"Peng-ha! (Peng-soo hi)" These days, it is easy to find a penguin character on YouTube, portals, or even at bookstores in Korea. Peng-soo, one of the characters from the Korean Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) and a YouTuber with more than 2 million subscribers, has recently become popular. Most EBS characters are loved mainly by children because EBS produces programs targeting them. However, Peng-soo is an exception. The majority of his fans are adults, especially those in their 20s and 30s. This is because the way he speaks and acts is categorized as “anti-Kkondae”, which differentiates him from other EBS characters. Although he is only a trainee of EBS, he boldly says his president’s name without reserve and asks, “Who is the chief of South Koreaʼs Ministry of Foreign Affairs?” when meeting with the Korean foreign minister. These actions help the public feel a sense of psychological relief and make them become his fans. Then, what exactly is anti-Kkondae culture and why are people so enthusiastic about it?
What is Anti-Kkondae?
According to the Standard Korean Language Dictionary, Kkondae is a slang term referring to older people or teachers. However, it is also used for criticizing people who are condescending to others by insisting that they have far more experience and knowledge. Even though authoritative seniors are commonly mentioned as the main definition of Kkondae, it is a hasty generalization to say only the older generation is Kkondae. This is because recently, the number of young Kkondaes who are in their 20s or 30s has increased as well. According to Macromill EMBRAIN, a leading market research company, in a survey of 1,000 participants ages 19 to 59, 89.6 percent of 20-years old answered yes to the question, “There are Kkondaes in our generation”. AntiKkondae grew in opposition to this kind of Kkondae culture. “Nattaeneun mariya...”(Back in my days...) is a symbolic phrase used to present the anti-Kkondae trend in Korea. There are several stories about how this buzzword became popular, such as generational resistance. One example is the Samsung Life Insuranceʼs commercial, titled “Responsible Life Finance”. In the advertisement, a YouTube creator answers “I’m working” to his uncle’s scolding query, “Did you get a job?” and an employee replies “I would like to leave work” to her senior who asks “What do you want for dinner?” The commercial containing the message - “Times have changed, so should insurance”- expresses that anti-Kkondae culture is spreading through overall Korean society by showing characters resisting Kkondae customs. After being released on YouTube, this commercial got more than 7.5 million views and the public started to use the phrase “Latteneun mariya (Latte is a horse)” as a pun due to its phonetic similarity with “Nattaenuen mariya”.
Diverse Opinions Explaining the Background of Kkondae and AntiKkondae Phenomenon
There is a variety of viewpoints surrounding this new culture. Some experts regard it as the outcome of generational conflicts. Yoo Sung-ho, a Korean Language and Literature Professor of Hanyang University, analyzed anti-Kkondae culture from a generational perspective. He focused on the characteristic of urbanculture-centered Korean society these days. “Unlike agricultural society in the past where people highly valued experience as a means of getting knowledge and the acquired knowledge was passed on without big changes, the knowledge in modern society keeps changing rather than just being transferred. Hence, seniors are considered relatively inexperienced ones nowadays,” he pointed out. However, since seniors remain negative about changing and stick to their own experience which does not fit the current paradigm, anti-Kkondae culture arose as a form against them. However, there is a limit to explaining both Kkondae and anti-Kkondae cultures with only generation theory. It is because there is no generation gap between young Kkondaes. Some people insist that the standard of deciding Kkondae depends on “empathic ability” and “methods of communication”.
Ha Sang-on, a Member of the hiphop club RAP-IN at Kyunghee University that produced graffiti under the theme of “Goodbye Kkondae”, recalled his experience with a young Kkondae. Ha said, “The boss, who was only 29 years old, liked to blame others better than anyone and hated to talk about his problems.” The man Ha described was a person who blocked innovations of the existing process customs and regarded new things as useless, no matter how good they were. Looking at him, Ha realized that Kkondae is not determined only by age. Likewise, young Kkondaes refer to people who are usually obsessed with the idea of social familiarity and deny new changes regardless of their age. Anonymous student from Hanyang University agreed with this perspective towards Kkondae by sharing her internship experience. She said, “There was a group of people who emphasised community spirit. Since they thought overtime work was helpful for the company, they tried to force their opinions onto others by saying ‘this is for our company’. Most of them were older, 40s and 50s, but some were in their 30s as well.” Given those experiences from interviewees, it is inferred that the criterion of Kkondae can be explained based on what values the person has and whether he or she has an attitude to consider others.
Spread of Anti-Kkondae Culture in Korea
As anti-Kkondae became popular in Korea, a lot of media outlets and companies started to utilize it in their contents. In one scene of Melo Is My Nature, a Korean drama from JTBC, a character named Sohn Bum-soo rejects the suggestion of producing the next film from the older star writer. His action towards the writer showed that he was not intimidated by authority nor discouraged. This scene was frequently cited as a good reflection of anti-Kkondae culture and received a lot of empathy among viewers. Meanwhile, corporations are also releasing new products marketing this new culture. Last December, CU, a South Korean convenience store chain, launched a snack called “Latteneun mariya” collaborating with artist Yang Kyung-soo. On its bag, there is a cartoon of a middleaged man who says “Things are better nowadays. You know how hard it was to live back in my day?” and then a young man answers “I know it well because I hear it from you every day”. Additionally, Kakao Talk released an emoticon called “Kkondaetikon-Manager Kim”. It depicts a middle-aged man who says, “I know everything because I’ve done it.” Kkondae, as a Global Phenomenon Outside of Korea, Kkondae culture also exists. BBC Two, the second flagship television channel of the British Broadcasting Corporation, posted Kkondae as today’s word on its Facebook page last September 23. BBC Two’s Facebook account explained Kkondae as “an older person who believes they are always right (and you are always wrong).” Additionally, anti-Kkondae culture was expressed in other countries as well, including New Zealand. “Ok, boomer” is an English expression similar to the antiKkondae one in Korean. This word is commonly used on social media usually when youths want to talk back to the Baby Boom generation, those born between 1946 and 1964.
Steps that We Should Take for a Better Society
There is no doubt that the antiKkondae culture is quite an innovative phenomenon considering how Korean society has revered hierarchy. Although the culture has a lot of support from the public, many are concerned about it as well. Due to the treatment of the ‘condescending man’, some people try to reject other people’s advice unconditionally. All Hanyang Journal interviewees stated, “We need to have mutual understanding and respectful attitudes.” In particular, Professor Yoo replied that “It may be hard to expect the Kkondae culture to disappear completely, but we should try to pursue a horizontal coexistence between generations as much as possible.” In order to develop a new cultural phenomenon positively, the efforts from all members of society are essential. Why not move away from a self-centered view and maintain coexistent attitudes based on understanding and respect for others? Rather than regarding someone Kkondae or anti-Kkondae, it would be much better to admit each other’s diverse viewpoints and to mediate mutual opinions for a more optimistic result.