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Is the YOLO Concept Distorting Our Reality?
Lee Jung-joo  |  sarah0728@hanyang.ac.kr
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[335호] 승인 2017.09.04  
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“I believe that these days, our young Korean society seems to prioritize satisfying oneʼs own desires over satisfying social norms and caring for others’ needs,” said Jung Ji-woo, a culture critic. Simply said, an increasing number of young Koreans are breaking away from social norms to pursue the lifestyle they want. This trend is called the ‘YOLO’ lifestyle, with ʻYOLOʼ standing for “You Only Live Once.”
TV shows add onto already existing trends within today’s society to give more exposure and attention to it for their viewers. TV shows such as ʻYoun’s Kitchenʼ, ʻHyori’s Homestayʼ and ʻIsland Trioʼ have contributed in allowing young Koreans to dream about the YOLO lifestyle.
However, even though the YOLO lifestyle may seem ambitious and satisfactory, the trend needs to be thoroughly analysed in order to determine its value.

The YOLO Lifestyle and the Korean Society

The term YOLO was first introduced to the Korean public in February 2016 through tvN’s ʻYouth Over Flowersʼ. Ever since the public started to get interested in the concept, producers of Korean variety shows have focused on broadcasting this rising trend.
Despite such popularity, however, some point out the worrying problems of the YOLO concept. “I believe that the media is responsible for the vigorous exposure of the YOLO lifestyle without really touching on what the concept actually is,” said Jung. He says that the media’s position within this trend and its impact on their viewers are almost like a synergy effect. “With this synergy effect, people increasingly think about trying the YOLO lifestyle.”
In the past, the ideal lifestyle was to get a stable job, get married, and have enough money to support one’s children. Back then, having that lifestyle was considered to be a form of success. But now, with the help of the media, the younger generation is starting to think that their own individual happiness should be the basis of their lives.
Although their basic idea is understandable, Koreans seem to interpret the term somewhat differently from its origin. While the western interpretation of the YOLO lifestyle focuses on the wellbeing of individuals, it is focused on consumerism in Korean. Since young Koreans now prioritize what they want to have or enjoy “at the moment” over future deposits, they tend to become more financially liberal and go off spending money more than before. “You only live your life once, so I really don’t understand why my parents are always pressuring me to use my money wisely. I don’t care if I spend my money however I want and neither should they,” said a Junior who majors in English Education. 

The Advantages and Disadvantages of the YOLO Lifestyle

One positive aspect about the YOLO lifestyle is that it implies there is more to life than success and encourages the younger generation to pursue their dreams. For example, the Tok-Tok Couple is famous on social media platforms as a world travelling couple. To quote this couple, they were once too busy working to travel. But now, because they are doing what they love, they feel much more satisfaction than before. “As we travel, we often meet others who are also travelling the world like us. Every time we encounter such travellers, they always seem so happy, doing what they’ve always wanted to do. And we feel the same way.”
Moreover, the new YOLO fever has also contributed to the economy. Because of an increase in consumption trends, companies benefit extensively from consumers who spend without worrying about the future. Jung supported this claim by stating, “The YOLO lifestyle within the Korean society is consistently focused more on consumerism, and companies benefit from this tendency immensely.”
However, many experts have pointed out that this reckless consumer behaviour has serious drawbacks. According to the Huffington Post, there has been an increase in the number of young individuals who aspire for YOLO lifestyles, shown through the media. However, many of such individuals have failed - and ended up facing tough financial burdens instead.
This is why financial responsibility, which is absent in the above example, should be maintained regardless of whichever lifestyle one chooses to live. “Because we believe that a YOLO lifestyle can truly be enjoyable under the premise that there is a considerable amount of money left to spend, we consistently manage our financial situation by jotting down every expense we make,” said the Tok-Tok Couple.  

Distortion of Reality - Is the Media to Blame?

The media consistently displays unrealistic content, giving false hope to the viewers. Because of such contents, viewers mistakenly believe that these are models of an ideal lifestyle that guarantees happiness.
For example, many advertisements exaggerate the uses and image of their products. This promotes irresponsible consumer behaviour and creates the illusion that whatever is being portrayed through the media is reality itself. TV shows, such as K-Dramas, often leave people longing for the portrayed lifestyle. People often get frustrated when life does not work out as it does in the media. “I remember thinking that every Korean guy was going to act like the ones I saw in K-Dramas. I was sadly proven wrong when I came to university and met other guys my age,” said Park Chohee, a Sophomore majoring in English Language & Literature.
One can also say that the media distorts the true value of a YOLO life. With the constant coverage of shows that provides reality escapism, it tempts viewers into thinking less about reality and the responsibilities that follow their actions. Fundamentally, YOLO life is far from escaping reality, and is more focused on putting your personal values before social values. In truth, it has never been about completely erasing social values in the first place.

The Truth Behind the YOLO Culture

In conclusion, viewers should realize that there is more to the YOLO lifestyle than what is portrayed through the media. Viewers should focus on developing a lifestyle that guarantees happiness and freedom; all while fulfilling oneʼs responsibilities.
“If you want to go for something, go for it. The world is big and time is short - so enjoy life and prepare yourself for your journey.” Additionally, Jung has advised Hanyangians to find a middle ground between studying and relaxing. “You should study hard, but also develop an area that allows you to live a life of personal value. If you’re stuck only studying or only partying, there’s really nothing much in the future. But if you find a middle ground, I think your life will become more fruitful. That is the true way to live your YOLO life.” 

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