Saeroyi was willing to lay down his life for his love. He only figured it out in the last episodes but he was all-out for it. It even made him kneel down to his enemy. He even stated, “There’s nothing easier than this.” Saeroyi did not let his pride win over love. It is because when you love, it’s all or nothing. You become selfless because for me, when you love and are loved back, this is where you find your identity. Eventually, when you know who you are and for whom you live for, you will be complete. This gives anything a happy ending. It’s when the main characters have seem to resolve and overcome their huge hurdles in life.
Finally, I know that I am a self-proclaimed K-drama nonfan but Itaewon Class is an amazing series. It’s highly bingeable. You will just find yourself so immersed with the emotions of the characters. The actors are amazing. The script is well-written. No wonder the series is being watched by millions of people around the world. I urge you to celebrate and appreciate literary works as much as you can while not neglecting the fact that we can and apply what we can learn from them in our actual lives.
I rest my case…