Mythologizing the face mask: how protective covers became political during the fine-dust and COVID-19 crises in South Korea

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This study aimed to demonstrate how South Korean news media routinized and sensationalized the face mask amid two recent public health crises: the fine-dust crisis and the COVID-19 epidemic. News media appropriated the mythologized meaning of the face mask as a symbol of individual safety during the two crises. This study analyses news articles to answer three questions: (1) How was wearing the face mask mythologized as a routinized practice in days of uncertain risk? (2) How was the face mask politicized as a mythologized sign indicating China as an external threat? and (3) How was the face mask politicized as a symbolic code of the government’s responsibility for the crisis? Once signified as the primary means of individual protection in the context of Korean risk society, the face mask became politicized amid the shortage of the face mask. Placed in the context of the recent disastrous crises in Korea, China was identified as the culprit not only in the epidemic but also in the shortage of the face mask. The meaning of China as an external threat was continuously strengthened when the South Korean government opted out of the entry ban on Chinese citizens. The last analytic part presents how news media politicized the epidemic by associating the face mask crisis with the Korean government.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-117
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Media and Cultural Politics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • COVID-19
  • Face mask
  • Korean news media
  • News and myth
  • Risk society
  • Sino-Korea relations

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