Many younger Koreans – like their peers in other countries – are horrifically-inclined.
That makes horror memes and themes a good way to get noticed. Trend seekers navigating Korean online landscapes, particularly visual-heavy Instagram, will find that the hashtag that most accurately captures this is #할로윈 (Korean script for “Halloween).
Although this hashtag represents a foreign concept – ie an imported American holiday – because it is in Hangeul (Korean alphabet), it is only accessible Koreans and those operating in the Korean milieu/language.
Of course, that limits exposure: At the time of writing the #할로윈 hashtag numbers 1.7 million posts, while the English #halloween stands at 91.5 million posts.
Counter-intuitively, this means that if one’s aim is visibility, the Korean hashtag is the way forward.
It offers a much better chance of being noticed – and liked, or even followed – by like-minded people than jumping into the mass market of nearly 100 million that virtually guarantees you will be swamped, lost and overlooked.
A related hashtag for a wannabe fashionista to jump into would be #할로윈분장 (“Halloween makeup”), which stands at the strong-but-reasonably cozy size of 125,000. Or, go further down the rabbit hole and join the hashtag of #할로윈의상 (“Halloween clothing/costume”), standing at 45,200 posts strong.
These define a Korean engagement with the concept of Halloween. They do not exist in the American space of the idea – as defined by the English language hashtag #halloweencostume, with a whopping 6 million posts.
All of this reflects the changes in the way Halloween, an American holiday and a consumption/marketing/promotion pattern for retailers, entered into and evolved in Korea.
No longer is it almost exclusively an American set of practices imported by Americans and those associated with them, based around parties in Seoul’s foreigner-heavy districts such as Itaewon, Hongdae and Gangnam.
Just 10 years ago, in order to see Halloween costumes, one had to go to one of the aforementioned districts.
Then, Korean Halloween was in fact a cultural and physical space not only filled with actual foreigners, but also imported notions – such as expressions of LGBTQIA identity.
No longer. Like Korean-language hashtags, Halloween in Korea has become a nearly ubiquitous day of fun and revelry for any and all young Koreans. It brims and bubbles over with all kinds of domestic social ideas and trends.
That makes it a good place to get noticed. On Korean Instagram, one can find models earnestly pulling off legitimately scary scenes. It is eye-catching stuff.
None of this exists in a vacuum. The making of eerie Halloween pictures happens in synch with existing darker memes expressed in the popular hashtag discussed in the first installment of this column #퇴폐미 (“The Beauty of Decay”). Related tags include #호러 (“Horror”) and #고스(“Goth”).
As more and more everyday youngsters express themselves as media creators and utilize their bodies as literal canvases for new aesthetic formats, more and more of these dark expressions will flow forth, long after October 31.
And they will do so in media spaces that have expanded far beyond what used to be simply an imported American holiday.
A Seoul-based visual sociologist and fashion photographer, Michael Hurt (Instagram @kuraeji) lectures in Cultural Theory and Art History at the Korea National University of the Arts and Visual Sociology and Technomethodology at the Daegu Institute of Science and Technology.