The Aesthetics of Authenticity: Corporate Masculinities in Contemporary South Korean Television Dramas
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This article discusses representations of "failed" salarymen in recent South Korean television dramas and the ways in which these representations have emerged as sites of cultural negotiation of negative aspects of the contemporary corporate workplace, and corporate masculinity in particular. The recent television drama series Misaeng (Incomplete Life, 2014) is an example of a post-1997 financial crisis salaryman narrative that deals with relations of power between men, individuals and companies. Such shows register a growing unease with the neoliberal corporate environment driven by global competitive value systems, which are shown to be incompatible with the in-group harmony-based corporate practices of the pre-1997 financial crisis era, which are presented as "authentic" Korean values informing earlier corporate social structures. As such, these cultural texts are influential sites for their South Korean viewing audiences to define and determine new ways of making sense of day-to-day experiences and social relationships in the contemporary corporate workplace. This article illustrates how appearances – unkempt and unfashionable ones in particular – signify cultural resistance to new forms of governance that are seen to not only oppress individual men, but also threaten "authentic" Korean cultural values. In this context, contemporary television texts about the corporate world plot the narrative return of the re-masculinized salaryman, through reclaiming and overplaying the aesthetics and values of a working-class Korean masculinity.
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