So off they go. Four Korean celebrities open a restaurant at an Indonesian resort island for a week. The concept sounds overly simplistic and unrevealing, yet the television show, Youn’s Kitchen was met with nationwide success with viewers from all ages. Now one starts to wonder what explains the popularity of this program? Many factors come into play, as in the spectacular videography, appetizing cooking scenes, unexpected customer chats, and relaxing depictions of the casts island life. Youn’s Kitchen, however, offers so much more as it seeks to satisfy two of our outmost desires.
First, the program satisfies our desire to escape, to momentarily depart from our routine life, our anxieties, and responsibilities. Realistically, opening a business is never an easy task, but instead, we choose to believe in the serenity that Youn’s Kitchen portrays. The show makes us yearn for a more easygoing lifestyle and scream out YOLO (You Only Live Once). We then fantasize about setting off on a world tour or starting a new life in a foreign country dreaming that one day, my life will be happier than what it is now.
Second, the program also fulfills our desire to be acknowledged. The show gives us an ego boost, making us feel smug when foreign customers at the restaurant praise Korean food such as kimchi, when they demonstrate their affection toward Korea, and when they provide compliments to Lee Seo-jin as in Korean guys always have perfect hair. These elements not only work as an entertainment factor, but they also seem to tap into our national sentiment.
The show has come to an end but its effects resonate within us. We are constantly exposed to media input that provokes our escape through negative remarks like Hell Joseon, as if we are living in a country with no hope but only suffering. More and more people, consequently, idealize the lifestyle of other countries and seek for emigration opportunities in search of a better life. Yet, escapism may not be the ultimate solution and devaluing our own country only places us in a cycle of endless despair.
Where our happiness lies may not be in a foreign land far away, but it can be quite near us, whether it be quality time with our family, chimek with a friend, or a bike ride at Han River. Tranquility takes effort, and we can actively seek for opportunities to step away, unwind, recharge, and focus on the present. We may choose to be pessimistic about our future or we may choose to arm ourselves with critical optimism and reassurance that acknowledges our strengths, recuperates our pride, and spurs us to revitalize our country. Our economic and political conditions may not change overnight, but our attitudes towards life can. Youn’s Kitchen may actually be near us. It is our choice to bring it to where we live, cherish its every moment, and enjoy it to its fullest.
Professor Josephine Lee earned her Ph.D. in Second Language Studies from University of Hawaii at Manoa. She mainly lectures on Pedagogical English Grammar and holds a seminar in Teaching Listening in EFL.