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Say Hello To Digital Hallyu Emirati Nation

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Young Emiratis today are seen to be obsessed with Korean entertainment, from boy bands to television dramas, reality shows to movies, they have endless choices. Intrigued by the newly emerging K-wave seen particularly among young females, this paper attempts to explore how Emirati women negotiate their cultural identities through their active involvement with Korean pop culture in online media. It aims to study their perception of the Emirati media industry and compare it to the online K-media industry along with Hollywood and Bollywood. A focus group was conducted at United Arab Emirates (UAE) University among females who were a part of the avid audience in the Hallyu phenomenon. This exploratory study examined why Korean entertainment such as K-pop, TV dramas, reality shows and movies - strike a chord with UAE residents, particularly Emirati females. Moreover, comprehensive description was given by respondents as to why they were drifting away from Hollywood and Bollywood over the preference of K-pop. It also recognized indicators of possible threats to cultural identity. In addition, recommendations were provided as to how to respond to the growing online K-wave and how the local identity could be preserved through entertainment industry.
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VOLUME 6 ISSUE 3
URWA TARIQ
__________________________________________________________________________
Say Hello to the Digital Hallyu Wave in the UAE
The Rising Digital South Korean Wave among
Emirati Women and its Impact on their Cultural Identity
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ISSN: 2470-9247 (Print), ISSN: 2470-9255 (Online)
https://doi.org/10.18848/2470-9247/CGP/v06i03/1-14 (Article)
Say Hello to the Digital Hallyu Wave in the UAE: The
Rising Digital South Korean Wave among Emirati
Women and its Impact on their Cultural Identity
Urwa Tariq,1 United Arab Emirates University, UAE
Abstract: Young Emiratis today are increasingly obsessed with South Korean entertainment. From boy bands to TV
soap operas, and reality shows to movies, there are endless choices available. Intrigued by the newly emerging K-wave
particularly popular among young females, this article explores how Emirati women negotiate their cultural identities
through their active involvement with K-pop culture in digital media. It studies their perception of the Emirati media
industry and compares it to online K-media and Hollywood and Bollywood. This exploratory study examined how and
why K-entertainment strikes a chord among Emirati females. It also recognized indicators of possible threats to cultural
identity. A focus group was conducted at United Arab Emirates University among females contributing to the Hallyu
phenomenon. The results suggested that Emirati youth expect diverse and unique content from local media industries;
since they are not receiving this through mainstream Emirati media, they are seeking to fill the void by venturing into
global cyberspace. In addition, recommendations are provided on ways to respond to the growing online K-wave and
how local identity could be preserved through the entertainment industry.
Keywords: South Korean Wave, Hallyu, Emirati Identity, Society, Culture, Digital Media, Entertainment Industry
Introduction
outh Korean entertainment is becoming increasingly popular in the United Arab Emirates
(UAE). In 2018, the SMTown Live World Tour concert, attended by more than 20,000
young residents, took Dubai by storm. South Korean entertainment, including K-pop, TV
dramas, reality shows, and movies, has struck a chord with UAE residents, particularly Emirati
women (Dhal 2018). The South Korean K-pop presence in digital media has ignited curiosity
among local scholars and governments regarding its impact on the younger Emirati generation
and its cultural identity.
Hallyu fans in the UAE have developed a significant interest in South Korean culture, as
demonstrated by participating in online forums through fan communities. This study
emphasizes the crucial role played by Emirati fans as cultural mediators by focusing on K-wave
fandom in the UAE. Considering the paucity of scholarly research on the newly emerging
Hallyu phenomenon, this study explores how UAE young women negotiate their gender and
cultural identity through their active involvement in the digital community of South Korean pop
culture. Through exploratory research, this study aims to examine the influence of the South
Korean entertainment industry, among others, in the UAE in the context of the Emirati identity.
Defining Emirati Identity
Oral folktales, proverbs, and daily communication aid in passing down cultural identity from
one generation to another. Cultural identity is important in any society because it reflects how
individuals define themselves and their roles in the community. In this globalized world, the
UAE has opened its arms to many cultures, languages, and people from both the East and the
West (Almehairi 2015).
1 Corresponding Author: Urwa Tariq, PO Box 15551, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Media
and Creative Industries, Al Ain, UAE. email: urwat@gmail.com/ 201690065@uaeu.ac.ae
S
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THE JOURNAL OF COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA STUDIES
Gleissner (2012) believes that the Emirati identity is difficult to express in words, but that
one can see and feel it. For instance, TV campaigns present images of Bedouins, camels, date
palms, and traditional coffee ceremonies merged with high-rise buildings, expensive cars, and
other phenomena of a modern urban lifestyle. These symbolic elements are parts of the Emirati
history and lifestyle. Another example is the architecture, including innovative buildings like
the Burj Al Arab, which represents the Emirati tradition of sailing and pearl diving (AlKassim
2016), or the Dubai Frame, connecting the past and the present of that city (Wam 2017; Zakaria
2017). Social media and local channels praise the achievements, rituals, efforts, and
performance of the rulers, who have fostered rapid modernization of the country while
maintaining links with the old heritage. In social media, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin
Rashid Al Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai, presents himself as an example of a cultural
icon and a political figure through a brand and logo: Fazza” or “F3. His political image
promotes the national identity by combining aspects of authentic traditional Bedouin culture
with the profile of a modern youthful prince enjoying extreme sports (Gleissner 2012). The
constant exposure to such environment constructs an association between the symbols that are
used, making them into a local brand, and Emirati identity.
Abdulla (2014) states that in the Emirati identity, the social setting might have changed,
but were still the sameandwe are the ones who know what it means to be Emirati and the
ones who set the rules of the game.” Emirati sociologist Gobash (2008) differs from the above
by describing the Emirati identity as being deeply rooted in Islamic civilization. Emirati
families, he says, have a major role in conveying some of the most important principles on
which Islamic society relies, such as truth, sincerity, and ethics. Gobash asserts that Emirati
identity in a broad framework is aboutwho are we?Similarly, Decoster et al. (2017) confirm
that the Emirati identity is about having a traditional and conservative lifestyle demonstrated by
cultural signals like style of dress, the Arabic language, style of hospitality, traditional customs,
and respect for elders and the country’s leaders. Mohammed (2008) states that the national
identity rests on basic feelings like love for the UAE, its way of life, and its establishments, and
responsibility for its well-being and safety.
Literature Review
The Emirati Entertainment Industry
The dynamics and trends of the media industry sometimes provide valuable insight into
viewers’ behavior. It has helped the government and businesses determine the most effective
means of communicating with citizens. However, authorities today question the foreign values
being adopted by young viewers from the available foreign media.
Perceptions of cultural fragility have led UAE authorities to attempt to preserve local
identity (Al-Khouri 2012; Hopkyns 2013; Salama 2013). For instance, the UAE’s media
authorities have taken initiative to host new cultural shows (CPHFC 2017; Show 2014), Emirati
reality shows (Ayache 2014), and Emirati patriotic singers and poets (Grundey 2017; Khalaf
2015) in the TV industry. Establishing and continuously supporting the Emirati film industry
was a crucial step, as it promoted UAE’s cultural identity, norms, values, and social issues. The
Dubai International Film Festival became the first incubator for promoting regional motion
pictures. A small group of filmmakers, who began their own Emirates Film Competition in
2001, were the primary audience for Emirati movies made before 2004 (Yunis 2014). Emphasis
on films expanded in 2008, when government-owned Abu Dhabi Media Company opened
Image Nation. This resulted in the creation of a creative lab known as twofour54. Shortly after,
the Gulf Film Festival and the Emirates Film Competition, which highlighted 300 Emirati short
films in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, were established. Since then, the government has provided
substantial support, mentorship, and encouragement to local filmmakers (Hambuch 2016).
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TARIQ: SAY HELLO TO THE DIGITAL HALLYU WAVE IN THE UAE
The UAE’s film community formed a national identity of its own. Emirati narrative
filmmakers created films that both local and the international audience could accept. For
instance, some Emirati short movies, documentaries, or dramas represented national identity by
depicting real-life examples of Emirati lifestyle, beliefs, values, social issues, traditions, and
other aspects (Al Bustani 2015; Quick 2016). Other Emiratis focused on issues of
multiculturalism through movies such asCity of Life,” “Sea Shadows,and Going to
Heaven,” which emphasize the effect of a multicultural society and modern lifestyle on Emirati
identity (Hambuch 2016; Newbould 2016; Rogers 2017). For instance, Fatima Musharbek, an
Emirati director, created an unconventional documentary called Rabbit Hole. This
documentary highlighted today’s Emirati youth struggling with identity crises due to a digitally
globalized world pulling them away from their Emirati heritage (Moussly 2011).
The Set of Challenges
Emirati-made movies are increasingly presented in regional multiplexes and international
festivals, gradually exposing the UAE’s identity in an international arena. However, certain
challenges accompany the production of this type of content. First, having Emiratis on-screen is
still a novelty, whether in films or in TV dramas. Second, being a relatively new industry in the
UAE market, it lacks well-developed stories in a variety of genres, including comedy, horror, or
drama (Bardsley 2009; Saffarini 2006). Most of the stories presented are short movies or
documentaries related to social issues that may affect society, making it more suitable for
international audiences than for local audiences. Third, local channels rarely broadcast Emirati
movies; they are generally accessible during film festivals as special screenings, thus limiting
their exposure to the masses. Fourth, many Emirati filmmakers have limited training in terms of
direction, production, script writing, and acting. Few choose to pursue this field because of
social and cultural issues (AlZayani 2017). Fifth, lack of funds, restricted help from the
government (Bardsley 2009; Hill 2013; Newbould 2017; Youssef and Piane 2013), and limited
production and technical expertise also make it difficult to pursue a career in this field. Finally,
imported foreign media, which has existed for more than thirty years in the UAE, provides the
Emirati audience with other genres of entertainment. The varied choices and exposure to
foreign content are making Emiratis, especially those of the younger generations, less interested
in locally produced entertainment.
Imported Content
The entertainment sectors, especially film and music divisions, are subtle yet powerful tools for
the dissemination of a nation’s self-image domestically and internationally (Yunis 2014). Figure
1 depicts the Arab Media Outlook (2015) report (AbuFadhil 2017) indicating that Hollywood
and Bollywood have succeeded in achieving cultural image dissemination in the UAE. Cinemas
did not become popular in the UAE until the mid-1990s; even then, they mainly screened Indian
and Western movies in Dubai and Abu Dhabi multiplexes (Hambuch 2016). Emirati citizens
obtained access to Indian and English songs through cassettes and radio. Prior to the launch of
governmental TV stations in the late 1980s, the UAE had no history of any visual entertainment
(Yunis 2014). To date, television programming in the UAE offers few original programs with
limited local production, such as news, talk shows, and the occasional Ramadan soap operas.
All of this leads to increased reliance on international programs (Gleissner 2012).
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Figure 1: Most Popular Movie Genres in the Middle East from Arab Media Outlook 2011-2015
Source: Abu Fadhil, 2017
Arab Media Outlook investigated Arab markets, including Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia,
and the UAE, to analyze demand for locally produced Arabic films. As shown in Figure 1, the
UAE, with a highly diverse population, was the only Arab country whose first preference was
Hollywood (62%) followed by Bollywood movies. This contrasts with other regions that opted
for Arabic movies (Club 2015). The impact of Hollywood and Bollywood is so strong in the
UAE that in 2016, Dubai created a Hollywood and Bollywood theme park (Saxena 2016).
Similarly, the UAE is one of the largest overseas markets for Western and Indian
entertainment. However, Middle Eastern viewers prefer Indian media over Western media due
to the movie plots, which are rooted in kinship relations and similar family structures. Cultural
similarity is also one of the primary reasons for preference among Middle Eastern viewers
(Omar 2015). The imported content and Emiratis somehow share similar traditions, values, and
habits. However, Indian entertainment is not the only medium that bears cultural similarities.
The recent rise of South Korean media in the UAE has demonstrated that Korean and Arab
cultures share norms and traditions; this is the driving force of its growth among Emirati youth.
The next section aims to uncover specific factors related to its rise.
Rise of the South Korean Wave in the UAE
In this era of globalization, acceptance of foreign cultures has become easier than accepting
native culture (Sachdeva 2014). This principle perfectly describes the trending culture in the
UAE, known as the South Korean wave” (Hallyu in Korean). This term signifies a particular
style orcurrent flow (Bokrae 2015); it refers to a surge in the international visibility of
South Korean culture, which began in East Asia during the early 1990s and is now spreading to
West Asia, to the Middle East, and some parts of Europe and the United States (Ravina 2009).
The wave consists of TV (K-movies, dramas, TV shows) and music (K-pop), both of which are
the focus of this study. The deepening bilateral ties between the UAE and South Korea have
strengthened relations between the two countries through military, diplomacy, and trade (Huang
2011). In 2017, Rizvi interviewed Emirati professor Al-Jenaibi regarding her research on
Emiratispreference in entertainment. She indicated that young Emiratis, especially women
displayed great interest, and that they preferred South Korean entertainment to other forms of
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TARIQ: SAY HELLO TO THE DIGITAL HALLYU WAVE IN THE UAE
entertainment. She stated that, Korea is slowly transforming from a traditional society to
modernity, and perhaps trying to reconcile the two. In UAE, the traditional and modern coexist
and people are trying to converge both worlds,(Rizvi 2017; Swan 2019).
Compared to Indian entertainment, which is predictable, and Western entertainment, which
uses sensual tactics to attract viewers, Korean entertainment is usually dream-centric; thus, the
protagonist’s role is unpredictable. Aspects of life such as friendship and other healthy
relationships are portrayed, and their viewers are taught morals and lessons (Dhal 2018;
Sachdeva 2014). The yon-sama syndromein Japan andHahanyizu” fandom in China
demonstrate that women in these regions are at the center of the South Korean Wave (Noh
2010). Similarly, young Emirati women prefer to watch international dubbed entertainment, as
they seek to learn about new cultures and watch shows that address universal social issues (Al-
Jenaibi 2017; Dhal 2018). Al-Saffaar (2012) also attests that women account for a higher
overall viewership than men, as they indicate a great degree of satisfaction from viewing
dubbed drama, movies, and music (Kim 2012). The enthusiasm, social satisfaction, and
emotions and leisure help them escape their realities and relate to characters through their own
experiences (Bennett 2012; Chua and Iwabuchi 2008; Dhal 2018; Ziani and Alrajehi 2014).
Media researchers like Kim (2017) analyzed the South Korean wave phenomenon through
cultural content analysis. The research revealed that emotions expressed through Korean TV
series easily attract Middle Eastern fans. Figure 2 reveals the reasons Korean content resonates
with UAE viewers. For instance, some Korean Confucian values are similar to Islamic cultural
ideas which helps align them with Middle Eastern viewersbeliefs. These viewers prefer shows
with moral lessons and bonding. K-dramas mostly deal with topics related to family members,
differences in social classes, and love triangles. By portraying situations that comport with
Islamic beliefs, such as an emphasis on family, K-dramas have raised awareness of shared
values among Arab viewers. Middle Eastern audiences are also drawn to beautiful images,
sensitive approaches, romanticism, and storylines where good triumphs over evil (Kim 2017;
Swan 2019).
Figure 2: Cultural Content Analysis Study from the New South Korean Wave in the ME
Source: Kim 2017
Another key factor introduced by Hare (2017) that differed from Kim’s study is that
Korean media utilizes strong marketing tactics. The audience tends to acquaint themselves with
and remember Korean actors because of a Korean triplet trend, which consists of singing,
dancing, and acting. This emerging trend helps media personalities and Korean content achieve
success in the international market. Moreover, many Korean actors have polyglot competence
(Chinese, Japanese, Korean, English, and Thai), enabling a broader reach among Asian
audiences. This method of marketing rapidly exposes and familiarizes respondents with the
South Korean entertainment industry.
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Researchers have realized the profound impact the Hallyu effect has on Arab regions. In
turn, they have recommended that budding Arab researchers pursue Hallyu topics in niche
markets (Young et al. 2017). Several papers have been written in Egypt (Han and Lee 2008;
Noh 2010), Palestine, and Israel (Otmazgin and Lyan 2013) regarding Hallyu fandom; however,
no case study analyses have been performed on the Hallyu phenomenon among young Emiratis
and its impact on their cultural identity in the UAE. The small market size of the UAE may
have discouraged its use as a research target for globalized culture by scholars in the past;
however, its importance has grown as UAE citizenspower to influence other Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) countries has expanded.
Thus, this study aims to analyze the South Korean wave in the UAE, identify the reasons
behind its rising popularity among Emirati women, and understand its effect on Emirati culture.
A focus group interview was performed through a discussion format, and this allowed people to
express their points of view in a group setting and provide indicators of media impact. The
research focused on two specific aspects:
1. Defining cultural identity and understanding local entertainment:
RQ1: What is the current perception of young Emirati women on cultural identity?
RQ2: How do locally produced entertainment media contribute to maintaining this
cultural identity, if at all?
2. Understanding the rise of Korean entertainment in the UAE:
RQ3: Why do Emirati females have rising interest in South Korean media and
what are the key factors that differentiate K-entertainment from other
imported ones?
RQ4: Does the South Korean wave influence Emirati identity in any way?
Research Methodology
The study utilized a focus group consisting of eleven Emirati women from various colleges at
UAE University. Though they were avid viewers of South Korean entertainment, they also
followed other sources of content including Hollywood, Bollywood, and the Emirati
entertainment. Qualitative research of an exploratory nature was adopted, and interview
questions were semi-structured. Eleven open-ended questions were asked, centering on the four
research questions. Responses were documented by two interviewers, a moderator who
conducted the focus group interview, and an observer who took notes verbatim. Two
interviewers were included to facilitate comparison between findings and enhance reliability
(Harrell and Bradley 2009). The interview lasted about ninety minutes, and for confidentiality
purposes, numbers were used to identify participants during the discussion. The participants
(aged 1722 years) were viewers of Korean entertainment for more than three years and avid
followers of all types of Korean shows. Respondents were asked to rank themselves using a 10-
point Likert scale ranging from 1 to 10 (10 being the highest) in terms of loyalty to Korean
media. Around 70 percent of the participants ranked themselves an 8 or above.
Research Findings
Defining Cultural Identity and Understanding Local Entertainment
The questions in this category aimed to explain the way respondents perceive Emirati identity
and whether locally produced entertainment media helps maintain this perception. Most of the
respondents were perplexed with the termsEmirati Identityor Cultural Identity.However,
they were familiar with terms such asloyalty,” “UAE customs, andtraditional culture
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TARIQ: SAY HELLO TO THE DIGITAL HALLYU WAVE IN THE UAE
through schools and universities. Regarding ways in which the UAE’s culture could be
distinguished from other cultures, the most common answers took the form of tangible
visibility, such asAbaya and Kandora(traditional dress), “Dallah(coffee jar), Emirati
Accent,” “Bukhhor (perfume), Flag and National Anthem,” “Falcon,” andHeritage sites”;
such answers were similar to Glessiner’s (2012) classification.
Regarding their exposure to locally produced entertainment, nine of eleven respondents
were familiar with local programs but confessed that they preferred not to watch them. Their
knowledge of Emirati cinema was also limited. They mostly watched specific broadcasted
shows, such as locally animated Shaabiat Al Cartoon or Freej, with family members or during
the month of Ramadan. Almost all members rejected the idea of watching dramas and movies.
They felt that dramas/movies produced were exaggerated,” “gloomy,and far from reality.
In addition, respondents held that cultural identity was absent or portrayed incorrectly in the
Emirati entertainment industry. The storyline, though directed by Emiratis, was not focused
completely on Emirati culture itself; in cases where it was, a fictitious portrayal was depicted.
By contrast, respondents had a good awareness of the UAE’s music industry, Emirati presenters
and hosts.
There is a way of publicizing Emirati movies, and their launching is pretty underworld.
They don’t use their media, they don’t use their followers well, basically, their adverts
are pretty bad, and same time quality of movie, story, actor is low quality, especially
for us who watch all sorts of foreign entertainment, we have this natural tendency to
compare them. (Participant 4)
Understanding the Rise of K-entertainment in the UAE
The second set of questions aimed to understand respondentsrising interest in South Korean
media and analyze its distinctiveness from other imported entertainment industries in the UAE.
These questions also aimed to comprehend whether Korean media has influenced Emirati
cultural identity.
When asked to recall their first encounter with South Korean entertainment that led to their
rising interest in it, participants responses fell into three categories. The first set of answers
revealed that most Emirati women were previously Otaku fans (Japanese Anime Cosplay and
manga fandom), which enabled a seamless transition to Korean entertainment. Audiences have
switched their attention from Japanese pop culture to Korean entertainment because Koreans
bring their characters and stories to life, which allows viewers to personally relate to them
(Bennett, 2012). Koreans produce shows that represent the youthsurban lives, love affairs, and
consumerist appetites.
I was an Otaku before and still am. What made me interested in them was the idea of
Korean making series that have an anime-style to them. What keeps me going is that
K- dramas are almost like anime, but in real life, and their reality shows are very
creative. (Participant 7)
Another source of exposure was through TV channel MBC 4. MBC 4 launched its first
dubbed Korean series in 2013, calledHeart Strings andBoys over Flowers.” However,
respondents disliked the broadcasting as MBC4 chopped episodes, censored several scenes, and
removed opening soundtracks, which are usually the highlights of Korean series. The most
common issue stressed by participants was Arabic dubbing, as they recalled that the quality,
accent and dialect delivery of dubbing was poor and did not suit the characters.
However, viewers liked the story concepts and actors, which motivated them to re-watch
original version through websites. They stated that Korean entertainment was available online
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with English subtitles and good-quality streaming and downloading options. Though Internet
portals are unofficial, they facilitate the sharing of information on where and how to view
Korean dramas, shows, and movies online. They recommend good series, encourage repetitive
viewing, and expand their inventories (Noh 2010). Additionally, striking Korean movie posters,
colorful trailers, and attractive boy/girl group bands such as EXO, BTS, BLACKPINK caught
the attention of respondents while web browsing, which led to a rising interest in Korean
content. Furthermore, participants stated that they have contributed to spreading the Korean
wave among their Emirati friends through persuasion. The majority agreed that such persuasion
was successful among their friends because Korean entertainment includes a wide variety of
genres.
A comparison with Western TV shows was also discussed during the interview.
Participants felt that Korean dramas were cleaner in terms of language and content. They
highlighted their definition of romance with words like simple,” “loyal, and cute and shy,
characteristics that were missing in Western content (UAEU News, 2018). Moreover, Korean
dramas have a moderately slow pace in terms of emotions, allowing viewers to comprehend
feelings and empathize with characters (Hare 2017; Kim 2017). Participants also stressed that
most Korean episodes ended quickly and were readily available online, thus reducing their wait
time. The Western series, however, lasted several seasons and required online subscriptions.
Regarding Indian entertainment, respondents were knowledgeable, and many indicated that
Indian media was their family members first choice. Conversely, respondents felt that Indian
series were inferior to Korean series in terms of storyline, cinematography, direction,
characters, predictability, and performance (Dhal, 2018). The suspense created in Korean series
is hard to predict compared to Indian series; this exemplifies the Hypodermic needle theory
(Merskin 2019), leaving the audience weary and cynical because of its predictability and lengthy
episodes.
Accordingly, when asked why Korean media attracted more Emirati females than males
(Saffar, 2012), participants emphasized the attractive physical appearance of the Korean
characters. They used words like cute/adorable and fresh to describe both Korean women
and men (UAEU News 2018). The second factor was personality. They described men as
visually appealing and nobleand women aspolite and lovable. Participants also found
Korean language to be enticingly soft. Conversations were carried out slowly and required time
and effort to understand; this did not appeal to Emirati men. Another important aspect is that
Emirati females stay home more than Emirati males, which enables greater exposure to foreign
programs and allows females to discover new cultures (UAEU News 2018). This was similar to
Kim’s study (2012), which stated that marginalized women often gained pleasure by virtually
travelling to new, foreign destinations through media consumption. Participants confessed that
even if Emirati men did like Korean entertainment, they would not acknowledge it due to
egotism,” “orthodox beliefs,andfear of stigmatization.
The majority of concept in K-entertainment is femininity, even boys look a little
feminine and that doesn’t appeal to Emirati boys as they like masculinity, but for girls,
because we have this perception even in femininity, we find masculinity, which
requires lot deeper in analyzing and we will find something charming (sic).
(Participant 5)
Consequently, participants had mixed reactions when asked how adults reacted to K-
showbiz. The majority described uneasiness in viewing K-showbiz in front of elders. It was
highlighted that the older generations, who prefer watching Arabic entertainment, did not accept
foreign media. Furthermore, some elders discriminated against Asian celebrities because they
judged Korean characters by their appearance, especially Korean males, and this made the
media culturally objectionable. Some participants felt that watching K-dramas with their parents
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TARIQ: SAY HELLO TO THE DIGITAL HALLYU WAVE IN THE UAE
restricted them from expressing their fangirl emotions. Hence, respondents concluded that
Korean entertainment was for younger generations, so they favored viewing it alone or with the
same age group.
My parents think every Asian is a Chinese or Filipino. I don’t know why, but families
who don’t actually watch Korean or Japanese or others are very sexist. They are like,
Why do you watch guys who look like girls?Who is that girl? ...They wouldn’t
even call them a guy or a man. (Participant 1)
Discussion
The Emiratis in this study belong to the UAE geographically, yet they engage virtually with
South Korean culture. Thus, one crucial question remains: where do they ultimately belong?
The findings of this study were similar to Noh (2010) in terms of understanding the
psychological aspect of the respondents. The South Korean wave is thriving in the UAE because it
fills the void left by the Emirati media industry. Emirati fans passionately love South Korea and its
people and connect with South Korean culture through their gendered, trans-cultural fandom.
Echoing the notion of cultural proximity, Emirati and Korean cultures share common ground. In
both cultures, poetry, romance, social relationships, and friendships are highly valued, especially
by women (Dhal 2018). Therefore, young Emirati femalesdesire to remain in touch with their
culture is gratified, regardless of whether the media is foreign. Emirati fans are not mindless
zealots for Korean culture; instead, they are cultural agents struggling with complex identities
(Noh 2010; Swan 2019). South Korean culture evokes escapism to an idealistic world where they
can relate psychologically and culturally. This indicates that Emirati femalescognition of Hallyu
is conscious rather than passive (Swan 2019).
Another unanticipated element of the study included the rising cyberspace community,
specifically Twitter and Instagram. The K-wave has given Emirati women confidence and a
strong sense of group identity rarely seen before (Dhal 2018). This is demonstrated by H.H.
Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed, known asFazza,” who has one of the largest local fanbases
comprising mostly women. The Emirati women perceive him as a national heroan idoldue
to his effective presence and communication via social media. This example demonstrates how
Hallyu utilizes various resources to achieve prosperity and that it is possible to establish this in
Emirati traditional media. Another reason the online community is growing is that K-pop fans
are following their idol groups on social media. Participants voiced that such groups have given
them a sense of belonging to a community with similar passions. The Emirati fans serve as
protective shields for Korean celebrities who represent themselves as humble, emotionally
available, and vulnerable. This loyalty is rarely seen for Emirati, Indian, or Western celebrities.
For instance, A.R.M.Y (Adorable Representative Masters of Ceremony of Youth) is a fan-base
for the South Korean boy band BTS. They are followed by Emiratis in the UAE on Twitter,
Instagram, and V-app. Respondents stated that this band strengthens their connections between
fans, celebrities, and the overall community. The sense of belonging, bonding, and collectivism
may have already existed as a part of the Emirati identity; however, the credit unintentionally
goes to the K-wave.
Additionally, the rise of the K-wave was not through traditional media; rather, it was solely
spread through cyberspace and word of mouth. Youth today prefer to have freedom and control
of media as opposed to having media control them; this is an important aspect to consider.
Digital media increasingly plays an important role among UAE youth, but the Emirati media
industry still lags behind in terms of digital access and flexibility; thus, its significance is
jeopardized.
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THE JOURNAL OF COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA STUDIES
Conclusion
There are no related articles in the UAE discussing the negative impact of the South Korean
effect on Emiratis; therefore, this study facilitated comprehension of those traits through
participant testimonials. The aim of this case study was to lay a foundation in focus group
research in order to understand a slice of the UAE culture from the participant’s point of view
and to further examine the cultural proximity of the two cultures.
By analyzing the discussion boards frequented by the participants, this study explored the
burgeoning Emirati fandom for Korean popular culture. More specifically, the effect on cultural
identity through group discussion was critically examined. Overall, the current study’s results
suggest that Emirati youth expect diverse and unique content from local media industries.
Mainstream Emirati media does not seem to satisfy youthsdesire for modern, yet realistic,
content. The local media’s inability to supply quality programs has led Emirati fans to venture
into global cyberspace to fill that void.
When participants were asked about any implications of the South Korean wave in their
cultural identity, their immediate response was negative. Korean culture is an imported industry
that has similarities to Western culture. If Western culture and media have a negative impact on
the Emirati identity, there is a possibility that the South Korean media could also be a threat to
their identity. Several concerns have been expressed by researchers from Japan, Bhutan,
Mongolia, Singapore, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, and China regarding the Hallyu effect
(Chakraborty 2017; Chang et al. 2012; Jung 2014; Kaisii 2017; Kim 2017; Wen 2015).
According to scholars, the K-wave has an overall negative influence on millennials as it hinders
their focus on reality; this was indirectly highlighted by the study participants. Unbeknownst to
them, the K-wave phenomenon influenced their daily life. For instance, females were highly
focused on physical beauty and appearance, as they were not content with their current
presentation.
Moreover, their preference for South K-entertainment over Emirati entertainment was high.
They developed a natural tendency to compare local programs with Korean content, making it
highly competitive for local producers in terms of expectations. In addition, their preference of
viewing Korean shows in solitude rather than with family makes it difficult for Emirati adults to
interact with the younger generations. Females also stressed that exposure to K-pop celebrities
and idols changed their expectations and standards for their future spouse. They fantasize about
having a Korean-type male partner in terms of looks, personality, and character. The
respondents also stated that they spend several hours per day watching and following K-
entertainment. In addition, their desire to learn the Korean language to better understand the
celebrities is a cautionary sign that UAE authorities cannot afford to overlook.
Recommendations and Limitations of the Study
South Korean entertainment companies are taking into consideration the cultural characteristics
of the UAE, whether from a business perspective or to build a stronger relationship with the
UAE. The UAE media bodies, which include young directors, must learn to cooperate with the
Korean entertainment industry. This will help them produce media content of a similar caliber
with distinct characteristics suitable for the local culture. In terms of TV shows, as participants
suggested, local media can try to imitate reality shows that could benefit UAE society as a
whole and contribute to creating a unique identity. For instance, respondents suggested a
storyline with a social message that represents the real UAE. They desire TV shows that respect
UAE culture, involve professional actors, and are led by directors who avoid redundancy in
plots and scripts. If these suggestions are heeded, it will aid in the growth and expansion of the
local media content.
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TARIQ: SAY HELLO TO THE DIGITAL HALLYU WAVE IN THE UAE
Overall, the study’s findings are significant, but it does have its limitations. The research
was restricted to one focus group consisting of eleven members. Therefore, it is not possible to
make valid inferences and generalizations. In addition, the demographics of the focus group
participants do not necessarily represent the youth in the UAE. Thus, this qualitative analysis
does not attempt to generalize its findings. Second, it was limited to one qualitative method.
Triangulation analysis would have facilitated in the delivery of rich data and an understanding
of the growing K-wave phenomenon and its impact on cultural identity. Moreover, with a focus
on the feminized dimension of the Korean Wave, this project ignored the male perspective of
Hallyu. Future studies can employ the above approaches to explore other aspects of the Hallyu
effect in the UAE.
Research Contributions
This study underlined the main factors that have led to the rise of the South K-Wave and its
impact on the Emirati identity from a psychological perspective. Bolstered by the power of
social media as a means to access and consume cultural content, it suggested that popular
culture consumption not only changes the perceptions of some individuals but that these
individuals play a decisive role in connecting globalized culture with local fandom. In
summary, social media strategies used by Korean entertainment agencies could be a benchmark
for UAE entertainment agencies who hope to maximize business potential with digital media. It
provides local media specialists with ideas on how to produce high caliber Emirati media
content that includes distinct characteristics suitable for the local culture. As such, this research
can provide important insight for media analysts, the UAE government, and academic
institutions. Moreover, the study can encourage future research within the GCC region
regarding the cultural proximity of two cultures and its impact on society.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Urwa Tariq: PhD Candidate and Research Assistant, Department of Media and Creative
Industries, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates
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Contributions to the journal range from broad,
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