Repost: Deep-diving into the bullying issue – A podcast by Dramas Over Flowers

Image borrowed from Dramas Over Flowers, of course 😉

Welcome to my first ever repost, in over 8 years of blogging, everyone! 🤩 Just by that fact alone, you can imagine that the original post must be very special indeed, to galvanize me into reposting it, yes? 😉

My friends Saya, Anisa and Paroma, whom you may recognize from their work on Dramabeans, and who are the ladies behind Dramas Over Flowers, recently did a fantastic deep-dive podcast episode on the issue of bullying in Korea. They interview Professor CedarBough Saeji, who is a professor of Korean Studies, and who has lived and taught in Korea for many years, and the resulting conversation is both thoughtful and thought-provoking, as they explore the multiple factors at play in this issue which has been grabbing a great deal of media attention of late.

I noticed that quite a few of you had questions and thoughts about the bullying issue when I posted my thoughts on Ji Soo’s fall from grace, so I thought this would be a great follow-up.

You can find the podcast show notes here, with timestamps, as well as relevant links mentioned during the podcast.

I hope you guys enjoy the episode! ❤️

Feel free to use the comment section here, to further your discussion on the issue, and if/when you reach out to the ladies at Dramas Over Flowers, feel free to let them know that I sent ya. 😉



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[…] I got to be a guest on the Dramas Over Flowers podcast (you might remember the ladies from the excellent episode on bullying, that I shared previously), and you can listen to it right […]

4 months ago

@Anyone still interested –

If it shows up in Korean, use your Google/Chrome browser to translate (keeping in mind that it is machine translated so… a grain of salt)

5 months ago

Thank you Fangurl for posting this. I learned a lot and it was so informative that I listened to the entire podcast. It answered some questions I had and I appreciate you doing this.

5 months ago

Thank you for reposting this, kfangirl. The school bullying issue is very prevalent in kdrama and I’m sorry to find out it’s less fictional than I (and many others it seems) anticipated…

It’s interesting to find out too that one crucial element contributing to this bullying environment in schools is a mixture of academic competitiveness and a hierarchical mindset. It seems obvious that the government and influential institutions in Korea should start building a more compassionate education system in which welfare and mental health play a larger role.

I am also of the mind that kdrama and Kpop celebrities and their agencies should use their fame and take the social responsibility of helping Korean youth. Also those celebrities accused of abuse and bullying should take an activist role and talk candidly about their bad actions in social media, talk shows and educational conferences. Positive action is the best redemption.

5 months ago
Reply to  Gloglo

Great point. I think a real model of social justice activism among an entertainment industry exists in America’s Women’s NBA, albeit unlike K drama it is a tightly coordinated association. Certainly among Kpop personalities, IU, who has discussed being bullied as a school girl, has shown that a big star can use her influence to encourage positive action. The young actors and popular music stars have a great deal of clout and both former victims of bullying and perpetrators of it in the entertainment industry could organize together and use that clout.

5 months ago

Thanks for the repost! This was a fantastic and informational podcast tackling some very complex issues 🙂

5 months ago

Thank you for reposting this kfangurl. Easy to listen to, yet chock-full of contextual information to not only help understand school bullying and associated kdrama scandals, but also other themes often seen in kdrama, i.e. office bullying, competitiveness, hierarchy, etc. It also touched on issues such as the designed image of Korea in kdrama-land and the challenge of separating beloved characters from the multi-dimensional actors who portray them.

Kdrama offers fantastical beautiful escapism and it is a PARTIAL window into a complex, rich and imperfect culture (you know, like virtually every culture.) I appreciate being reminded that I, as an international fan, have access to only some of the information and lived experience that would allow me to make too many assumptions or judgments about essentially domestic issues. As for actors, I (need to) remind myself that the person I adore on the screen is not the same person in real life. That can be a hard one. So many shows are developed with the very intention of making me/us swoon over a character or want to share a long chatty meal with them. I remind myself it is more respectful to acknowledge the actor is a real person, with special talents perhaps, that I know virtually not at all. They owe me nothing in terms of fulfilling my fantasy image of them.

5 months ago

A well done podcast, raising so many issues. First I would say this, about the only thing in K Drama that seems exaggerated to me is the drinking, albeit apparently that is not so. Bullying, often under the umbrella of class, as a persistent theme, has never in my mind been something I could doubt as being an issue for South Koreans.
It simply takes up too much of the popular discourse. The best K Drama I have ever seen, My MIster, has it both as a feature of its young protagonist beginning in her youth and its more elder protagonist, more subtly, in an office situation. Right now I can think of four recent or ongoing popular dramas presented on American Netflix, Run On, Sisyphus, Vincenzo, and Navillera, which deal with the issue of bullying. Run On and Navillera deal directly with bullying of young and talented grown young men, with physical assault with intent to end careers of an athlete and a dancer respectively.
Sisyphus has as a villain whose in-home bullying as a child and then later society wide ostracization of being an artist without exceptional talent leads him to wish a kind of revenge on the world and all of humanity with an abject cynicism considering the personal selfishness allowing for individuals to turn away in complicity, and he does so then for the purposes of his own power and wealth. The whole show is dynamized by outsized weaponry, and punctuated with ridiculous and gratuitous amounts of gunplay.
The wonderfully entertaining Vincenzo puts forth early on the concept that the only way to defeat a bully/monster is to be armed with an even bigger monster. Or as one character puts it, he is scum, but there is one thing he hates, and that is even bigger scum. The whole show lionizes the Mafia, not very nice people, and the audience vicariously revels every time the good monster gives the bad monster its comeuppance. It is, as I say, terrifically entertaining, and so hyperbolic and absurdly funny in places that show does not in some ways take itself seriously, the escape hatch, but in the response it evokes from its audience, myself very much included, one can easily see just how warped our cultural views are.
In my country, we all just witnessed a four year long political melodrama in which a political leader was (and still is but to less effect) lionized for his unrelenting bullying, while his wife carried on a public campaign against bullying in schools and online. His followers in recent elections sported bumper stickers hoping for his reelection just to make those opposed to him cry. Literally, that was a slogan on bumperstickers. And after losing the election, he tried to bully legislators and officials in individual states to alter the results in their state elections. And followers went so far as to try to physically intimidate the national legislators, threatening the lives of some, and physically attacking members of law enforcement, twisting concepts of patriotism and liberty to justify their behavior.
It does not take rocket science to understand that in almost every society on earth, ruthless bullying has its payoffs. If, as feminists point out, we live in a rape culture, I would argue that given there are only seventy five years of recorded history in which human beings were not at war with one another, even rape culture is folded into war culture, human history the history of bullying.
What is more, one can also argue in today’s world, what with social media, psychological bullying may well have become even more insidious in many ways than physical bullying. South Korean culture has had many features to it that I am amazed as a witness to it, their drama does not elide. Historical shows do not hesitate to discuss slavery, caste, exploitation of the poorer people. I just watched an extraordinary movie, The Fortress, with Lee Byung Hun, about the Qing invasion of Korea during the time immediately preceding the period featured in Chuno, and it does not fail to expose how badly the ruling class treated its soldiers conscripted from the local peasantry, starving them, freezing them, sending them out to be killed by a much larger marauding army. There are a number of features of K Drama that I enjoy but one of them is the ability to try to come to grips with human cruelty in a realistic manner, even in melodrama. While it has its villainous villains, and we must admit, human history does most certainly as well, it also can depict the human context in which even decent people do horrible, horrible things.

I am sure, South Korea, has its particular contexts as were discussed in the podcast for middle school aged bullying, and its particular behaviors in which it arises. Like a lot of human cruelty, just because it has always existed does not mean we cannot evolve. Confucius was the first person I know of to put forth the golden rule; Buddha expressed the absolute requirement of compassion and generosity towards others, and Jesus preached doing unto others as one would have done to oneself, and to treat each individual as if that person were Jesus himself. This is an age old project we are working on.

All that said, I think celebrity idolization only goes to point out how much contemporary society lives their lives as a second hand affair. Certainly criminal behavior should lead to some form of legal reprise, but being so obsessed with the purity of actors or singers that one would ruin careers over misbehavior when still a child strikes me as simply another form of bullying, and the idea that it is worse for some actor to acknowledge his or her misbehavior, express remorse, and a desire to address that than to deny it outright and start up a series of lawsuits demonstrates to me how psychologically messed up we are as a society. We tolerate the audacious, and do not forgive honesty.

We are each charged to do the best we can with this life. All of us make mistakes, some egregious. It strikes me as a fool’s errand to idolize anyone, and that includes political and religious heroes, let alone entertainers. And our task in the contemporary world with all its AI gigabyte surveillance and instantaneous karmic judgments, some leading to even worse than loss of career and livelihood, is how to both live decent lives and find some sort of tolerance of human frailty without giving license to cruelty.

5 months ago
Reply to  BE

@BE – I applaud this comment.

5 months ago

Thanx, Kfangurl for recommending this podcast. I really appreciate listening to people with such open minds as nowadays group think is being forced upon us and I really just don’t want to think that way.

Anyway as someone who has been bullied in the past, who had to change schools because of it, this really resonated with me. Of course some bullying is worse than others, but they all leave a mark on your heart. But looking back, having been bullied by someone in middle school, and not knowing anything about that person now and seeing them doing well, would ruining their life improve mine at all? I don’t think so. Sexual violence is obviously something more serious.I do appreciate that bullying is being taken seriously though, because it does have a long lasting impact on people’s lives. So I hope that more will be done in schools to resolve this problem.

5 months ago

What a fabulous podcast, kfangurl! The subject matter, the way it was addressed, the issues raised, including were they or weren’t they bullies?, was there influence that led to the retraction of claims?, how some actors are addressing accusations, those behaviours that are common across the globe re bullying, then the conversation regarding the issues of what is going on behind the scenes with actors and their agencies, overcrowding in schools, ineffective school campaigns to stamp out bullying (1/3 in Korean schools have been bullied), the school as a microcosm of society, the pursuit of perfection, the impact of hierarchy, the observation by the professor that it is not just those who are wealthy that bully, the intent of the accuser, acting as a means to pursue non-academic achievement, what is it that the accuser ie really trying to achieve and the question re do people change?

My thoughts: too long and detailed when contrasted against my life and what I have seen and done including dealing with bullying. However, one thing I do know: always seek the truth or do your homework regarding any accusation.

Thank you for sharing the podcast. I will be listening to more of what they have to say going forward. Their format is fabulous. And just so you know, I rarely ever listen to podcasts.