Among the younger generations there is a smaller number of supporters of reunification. South Korean television series that are broadcast through streaming platforms play a cultural role that goes beyond entertainment: they break certain stereotypes about North Korea and feed a feeling of closeness between North and South.
Seoul () – July 27 marks the 70th anniversary of the armistice that sealed the division of the Korean peninsula at the 38th parallel.. Starting in 1953, North Korea and South Korea evolved into two completely different forms of state and cultures. Today, there are few people alive who have experienced that division firsthand and are part of one of the more than 60,000 families divided by seven decades.
The youth grew up with two separate Koreas, making reunification increasingly unlikely. According to a survey by Seoul National University, in 2021 44% of South Koreans were in favor of reunification. In the 20-39 age group, more than 40% believe that reunification with the North is not really necessary, and 34% believe that it is not necessary “at all”. These data show that in the last seventy years of division, the perception of the population regarding the relationship between North and South has changed. However, the attempt to preserve a common identity between North and South has found an unthinkable ally: the Korean television series -better known as K-Drama- in which it becomes the central theme.
As an example: Crash Landing on Youbroadcast in South Korea by tvN, landed on Netflix a few months after the historic meeting in the demilitarized zone between South Korean President Moon Jae-In, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. The plot has as its protagonist a South Korean businesswoman who is the heiress of a chaebohe [un conglomerado empresarial, ndt], who accidentally ends up in North Korea while paragliding. The series tells the love story between the woman and the North Korean soldier who finds her. It is one of the most viewed on the streaming platform and has achieved international success, showing that pop culture still preserves and narrates the idea of a “Korean Nation”.
Crash Landing on You differs from other South Korean series set in North Korea, which made it popular among viewers and critics alike. It portrays life in rural North Korea and uses the love story between the two protagonists to tell not only the differences but also the similarities that still unite the values of the North and the South: filial love, loyalty and a sense of belonging. The program has also been welcomed by organizations supporting North Koreans fleeing to South Korea, precisely because it departs from the stereotypical portrayal of North Korea and its people whose image has suffered from bilateral tensions.
Although it is not the first series of its kind, its premiere on Netflix has made it the most emblematic case. In 2012 it was released in South Korea. The King 2 Hearts, which envisioned the nation as a constitutional monarchy and told the love story between the young crown prince and a young soldier from the North. Another series of this type is Eternal Monarchwhose protagonist travels between different dimensions and imagines a united Korean peninsula.
reunification of the two Koreas with a romantic setting in the background is one of the most recurring themes in Korean dramas and can help preserve the idea of Korean identity that is gradually being lost. TV series and movies are a key aspect of South Korea’s cultural diplomacy that is taking hold internationally. But they might well play a key role in shaping cultural aspects at the local levell, thanks to the influence that the characters on the screen exert on the viewers, emphasizing different social issues.