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[Escapism vs. Realism] Stranger than fiction


Fight My Way

By @yjgclone

“Why would I watch something realistic or sad? I watch movies and series to entertain myself, not to torture myself.” I always hear these words from my parents whenever we go out and pick a movie or a K-drama to watch. My mother always sticks to romantic comedies, and I can’t deny that my heart also flutters when the couple is oozing with chemistry. When they share those meaningful stares and contagious smiles, I can’t help but smile too. It’s an escape from reality until I realize it’s just a drama and these characters and their experiences do not exist in real life.

Dramas continuously feed my imagination and separate me from the real world, but on rare days, I find myself pressing the pause button and rewinding to the previous line a character said, because it was so true to life. A little moment where reality and escapism struck together. I became addicted to those instances. It has become my standard for dramas—finding memorable lines that reflect my life and depict my innermost feelings.


Dream High 2

At the very least, we sometimes encounter characters in whom we can somehow see ourselves. It’s the first sign of realism that I look for in a show. The first time I encountered this was Shin Hye-sung, the character Kang So-ra played in Dream High 2. Although the series did not live up to its predecessor, which raised the bar for idol-starring dramas, the show went closer to the harsh realities of young people aspiring to reach their dreams.

I was in college when this drama aired. Just like Hye-sung, I was continuously failing no matter how hard I tried, and I was an outcast due to my lackluster social skills. I didn’t even have a small group of friends I could say I belonged to. Watching dramas was my way to escape reality temporarily, but this one kept me closer. It made me question the little confidence I had and doubt my abilities. What if this degree is just a pipe dream and what if I’ll never be good enough for this?

I was sure that Dream High 2 would succeed in trampling my self-esteem. But it was the opposite. The song that Hye-sung wrote, “Hello To Myself,” spoke to me. The steps she took were little by little but they were sure. Somehow, I also found my group of friends. It sounds very clichéd that when you meet good people in your life, things start to change. I thought that only happened in dramas I watched, like Dream High, Dream High 2, and God of Study. It was wonderful when the thing I thought to be escapism managed to become realism.


Misaeng

While I was in my final year of college, I watched Misaeng, the first K-drama I have watched that is boldly slice-of-life. At that time, I knew myself a little bit better. I was aware of my weaknesses, my strengths, my successes, and my downfalls, but this series managed to resurface my feelings of doubt and painful hope. It was the last scene of the first episode that totally sold me on the show.

Jang Geu-rae: “You say I work hard? No, I’m here now because I didn’t work hard. That’s why I needed to break into society. I was abandoned because I didn’t work hard.”

It was heartbreaking. These words spoke not only of him, but of everyone who had failed once before, yet did not surrender. The characters were just simple workers who had their own struggles. None of them was a celebrity, a chaebol’s son, or someone supernatural. It was a fresh breath of air, yet it felt so familiar. The show basically portrayed those who are working very hard, yet they have accomplished very little.

As the show progressed, I was relieved to see Jang Geu-rae achieving things, even little by little, on the road he had chosen. There were no huge victories for him, but it’s comforting to know someone’s doing well. Seeing these characters succeeding on the path they took empowered me to thrive just like them in their everyday lives.


Fight My Way

Now that I’ve started to work, dramas like Fight My Way leave a mark on my heart. I can’t say that I relate to everything about Kim Ji-won’s character Choi Ae-ra, but she said some things that left my heart empty. This is what I’ve realized upon watching these dramas—that they make you feel things you didn’t know you were capable of.

Choi Ae-ra: “I earned money.”

This is what she said on an interview when she was asked about what she had done with her life when everyone else was busy filling up their resumés with impressive jobs. It hit my heart because it had sincerity.

Choi Ae-ra: “Even though we woke up earlier than others, even though we went to bed later than others, we never had time. We lived harder than anyone, but because a resumé that doesn’t know anything seems to pretend to know all of me, I’m angry, I’m frustrated.”


Strong Woman Do Bong-soon

While growing up made me realize how beautiful slice-of-life dramas are, it also made me appreciate romantic comedies as beautiful stars is the night sky. They twinkle in the lonely night and make you smile. I also need them to relieve my stress. Strong Woman Do Bong-soon is one of my latest favorites, not only for the supernatural romantic comedy, but how it reflects familial relationships, another example of slice-of-life that can be found even in fantasy dramas. Though not as family-centric as other dramas, the drama took care to build Bong-soon’s relationships with her parents and her twin brother. The fantasy side plays with your imagination, but the reality side makes you feel at home.

Someone once said that life is stranger than fiction—a wonderful spectacle. In dramas they intermingle, and we smile when escapist dramas treat us with some realism and we smile when our realist dramas give our beloved heroes ways to reach the impossible. Both of these elements are present in any drama, and that’s what’s needed; a pure fantasy would be hard to relate to, and pure slice-of-life would just be a documentary.

 
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I feel exactly like your parents but the way you've expressed the need for realism is convincing me that realism might not be so bad after all. :-P
The concluding sentence is my favorite part. Thank you, this was a good read :-)

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Choi Ae-ra's line really hit me in the gut. I was lucky to land the jobs that I got and am able to have a pretty good resume, but I know there are so many that aren't and have been and still are in Choi Ae-ra's situation. And the millenial generation in south korea are having it even harder.

It was a great moment where escapism and realism met and where the fictional character acknowledged this reality that is being endured by so many young people.

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Thanks @yjgclone, your article is close to what I feel about drama watching. I don't necessarily go back to catch the words that strike me, but I too watch knowing that I want is a drama that offers both escapism and realism. Even in the supernatural, certain things have to make sense, and in realistic dramas there must be hope for growth and improvement, for positive steps and minor successes at least.

Thanks for putting these thoughts out here for us. 😄

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Thank you, @yjgclone, for your thoughtful essay on escapism and realism in drama.

Like you, I often need and want a hybrid viewing experience. Easing up on stark reality with a bit of escapism becomes the “spoonful of sugar” that “helps the medicine go down, in a most delightful way,” in the words of Mary Poppins. On one hand, I need enough realism for characters and plots to be believable. On the other hand, I would like a little break while suspending my disbelief, just enough to grease the skids. Real life can be enough of an uphill battle that I do not want to be hit over the head with too-raw a slice of life every time I tune in to a drama. Call me a wimp. Or maybe just someone who has lived long enough to want to pick her own time and place to face painful Universal Truths through drama.

On occasion, a full-blown fantasy can be therapeutic, especially if it operates as a satisfying allegory. By the same token, tragedy also has its place, albeit in limited doses. A steady diet of SEVEN DAY QUEEN-calibre tragedy would be too much for me to handle.

We share another similarity as drama fans. I always have my ear attuned for memorable turns of phrase and inspiring bits of dialogue or song lyrics.

Even more important than words, however, are feelings. Kdrama attracts me because it conveys and evokes emotions in a way that is different from American TV shows. I can't quite put my finger on how that happens, I just know that it does. To me, emotional veracity may be the most important aspect of realism in a drama.

Thanks again for a lovely read. ;-)

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Well said! Essentially, I'm watching dramas for entertainment and escape, but wouldn't be able to care about the characters without some realism.

I also don't quite understand why Korean dramas appeal to me more than shows from American television, my own country, or other countries. Perhaps what I like is how 'clean' they are. Dramaland is magical - hard work usually gets you results, villains fall and everybody tries to be a better version of themselves. Also, Oppas.

@yjgclone - this was indeed a lovely read! Thanks.

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I loved everything you wrote. I noticed that I,also, always search for quotes that fit my situation at the moment.
I actually was a fantasy-dramas watcher, I didnt like realistic dramas as I thought it was boring and depressing, but as I started college about a year and half ago and things aren’t going easy and part-time jobs only makes it harder, my way of escaping life became non other than those slice-of-life dramas. It gives me a feeling that many suffers through life and good things happens to those who wait.
So I like to believe that, and think maybe we’re only on the first episodes and good things are coming soon.

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I especially loved that quote from Ae-ra as well, because it was so heartfelt and sincere, and it really encapsulated how frustrated she felt at that moment because people who were privileged enough to live the life they wanted couldn't understand her.

Also, my first thought when I saw this title was... a Taylor Swift song, haha!

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I actually read it as Sweeter than Fiction, finished the article and double backed. Oh it's Stranger than Fiction. 😂

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Love your post @yjgclone!
I'm all for realism. But then, as much as I love Misaeng, I couldn't finish it till now. The reality depicted is too true to life it hurts.

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Misaeng was painful to watch but always had a space of appreciation in my heart. It was a realistic depiction of working class struggles and frustration like being stuck in a job you hate or working to death but not getting anywhere. The show was a rare gem among all the rubble of chaebol stories in k-dramas.

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MISAENG reminded me only too well of my days as a secretary working for a huge bureaucratic corporation. And another particularly hellish gig during which I could see that I was being set up for a fall by a manipulative boss. It was only after I fired him (I did not quit!!!) that I learned he'd pulled the same BS on several of my predecessors. I was floored when I learned after the fact from Human Resources that his former secretary was suing him for harassment. It was nuts. Voting with my feet was the only course of action that made sense to me under the circumstances.

Highly recommended: The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis -- which depicts Hell as an infernal bureaucracy.

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I love your writeup. It is so similar to what I feel about slice of life dramas and fantasy. Even if I watch fantasy to escape from reality at times, i am always drifted back towards real dramas because they are so relatable. Those lines from Misaeng and FMW, I remember them thoroughly, thats how deep they represent the struggle of a human being. I specially loved your last paragraph, you wrote it beautifully and aptly.

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Thanks everyone for the read. It flutters my heart. Haha.

I agree that too much binge watching of slice of life dramas can be toxicating. We are getting too tired rooting for our heroes.

And it is so true about Kdramas vs others. KDrama really have this warm feeling even the show is about winter. 😂

Here's some cheers to all Choi Aera and Jang Geurae striving in the real world. 🍹

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Choi Ae-ra is probably one of my favorite k-drama heroine in years (in addition to Jang Hye-Sung from IHYV, Cheon Song-yi from My Love from the Star, Cindy from The Producers and Oh Ji-young from Miss Korea). Ae-ra, in a way, reminded me of the struggles that I had to go through in pursuing my dreams. It is why I really appreciated Dong-man's advice for Ae-ra to follow her heart because anywhere she likes being will be the major league for her. It was a eureka moment for me and sort of felt like a validation for the decision that I made about 3 years ago to step away from my ultimate dream, which caused me heart ache, into another career that turned out to be better and more fulfilling. (Let's just say that I have my own Dong-man too only that I don't see us ever getting together eventually. LOL.)

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A+++

This is exactly my drama watching take on escapism vs realism. I like my unrealistic dramas to have moments of relatability - it's grounding - and my realistic dramas to give me hope, otherwise facing reality can be too depressing. Now if only there was a way to tell beforehand whether or not a drama will fulfill these expectations...

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im actually kinda agree with your parent but i watch drama based on my situation.. if i was in hard situation i wont watch smth so realistic but i will watch tht drama later when everything getting better.. but i get your point bcs if drama doesnt have something tht the viewers can relate on, the drama will be less entertaining..

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so well written! Indeed completely related with ae ra's statement. How lovely is it to find some drama material to be so relatable. Then again how lovely would it be to be swept up in a whirlwind romance! <3

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In love with the last paragraph!

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