Gourmet Drama: A Tasty Case of Narrating the Nation
Jiwon Ahn / Keene State College

Lunch Queen

Lunch Queen (Lunch no joou, 2002, Fuji TV)

As a fan of the genre, I would like to begin with a rhetorical question: why has “gourmet drama” (or ryori/yori drama), a well-established category of drama series on East Asian television, not yet migrated to U.S. television? While there are rare examples of dramas in which food carries symbolic weight, as in The Sopranos, fictional shows that feature food as their central theme are hard to find on U.S. television. This is, however, an admittedly ill-informed question because as any student of media knows, media genres are culturally and historically specific, even though they increasingly tend to share influences across national borders these days. I will thus rephrase my question: in the context of successful reality shows based on the themes of food, cooking, and restaurant management, such as Iron Chef America (Food Network, 2002-present), Top Chef (Bravo, 2006-present), and Kitchen Nightmares (Fox, 2007-present), why is the fictional equivalent of the format, consistently popular in Japanese and Korean television culture, not happening in the U.S.? If viewers are already familiar with viewing food centrally on television, and enjoy dramatic narratives revolving around food preparation and consumption, why can’t these shows break free from their staged “reality” setting? In the following, I will delineate some of the textual tropes of the genre of gourmet drama in an effort to make sense of the absence of this interesting format on U.S. television.

“Gourmet drama” can be viewed as originating from Japan, where television dramas are often adapted from original manga (comic book) series, in which food has established itself as a staple genre with popular series such as Oishinbo (“The Gourmet,” Tetsu Kariya) and Mr. Sushi King (Daisuke Teresawa). ((For an interesting discussion of food manga, see Lorie Brau’s “Oishinbo’s Adventures in Eating: Food, Communication, and Culture in Japanese Comics” in Gastronomica—The Journal of Food and Culture. Vol. 4, No. 4, p. 34-45.)) One of the most successful gourmet dramas, Shota no Sushi (Fuji TV), adapted from manga of the same title, first aired in 1996, with narrative traits similar to those of Iron Chef (1993-1999), involving rigorous training and competitions of chefs in order to become the “no. 1” sushi-maker in Japan. Korean food drama, on the other hand, has gained both domestic and international recognition with the success of the period drama Dae-jang-geum (“Jewel in the Palace”) in 2003, a fictional series about a female royal chef set in the Chosun Dynasty. ((There are also popular and noteworthy Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese) gourmet dramas including The God of Cookery (2007), Magic Chef, and A Recipe from the Heart. For reasons of space, however, I will mainly focus on the discussion of Japanese and Korean drama series here. )) While individually varied in terms of narrative detail, gourmet dramas tend to share the following three textual tropes: a thematic contrast between old and new values, with the former always reaffirmed; a narrative contrast between pre-modern/personal approaches and capitalist/industrial approaches to food, cooking, and service, with the former always rewarded; and both a visual and thematic emphasis on food preparation and eating as an essentially communicative act.

Late-night Diner

Shinya Shokudo (“Late-night Diner,” 2009, TBS/MBS)

The contrast between old and new is most commonly embodied via the motif of generational conflict. Many shows feature protagonists whose fathers are master chefs and restaurant owners (Shota no sushi, My Little Chef, Osama no restaurant, Teppan Girl Akane , Delicious Proposal, Pasta, Sushi Oji!). Often these protagonists have personal questions to be answered (e.g. “Who is my father?” in Haikei Chichiue-sama) and restaurants to inherit and preserve, for which rigorous training is the key to becoming chefs as masterful as their fathers. In the 2001 Korean drama series, Delicious Proposal, the main character Hyo-dong, previously ashamed of his father’s small Chinese noodle joint, decides to become a chef and inherit the restaurant upon learning that he was deserted by his birth mother and adopted by the restaurant’s kindly owner. The 16-episode series revolves around Hyo-dong’s transformation and the cooking competitions he goes through in order to be recognized as a master chef. Fathers in these series tend to be stubborn with their old-fashioned method of cooking, and have poor communication skills. Protagonists can only learn about the deeper intentions of their fathers through cooking, as in Lunch Queen in which two sons laboriously study their late father’s secret recipe for demi-glaze sauce.

Intertwined with the setting of old-fashioned, small-scale restaurants run by father figures is the embodiment of evil in the form of capitalist entrepreneurs who see food merely as a source of economic gain. Gourmet dramas often begin with an old-fashioned restaurant in the middle of Tokyo or Seoul which easily falls prey to developers planning to bulldoze the decades-old restaurant and build franchises such as a “food park” or “sushi tower.” Valued through the symbol of the persistently small restaurants are the pre-modern system of apprenticeship and ideals of craftsmanship, perfectionism, and customized service. For example, in My Little Chef, the main character Seri has a critical flaw as a chef in that she is unable to cook for customers she doesn’t know personally. To address this issue, Seri converses with customers about their personal lives for five minutes before deciding on the menu, which results in a customized dinner with affective power that saves couples’ marriages and resolves filial conflicts. Careful and elaborate preparation of food is emphasized, not to express the creative talent or culinary skills of the chef but as a process of creating quality through slow and meticulous individual consideration. While Barthes discusses “ornamental cookery” as the result of petit-bourgeois aspiration that further removes haute cuisine away from its raw food source through excessive decoration, ((Roland Barthes, “Ornamental Cookery,” in Mythologies. Hill and Wang: New York, 1972. P.78-80.)) elaborate cooking in gourmet drama seems to espouse an anti-capitalist ideal that resists efficiency and standardization. This may be why there are so many free meals given away by the restaurants in these dramas, as in Osen where a young female restauranteur decides to treat bankers to a memorable meal even though she knows that they cannot be prevented from redeveloping the neighborhood. The inefficiently spectacular display of food thus can be seen as a symbol of disappearing pre-modern values of moral integrity that these shows argue to be worthy of preservation.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w21BTMRaK3k&feature=PlayList&p=87383A6B2979B4E6&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=3[/youtube]

Dinner is created on the basis of personal stories in My Little Chef

The display of elaborate cooking and eating thus serves multiple purposes: as the embodiment of pre-modern/anti-capitalist values, as a source of visual pleasure, and as a motif for narrative construction. The most important of these functions of food display in gourmet drama, I would argue, is the capability of televisual images of food to provoke not just our sensory imagination (for smell and taste) but our narrative imagination, a desire to consume a coherent and moving story about food. Not surprisingly, one theme most consistently articulated in gourmet dramas is the idea of food as communication. In every show, protagonists cook in order to create “food that touches heart” and “flavor felt not by tongue but by heart.” That’s why these characters study not with cookbooks but with master chefs because such mythical food cannot be created by means of a written formula, but only by the individual care of a devoted cook. Korean show Shikgaek (“The Grand Chef,” MBC, 2008) begins with the story of the last royal chef of the Chosun Dynasty, who is asked to serve a final meal to the last emperor of the nation soon to be annexed to Japan. Upon being served a bowl of soup, the emperor weeps uncontrollably because he gets the “message” about the persistence of the Korean nation symbolized by the soup’s different ingredients. Food that moves the human heart cannot be simply shown or even tasted, but needs to be narrated, in the context of a larger drama that typically mixes the genres of family melodrama and romantic comedy. This point that food in gourmet drama needs to be narrated brings us back to my initial question: why are there no gourmet dramas on U.S. television?

Ultimately, what is narrated through the story of food in gourmet drama is the story of the nation itself, the sense of a common national culture and history, and of belonging shared between the show and its viewers through the sharing of a common palate and collective memory around certain food items. Whether the show features an Italian restaurant, French patisserie, or a late night snack joint, identification with the characters through their stories of cooking and eating allows viewers to be positioned as members of the same imagined community in which, say, omurice is meant to evoke similar childhood memories among national viewers. In Pasta, the main character’s obsession over producing perfect Aglio Olio pasta resonates with a national audience, but not because regular Korean viewers are familiar with the flavor of the Italian dish. It is the fact that it was the last fine meal her secretly dying mother wanted to have with the protagonist which is moving to Korean viewers, because the story of parents’ selfless sacrifice is still strongly valued in contemporary Korea.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9y8jOkOUsg[/youtube]

Preview of The Grand Chef with a competition sequence”]

As Diane Negra argues in her discussion of ethnic food fetishism, the consumption of food films facilitates viewers’ ethnic performance by helping them acquire a sense of affiliation through nostalgia. ((Diane Negra, “Ethnic Food Fetishsm, Whiteness, and Nostalgia in Recent Film and Television,” The Velvet Light Trap. No 50 (Fall 2002), p. 62-76.)) In the context of U.S. television, however, food seems to function as too one-dimensional a signifier of ethnic identity (as well as regional and class affiliation) as in the case of The Sopranos. Not only is it difficult to find food items that transcend association with particular ethnic groups or niche audiences, but also the values associated with food may not be as consistent as in the case of Japanese and Korean gourmet dramas. It can be argued that the sense of inheritance of a national culture and the rigorous training required to continue the authentic lineage is far more central in the national imagination of Japanese and Korean identities, than in U.S. national identity. For these reasons, gourmet drama as a television genre seems unlikely to arrive on U.S. television soon, not because food cannot be viewed in a fictional setting in the U.S., but because it cannot be readily integrated into a seamless and compelling narrative of nationhood.

Image Credits:
1. Lunch Queen (Lunch no joou, 2002, Fuji TV)
2. Shinya Shokudo (“Late-night Diner,” 2009, TBS/MBS)
3. Dinner is created on the basis of personal stories in My Little Chef
4. Preview of The Grand Chef with a competition sequence

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The Tedious Fun of Cosmopolitan Shopping: Man Shops Globe
Jiwon Ahn / Keene State College

Man Shops Globe

The Sundance Channel and Anthropologie’s Man Shops Globe

Reflecting upon my television experience of 2009, I realize that I am still intrigued by one particular show premiered in October 2009 on Sundance Channel: Man Shops Globe.  Produced by World of Wonder, this series features Keith Johnson, buyer at large for the clothing and home goods retailer, Anthropologie, who travels around the world to purchase unusual items for sale at Anthropologie stores in the US, Canada, and UK.  Each episode depicts Johnson’s trip to one national destination, with visits to antique stores, flea markets, artisans’ studios, and galleries.

My fascination with this eight-part series, which combines the familiar formats of international travel and infomercial, is multiple: 1) Since when does a man shop?  Of course men do buy things, but since when did “shopping” become a male activity on television?  2) What kind of man are we talking about?  The answer is predictable: a white, upper-middle class, middle-aged man, with “fine taste,” professional knowledge, and a dry sense of humor.  What makes this man extraordinary enough to be a TV personality?  Or is the point more the opposite—that we all can be this man with his supposedly exciting lifestyle, by consuming the symbolic text of television and shopping at Anthropologie?

[YouTube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7A8xV0_jTT0[/youtube]

3) Another related question: if this man shops, is he gay?  He is, according to press release and one passing remark by Johnson himself in an episode.  Yet Johnson’s gay identity is never fore-grounded within the show as in some other lifestyle programs such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Project Runway, and The Fashion Show.  This subdued gayness of the main character can very well be considered the latest development in the “post-closet era television” compellingly discussed by Ron Becker in an earlier issue of this journal.  However, since “that’s already been done” as Johnson would say, I am more interested in discussing the last part of the show’s premise—the “Globe” as a shopping ground for Man.

4) Thus two questions: which parts of the world are featured as “the globe” in this show?  And more importantly, why does the man have to shop the globe?  Why can’t he just shop locally?  It is not new that globalization is represented as an expanded shopping opportunity on US television; travel shows and other reality programs portray a trip to Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or Tsukiji Market in Tokyo as casually as a trip to the corner store, while House Hunters International presents even the purchasing of a century-old mansion in Tuscany or a summer home in Cypress as an everyday process.  For anyone who has visited one of those pleasantly exotic Anthropologie stores, or who is imaginative enough to connect the retail outlet to its brand name (as in the academic discipline requiring field work), it’s not hard to understand that the company is premised upon delivering unusual, often foreign goods to the domestic middle-class audience with an aura of authenticity, at a reasonable price.  Since there are only so many ways in which one can be authentic in this age of advanced consumer capitalism—going ethnic, going vintage, doing arts and crafts, or cleverly mixing any combination of the above—, the globe is quite necessary, indeed, for today’s consumer-citizens to express their singular individuality through shopping.

Man Shops Globe

Keith Johnson of Man Shops Globe

Man Shops Globe, however, takes this premise one step further by evoking the narrative of colonial exploration and reintroducing the romantic figure of a world-weary yet tireless white male explorer.  The logo of the show presents Keith Johnson as a pre-modern explorer in a vintage-style drawing with a motto, “His Job.  Your adventure.”

The opening credits present an old-fashioned, leather-bound suitcase, superimposed upon a map of the world.  Johnson’s voiceover follows, “My name is Keith Johnson… I travel around the world looking for the very best things… It is an amazing treasure hunt.”  Johnson travels to destinations selected with careful considerations: France, South Africa, Holland, Turkey, India, the UK, Tunisia, and Columbia.  By choosing destinations which are a fairly well-balanced mixture of first and the third world shopping locations, the show skillfully walks the line between representational and exploitative.  The identificatory potential the show offers with Johnson’s privileged position, is certainly powerful for many aspiring viewers/shoppers/explorers, and is constantly validated by the support of his colleagues, invitations to exclusive parties, even the endorsement by President Obama himself, in the White House’s purchase of a chandelier found by Johnson in South Africa (Episode 2).

Man Shops Globe

Man Shops Globe in India

However, having grown up in postcolonial South Korea listening to tales of American tourists at flea markets in Seoul going gaga over insignificant objects like antique chamber pots, I sometimes imagine myself in place of the local merchants in the show, often seen attentively listening to Johnson, albeit rarely heard from.  Although they appear to be uniformly appreciative of the opportunity to work with Johnson, are they as willingly oblivious to the fact that the joke is partially on them? (An antique dealer in India, Mr Goel, says, “Mahatma Gandhi said ‘Guest is gold’. Guest like Keith is certainly gold to us.” The same dealer later says, “Keith, he generally chooses things for which we think. These are junk, you know”? – Episode 5) For seemingly not knowing that those objects produced by their own labor will be sold at ridiculously marked up prices to North American yuppie customers with imaginary bohemian tastes?  This is in fact, the crux of the criticism the show has received: not disclosing the purchasing price of the items Johnson “discovers” in each episode.  Yet isn’t the joke really on us the viewers if we cling to the idea that the commodity value in the age of globalization can still have any grounding in the real—i.e. the cost of human labor and creativity, which are precisely the last things that can be universalized?  This leads to my final question about Man Shops Globe.

5) Since when shopping has become no fun?  According to the show, shopping is a job, a man’s job, serious and exhausting.  In the introductory voiceover, Johnson says, “I have the greatest job in the world,” in the most monotonous and joyless voice possible.  In every episode, he is anxious, stressed, and worried that he may bore his audience by bringing back “something that’s been done before” “that you’ve seen elsewhere,” which will be “a big yawn” and a “big disappointment.”  Because he has to find a way of making things “look fresh” by repurposing found objects, often within a limited time, shopping is depicted as an agonizing mission, a radical departure from postfeminist discourses on the empowerment of shopping, as repeatedly promoted, for instance, on HSN and QVC.

Man Shops Globe

Man Shops Globe in South Africa

The agony and tedium of cosmopolitan shopping in my view originates from the anxiety of having to remain authentic in a global marketplace where distinction is increasingly hard to achieve.  This can thus be considered a reaction against the fear of global monoculture, shared by the cosmopolitan middle class in the industrialized world.  As articulated by many writers ranging from Claude Levi Strauss to Benjamin Barber, in globalization, the grim vision of a mono-culture feels increasingly compelling:

“An American mono-culture would inflict a sad future on the world, one in which the planet is converted to a global supermarket where people have to choose between the local Ayatollah and Coca-Cola.” ((Benjamin Barber, Jihad Vs McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World. Ballantine Books: New York, 1996. 361.))

If the transnational flow of consumer goods and creative ideas brings the specter of a global monoculture nearer, viewers/shoppers of Man Shops Globe/Anthropologie are the inadvertent culprits; and Johnson is undeniably guilty of contributing to the formation of a “global supermarket,” or a “World Market,” to borrow from the categories of World Music and World Cinema.  In the context of ever homogenizing global supermarkets, the desire for individuality cannot but take the form of anxiety, followed either by a fleeting satisfaction, or more likely, by a big disappointment.  It’s okay, though, because, while cosmopolitan shopping in global supermarkets might be tedious, the spectacle of someone else doing the tedious cosmopolitan shopping can be pleasurable, creating the “drama and fantasy” of global consumption itself.  This inherent ambivalence, embodied in Johnson’s consistently blasé attitude, sets a model for the 21st century cosmopolitan, the stylistically world-weary, which is arguably the primary source of fascination for Man Shops Globe.

Image Credits
1. The Sundance Channel and Anthropologie’s Man Shops Globe
2. Man Shops Globe in France
3. Keith Johnson of Man Shops Globe
4. Man Shops Globe in India
5. Man Shops Globe in South Africa

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The Power of “Chitchat” : Global Talk Show, Beauty Chatter
Jiwon Ahn / Keene State College

Beauty Chatter

Weekly South Korean Talk Show Beauty Chatter

Beauty Chatter ((Minyeodeului suda, abbreviated Misuda and literally translated as Chitchat of Beautiful Ladies.)) is a weekly talk show aired in South Korea on national KBS 2 TV, late Monday nights. Since its debut in October 2006, the show has been performing solidly with a stable rating. The “global” in the show’s title refers to its sixteen-member panel, composed of “Beauties” from different foreign countries, who currently reside in Korea and speak conversational-level Korean. These international “Beauties” are single women in their twenties and appear on the show in costume-like dresses of a matching color or a seasonal theme. Each episode has two or three discussion topics that enable panelists to discuss their experiences of Korea. Typical topics include “Most shocking first time experience in Korea” (Episode 49), “When I feel sorry for Korean men” (Episode 18), “When I feel envious of Korean women” (Episode 103), or “When I feel I’ve become a Korean (Episode 112). Together with these discussion segments, the show also features “talent” performances by the “Beauties” such as singing, dancing, and acting.

As a Korean woman living in the U.S., I often watch the show via satellite, mainly because I am interested in following discussions of diversity and multiculturalism, a new topic of public debate in Korea. Even though the show has aspects that are deeply problematic—e.g. putting foreign women on display—I must admit my own amazement at seeing that so many foreigners—108 panelists to date—are interested enough in Korea to learn its language. As a show designed to present “the current location of Korean people through the eyes of foreign inhabitants,” ((From the Beauty Chatter website, translation by the author.)) Beauty Chatter attempts to provide lessons to Korean viewers in thinking about Korea’s location in the world at large. These attempts, in my view, successfully create identificatory positions inasmuch as viewers sympathize with the panelists’ personal narratives of their confusing experiences in Korea within the context of globalization. Interestingly, on several occasions that I watched the show with non-Korean friends, their responses were consistently negative, producing comparisons to dog shows, freak shows, or politically incorrect Mondo-Cane-variations. Although bemused by these responses, I want to focus on three main ways in which we can make sense of this intriguing show, in relation to the larger contexts of Korean history and global media culture.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Owt5B9i_mSU[/youtube]

An Impromptu Dance Performance by International Panelists and a Korean Guest

The first framework we may consider is the long imperialist tradition of displaying racial others for public viewing at colonial exhibitions in Europe and the US, as well as ethnographic media genres, vibrant from early colonial periods onward. In Beauty Chatter, we find influences of the colonial desire to have a masterful view of the Other, and the assertion of control over the Other through discursive practices. Not only do the “Beauties” function as native informants, explaining about the cultural traditions of their home countries and performing traditional songs and dances, but also the constant emphasis on the spectacle of those performances is revealing. Even though Beauty Chatter follows a talk show format, panelists are seated in tiered rows of seats, facing the camera rather than each other. Panelists frequently complain about the hierarchies of these tiered rows—how younger and better-looking panelists with long legs (i.e. Caucasian bodies) are seated in the front row and older, larger, less pretty panelists in the back row (called “the row of fallen leaves”). Frequent discussions about the physical appearance of panelists serve as a further reminder of how the “Beauties” are positioned as spectacle.

Reading the show as a postmodern variation of the colonial exhibition or the embodiment of reverse colonial fantasy is limiting, however, since in Beauty Chatter, the power of “chatter” is significant in challenging the uneven relations of gazes. Thus, unlike indigenous people in the ethnographic films of the early 20th century, the “Beauties” express their individual ideas in their own voice. This notion of voice is not without problems. For instance, questions over the authenticity of the panelists’ comments have been raised in a recent controversy surrounding one of the panelists, Vera from Germany, who, although known for her smiling persona on the show, turns out to have written what might be read as a scathing critique of Korean society and culture in a memoir originally published only in Germany. However, even if the dialogue of the panelists is manipulated by Korean script-writers, and treated as mere “chitchat,” the fact that they get to speak at all changes the dynamic of power between the host, Korean guests, international panelists, the studio audience, and viewers at home, blurring boundaries between objects and subjects of discourse. However trivialized their voices might be, their act of speaking moves the panelists beyond the level of the “picturesque,” a typical pattern of representing others in ethnographic genres. ((For more discussion of the Picturesque, see Fatimah Tobing Rony’s “Gestures of Self-Protection: the Picturesque and the Travelogue,” in The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle (Duke University Press: Durham and London, 1996). ))

[YouTube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GX0EfSRhRpA&feature=related[/youtube]

Typical Discussion of Appearance, Beauty, and Culturally Diverse Approaches to Skin Care

A second framework we may consider is the tradition of putting racial and gendered female bodies on display—the tradition of the international beauty pageant. In Beauty Chatter, the panelists are presented as “Beauties” who represent their respective nations, with their national flags prominently displayed on their name tags. Although the idea of national representativeness has been occasionally challenged—especially regarding those panelists who have a Korean parent—it is taken for granted that panelists speak as representatives of their nation of origin. ((Ironically, the panelists discussed issues related to national beauty pageants in a recent episode, in a predominantly dismissive tone.)) The trope of Woman-as-Nation which pervades the show can be more clearly understood by considering two special episodes in which Korean-speaking foreign men were invited as panelists. While the reason why this reverse-gender format has not taken off as a regular show is far from clear, we can assume that the discomfort in viewing a male performer as a symbolic representation of his own nation may be a contributing factor, simply because we are generally not used to such a practice.

Sarah Banet-Weiser argues that international beauty pageants function as a process of negotiation between the local and the global, in which a nation is self-consciously constructed as a moral community in order to secure its place in the “international family of nations.” ((Sarah Banet-Weiser, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 185.)) The romance of the “family of nations” is certainly at work in Beauty Chatter, bringing us to a third framework to be considered. It is evident that the real object of scrutiny in Beauty Chatter is not so much the foreign cultures embodied by the “Beauties,” as South Korea as a nation in transition sketched via the testimonies of the “Beauties.” These testimonies are of value in two ways, showing both the cultural uniqueness of Korea as a modern nation and also how it is now a recognizable member of the global family of nations. This reading becomes more plausible when we consider the postcolonial history of modern Korea.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhp8QNd-vdc&feature=related[/youtube]

“I Love You” in the Panelists’ Native Languages

After experiencing Japanese colonialism in the first part of the 20th century, and since forming asymmetrical political and military relations with the U.S. after the civil war in 1950, Korea has struggled to find a means of constructing a vision of a strong modern nation. The encounters of ordinary Koreans with non-Koreans have until quite recently been limited to those with missionaries and American G.I.s. The national imaginary has consequently relied almost exclusively upon the homogeneity of the Korean people and its culture. It is thus hardly surprising that the carnivalesque practice of viewing a foreigners’ talent competition on television on national holidays has been a collective ritual in Korea for decades. While the phenomenon of “foreigner” media celebrities who become celebrities because of their ability to speak local languages is also familiar in Japan (called gaijin tarento), in Korea, where popular encounters with foreign visitors have a shorter history, the spectacle of foreign bodies tends to provoke a more intense fascination. Global Talk Show: Beauty Chatter also originally aired as a special program on Chusuk, a national holiday celebrating the harvest, before subsequently being developed into a regular show.

In the “age of 500,000 resident-foreigners” in Korea ((From the Beauty Chatter website, translation by the author.)), Beauty Chatter provides a forum for unlikely yet much-needed symbolic negotiations for Korean television viewers. As the belief in the homogeneity of the nation is undermined by processes of globalization, the pedagogical opportunities offered by the show’s friendly façade, with its beautiful international “ambassadors,” reassure the national audience while at the same time enabling it to imagine Korea’s place in the international family of nations. Beauty Chatter thus offers an interesting case study in that it shows how such a seemingly racist, sexist, and nationalist text may still provide polysemic pleasures to its diverse viewers, and a valuable site for negotiations between local, national, and global desires.

Image Credits
1. Weekly South Korean Talk Show Beauty Chatter.
2. An Impromptu Dance Performance by International Panelists and a Korean Guest
3. Typical Discussion of Appearance, Beauty, and Culturally Diverse Approaches to Skin Care
4. “I Love You” in the Panelists’ Native Languages

Please feel free to comment.