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College Students of Past and PresentThe TV Show, Reply 1994
Lee Ho-yun  |  hoyunlee65@hanyang.ac.kr
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[320호] 승인 2013.12.02  
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Seven students from all over the country are having a heated discussion about their hometowns. “It is not the countryside!” say the students who grew up outside of Seoul. “Whether it is Suncheon or Sunchang, they all sound the same to me,” says another student who has lived in Seoul all his life.
This is a scene from tvN’s Reply 1994 of college students on an MT (“Membership Training” trip) 20 years ago. After two decades however, the dialog is still, whereby college students from outside of Seoul are trying to defend their hometown, saying that it is a city, not Si gol, or countryside. Students from Seoul on the other hand, still often express slightly condescending tones or possess biased understanding of the hometowns of their counterparts. Reply 1994 follows the lives of seven college students, Na-jung, Sseureki, Chilbongi, Samchunpo, Jo Yoon-jin, Binggeure, and Haetae, who live in the same boarding house. Through the timeless stories of college students, Reply 1994 seeks to encourage empathy between the X-generation who were college students 20 years ago and the college students of today.
 
A Blast from the Past
In Reply 1994, the Korea of 1994 is recreated to stir up memories forgotten. Props that look very outdated and obsolete appear in each scene, making the background appear more realistic. There are floppy discs, 486 computers, and beepers visible as some of the objects used to recreate the imagery of Korea 20 years ago. In one scene, Sseureki uses a phone, a radio and a CD altogether just to put some music on his answering machine. For some, scenes like this may elicit old feelings of confusion and frustration when having to use these outdated devices, while simultaneously making one wonder how people could get anything done back then without the advanced technologies we have available today.
Apart from the props, the depictions of 1994 pop culture also provide viewers with the reminiscent joy to those old enough to remember previous cultural trends. In the early 90s, basketball teams rose to popularity, particularly Yonsei University’s basketball team. Na-jung is an avid fan of Lee Sang-min, a player for the Yonsei University basketball team and in one scene, she waits in front of the team house just to get a glimpse of him. She lies just to get a handkerchief soaked in his sweat, saying that she accidentally gave him her late grandmother’s handkerchief as a gift. Choi Sangjin, a Freshman in the Global Finance Department of Chung-Ang University said, “I once stared longingly at a cookie on display that was bitten by Kim Yu-na. So the desire of Na-jung wanting to have anything from the person she idolizes is understandable, no matter how obsessive the behavior may be.”
Social issues from 1994 are also part of the scenes from time to time. When Samchunpo gets lost in Seoul and is suddenly inspected by police officers, he is arrested for carrying a random pamphlet he received which turned out to be supportive of a labor union rally. Things such as surprise inspections are a thing of the past, as are the severe prosecution of labor union rallies. However, these types of episodes serve as good reminders for the viewers about a Korea’s not so distant past.
The stage settings, props, songs, and social issues are the factors that bring familiar memories to the X-generation. Although college students today experienced the early 90s as children, they can still sympathize with the previous X-generation. College students today grew up hearing about pop culture and social issues in the early 90s from their parents, and they have vague memories of using floppy discs for homework, or blowing into Nintendo game cartridges that would not work. Pop culture critic Bae Kooknam said, “While most TV shows target each generation separately, this show’s success in attracting multiple generations is meaningful.”
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     
 
College Never Changes
Although Reply 1994 takes place in 1994, the college experiences of the main characters are surprisingly similar to what present-day college students go through. The main characters each represent typical college students in 1994, and reflect the same types of college students today. Sseureki likes to wear sweatpants and read comics all day. Na-jung is a tomboyish and confident girl. Haetae is interested in electronics and likes to play video games all night. Jo Yoon-jin is obsessed with the singer Seo Tai-ji and is a hikicomori, a pariah who severs social ties and isolates oneself in his or her room. Unlike many shows, Reply 1994 shows more of its characters inside the setting of a boarding house than outdoors which allows viewers to see the true personalities of the characters. Kim Jae-lim, a Junior in the Division of Economics at Hanyang University said, “By seeing how the characters normally behave at home, unchanged by social norms, the characters seem more believable, trustworthy and relatable.” College students of today see themselves in at least one of the seven characters that all show different types of personalities.
Even the characters’ actions are comparable to the everyday life of current college students. In one scene for instance, Haetae and Samchunpo desperately try to get past an indifferent bouncer to enter a rock cafe. When they finally get in, they are led to the basement where the unattractive people are sent. This is a sad sight that can still be seen today at nightclubs and bars. These are all timeless college experiences that every generation goes through. Through its timelessness, Reply 1994 brings the X-generation and current college students closer together with the message, “If they can survive, so can you.”
 
A Narrative in the Past Tense
College is hard for everyone, both in 1994 and in 2013. These hardships that the characters of Reply 1994 go through are not simply shown in 1994, but are later recalled by the main characters in 2013. Those characters that are shown to have grown up to become the X-generation talk about their past, reliving their time at the boarding house. Jo Yoon-jin recalls having trouble getting along with classmates and Chilbongi recalls having family issues. Binggeure remembers himself struggling to determine the purpose of his life and what career path to pursue.
This unique structure of the X-generation and college students both entering the scene offers a correlation between the two generations. By finding common ground in their rough college years, the X-generation and current college students can relate to one another. This connection between the two generations was solidified by the Reply 1994 Generation Empathy Party by tvN, where people born in and went to college in the year 1994 got together at the launch party for the show.
 
Bridging the Generation Gap Through Empathy
Reply 1994 has attracted a wide variety of viewers from teenagers to people in their 40s, with ratings as high as ten percent. By portraying Korea 20 years in the past, Reply 1994 offers a pleasant nostalgic stroll down memory lane for its viewers. Moreover, by using college as a medium that people of all ages can relate to, the show helps bridge the gap between two generations. As Bram Stroker once said, “Though empathy alone cannot alter facts, it can help make them more bearable.”

 

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