Jockeying Filipino creativity
The members of the globally popular K-pop boy band BTS have begun their military conscription, and the South Korean economy is set to lose at least an estimated $5.9 billion, based on estimates reported by CNBC. This figure is based on the Hyundai Research Institute’s estimate of $3.9 billion overall annual economic contribution BTS makes to the Korean economy, noting the 18-month minimum military service required of all able-bodied Korean men. But the total figure is likely to be even higher, as BTS had earlier announced a planned “hiatus until 2025.”
That’s just BTS. Altogether, “Hallyu”—the Chinese term that means “Korean wave” referring to Korean popular culture spanning music, movies, drama, online games, cuisine, and more—was estimated by the Korea Foundation for International Cultural Exchange to have brought in $12.3 billion in 2019. For a country with a population less than half ours, that already comprises 13 percent of our own total exports ($94.7 billion) in that year. Think of how much more prosperous our economy could be if we could do what the Koreans did to create so much wealth (and jobs) from their “cultural economy.” Given the Filipinos’ widely acknowledged artistic and creative talent, often described to be the richest and most versatile in Asia, this need not be a pipe dream beyond our reach. Now is the time for us to deliberately plan and work on “doing a Korea,” and cash in much more than we have so far been able to, on our creative economy.
For starters, we all need to understand the whole wide range of productive activities spanning our so-called creative sector. A new law just over six months old called the Philippine Creative Industries Development Act (Republic Act No. 11904) gives us a formal definition: creative industries are those “that produce cultural, artistic, and innovative goods and services originating in human creativity, skill, and talent and having a potential to create wealth and livelihood through the generation and utilization of intellectual property.” These industries encompass audiovisual media (including films, TV content, animated productions, recorded music); digital interactive media (including software, mobile apps, video games, other digitalized creative content); creative services (including advertising/marketing, cultural and recreational activities, live creative experiences); design (such as in architecture, landscaping, fashion/accessories, furniture, jewelry, toys); publishing and printed media (including books, blogs, comics, graphic novels, editorials/commentaries, magazines, etc.); performing arts (including live music, theater, dance, opera, circus, spoken word, puppetry); visual arts (including paintings, sculptures, photographs, antiques, multimedia art); traditional cultural expressions (including arts and crafts, culinary practices, cultural festivals); cultural sites (including historic buildings and town sites, archaeological sites, monumental sculptures or paintings, museums); and more. A colleague points out that we must not overlook hairdressers, make-up artists, manicurists, and the like, who also rightfully count among our creative workers.
Many of the above already contribute to our national wealth in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy—with those in the latter probably making up a prominent segment. They were especially hit hard when the economy was put on extended lockdown during the pandemic. But not in Korea, it seems. That’s because they have successfully jockeyed the sector into a multibillion-dollar export earner that actually grew during the pandemic; recall how online entertainment became everyone’s recourse then. Bloomberg noted that Korea’s entertainment exports grew 6.3 percent in 2020, even as overall goods exports fell 5.4 percent due to the pandemic.
The lesson to us should be clear. We must similarly jockey our creative sector to become the multibillion-dollar export earner that Korea made it—and in the process, flexed its “soft power” in the global arena. In another column, I will examine specific strategies Korea pursued on this. Nothing prevents us from copying them.
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