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Korean Memes vs. American Memes

Meme – n. a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc., that is spread via the Internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way. (dictionary.com)

Memes are designed to make us laugh. But depending on where you’re from, some memes will have you gasping for air, and some will simply not resonate. While some cultures have different perspectives on what’s funny or not, some memes just simply have people xD/MDR/ㅋㅋㅋ/LOLing anywhere in the world. I’ve had a lot of trouble getting Korean people to laugh at some of the memes from America, and vice versa, but sometimes I would hit the jackpot and have both the East and the West bursting out in laughter. Let’s take a look at  some of the similarities and differences I found between Korean and American memes, and how the Korean and American people are wired when it comes to comedy.

  1. Pop culture

    The biggest contributors to memes are figures from pop culture. In Korea, celebrities such as Yoo Jae-Seok (유재석) or Park Myung-Soo (박명수) are used to deliver image-based memes. They’re the icons of Korean comedy, and their notorious for their starring roles in Infinite Challenge (무한도전). Viewers really like the show. And when I mean “really like the show,” I mean eight years worth of liking the show. The first episode aired in 2006, and the program has been running nonstop ever since.
    In America, a series has seasons like Seinfeld, Modern Family, or Community. But Korea doesn’t have seasons. They just run the show every week until it finally dies out on its own.
    As the title says, Infinite Challenge has endless obstacles for the cast to overcome, and in their quest to overcome these challenges, they often find themselves in humorous situations. In their horror specials (much like The Treehouse of Horror on the Simpsons), they go through a maze filled with ghosts and other scary monsters, hoping to complete the tasks assigned to them. One of the more memorable episodes had a member of the cast try to balance himself on a surfboard, but he failed miserably. Koreans especially love laughing at comedians performing body humor, so when they see some of their favorite comedians getting hit on the head, falling down, or making weird funny faces, they can’t help but laugh.

    “Shut up” – Yoo Jae-Seok

    At one point, Chuck Norris was all the rage in America, and recently, Jonathan Goldsmith is the biggest image for memes in America. While Korea loves slapstick comedy, Americans can’t help but poke fun at almost anything which can range from politics to celebrities. America doesn’t rely heavily on body humor, and thus, anything can be used for satire or parodies. Go ahead, name anything in America that people haven’t already tried to make fun of. There are thousands of videos about racism, even when human rights activists try so hard to promote equality. Just watch an episode of South Park, and you’ll have a general idea of how anything can be used for humor. I didn’t think anyone could or would use Christopher Reeves (Superman) as the butt of their joke, but alas, I stood corrected.
    The Daily Show and the Colbert Report are really popular because they can find the humor in anything such as mainstream news medias like Fox News. And there are many other shows that satirically comment on social issues like racism and politics which show Americans generally find humor in situations that don’t seem to be funny on the surface. But when American humor digs under that surface, they can laugh at what they find.

    Chuck Noris just got served, which is funny ‘cuz he’s the one that’s supposed to be serving.

    Though the content may be different, the fact remains pop culture plays a big role in memes. It’s the biggest common factor to which almost everyone can relate. It’s easy to recognize and deliver to audiences, which in turn, goes viral. However, the same cannot be said about…

  2. Video-based memes

    Vine, an app that allows users to shoot a 6 second video, is one of the most popular mediums to deliver short funny videos in America. Koreans, however, rarely use the app. Instead, they cut out certain scenes from sketch comedy programs like Gag Concert or dramas. There aren’t many original videos Korean people make. In fact, many of the memes Korean people share are actually ones from abroad, and even then, they’re usually videos about people getting hurt or some form of slapstick. There is only so much slapstick people can do without landing themselves in a hospital ward. Thus, most video memes go viral in Korea if they can provide body humor, to which Koreans are so accustomed.
    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0itk4pUcIvA]
    On the other hand, a lot of the video memes in America are shot by average people hoping to go viral. They have a lot of material to their advantage such as other videos taken from movies or even news footage. One of the most famous to spread throughout the Internet at the moment is the P-O-P clip, in which a young woman leaves a message for her mom and crew as she is hauled away by the police. It’s funny because she tries to act tough while in handcuffs, but suddenly breaks down as she gives a shout out to her associates. In America, almost anything and anyone can be used to deliver humor, whereas in Korea, it would be taboo to speak out (even comically)  against social issues.
    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-rVEs5RLZQ]
    Whether or not the video revolves around slapstick, parody, or satire, these clips need to be delivered. And the best way to spread these memes are…

  3. Facebook and You Tube

    I’ll admit I probably couldn’t live without Facebook. I probably check my wall every thirty minutes or so. When I do scroll through Facebook, I generally find myself lost in an endless maze of videos. Sure, Facebook is popular in America, but it’s the biggest growing social network in Korea, and almost everyone has an account. Seven years ago, everyone I knew in Korea had a Cyworld account, but by 2010, they had discarded that social network for Facebook. Back then, everyone would ask for their Cyworld address, but now, they ask whether you’re on Facebook or not. Another big distributor of memes is You Tube.
    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLL2EAR5Yjg]
    Though the contents people watch are different in Korea and America, if anyone needs to find a video for anything, they go to You Tube. The top You Tube videos in Korea are usually clips from TV programs.
    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v9sMU3FrDg]
    Americans can use almost any video to set as a meme, so there are no guarantees for what will be the next big thing to go viral. Who knew a chubby little kid would obtain notoriety as he gracefully showed the world his refined swordplay with a fake lightsaber?
    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPPj6viIBmU]

Memes put a smile on our faces when we’re procrastinating at work, studying for mid-terms, or just generally when we’re faced with boredom. And they’re a great way to spread humor and laughter around the world, especially with the global connections we have today. Though memes vary in each culture, the slow yet gradual overflow of one culture’s memes into another will help us to laugh together, regardless of distance. With all the conflicts and issues throughout the world, wouldn’t it be great to have some humor to uplift this gloomy atmosphere? After all, laughter is the best medicine.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iz_mVgEzqg]

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Written by Isaac Kim

Hey there, I’m an aspiring journalist who is in the prime of his life. I’ve lived in America most of my life, but because I can adapt to anything, I’ve integrated quite well in Korean society. I hope to see the world and write about and share what I see. I like places with large bodies of water (especially the ocean), and one day, I will have a kickass beach house where I’ll spend my time writing and sipping mojitos.

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