Campaigns Are like K-Dramas

Political campaigns have, over the last few centuries, been compared to any number of things. They’ve been likened to beauty pageants, marathons, boxing matches, horse races, and military conflicts, to name a few well-worn analogies.

I’m starting to think another metaphor is also apt: Running for office is like a K-drama (as in Korean drama). On the surface, that sounds as ridiculous as some of the twists K-dramas are known for! But stay with me here. Because over the summer, while stuck at home a lot more than normal, I watched two K-dramas, one being 2018’s Something in the Rain (which I’ll abbreviate as SITR) and the other being the new It’s Okay to Not Be Okay (which I’ll shorten to It’s Okay). 

To be honest, I didn’t finish SITR. It starts off absolutely wonderfully; the budding romance between the two leads during the first eight or nine episodes (out of 16) feels delightfully real. AND THEY ARE SO FRICKIN’ CUTE TOGETHER. You can just feel the warm fuzzies bleeding off the screen! What’s more, the female lead shows significant personal growth, encouraged by the male lead, as she begins to stand up to a corporate culture of sexual harassment, something frequently experienced by women in South Korea. But in the last few episodes, the story goes off the rails, so much so that I was grateful for the spoilers that spared me having to suffer through a ridiculous ending. 

The first several episodes of Something in the Rain had a lot of good moments. The camping trip in Episode 4 was one of the best. 25ish-year-old Joon-hee (played with quiet charisma by Jung Hae-in) introduces his 35-year-old girlfriend Jin-ah (played masterfully by Son Ye-jin, who’s basically the Julia Roberts of South Korean film and TV) to his young peers. Jin-ah is quite nervous about how she’ll be received by the younger women.

I did finish It’s Okay, although I thought about abandoning the show a couple of times during the first few episodes. It didn’t start off well for me; there was nothing about the relationship between the two leads that I was drawn to. Mental and emotional health is also a major element of It’s Okay, and early on, it seemed like the depiction of real-life disorders was being exploited for laughs. But the show becomes a meaningful depiction of the childhood roots of adult trauma and dysfunction, while spotlighting how essential relationships are for healing deep wounds. It’s Okay hits its stride around the sixth episode, and the 16th and final episode is just perfect, hitting all the right notes for each of the characters. 

Though the first few episodes of It’s Okay to Not Be Okay are rather uneven, this scene is one of the most memorable in the entire series. Gang-tae walks away from Mun-young, disgusted that she thinks she can possess whatever or whomever she wants. Mun-young begins saying, “Saranghae,” meaning “I love you.” He stops, and for a moment, she smiles, thinking she’s going to reel him back in. Then he keeps going, all while Mun-young gets louder and louder in her declarations of “love,” to the point that she’s screaming after him. Gang-tae is played by Kim Soo-hyun, perhaps the most prominent young male actor in Korean media; he’s certainly the highest paid. Mun-young is played with great range by Seo Ye-ji. The best acting in the series actually comes from Oh Jung-se, who plays Gang-tae’s autistic older brother.

SITR begins so incredibly well but loses its way and finishes with a thud. The weakest part of It’s Okay is its beginning section, but it picks up momentum and ends with a flourish.

Campaigns are like K-dramas: some begin with a bang but end in an unwatchable mess, while some struggle at the beginning but end in memorable style. If only they could all be like 2019’s Hotel Del Luna, good throughout! But if it is only good at the beginning or the end, better for it to succeed at the end.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and (the history-making) Senator Kamala Harris both had very problematic starts to the 2020 election cycle, even to the point that Harris’ bid for the presidential nomination fell apart rather quickly. Here’s to hoping that the momentum they have together as a ticket carries through to the campaign’s end on Election Day.

It’s official; it’s Kamala!

Post-script: The “K” in K-dramas could also stand for Kleenexes, since the shows are famous for generating copious amounts of tears and sniffles among viewing audiences! Campaigns also cause a lot of crying, usually when a candidate wins or loses, but there are other reasons as well. Case in point: When I first saw the news that Biden had chosen Harris as his running mate, I smiled and thought, “That was kinda predictable.” Then seconds later, I was slammed with a wall of emotion and began sobbing uncontrollably for about five minutes. It hit me that if there’s indeed a happy ending for the Biden-Harris campaign, then whenever someone makes my daughters feel that this land is not their land, they can point to the Vice President of the United States.