K-drama problems: A matter of time
Contrary to what we might sometimes think, K-dramas ask a lot of their viewers. While we might not have to decode unique, stream of consciousness plot lines, we still have to do things like suspend our disbelief, and make peace with a jungle of storytelling telling tropes. But of all the things that K-dramas ask of us, there’s none as great as this: the time it takes to watch them.
Watching a K-drama is nothing less than a serious time commitment, and I can’t think of another television industry that produces and broadcasts shows with quite the same passion — and breakneck pace. There’s a stack of new dramas every few weeks, and each one has its unique appeal. If only there was time to watch everything.
When presented with so many drama options, we have to exercise choice: which drama is calling me the loudest? What sort of story am I most in the mood for? The time commitment of a drama almost necessitates this sort of drama triage. Time, after all, is one of our most precious possessions.
I’ve been digging into some time management research lately, partly out of the desire to spend my time as best as I can, and partly out of a desperate attempt to squeeze more productive hours out of my days. Like most, I could use a few more hours in a day to tend to all my responsibilities and still have downtime (i.e., time for interests, hobbies, and rest).
Aren’t we lucky that K-dramas can equal a hobby and relaxation time all at once? There’s nothing like the feeling of putting your feet up after a long day and relaxing to the next episode of your latest favorite drama. I’ve often talked about how drama time has almost become restorative time for me — I can let go of the pressures and events of the day, and jump into a beautiful world of fiction for an hour. Or two hours. Or, you know, several hours, if I’m marathoning through a particularly addictive drama.
But as much as I love my K-drama medicine, I still found myself needing to create some boundaries. I only have so many hours to myself each day, and I don’t really want to spend every spare moment I have staring at the screen. Because as great as dramas are, with their delicious stories and beautiful faces to stare at, there is also something to be said for other ways to spend our free time.
Some researchers have divided these recreational activities into two categories: effortless fun, and effortful fun. Effortless fun is easy — that’s why it’s effortless. Take out dinner and clicking play on your K-drama and/or Netflix queue are effortless; they don’t require much from us to enjoy them.
Effortful fun, though — is that even a thing? Should fun require effort? Actually, yes, research suggests that sometimes it should. Signing up for an art class, planning a day tour with friends, or even working on a handicraft — these are examples of effortful fun. They require something of us in terms of intention, planning, and even skill. This kind of fun is important because it’s how we try new things and make new memories.
I love this topic and discussion, but it did make me stop and think about my own “fun” and how much of it fell within the effortless category. My conclusion? I needed to push myself to do a little more effortful fun, and perhaps I needed to rein in my effortless fun. Just a smidge.
As such, I developed some dramaland rules. The first generation of my rule was that I was only allowed to watch dramas on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Now, if I had no commitments, I could plow through an awful lot in that time, but still, it was a way of controlling the drama tsunami — and it kept drama time special too, and something to look forward to during the week. However, it didn’t last that long. What if an episode I was dying for aired on Tuesday? There’s no way I could wait until the weekend to watch it.
More recently, I felt like I was spinning too many drama plates all at the time, and I created the next generation of my drama rules where I was only allowed to watch two dramas at a time. Really, only two. Assuming they are live dramas, that means four hours of watching a week — very modest, but also very much not enough dramas. Both rules are now defunct, and linger at the back of my mind, reminding me of a time when I had better self-discipline.
There’s no real moral of this story, just that with much K-drama comes much responsibility. There will be times in our lives when we can watch more, and indulge, and then there will be times when we can’t, and dramaland takes a back seat for a while. Both are a part of life in the ever-evolving dramaverse.
But, because I like to throw a wrinkle into my own arguments sometimes, I started thinking about whether watching K-dramas is truly effortless fun or not. Yes, queuing up a drama and staring at the screen is effortless. It’s not like practicing the piano or reading a book. On the other hand, I think anyone invested in dramaland would probably agree that it can be more than a purely passive endeavor — and here’s why.
The epitome of effortless fun, in terms of TV, is staring at the screen mindlessly, being inundated by stories (and even ads and marketing) without really being conscious of it. In order words, passive, reactive, and brain mostly checked out.
But then you have dramaland. For those of us who don’t speak fluent Korean, we’re being inundated with a new language in the one of the best ways to learn: immersion. Depending on how serious you take your dramas (or your level of inner nerd — and mine is high), you might find yourself picking up on inflection, intonation, use of honorifics, dialects, and of course, the best and most current slang. Similarly, some viewers rely on subtitles and read as they watch (yay reading!) which is working your brain with two modes of input while you enjoy your drama. Science.
But, even if you’re a native speaker (or if you don’t see dramas as a way to learn a new language), you can still watch K-dramas “effortfully” — we do it all the time. When we think about how well a character is being developed, analyze the clarity and compellingness of a plot arc, or even discuss how well themes and metaphors are pulled together — these are all things that make drama watching active rather than passive.
Perhaps it’s fair to settle on a middle ground, then, between effortless and effortful fun? While dramas are effortless and easy enjoyment, there’s also a level of effort (and even learning) that we can add to make them more meaningful. And why is this important? Because meaningful entertainment can reach other areas of our lives — and even enrich it.
Rather than only staring at the screen to check out of real life (though I recognize we need some of that too), we can also use that entertainment time to enrich our daily lives.
Maybe Crash Landing on You made you want to whip up fresh noodles like Hyun Bin did (that ramyun!). Maybe Splish Splash Love got you interested in learning Hangul or Korean history. Or maybe after watching so many dramas about writers, you finally hunkered down and started writing your book. It could be anything — the point is that it takes the passivity out of TV media, and brings it to life in ways that enrich us. It takes our effortless time spent watching dramas, and turns it into time well spent.