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[Book × New-nostalgia]

New-nostalgia, the 1990s Sought in the 2020s





By their very nature, books are vessels of knowledge encompassing all fields. Endless topics can be written about depending on the material and message. In the [Book × _____ ] series, experts recommend Korean books in their respective fields that you’ve been curious about but had trouble discovering more about. Now, let’s jump into the infinite world of books through the collaboration of books with various fields.



Why are the 2020s bringing back the 1990s?


The past ages do not just recede from the present over time. Some events from the past have become the underlying framework for the present. The 2020s have been through the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, and have embraced each of them one after the other. The 1990s, in particular, are often invoked in the 2020s when it comes to pop culture. While the 2020s are socioeconomically gloomy, the 1990s often return with colorful references to “the good old days.”
Clearly, the “era of culture” in the 1990s, which came after the era of ideology, was a time when the mass consumer market emerged, and various cultural trends flooded the country. Korea’s GNP per capita exceeded 10,000 dollars in 1994, and it entered a mature stage of consumption that pursued individualization and diversification. In the 1990s, not only “reading materials” in the form of literary works, but also various “things to see” and “things to listen to,” such as movies, dramas, advertisements, and recordings, became part of everyday life. Following the distribution of colored TVs in the early 1980s and video in the mid-to-late 1980s, new media such as PCs and personal mobile communications proliferated in the 1990s, and broadcasting became more diverse, with options such as cable TV, local community broadcasting, satellite broadcasting, and general wired broadcasting. Cultural discourse has also greatly expanded in terms of topics and issues. Not only did it broaden its horizons to newly emerging cultural industries such as film, play, and music, but it also took various elements of life such as the body, senses, sensibility, desire, pleasure, and unconsciousness as cultural topics, and paid attention to cultural forms and events such as daily images, styles, fashions, travel, sounds, plays, jokes, and provocations that had been overwhelmed by larger discourses such as the meaning of ethnicity and social class.


The 1990s was the “age of culture,” when society was flooded with various cultural phenomena.


Some criticize the “New-nostalgia (Newstalgia)” for the 1990s a regressive throwback. However, if we consider that we are in the long-term phases of post-democratization, post-socialist collapse, post-consumer society, and post-economic crisis, it is clear that the 1990s are not far from now and are one layer that constitutes the current societal reality. Many current social phenomena, especially those of pop culture, have their origins in the 1990s, and we have to go back to the 1990s to dig into them. So, the 1990s are not just a “back in the day” story. The following are 3 of the most recent books exploring the 1990s.


Korean films in the 1990s: the cradle of today’s film industry


Korean Films in the 1990s

Korean Films in the 1990s



The book, Korean Films in the 1990s (LP), explores how films as an art and industry experienced a radical transformation in the 1990s and how such changes have shaped Korean filmmaking today. To shed light on the history of the Korean film industry, the Korea Federation of Film Archives (KOFA) brought together experts from across different fields to draw a topographical map of the industry, ranging from the spectrum of film genres to film aesthetics, star power, independent movies, and cinematheque culture.
According to the book, the 1990s was a transitional period between the dark ages of the 1970s and 1980s and the renaissance of the 2000s. While Hong Kong films lost ground in the Korean movie market, the Korean film industry had to face a new and huge wave of Hollywood movies’ direct distribution, as well as the trials of the Asian Economic Crisis and the neoliberal trend. In the midst of this, a series of blockbuster hits released in the 1990s, ranging from “General’s Son” to “Seopyeonje” and “Shiri,” gave Korean cinema a popular basis as a cultural product.
Moreover, the 1990s could be considered the cradle of the current film industry because of the structural changes that took place. The indigenous capital of local box office producers shifted to corporate and financial capital, multiplexes emerged, and independents took hold. The video market surged, the era of cable TV began, and the term “Korean blockbuster” was introduced. Art cinemas survived in the midst of a cinephile culture, and international film festivals were established. Film weeklies were published, private cinematheques attracted young filmmakers, and the shackles of censorship were lifted from Korean cinema. Then, discourses on the “diversity” of Korean cinema emerged over screen quotas. The young filmmakers of the 1990s experimented with a variety of genres, producing films featuring “Korean New Wave,” realism with social commentary, crime thrillers, and feminist themes - creating the sounds of a new era. Korean cinema in the 1990s ushered in a new era that continues to this day through its innovative styles, distinctive genres, and systematized film industry.


Culture in the 1990s: a site of identity formation


20 Cultural Keywords of the 1990s

20 Cultural Keywords of the 1990s



The book, 20 Cultural Keywords of the 1990s (Munhwada Books), extends beyond movies to a wider range of cultural keywords. The webzine Munhwa Da gathered critics, researchers, and columnists from various fields, such as literature, film, and culture, to traverse the cultural landscape of the 1990s with 20 keywords. Starting with Retro: The First Love and Family Love of the 1990s and the Retro, the cultural keywords include pop songs and idol singers, karaoke, Apgujeong-dong, new generation, postmodernism, retrospective literature, censorship, and obscenity, Haruki, the drama “Hourglass,” feminist films, gangster films, video culture, sports heroes, pagers and mobile phones, PC communication culture, StarCraft, The Ddanzi Ilbo, and the end of the century.
Culture in book 20 Cultural Keywords of the 1990s is definitely pop culture. Certainly, it was in the 1990s that folk culture declined and popular culture flourished as it is now, and that teenagers and young adults emerged as the main consumers of popular culture. The proliferation of various mass media and the spread of PC communication, the Internet, and mobile communications led to the rapid expansion of popular culture. It was also in the 1990s that the consumer code strengthened, and culture solidly shifted to the realm of entertainment and capital accumulation, where people enjoyed goods such as music, movies, and fashion. The current new-nostalgia also looks back to the 1990s.
Let’s take a look at the pop culture frenzy of the 1990s through this book. Seo Taiji and Boys, with their rap-dance music, sparked a new wave of pop music. Hyun Jin-Young and HOT followed suit, shifting the leadership of the music industry to the teenage generation; the cultural trend of idols continues to this day. The spread of PC communications and the Internet has broadened the outlets for pop culture, contributing to the current success of the Korean Wave and K-culture. The young generation that emerged as the main consumers of culture was called Generation X, or New Generation. However, since the economic crisis in the 1990s, the theory of this youth generation draws attention to their pessimistic socioeconomic situation.
20 Cultural Keywords of the 1990s not only looks at pop culture products as transmitted through the mass media, but also at cultural events and phenomena such as the “video of Ms. Oh,” motorcycle gangs, homosexuality, and StarCraft, and broadens its focus to keywords such as “postcolonialism,” “subculture,” “indie culture,” and “gender” that have emerged in cultural criticism in the 1990s. In this sense, the book has the virtue of approaching culture as both an industry reorganized as a “factory without a chimney” and as a site of material production and political power. Culture in the 1990s was therefore considered a site of identity formation where domination, collusion, resistance, escape, liberation, and refraction overlapped.


The 1990s, the near-origin of our time


The 1990s: The Beginning of All the Present

The 1990s: The Beginning of All the Present



The book, The 1990s: The Beginning of All the Present (Dolbegae), goes beyond culture, examining the literary, ideological, generational, digital, intellectual, progressive, national, controlling, women/gender, and ecological domains in which issues emerged from the 1990s continue to influence the present. The book is based on the premise that “the 1990s are the near-origins of many of the conditions that define the present.”
The 1990s are depicted in the book as follows: politically, democracy was institutionalized, the first civilian governments emerged, and the first change of regime occurred. Economically, capital accumulation based on national developmentalism opened up a full-fledged consumer society, but the Asian financial crisis broke out, and the neoliberal system took hold in the process of restoration. Culturally, teens and the 20s emerged as the main consuming force, and pop culture expanded and subcultures transformed due to the flooding of various mass media and the spread of PC communication, the Internet, and mobile communication. Ideologically, Marxism declined and all kinds of post-discourses emerged in its place, and after the economic crisis, self-reflective discussions on Korean-style modernization proliferated. As such, there has been both hope and peril.
The part that we should note in this book in relation to new-nostalgia and the previous two books is this: “The 1990s, a decade of optimism that for a while was tinged with romantic colors, came to an end with the Asian financial crisis. The sunny days of the boom turned cold, and romanticism gave way to cynicism. Desire grew like never before, only to be abruptly discarded. This experience left a collective psychological wound in Korean society. The nostalgic 1990s, which came to an end like that, are still occasionally looked back on as ‘the good old days.’”


Korean society went through a period of both hope and peril in the 1990s.


In retrospect, the important social agenda of the early to mid-1990s was, first and foremost, “freedom.” With the implementation of a direct presidential election system, the recognition of the Gwangju Uprising as a democratic movement, the weakening of anti-communist ideology, and the alienation of censorship, political freedom gained ground. The flood of mass consumer goods and the proliferation of visual media as a result of rapid growth encouraged a sense of economic and cultural freedom. Having won democratization, it was time for citizens to enjoy their freedom as consumers. Postmodernism, as well as discourses on globalization, new generation, and microscopic narratives, all talked about freedom, which naturally spread the topic with economic growth. However, all of them vanished with the onset of the Asian financial crisis.
After the Asian financial crisis, “survival” became the most urgent issue in Korean society. Restructuring became structured, crisis became permanent, and individuals had to arm themselves. The 2020s borrowed the ingredients of new-nostalgia from the first half of the 1990s, and got reasons to invoke the 1990s again and again in the strata of crisis that followed from the second half of the 1990s. For the ego of the 2020s, the 1990s continues to be a symptom that returns with disturbing frequency as long as the ego is lacking or repressed by something.



Written by Yoon Yea-Yl (Assistant professor, Department of Sociology, Gyeongsang National University)



Written by Yoon Yea-Yl (Assistant professor, Department of Sociology, Gyeongsang National University)

#New-nostalgia#1990s#Korean films#Culture
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