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Back to the 90s; "Bokgo" in Popular Culture

   
Bokgo, also known as retro trend, is once again making a return in Korean popular culture in 2012. Bokgo means returning to past politics, ways of thinking, systems, and customs. The trend became popular in the 70’s and 80’s but it was in the 90’s that bokgo became part of popular culture. The movie “Architecture 101” and the TV drama “Reply, 1997”, “Dignity of a Gentleman” are typical examples of bokgo in the 90’s. Bokgo fever caught on with people in their teens, 20’s and as well as with those in their 30’s who spent their school days in the 90’s.

The TV drama “Rain of love”, which aired in the first half of this year, has a story about a gentle and beautiful love and friendship in the 70’s. The movie “Sunny” was about a friendship of female high school students in the 80’s. In this movie, music and fashion from the 80’s was on full display. Also, folk music stars that play the acoustic guitar called “c’est si bon” have caused a sensation again.

But why has this retro trend returned from the 70’s and 80’s to 90’s? People who were leaders in popular culture in the 90’s have become the main consumers who have financial means and they have started to consume these memories of the past. According to Lee Young-mi, who is a critic of popular culture, bokgo, which evokes memories of the 90’s, was booming because people who spent their 20’s in the 90’s are now in their 30’s or 40’s and have begun to look back on their lives.

Also the prototype of popular culture was created in the late 90’s and the 90’s are similar to 2012. A lot of idol groups have become popular and established fandom in the 90’s. These trends have continued to today and the love of fans of idol groups is constant both in the 90’s and in 2012. For example, in the 90’s, the two prominent idol groups, H.O.T and, were very famous for girls. Fans cheered for their idol stars with balloons of various colors; H.O.T fans used white balloons and Sechs Kies were cheered with yellow balloons. The colors of the balloons were a symbol of each idol group. Today in 2012, the tools for cheering have diversified. Fans in 2012 use smartphones and small electronic display boards for displaying their stars’ names.

The 90’s could be seen as the golden age of popular culture as the 60’s and 70’s were a time of embarrassment because of the poor financial economy of the time. At that time, there was a limit to the productive capacity and seating capacity of popular culture. Also, people in the 80’s experienced an economic boom, but youth culture and people in their 20’s who were leading the cultural trends were placed in a difficult situation to shine in the face of the situation of the times which struggled against autocracy and campaigning for democracy. On the other hand, a variety of genres and various singers coexisted in the late of 90’s. Korean society shifted to a new society because of globalization and a reorganized world order during the post-Cold War era. Also, things repressed during the 80 erupted in 90’s. Therefore, the 90’s became the affluent age of popular culture.

For these reasons, the time of the retro trend changed from the 70’s and 80’s to the 90’s. There are various genres which reflect the culture trend of bokgo. Some examples of popular music, movie and dramas which reflect these bokgo trends are evidence of this trend. In the areas of popular music, idol music of the 90’s like H.O.T and Sechs Kies have regained popularity. Also, “Busker Busker”, which is a trio singers group from the audition program, “Superstar K3”, uses acoustic guitars, harmonicas and melodeons in their songs recreating the retro style of music.

   
The movie “Architecture 101” was set in the 90’s and its story was about the dim recollection of first love at that time. It made cinema audiences who attended university during that same period of time recall their past memories of young love during their university days. Also, the OST of the movie which was made in the 90’s “a study of memory” caused a sensation again.

There are examples of bokgo in the area of drama, as well. The drama “Reply, 1997” is set in Busan and is about high school students who started their undergrad in 1997. This drama is filled with materials such as DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) game, Tamagotchi (game to grow imaginary pet in the small machines) which have stimulated nostalgia of the 90’s. Also, it has interesting episodes about the fan culture of H.O.T and Sechs Kies who were big rivals  and the first generation of idol groups. In addition, the background music is appropriately retro. The prolog of “Dignity of a Gentleman” where the main four characters acted scenes of their memories gave audiences pleasure and helped them take a journey backwards through time.

According to Kang Yu-jung, who is critic of movies, the sensibility of the 90’s when being cool and analog sensitivity coexisted is accepted by those in their 20’s without hesitation or repulsion. Opportunities to know and experience the 90’s are increasing while a lot of popular music, dramas and movies which deal with the 90’s have appeared. Now, people in their 20’s can appreciate those in their 30’s and 40’s.

Park Ha-na, who is studying in the department of mass communication and journalism said, “I enjoyed the drama “Reply, 1997” because it is not so long past from today and it is happy to remember my childhood. The drama helped me to revisit my memories such as tamagotchi and cell phones. I think that the songs of idol groups today are good, but they all look alike. However, the songs in the 90’s are good to listen to because they are emotional and the lyrics of the songs are also beautiful. Of course the culture of the 90’s is a little unfamiliar but, this bokgo trend in popular culture made me understand other generations. When I see dramas which have stories about the 90’s with my mother, I would ask her about her life then and I can more easily communicate with older people.”

If bokgo of 90s was 60s and 70s which have intervals of twenty or thirty years, today’s bokgo is 90s which have intervals of only about fifteen years. Now, 90s is no longer unfamiliar time and remote past. Through the fever of bokgo to 90s in popular culture, almost all generations can experience sensibility at that time. Bokgo is truly becoming the link between generations.

Sim Su-ji  suji306@dongguk.edu

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