Are you interested in historical dramas? In the past, the answers to this question would differ. But now, the viewers’ answers are not distinct from each other. This proves recent historical dramas have changed. “Sungkyunkwan Scandal”(2010), which shows the Confucianist students' story, “The Deep Rooted Tree”(2011), which described the creation of Hangeul, and “The Moon That Embraces the Sun”(2012), which depicted a king’s love story, were sensationally popular, engaging both the minds and the eyes of the viewers. What variation causes such a sensation?
● Historical drama to be changed for the popularity
Originally, the contents of historical dramas were war and politics. As such, historical research was essential. The fictional elements didn’t take a great deal of weight in a drama. Sometimes, they created complaints from the viewers. Also, the heroes were usually kings or well-known people. Because of strict contents and a fixed form, when people watched historical dramas, they could feel as though they had read biographies of great persons. Of course, the historical dramas in the past still had a strong point for attracting TV viewer: spectacular battle scenes on a large scale. But this just attracted middle-aged men. It couldn’t attract young people and women.
However, historical dramas are perpetually changing. In the past, historical dramas focused on historical facts. These days, they can embrace many different forms and contents.
Compared with historical dramas in the past, they don’t choose kings as a main character anymore. They find some neglected people in history and make them main characters in the dramas. “The Princess’s Man”(2011), which was subtitled as “Romeo & Juliet in the Joseon Dynasty,” focused on love.
Then, what started these changes? They are because a large percentage of young people in their twenties affect audience surveys. For this reason, the producers make an effort to make diverse historical dramas attracting the twenty-somethings. As well as the changes of contents, the standard of casting actors changes. In the past, a middle-aged actor was mainly cast to express a king’s solemn nature. Now, pretty boys have been cast. The historical dramas based on novels are also increasing. By the virtue of novels, these dramas have tightly-plotted stories which can receive a lot of attention from middle-aged people, not to mention young people in their teens and 20s.
● Historical drama’s variation: is it all right?
Increasingly, historical dramas are varying. But is it just good variation? Some people say variation of historical dramas is a stream of time and that it is not a documentary but a drama. As such, they think its variation is natural work. On the other hand, other people insist that historical drama’s excessive fictional composition has to be adjusted. Why does it have to be adjusted? First, historical drama’s excessive fictional composition can cause historical distortions, because they are based on historical facts. Second, the audience ratings from teenagers who are lacking of knowledge about history are increasing. Most teenagers have poor knowledge of history, so it's not easy for them to disentangle the fiction from the historical dramas. Therefore, historical drama’s excessive fictional composition will exert a bad influence on teenagers who watch them. Not only teenage TV viewers but adult TV viewers occasionally mistake fictional elements for fact. Let’s take an example. In “The Deep Rooted Tree,” which gained popularity in 2011, King Sejong’s father, Taejong, appeared. In that drama, he has a confrontation with Sejong. In this situation, his desire for power and unscrupulousness are magnified. Of course, he had such a character, but it was only a part of his personality. Besides, his heavy-handed behaviors needed to control the early Joseon Dynasty’s insecurity. Actually, he made lots of great institution for Joseon and cherished and loved all people. However, many TV viewers would think that the image in the drama was real. Even though interest through fictional elements is important, a more important thing is that a historical drama's influence on TV viewers is considerably large. If young people accept the drama's story as historical facts, they can fall into serious historical error and can find confusion.
● Advantages of historical drama’s fictional composition
We’ve checked the facts of whether fictional elements in historical dramas exert bad influence on people. However, there are also advantages. First, fictional elements of historical dramas can show various different looks in the past. We can see the kitchen of the royal court and Joseon’s education institution in the historical drama. It is difficult to see those places in previous historical dramas. Second, the more a historical drama has fictional elements, the wider subject matters that historical drama can describe. Unique figures, various ages and cultures are appearing. Those varied and exciting historical dramas have the power to attract people who are not interested in history. Also, they can make viewers have an interest in history, even study history. Because historical parts that we could not normally access are introduced to people through pictures on the TV screen, people can comfortably approach history. Thus, the educational effect is large.
<Professor’s opinion about fictional element in historical drama>
Professor Ha Woo-bong: Historical dramas talk about fictional stories in a realistic space called history. So, they are called “faction,” which combines the word ‘fact’ with ‘fiction’. Actually, the record of history is too dry and rough to be communicated to the ordinary people. The right function of a historical drama, which is to combine history with fictional elements, is excellent. But, if it describes quite a different story from history, it could be a problem, because a historical drama is influential to ordinary people. In that case, the producer has to insert such an explanatory title -‘This drama is different from historical facts.’ It can reduce confusion and misunderstanding.
We have looked at changes in historical drama from the past until now. The historical drama naturally exerts a bad influence on TV viewer’s history education. Also, it exerts a favorable influence on TV viewer’s history education. In other words, depending on the attitude of the producers who create historical drama and viewers who watch the drama, it can be a poison or a treat. The historical drama, the new leading role of the Korean Wave, is in the midst of change. Let’s look forward to the historical drama’s endless variatio