[Escapism vs. Realism] From Cinderella to the girl who looks a lot like me
by Guest Beanie
Boys Before Flowers
My first induction into the K-drama world was like many others at my age—through Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace). I remember watching my grandma religiously follow the series every day and my aunts crowding around our boxy TV screen. One aunt had her eyes glued to the TV 24/7 until her DVD player started smoking up. Back then, I simply couldn’t fathom why they were so obsessed with a bunch of court ladies with fake wigs. The kitchen eventually closed and when my grandma’s tears had dried up, she moved on to soap operas from Taiwan and Korean dramas never really came into my life for a period of time.
Then Boys Before Flowers arrived.
Like all the other pre-teen girls, I became obsessed with the drama, thus beginning my endless drama journey. At that tender age, the whims and fancies of a chaebol and how he hopelessly pursued the modern-day Cinderella was like a fairytale come alive. As much as Gu Jun-pyo was a class A jerk, there was something so addictive about the storyline that drew me in. It felt like I was seeing the world through Jan-di’s eyes and experiencing how Cinderella might have felt. Knights in their shining armor riding their glorious white horses coming to save the day was my fantasy and I relished that feeling.
Fast-forward a few years when Heirs came along. Having thoroughly enjoyed Boys Before Flowers, I thought hey, there’s Lee Min-ho, it’s a poor-girl-rich-dude storyline, what is there to say no to? Boy was I wrong. There was just something missing, that special spark that I was looking for. The usual drama tropes that used to enchant me just didn’t work anymore. I went through numerous dramas, yet nothing truly felt right. Sure, they helped me pass the time, but I never felt fully invested in the characters and the storylines were pretty much just rinse and repeat, hand-grabbing and all that jazz. Past a certain point, the eye candy wasn’t working its magic anymore and I yearned for something beyond the typical arc.
When the sleeper hit Answer Me 1997 had come along, my friend had constantly asked me to give the series a go, but I never did until a few years later when I was so dry on dramas to watch that I decided to try it. Never did I expect to find myself so emotionally absorbed in this drama about teenagers. Maybe because certain elements of their lives mirrored mine—the everyday struggles of being a teen and that awkward phase that we all grapple with at that point in time. I found myself weeping along with the characters in ways that I never had before while watching dramas.
Answer Me 1997
As an introvert who likes to keep my thoughts and emotions to myself, dramas became a source of comfort. I hated crying and in a way, I think these dramas gave me an outlet to express myself and cry along with these characters, releasing all the pent-up sadness and anger that I held within me. I found myself slanting more and more towards dramas that had characters undergoing problems that mirrored mine, like Fight My Way, that provided just the right amount of relatability and humor.
I realized that over time as my ideals shifted, dramas that truly had an impact on me were not those involving superpowers or anything out of this world. In fact, the most stripped-down storylines told the best tales. During a period in my life when I felt helpless, Answer Me 1988 reminded me of the importance of surrounding myself with positive company. And that no matter what happens in life, my family will always have my back.
Answer Me 1988
It took many years and dramas to discover what truly fit me. And when I discovered what worked, it’s like finding that one comfort food that you can’t get enough of, that pick-me-up that never fails, or that tree hole for you to whisper your secrets into.
While I enjoy drams that are grounded in the daily lives of the average Jane Doe, I’m not saying that fantasy has no place in my world. I’ll still enjoy my fair share of shows like While You Were Sleeping and Pinocchio (Who can say no to Lee Jong-seok?). Dramas may serve as a getaway, yet I believe that we are constantly searching for something at different points in our lives, and our drama preferences closely reflect that. Consciously or otherwise. Maybe we can never truly draw the line between realism and escapism. After all, behind this pragmatist lies a dreamer still searching for the glass slipper that fits.