Co-opting History, Delivering Culture: Korean Fusion Sageuks as Dramatic Vehicles of Hybridization

Preceding the “Gangnam Style” explosion in America, other forms of South Korean media, such as the televised drama, have drawn fans from around the world with stories ranging from the historical to the modern.  Rather than focusing on the activities of fan communities, I will turn to the pervasive hybridity that infuses these dramas to achieve strategic cultural goals in line with Korea’s active engagement and assimilation of foreigners.  By parasitizing and co-opting their own history, Korean drama writers have found a way to draw in viewers with modern twists while generating interest in Korea’s ancient political history and cultural heritage.

Looking to three series that represent different approaches to this “history with a twist” method – Sungkyunkwan Scandal, Rooftop Prince, and Faith: the Great Doctor – this paper will identify key thematic elements that reflect important cultural norms in Korea and that mark current social conversations as modern Koreans attempt to find a balance between tradition and progress.  By using time-travel story lines (Rooftop Prince, Faith) that juxtapose ancient and modern Korean people (para-siting the time travelers), comparisons between ancient and modern medicine and commentaries on technology and gender are explored while infusing an appreciation for important historical figures.  Meanwhile, applying modern tropes and themes to a historical setting (Sungkyunkwan) makes accessible a period that may have been considered uninteresting (altering the original site); by suggesting similarities in the culture of education (and cheating), school politics, and identity crises (the female protagonist “passes” as male for the whole series), Korean history is made more relevant to younger viewers.

Although viewers could be considered parasites (in Michel Serres’ definition) of these media (online viewers and cultural appropriators), it could be more creatively argued that Korea is instilling a viral appreciation of Korean culture through the delivery vehicle of engaging dramas (as well as horse dances).


Sabrina Weiss is a cyborg/hybrid who enjoys playing in the intersection of realities, whether intercultural, between online and offline, or among human-animal overlappings. Coming from a bioethical and biophilosophical framework, Sabrina leverages perspectives gained from prior work in politics, the Navy, and in debate coaching to interrogate assumptions and to explore new frameworks for thinking and exploring.