Seoul / GANGNAM: THE CITY OF FOUR TOOLS (1990-2000) 1-5 The Image of Apgujeong-dong and Gangnam Reflected through Consumerism

The Image of Apgujeong-dong and Gangnam Reflected through Consumerism

 

`The luxuriously appointed department stores that arose in Gangnam during the 1990s, including Hyundai, New Core, a second Lotte, and the Grand, started to make department stores in the central city redundant. And Gangnam, in particular, the Apgujeong-dong neighbourhood, turns to be the focal point of aspirations and experiments in affluence. [1]  The Hyundai Apartment store became the symbol of modern residential luxury, and foreign design boutiques, foreign restaurants and those most exclusive Korean brands clustered together in this unique district. Gangnam started to contains the image as an area built for comfort, entertainment and consumer pleasure, as frequently displayed in the movies, TV shows in media, like in the TV show Architecture 101.

 

It is clear that Seoul is planned to be the unique and representative image which stands for the nation to the outside world and to South Koreans themselves in the 1990s, different from a generation ago when the image of South Korea in their people’s mind was still a nation of farmers. And Gangnam especially stands for the prosperity of Seoul, stands for an imaginary community of upper class and luxury lifestyle for Seoul. [2] The image is so apparent that Gangnam’s, especially Apgujeong-dong’s wealth and distinction attracted lots of envy and criticism within South Koreans. An interview that Nelson conducted in her research in 2000 mentioned that Apgujeong-dong is on the list of the best and worst neighbourhood in Seoul for many Seoul residents. [3]  When women in Seoul are asked about their impression on Gangnam, upper-income women who like to go there would think about the wild lifestyle of young people and the over-westernized Gangnam culture that encourages a selfish individualism. [4]

 

The fact that the image of Gangnam was deeply rooted in the people in Seoul was deeply linked to inequalities and class distinction during the 1990s in Seoul. And if projected on consumption, the images of Gangnam and Gangbuk in their consumption styles would mark the enormous distinction.  An article, in the form of recalling the author’s memories in her childhood, talked about the time when a girl raised up in Gangbuk district made several friends who were studying in Eunkwang Girls School in Gangnam. The girls said to her: You are quite well-dressed for a Gangbuk-ae [5]. At the time the author did not get the meaning and asked, then the girls replied, “You know the way Gangbuk kids dress”.  Through the consumption of clothes, the generation raised up in Gangnam at that time already have the idea of “class distinction” in their mind, probably taught by their parents or friends. That already proofs how the distinction in consumerism can be the result of inequalities of class and how it exacerbates the inequalities.

 

The image of Apgujeong-dong, or more, generally speaking, the image of Gangnam, shows the conflicts in the process of pushing to construct a modern, cosmopolitan capital in South Korea. The new capital and its iconic new districts in Gangnam, stand for “modernity” and the nation’s future with no articulation from its history.  And despite the immense scale of Gangnam development and the symbolic image Gangnam culture had taken on, the fruit of Gangnam’s lifestyle only serves a small fraction of the people, and the contrast of the present circumstances of Gangnam and the rest of the country leave a doubt on whether Gangnam can represent a communal future for South Korea. [6]

 

References:

[1] Nelson, L. C., 2000. Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea. New York: Columbia University Press.

[2] Lee Dong Yeun. 2002. Consuming Spaces in the Global Era: Distinctions between Consumer Spaces in Seoul. Vol.44. No.3 Autumn, 2004

[3] Nelson, L. C., 2000. Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea. New York: Columbia University Press.

[4] ibid.

[5] Kim Jea. Korean Movies: PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and “Gangnam Oppa” in “Architecture 101” August 24, 2012. Retrieved from

 http://mydearkorea.blogspot.hk/2012/08/korean-music-psys-gangnam-style-and_24.html

[6] Nelson, L. C., 2000. Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea. New York: Columbia University Press.

 

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