The Korean Connection

Telenovelas, Monoculture

Thanks to the People's Liberation Army, demand for cosmetic eye-lid surgery is on the rise in Manipur, India.  

In 2000, a militant separatist group called the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Manipur, India released a diktat that banned Hindi-language films and soap operas. For the PLA and many other separatist groups in Manipur, the struggle for independence is not only armed but symbolic: local ethnicities speak Manipuri or English, so Hindi-language shows broadcast in the region are considered a tool of Indian influence on the region and Bollywood is out of favor. In its place, a humble homegrown entertainment industry has started to grow, but most household television sets have already been infiltrated by a bigger and more powerful entertainer: South Korea. Television channels from the Korean Broadcasting System are big in Manipur, while Korean DVDs smuggled into the India-Myanmar border town of Moreh have now flooded local shops. 

The attractive Korean teenagers shown on Manipuri televisions often live in an aseptic world where love and traditional values manage to peacefully coexist. It's the perfect escape for a community in which daily life is armed insurgency. These sitcoms and soap operas don’t show the military getting away with murder, unlike the "disturbed region" of Manipur, where any Armed Forces officer may shoot to kill with relative impunity. And they definitely don’t depict people living with AIDS, while Manipur has the highest concentration of HIV cases in India.  

The so-called "Korean Wave" shows imaginary characters in a land more than 3,000 kilometres away, but Manipur is no exception to the world's growing infatuation with Seoul (last year, South Korea's cultural exports reached a surplus of almost $US 40 million, due in part to Psy). And ultimately, South Korea’s aesthetic influence has penetrated beyond Manipur's television screen. Hairstyles and outfits came first. Surgery to create a double-folded eyelid, the most popular voluntary surgery in South Korea, came later. In Manipur, private hospitals now claim that enquiries for double eyelid surgery among the region's scarce middle and upper classes quadrupled in 2012.


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