“Becoming” North Koreans: Negotiating Gender and Class in Representations of North Korean Migrants on South Korean Television

Eun Ah Cho, University of California, Irvine
“Northern Men as Black and White." Episode 190 of "Now On My Way to Meet You," Aug. 9, 2015.
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Abstract

This article examines how North Korean migrants become subjects of their own narratives in South Korean society, with a focus on gender and class divisions as represented on television programs such as Now on My Way to Meet You (Ije mannarŏ gamnida, 2011–present), Moranbong Club (Moranbong k’ŭlŏp, 2015–present), and Unification of Love: Southern Men, Northern Women (Nam-nam-buk-nyŏ, 2014–2017). These shows aim to depict perfectly assimilated migrants who embody the South Korean government’s image of an ideal citizen and thereby introduce an impression of “North Korean-ness” in the absence of input from the North Korea, a closed country. North Korean migrants “become” North Koreans within the programs’ formats, with mixed results. On the one hand, a “double-paned window” perspective, which relies on the North Korean panelists’ testimonies, complicates the programs’ intended narrative of exemplary migrants. On the other hand, North Korean panelists actively fortify the binary gender frame of South Korean society. For example, North Korean male panelists become antagonists when their rough and unsophisticated characteristics appear to confirm South Korean men’s superiority. These South Korean television programs focus on the polar concept of “Southern men and Northern women,” thereby marginalizing North Korean male migrants and South Korean females. Such a stratified gender structure supports South Korean males’ authority and strengthens the heteronormative structure of South Korean society.

Keywords: North Korean migrants, South Korean television, Now on My Way to Meet You, Moranbong Club, Southern Men Northern Women, gender, class, South Korean conservatism