K-drama problems: Great expectations
For all the ways that K-dramas inject fun, entertainment, and happiness into our lives, they can also wreak a little bit of havoc. I use the term havoc lightly, of course, but it feels something like that when I step back and look at how dramas have impacted some of my expectations from life. From romantic encounters, to dealing with false accusations, to crossing the street with extra wariness, surely I can’t be the only long-term viewer who’s been impacted?
It’s a marvelous thing to live life with great expectations. To not only see the best in people and circumstances, but to look for it, find it, and feel sure it was there all along. I’m all about this mindset of positive expectation, and this article is not saying we should lower our expectations, but rather exploring how dramas can affect what we expect to happen (whether we realize it or not). Because really, real-life expectations and K-drama-level expectations are two very different things.
K-dramas exist in a delicious world of tropes. Love them or hate them, dramas perpetuate the same moments, scenes, and dynamics again and again. It’s amazing that I can never tire of watching someone get tenderly Band-aided, but it’s even more amazing that this all-too-common K-drama scene is one of the many that have set up “great expectations” in my own life.
Maybe I’ve seen too many wound/scratch/papercut scenes than is healthy for a person? Perhaps anticipating someone to tend my extremely minor wounds is a bit far-fetched (sarcasm)? Well, the closest I’ve gotten to this in real life is being in an elevator and noticing my finger was bleeding from a small cut. A man also in the elevator handed me a tissue, and that was that.
Of course, romanticized first aid via Band-aids and ointment is only the tip of the iceberg. K-dramas have also changed my expectations around neighbors, of all things. I love stories of neighbors, neighborhoods, and neighborhood friendships and romances. When I moved to a new apartment, I was expecting epic things, and excited to meet my neighbors.
Except it took weeks before I even laid eyes on them. To my disappointment, we wound up more like ships passing in the night than people living in close proximity that could be pals — or, at the very least, be that person next door my mom could always ask for flour or eggs when she ran out. It’s my personal opinion that our busy, digital lives are making us lose some of that sense of community. And I’m not the only one — I’ve surveyed so many friends and colleagues that live in apartments or with nearby neighbors, and everyone shares my experience.
This is where K-dramas can help. In K-dramas, we have neighbors that get to know each other, that are thrown in each other’s paths, that rescue each other from near-death circumstances, and that even eat dinner together. The good news? Dramas let me enjoy the neighborhood relationships that aren’t happening in real life. The bad news? Dramas let me enjoy the neighborhood relationships that aren’t happening in real life.
Sometimes the disparity between dramaland and real life is more sobering than amusing, and it’s never been so garish as it is in the realm of romance. I touched on it in my real-life Band-aid fail, but there are so many more instances where dramas set the bar so high that our everyday lives can’t help but fall a bit flat in comparison.
I’ve sat bleary-eyed in waiting rooms with no hero doctor to come and comfort me, or at the very least hand me a hot drink. I’ve been stuck in torrential downpours where there was no neighborhood oppa waiting to pull me under a giant umbrella. I’ve had my shoe fly off in the middle of the subway platform and had to run (err, hop) after it myself — no dashing stranger (who will turn out to be my new boss, landlord, or neighbor) appeared on the scene to fetch it for me. I’ve been going to the library frequently for most of my life, but I’ve yet to run into a handsome hero with great taste in literature. And the lovely man that came to my workplace for a day-long meeting? He stayed a stranger.
These are just some of the ways drama expectations have fallen flat when they hit my everyday 21st century American life. Despite being smart enough to know better, I’ve caught myself time and time again layering these drama-level expectations onto real life. I know they’re flat-out implausible, impractical, and at their worst, ridiculous. But still, a part of me can’t help but reach for them. Or at least imagine them.
My pre-K-drama self never cared much about these serendipitous moments occurring in my life — or so I tell myself. Did K-dramas plant the seeds for these things in my mind (and they grew into a jungle)? Or did K-dramas just water the soil so the things that already existed could bloom? And above all, what do I do to keep the contrast from seeming bittersweet, sad, or just plain pathetic?
Some would argue that every person longs to fulfill their role as a hero/heroine — and that’s why stories of people caught in the background, pushing their way to the front of the story are so powerful. We often see this with heroines that satisfyingly take the reins of their lives, not caring what sort of stampede they might cause. But can I still be the heroine of my own life if I unclog my bathroom sink myself? If I don’t run into my crush everytime I’m in the elevator? If the cute pharmacist through the drive-thru window is only just the cute pharmacist through the drive-thru window?
It’s fun to go through life with K-drama lenses on, and I’ve enjoyed so much because of it. But it’s also important to know when to take them off. Sometimes (okay, maybe more than sometimes), you’ll get a flat tire or your shoe will break, and there will be no mysterious hero to help you. You’ll buy expensive hair products (*ahem*) and yet never get your hair to look like Jun Ji-hyun’s in Legend of the Blue Sea. You’ll go to the store and not see anyone that you know. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay.
Where I think K-dramas can take away from our real-life experiences is not by showing us implausible scenarios and getting us to expect them to actually happen. Where I think it can be detrimental is when we believe that we’re not a hero/heroine unless these things happen to us. This is most untrue.
If there’s one thing we have learned from consuming story after story, it’s that each one has its own unique hero/heroine. And in your life, you are that person. By rights, you already have a story wrapped around you.
The serendipity, romance, fate, and other things that fill a drama’s action might look very different from the circumstances of our own lives — but it doesn’t mean they’re not there entirely. There’s still magic in ordinary everyday life, and unforeseen pleasures too. And while they might not be K-drama-level all of the time, if there’s one thing that’s for certain it’s this: there is always a new experience or moment waiting for us around the corner. And it belongs to you.