Pop Literature Becomes Cultural Mainstream

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), March 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Pop Literature Becomes Cultural Mainstream


In Korea, the top four best-sellers last year were J.K. Rowling's ``Harry Potter'' series, Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter's ``Rich Dad, Poor Dad,'' Cho Chang-in's novel ``Kasi Kogi (Thorn Fish)'' and Jung Chan-yong's ``Never Study English.''

They are a fantasy novel about a young magician; a book offering practical tips on making money; a guidebook in studying English; and a tear-jerking novel. If this attests to what readers today are interested in, it is clear that pure literary works are not on top of their lists.

Rather, consumers are more interested in books dealing with practical issues that can boost their professional careers, or popular fiction works that help them escape the harsh realities of life.

It is now almost a redundancy to mention the phenomenal popularity of the four-volume ``Harry Potter'' series, which dominated the Korean book market by selling about 2.5 million copies.

It is not difficult to see that, while works of pure literature are slowly disappearing from bookstore shelves, the status of popular literature is steadily rising. Till now, the literary circle has largely ignored this trend, writing popular novels off as ``inferior'' and ``vulgar'' forms of entertainment, not fit for the honor of being categorized as literature at all.

Nowadays, however, the popularity of popular literature is continuously skyrocketing, making waves across the realm of belles-lettres, wrenching the literati out of their state of denial.

In the midst of the changes in readers' tastes, more academics are showing interest in the appeal of popular literature, holding symposiums and writing critiques on the subject.

With this newfound interest, voices calling for reform within the confines of the literary sphere are growing louder and stronger.

One of the cries for change is made by Prof. Kim Seong-kon, an English professor at Seoul National University, who stated his views in the biweekly ``The Korean Publishing Journal.''

On why people turn away from pure literature towards popular literature, he writes: ``Popular literature provides readers with the `enjoyment and emotion' that pure literature cannot.''

He goes on to elaborate: ``Pure literature, which is estranged from reality and saturated with a sense of privilege, no longer appeals to the masses. Literature is losing its power and charm, either by obsessing with meta-discourse and disregarding the individual, or by missing what is important by fixating on trifles.''

According to Kim, in contrast to the beginning of the 20th century, when believers of modernism regarded abstruseness as the essence of art, towards the end of the century, with the advent of postmodernism, art burst out from its ivory tower into the streets and everyday life.

He states that this change, along with the diversification of media and the proliferation of information, rendered inevitable the rise of popular literature and the demise of pure literature, while causing the boundaries between pure and popular to crumble. …

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