Sylvia Estrada-Claudio (1999), in her essay in Gender Sensitive and Feminist Methodologies, presented a strategy in employing discourse analysis of texts. She deemed it important to ask four distinct questions in trying to understand the ideologies presented by a certain text. This short criticism employs Estrada-Claudio’s strategy in Discourse Analysis in analyzing the popular South Korean soap opera, Boys Over Flowers.
Boys Over Flowers is a South Korean drama which revolves around the life of Geum Jan Di, a poor and simple girl in an exclusive school for the rich and the elite. The series follows the affairs of Jan Di as she becomes tangled in a series of twists and turns because of her involvement with the school’s popular group, the F4. The F4 are the sons of the top four richest companies in South Korea. Because of their wealth and arguably good looks, the group has the school wrapped around their fingers. The impact of the group’s clout is two-fold: either they strike fear among their schoolmates, or people want to befriend them because of the elitism it brings. However, Jan Di remains to be the only one to be disenchanted at the groups’ antics—neither fearing nor admiring any member when she first entered the exclusive school.
With the following details provided, the succeeding paragraphs of this critique shall use the questions Estrada-Claudio (1999) raised in employing discourse analysis.
I. What are the concepts and ideas the text wants to convey? What are the overt meanings? What are the hidden ones?
The text follows a formulaic ‘boy-meets-girl’ storyline where Jan Di’s resistance towards Jun Pyo (F4’s leader) sparks the latter’s interest. Jan Di on the other hand is initially infatuated by Jun Pyo’s friend, Ji Hoo because of his gentle disposition—which is a direct opposite of Jun Pyo’s rough demeanor. Through this, it can be argued that the text emphasizes the complexities involved in young love. The complexities emphasized are class and emotional uncertainty. For the latter, Jan Di was constantly at a deadlock in deciphering who she really felt for more—was it the person who exerted all effort (Jun Pyo), or was it a person she just felt a natural connection with (Ji Hoo). However, the former (class) remains to be the most important concept presented in the text because it was a catalyst for the story’s conflict and plot development.
Class remains to be the biggest detriment to the element of love in projected in the series. Jan Di is a daughter of a couple who runs a dry cleaning store; on the other hand, Jun Pyo is the heir to one of the most powerful companies in South Korea. The overt barrier created by class throughout the series makes it harder for the two to even come to terms with their feelings. It is also worthy to note that class does not seem to act as a deterrent for Jun Pyo as it does for Jan Di. If anything, Jan Di remains to be subject to threat and constant rejection from the elites because of her involvement with Jun Pyo.
II. What are the claims to class (knowledge/ expertise) that this text is making?
The text presents countless scenes depicting the life of Jan Di’s family—presumably alluding to the life of a modern-day struggling family in South Korea. It can be seen that Jan Di’s family possess a significant amount of positive aura despite the conditions that they are in. Conversely, the elite’s glamorous lifestyle in the text creates the image of the lives of the wealthy people of South Korea. Through this, the text possesses great power in constructing a viewer’s idea of class in the region endemic to the media text. Insidiously, the text also possesses great power in edifying the idea of the struggle between the interactions of the two different classes in an economically developed society.
Since the text assumes a contextual representation of class in South Korea, viewers are also presented with the ability to compare the depiction of class with their own contexts. Consequently, the series gained a tremendous amount of fame in different parts of the world, thus, enabling different viewers to view a slice of reality in South Korean culture and at the same time comparing that representation to the realities within their respective contexts.
III. What discursive strategies can I see in the text that reinforces its claims to classism (knowledge/ expertise)?
The greatest discursive strategy employed by the text is to emphasize the struggle between Jan Di and Jun Pyo. This struggle was manifested in two distinct spheres: school and family. In school, Jan Di was continuously labeled as a poor girl who does not have the level of class that her fellow students have. This is emphasized by the antagonism of three mean girls who continuously reprimand Jan Di for giving the school a non-homogenous elite nature. In the family, Jun Pyo’s mother (Hee Soo) remained to be antagonistic towards Jan Di when they learned of their relationship. Interestingly, Hee Soo was initially fine with the relationship because she assumed that Jan Di was rich because she goes to the same school as Jun Pyo. But upon learning (through a background check) of Jan Di’s family and status—Hee Soo actively tried to remind Jan Di that the latter had no place in Jun Pyo’s life. Hee Soo even went as far as removing Jan Di’s dad from employment.
The binary opposition of rich/ poor however, is eventually subverted because as the series progressed, class didn’t seem to be a factor to dictate interaction. For example, Jun Pyo had a a mini ‘normal class’ excursion with Jan Di’s dad and brother where they explored activities that normal people usually do such as going to a public bath. Jun Pyo explored this because he wanted to understand where Jan Di was coming from—which in turn helped them see each other as mere individuals devoid of class. In the perspective of select elites (i.e F4 and friends), Jan Di was not an individual to be judged because of her class—but rather it is much better to see how she is as a person.
IV. What form of consciousness or subjectivity is the text imposing?
Boys Over Flowers presents the possibility of class being forgone in the pursuit of love and happiness. However, it is worthy to note that the text is still far from the realities that normal individuals face on a daily basis. It is not easy to go beyond class when trying to look for somebody to love, which is why I feel as if this media text promotes a false sense of empowerment on the part of the viewer. The viewer is taken into a journey where he/ she is given hope that quite possibly, class would never be a factor in determining one’s relationship or interaction with someone.
The story, which can be likened to Cinderella’s tale, presents an ideal happy ending in a world full of attractive people. To a certain degree, the text also imposes that acceptance is pegged on one’s continuous adjustment to the dominant group. This was evident in the makeovers that Jan Di underwent throughout the series. This was also evident when people only started noticing her in a yacht party when she was wearing designer clothes given to her by Jun Pyo. Acceptance, in this media text, is seen as a long process of push and pull—where usually, the oppressed member of the relationship has to adjust in order to not be ridiculed. Class, in this specific text, is seen as a performance of implicit or active denial of it—thereby asserting that class remains to be a factor which allows individuals to be oppressed even in the simplest facets of their lives.
As a response to the endearment of Filipinos for Korean culture, the series gained huge following in the country. This fandom was manifested by the series being aired on numerous occasions in different channels, and the overwhelming reaction of fans as the series’ stars made their appearance in the country on different occasions. However, despite the seemingly cute and innocent nature of the series, following a formulaic “boy meets girl” storyline, the text should be looked at critically in order to analyze the ideologies it perpetuates. It can be argued that because of our preference to consume these types of media texts, our culture welcomes the idea of false empowerment in a world where class permeates almost every degree of our existence.
Boys Over Flowers Episode 1 – Watch Full Episodes Free – Korea – TV Shows – Viki [Video file]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.viki.com/videos/44699v-boys-over-flowers-episode-1
Estrada-Claudio, Sylvia. (1999). Discourse Analysis, in Sylvia H. Guerrero, Ed. Gender Sensitive and Feminist Methodologies: A Handbook for Health and Social Researchers. Quezon City: UPCWS.