Scholar: “What can light up the world in an instant and plunge it into darkness in a flash?”
Crown Prince: “The answer is the politics of the monarchy. As stated in the Doctrine of the Mean, with equilibrium and harmony, peace will reign and all things will flourish. Hence, as long as the monarch rules with sincerity and kindness, the lives of all things and the people will be bright and harmonious. Otherwise, the lives of the people will be plunged into darkness.”
Scholar: “I’m afraid my answer is different… The answer is our eyelids.”
Crown Prince: “Are you pulling my leg?”
Scholar: “Is it a joke because you don’t like the answer, Your Highness? … If the answer isn’t in the Classics, does it make the question vulgar?”
Crown Prince: “Is a childish answer correct then?”
Scholar: “In the eyes of a child, everything is a question, as well as an answer. There are two things we should take note of: Do not become arrogant just because you know the answer. Do not be prejudiced and do not make judgements based on your own standard. Yet arrogance and prejudice have blinded Your Highness’ eyes and heart. While politics is also a reasonable answer, how do you observe the lives of the people with your eyes closed? How do you become the King? First, you must learn earnestly.”
— The Moon Embracing the Sun, episode two “Two Moons and a Sun”
Pop culture attracts probably more flak than it deserves – for its shallowness, its pedestrianism, its embodiment of herd mentality, and above all, its mindless worship of skinship and materialism. Its detractors do not deny that, from time to time, mass culture offers moments of enlightenment and reflection. They argue, though, that undertaking life lessons from what they dismiss as lowbrow art is an inherently inefficient process, and before you accumulate sufficient credits to award yourself an imaginary diploma, the trash abound in it are more likely to convert you into yet another mind-damaged automaton slavishly contributing to the coffers of the capitalist masters behind today’s devices and screens.
Implicit in this somewhat discriminatory criticism of pop culture, however, is the assumption that highbrow works hold the moral high ground, with their sophistication and disdain for mass appeal or immense profitability. Yet if an artist is truly concerned about uplifting the human condition, why does he work only in arenas accessible only by the fiscally or culturally privileged few in a society? And if one passionately believes in the messages conveyed in these works, why not spread them among the “uneducated”, “unrefined” and “unthinking” masses in ways they can understand, through means they can afford? Thus, ironically, the absence of the trait shunned by critics who simultaneously discredit pop culture and hail its highbrow cousin – mass appeal – in exclusive cultural works ultimately limits their societal and spiritual value.
Perhaps one can counter that art should not be reduced to a game of statistics. Every instance of beauty is worth celebrating, regardless of the number of views it enjoys. Accordingly, high-end culture merits acclaim simply for its intrinsic worth. Yet, would not the same be true of pop culture? Cultural products catering to mass market audiences should not be written off automatically just because of a deluge of vulgar offerings crowding the market. Indeed, art appreciation sometimes defies the rules of statistics in that a discerning patron can glimpse the gems from amongst seas of garbage and, with them, build up his own world of pure artistic splendor.
In any case, the chasm between high culture and popular entertainment may not be as wide as it may seem. While profit may be the order of the day in the corporate sector, not a few artists do yearn to break out from the banalities of mass consumerism as it is and create something greater than themselves, with some even seeking inspiration from the classics. It is with this insight that this site seeks to bridge the gap between pop culture, on the one hand, and more esoteric art-forms and scholarly research, on the other, illustrating how similar the various tribes really are, and where they are not, undertaking the audacious mission of self-fulfilling this bold prophecy anyway. Targeted here are Asian dramas (more specifically, East Asian dramas, owing to language barriers) – a genre seemingly receiving the brunt of criticism in the region itself for its lack of intellectual depth.