Korean Television Dramas and the Political Economy of City Promotion


This article examines the ways in which urban processes are associated with the production of culture. It does so by exploring how Korean cities sponsor drama. The historically conditioned and economically neglected status of regional cities, combined with elected local leaders’ desire to promote their own areas, has led to a strategy to publicize them by leveraging the popularity of Korean television dramas in Asia. Two distinct types of drama sponsorship by cities — the construction of outdoor settings for drama and ‘city placement’ — manifest the interactions between story‐making and place‐making. The affective process that blends city sites with the characters, storylines and emotional flows of TV drama imbues those sites with a dramatic quality that stimulates the audience’s empathy and persuasively motivates them to actually visit the places they have seen televised. Thanks to the broad penetration of television drama, sponsorship by cities has strikingly boosted drama‐driven tourism. Nevertheless, reflecting the speculative nature of TV drama, city promotion through this medium has had limited stability and sustainability. In sum, this article demonstrates that the production of Korean television dramas is deeply associated with the material and spatial conditions in Korean cities.