Six degrees of separation: What kind of kdrama viewer are you?

A trip to the video store got me thinking: What sets me apart from that woman near me who’s also browsing the Korean Dramas section?

Look at me. I recognize most of the titles in that section. I even know which are second or third releases because the covers are different. When approached by a sales assistant, I smile beatifically and reply, “It’s okay, I’m just looking.”

That woman near me, on the other hand, seems completely lost. It’s like she’s looking at a parade of ants; how can she tell them apart? She listens attentively as the sales assistant sings the praises of Cruel Love: “This one is very good. See, Kwon Sang-woo!” It takes every ounce of control in me not to march over and snatch the set away. “Cruel Love? You’ve got to be kidding. Don’t touch it with a ten-foot pole! Here, try H.I.T. instead. It has Ha Jung-woo.”

The cashier doesn’t know it, but the customers standing in line to pay for their Korean dramas are all different. We may look like the same species, but I assure you we are each cut from a different cloth. After more than six years of “study,” allow me to present to you the six degrees separating us from each other. See if you can recognize yourself.

 

PASSER-BY

Don’t despise this most elementary group because that’s where most of us started.

You’re passing by the store when you’re stopped in your tracks by the images on the store TV. A youngish man trying to look old in flowing white locks. Objects transforming into strange creatures at his command. A woman flinging a baby off a cliff. There’s shrieking, the skies rain fire, it’s mayhem. Intrigued, you walk into the store and walk out minutes later with your first Kdrama: Legend. (And Thundie reserves comment on whether that was a wise purchase.)

It need not even be a store. You could be home just lounging, a bag of chips in one hand and the remote control in the other. Flipping channels you suddenly freeze. A man fights off four others, his moves as smooth as that of the legend on the life-sized wall poster, Bruce Lee himself. You squeal, not realizing you have just registered your first squeal for So Ji-sub. One squeal leads to another and before you know it you have just committed yourself to following your first Kdrama: Glass Shoes. (And Thundie approves.)

Passers-by are just casual viewers (with the exception of the squealers). They watch whatever’s available, they don’t expect much in the acting department, they don’t even mind if the drama’s dubbed or if Jae-eun has been changed to Janelle.

 

HANGER-ON

When a passer-by learns that her* friend or aunt or neighbor or colleague is also a passer-by, she moves automatically up to the next degree and becomes a hanger-on.

(*For the sake of simplicity so that I don’t have to tread into tedious he/she territory, and in recognition of the indisputable fact that most Kdrama viewers are female, I’m using “she” to mean a viewer in general. I’m not excluding the guys! In fact, as you’ll see later, you’ll find a man in that rarefied last category.)

People in this group hang on to each other’s viewing experiences, exchanging opinions like: “This Gong-yoo in Coffee Prince is so handsome!” Yes, unlike passers-by, hangers-on know the names of the actors. They begin to pay attention to details, an essential requisite if one is to be considered a senior (sunbae) hanger-on.

Hangers-on have discovered that watching K-dramas with like-minded people greatly enhances the viewing experience. Why talk about the woes of the economy when prattling about dramas is so much more enjoyable? Hangers-on may visit forums like Soompi to broaden their “knowledge” of what’s brewing in Kdramaland. They feed their hobby by buying or borrowing their dramas, or by watching them on streaming sites. They support their favorite stars gleefully, parting with cash to buy up shelves of fan paraphernalia.

Don’t be embarrassed about being a hanger-on. The Hallyu Wave owes it all to you!

 

APPRENTICE

Months after being first hit by The Wave, a hanger-on may wake up one day and realize she’s missing the boat.

Why should she wait ages for a drama to make it to the stores when she can watch them live or just mere days after they are aired in Korea? So our determined (and impatient) hanger-on decides that it’s time to take her hobby up a notch. She’ll become an apprentice.

Remember the first time you learned to drive? I do. I nearly drove into the river, that’s why. Learning a new skill is hard, which is why an apprentice needs our encouragement instead of “Can’t you read the Help section?” snide remarks.

No one is born knowing how to download a drama and join subtitles with the video file, which player to use and why the audio’s not working. Our brains don’t come pre-programmed with a manual on how to save images and share them on forums. It’s a steep learning curve, particularly for those of us who are technically-challenged and need step-by-step instructions such as: “First, you turn on your computer.”

Apprentices are eager beavers, so please do not squelch their enthusiasm. If they forget how to do something, teach them again; don’t dock their pay!

 

MAVEN

After much suffering, oops, I mean trial and error, and with fortitude and stick-with-it-ness, our apprentice becomes a maven.

No, it’s not a cousin of the raven, it’s just another word to mean expert. Say that again and with oodles of pride: MAVEN.

A maven not only knows how to download a drama, she downloads five at one go. She doesn’t need help with avatars or signatures, she creates her own. She doesn’t panic in an outage; she knows that FlashGet will pick up from where the downloading was interrupted. She can split and rip, join and burn; these words roll off her tongue with the ease of marbles on a slope.

A maven may forget her brother’s birthday, but she can rattle off the heights of six or more K-actors without pausing to blink. Let’s see… Kim Rae-won is 1.83m, the same as Bi and Lee Dong-gun. Park Hae-il, Park Shin-yang and Lee Byung-hun are all the same height: 1.78m.

A maven is a whiz with details. So Ji-sub made his debut in 1997 with the drama Model. The male leads for Triple are Lee Jung-jae, Lee Seon-gyun and Yoon Kye-sang. Triple is 16 episodes and will air in June 2009. Kim Myung-min has one son. But ask a maven for tomorrow’s weather forecast or the ingredients for honey-baked chicken and she may stand there blinking for fifteen minutes.

Also, many mavens can’t string together three Korean sentences even though they have been watching Kdramas for years. It’s a private pain that mavens don’t want to talk about. Shhh.

 

GONER

Do you administer forums for anything that’s K-related? Are you a fansubber? If you answered yes to either of the above, I have bad news for you: You’re a goner.

One day in the life of a maven, an awakening took place. With tearful eyes and quivering lips, a maven pressed her palm to her chest and skyward said, “Enough. Enough of receiving. Henceforth I shall GIVE!”

A goner spends untold hours doing things for the Kdrama community, often for free. A goner is someone like the selfless ladies running the Aja-Aja site, who provide download links for the sorority (and fraternity) of apprentices and mavens. In one fell swoop the Aja-Aja sisters ushered clubbox into the age of the dodo. Aja-Aja, I can’t even begin to imagine how much work goes into what you do. Thank you.

Think of Soompi, a universe in itself where the galaxies of K-drama, K-movies, K-pop, K-news, K-anything reside. A passer-by may not know about Soompi, but any hanger-on, apprentice, maven and goner worth her salt will sooner or later discover that well-beaten path that leads to this universe, this wonderland. Only a goner could find it within herself to start and maintain this gargantuan site, for years paying for its upkeep with her own money. Soomp, we owe you heaps.

And fansubbers, who translate, time and edit subtitles as a labor of love. Each one a goner, no question about it. Is it not a kind of lunacy to spend so much time on work that is often unappreciated? But fansubbers don’t do it for the thanks, they sub because they want to provide a way for others to enjoy what they themselves enjoy. It’s as simple as that.

(Psst, I think people who blog about Kdramas are also goners. What do you think?)

 

GURU

And finally we come to the summit, that holy ground that admits only a few. Here we will find the gurus, surrounded by tomes of K-history and cave after cave of expensive drama sets, with titles going back to before you were born.

If a guru does not know a certain Kdrama, you best ditch that drama because it’s not worth a second look. If a guru says a drama sucks more than a truckload of ungulates, don’t ask what is an ungulate. Just nod knowingly and say, “Is that so?” Then, when dear guru is distracted by that dissertation on Goryeo, quickly check the meaning of the word and marvel at how in guruspeak, a camel is an ungulate. Ah!

A guru dispenses advice, sometimes solicited and sometimes not, sometimes with gentleness but more likely with a grumpiness that comes from spending so much time in that rarefied air. Have no fear, for a guru does not bite.

Not only is a guru learned about everything that pertains to Kdramas (and K-movies, because a guru’s breadth of knowledge is multi-genre), she is a damn good writer, too. (I use “she” with trepidation here because the only guru I know is a he! Uh oh…) The reviews she writes are not just reviews, thank you very much, they are critical discourses. Peruse them with care, setting aside all unworthy concerns (such as the Wonder Girls’ latest music video) and give yourself over to examining the guru’s sage words. You will be humbled and amazed.

Do not aspire to be a guru, my friends. The guru I know survives on only three hours of sleep. Can you?

There you have it, the six kinds of Kdrama viewers.

Passer-by, hanger-on, apprentice, maven, goner or guru. Which one are you?

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