Consuming the Other:
Israeli Hallyu Case Study
Until the late 1990s the word “Korea” didn’t say much to an average Israeli. With the growth of political and economic relations between the two countries this lacuna was gradually filling, but the cultural influence of Korea was not yet felt in Israel. The shift occurred in early 2000s with the arrival of Hallyu to Israel. In 2003, the first Korean drama was aired on Israeli TV, My Lovely Sam Soon. The program gained such popularity that the TV channel decided, after being pressed by the public, to bring more Korean dramas to Israel. This led to the creation of tens of virtual communities by fans of Korean culture. The hypothesis of this paper is that this social media revolution generated the “Israeli Hallyu.”
The academic literature attempted to analyze the secret of this major success of the Hallyu phenomena, but it still mainly focuses on its spread in Asian countries, with a few exceptions. Most theories explain Hallyu’s success by cultural proximity and close background, while neglecting the impact of local interactions and social networks. In addition, these explanations do not fit Israel, where Korean culture is perceived as exotic and different. In order to understand the “Israeli Hallyu” an electronic survey was conducted in the Israeli social networks used by Korean culture lovers. This research also followed the interactions in a forum on Korean culture that includes the largest community in Israel (around 3000 fans). This forum successfully organized volunteers to translate Korean dramas, movies and music to Hebrew. The main argument is that the Korean-culture audience in Israel is not a passive recipient in a one-way process, but rather, its members are cultural agents that shape and construct “Koreaness” in adjustment to the local environment. This process is mediated by virtual communities in the circle of consumption. First, the agent consumes the product and shares one’s knowledge and emotions in social networks. This in the turn creates a strong feeling of belonging to this virtual community, as well the feeling of being unique due to exotic sense of culture. These highly positive emotions encourage additional consumption. What is intriguing in this process is the gap between authentic culture and its final product. The Korean Wave is not only the Korean culture itself, but also the reflection of it by local consumers via virtual communities, where the “Koreaness” is presented again to adapt to the culturally distant local market.