Rob, over at Roboseyo, has a nice rant about Korean “branding.” He discusses tourist branding, but everything he says can in some way be applied to Korean literature (I should also mention that Rob points to Asadal’s excellent three-part analysis of the “Korean tourism problem.” It is long, but entirely worth the read).
Rob show two advertisements, one from Israel and one from Korea. First, Israel
As branding attempts thee two clips point out a massive flaw in the Korean approach. The Korean ad shows a bunch of Koreans doing Korean things (I mean “Super Junior?” Does this have any meaning outside Korea?) like taking silly photos and decorating latte-froth. What is this supposed to mean to a potential tourist? This kind of inner-direction has long been the bane of Korean tourist advertising, and also of its attempts at exporting its literature (my particular current interest). In tourism and literature (and one could add food), Korea seems to refuse to look beyond its internal expectations of what is good, or will sell, to see what foreigners actually want to buy or see.
The Israelis, on the other hand, immediately adopt the stance of the outsider in their advertisement and provide the outsider (him?) a very brief, but impactful glimpse of what Israel might have to offer.
Israel has gone to the trouble of figuring out what some potential tourists might want, while Korea has created a videobook of things that seem cool to Koreans.
The exact same approach plays out in literary translation, with several damaging effects. First, Korea’s focus and refocus on works they feel are “representative” (a translation of some Korean word or idea that is far too influential in choosing food, literature, and culture that is to be exported) leads to works like “Buckwheat Season” being translated multiple times, even though their content does not translate well to the Target Culture. Second, Korea focuses on themes that are of intense interest internally, but little interest externally. Division literature (pundhan munhak) probably makes up 50% of the short stories published in English while a quick trip to Amazon reveals it simply is not popular and does not sell.
A move to user-oriented marketing and translation (surveys of target audiences, for instance, seem unknown in these fields) could have a quite tonic effect in these fields. Certainly, Korean chaebol have been quite good at sussing out what consumers want in the fields of appliances and cars, and I have no reason to believe that this should be impossible in literature, tourism, food, or whatever Korea wants to internationalize.