You’re all just criminals.
These are the last words that Minhee, a teenager who prostituted in the drama ‘Extracurricular,’ shouted to her classmate Jisoo, who turned out to be a pimp. The Netflix original series, ‘Extracurricular’ is based on a dark reality, sensitive topics such as teenage crimes and teenage prostitution, which had not often dealt with before in Korean TV dramas about teenagers.
The reason why the drama has drawn attention at home and abroad is that it realistically reflects the current teenage society in Korea and around the World. Parrot Analytics, a U.S data analysis website that counts the frequency of SNS recommendations among Internet users around the world, announced 10 content series whose ratings rose the highest in terms of social media contents between May 3 and 9 and ‘Extracurricular’ ranked fifth with 108.2 percent. Forbes, a U.S business magazine, also stated, “Extracurricular is not a typical Korean teen drama so far.”
‘Extracurricular’ received the spotlight by ranking first among Netflix’s Korean contents, while openly expressing the reality of child and teenage prostitution in Korea. Then what made them so enthusiastic about this drama? It is the most realistic reflection of our present society as mentioned earlier. The Sex of Korean teenagers is so easily degenerated into a tool of exploitation by adults or their peers like this drama and also like the ‘Nth Room’ case involving teenagers as both perpetrators and victims of online sexual exploitation. Until there were dozens of victims, society did nothing to help them.
However, ‘Extracurricular’ shows not only teenage crimes but also present problems in our society in which teenagers are forced to commit crimes. The male main character, Jisoo is a teenager who has a double life living as a model student by day and a broker or a pimp by night for his average life. Of course, Jisoo is a teenage offender, but the drama looks deeper into the motive and process than the result. In other words, the drama focuses on what caused Jisoo to commit crimes.
Go to college, get a job.
Have kids, raise kids.
Live an average life and die an average death.
The money I need for that is 90 million won.
That’s the price of my dream,
- Jisoo in ‘Extracurricular’ -
Jisoo’s dream is normal. However, as Jisoo said, enormous money is inevitably needed within our society for such a simple dream. Actually, the dream of high school students of our country is to enter a good college, just like Jisoo. Society tells them the answer is to do what they want to do, but in fact the answer is fixed.
One only needs money. There is a heroine named Gyuri whose background is the complete opposite to that of Ji-soo in the drama. Gyuri is a character who feels pain living with parents who do not ask for her opinion but demands only the easy and set path. Gyuri joins in the crimes of Jisoo because she wants to escape from this fixed society.
After watching the beginning of the drama, some of the viewers said, “The criminal was given a narrative” or “The crime was glorified.” But even after watching the drama until the end, can we say that it is only for the beautification of the crime? The drama is asking adults of our society: Are teenagers responsible for their delinquency and are adults free of culpability for the teenagers’ crimes?
Writer Gin Han-sai, the creator of ‘Extracurricular’ on Netflix was interviewed about his motives and his thoughts about this drama. Gin said, “This (motive) also connects to why I chose prostitution out of all the crimes I could have picked. To give an in-depth answer to such a fundamental question, I thought I should touch upon a subject that’s painful and uncomfortable in society. In a way, ‘Extracurricular’ is a story that rubs salt into the wound.”
In the drama, the adults try to reach out a helping hand, although they always seem to be late. “Of course, adults don’t yet have one, satisfying answer to these problems, but an endless stream of discussions and conversations may be able to bring us the strength to (come up with a solution).” Gin said.
“But in order to recognize that such problems exist, we need to look into them first, no matter how uncomfortable it can be.”
So what about the realities? How do the digital, minor sex crimes depicted in the drama actually take place? What is the real world that the writer, Gin, talked about? Korean broadcaster, KBS broadcasts a program called “Informers,” which meets adults who engage in sexual trafficking through random chats with teenagers. The 17-year-old Saerom (pseudonym) whom the production team met received a suspicious proposal from a chat app that she joined out of curiosity. The high-earning part-time job, which earned up to 400,000 won a day, was prostitution. Since the random chat app had no identity verification procedures and guaranteed anonymity, there were numerous sex trade proposals.
On June 15, the government said it would define random chat apps as harmful media for teenagers that can encourage unhealthy encounters. However, it is difficult to protect teenagers who are exposed to sexual crimes with only personal identification and reporting functions. Along with strict regulations that can protect children from harmful environments, a system that considers sexual crimes of children as "sexual exploitation" and puts priority on protecting victims is also needed. So the point of Extracurricular is society should protect such children by thinking about their lives in the future from an ethical standpoint.