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Delinquent teenagers: a new cultural trend?

2004/07/22 Source

When 19-year-old Lee Yoon-sei, better known by her penname Guiyeoni, first released the Internet novel "The Guy was Cool" in 2001, teenagers went wild with enthusiasm.
After her novels got published in paperback and one became a bestseller, critics called this "a fresh shock to the current literature". Since today's readers crave quick, easy reads, serious books for highbrows have much less standing in the market, they said.

Spurred by their popularity, two of Guiyeoni's novels "The Guy was Cool" and "Temptation of Wolves" have recently been made into movies. However, their popularity hasn't been able wipe out the criticism that though deliciously tempting, these novels are too shallow to be called literature.

Guiyeoni's novels certainly match teens' expectations in many ways. She used the Internet as a medium, allowing easy access to her work, and she daringly ignored spelling and writing conventions and structures. The language and expressions she employed, including emoticons - those little pictographs used in text on the Internet - left older age groups dumbfounded, but for those in her age group, the language was one of the best parts of her stories.

Together with that attractive package, Guiyeoni successfully filled her novels with sentiments that represented Korean teenagers' hidden desires. Stuck between childhood and adulthood, it is only natural for teenagers to feel insecure and unsure. They long to act like adults, but their status as students holds them back. That tension exerts a huge pressure, but if teenagers fail to restrain their desires, they may deviate from the "right" path.

For Korean teens, the desire to go astray and become a "bad student" is very strong due to the repression they face at both home and school. The desire for freedom makes them imagine a twisted liberation that includes heavy drinking, smoking, fist-fighting and risk-taking romances.

Guiyeoni's novels portray all these tangled dreams. Rules don't exist and teenagers fight and swear whenever they please without being seriously reprimanded by adults, giving teen readers great satisfaction. The writing successfully counters the readers' real-life stress.

The problem is that the violent hitting and slandering in her novels seem to come out of nowhere. Although school violence has always been a favorite menu for teenage novel writers and moviemakers, until now a certain link usually existed to at least make the violence appear justifiable, but that link is absent here.

Another big subject is romance. Guiyeoni's typical plot has a handsome, rich, but stubborn boy falling in love with an ordinary but sweet girl. The charismatic boy seems to have a grudge against the world, but a soft spot when it comes to the girl. The romance is wrapped in a Cinderella complex and machismo.

As the author has continued to write, her novels have gained more complexity. Compared to her first work, her subsequent novels include more tangled relationships and complications. But she fails to depart from the repetitive unfolding of stories. For example, the heroine is always driven into the corner by those who envy her, and her Prince Charming comes to the rescue - swearing vigorously at the "villains". And some main character is always suffering from a serious illness if not dying from it.

In Guiyeoni's novels, the irrational departures and love stories of teens exist without the agonies and worries that accompany them in real life.

In reality, teenagers do dream of freedom, but amid a panoply of worries - about grades, relationships with friends and families, and much more.

The author has admitted that the teenagers in her novels don't represent all teens. "Although the story is not exactly the reality, I wanted teenagers to find freedom, and the others to recall their youth from my stories", she said at a recent preview of "The Guy was Cool".

"Her novels are like tempting canned food that has expiration dates", said college student Kyun Hyun-ji. "People might be attracted to them at first, since they are so easy to read, but they will inevitably get tired of the same old storyline and lose interest".

Culture critic Kim Joon-su has appraised Guiyeoni as a writer with great potential. "She wrote her first novel when she was only 16. The feelings she put into her novels certainly show potential to be a fine writer", Kim said.

But the spotlight on her has created a problem, he said, because it motivates teenagers the wrong way. "They try to write like her, never really thinking hard about what they write, in hopes of receiving the same sort of attention".

Many students in their teens are Guiyeoni wannabes, writing their own fiction from a fantasized world. The Web is filled with similar Internet novels that cannot really be called novels at all.

"Not all fiction or movies have to be serious and realistic to have artistic merit", Kim says. "Some light fun gives pleasure to audiences, too. But while enjoying this fast, easy, and shallow culture, we must be careful not to lead the entire culture this way. We still need the serious culture that portrays human life with depth", he says.

By Shin Hae-in

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