Under the moniker of hallyu (Korean Wave), South Korean popular culture
has come to be regarded by some as a source of national pride and by others,
particularly in Asia, as neo- imperialist. Regardless of how one might char-
acterize it, the rise of South Korean popular culture was difficult to fore-
see in the late 1990s, when the nation was roiling from the devastation
of the 1997 financial International Monetary Fund (imf) crisis. Because
the imf encouraged increased global competition, cultural liberalization
policies (which had been postponed nearly half a century by postcolonial
anxieties) were implemented starting in 1998. The impending legislation
of satellite cable television also seemed to threaten further an unsupported
cultural industry insecure after decades of political and cultural oppression.
The spontaneity with which the Korean Wave gathered force thus caught
the South Korean cultural industry by surprise, leaving critics of Korean
cultural studies to make sense of hallyu and its legacy after the fact. In the
contemporary context, it is fair to say that it is transnational consumption,
as opposed to any self- reflexive and conscious national production, that ini-
tially defined and formed the parameters of Korean popular culture studies.
As a result, the modes of understanding brought to bear thus far on the phe-
nomenon have been necessarily situated in a broad regional, and perhaps
even global, context. This formulation, however, establishes the field in such
a way that Korean popular culture comes to be defined foremost as a pan-
Asian phenomenon, a discrete entity morphing in transnational space that
becomes increasingly detached from any specifically Korean past. Critics in
the field of Korean Studies thus need to become concerned both with recon-
textualizing hallyu within a national context without eliding the undeniable
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