Korea’s “Flower Men”: Where’s the Beef?

gong-yoo-공유-몸짱( Korean Actor Gong Yoo (공유). Source: unknown )

A commentator on my recent post on the origins of Korea’s kkotminams (꽃미남), or “flower men”:

Is there anything to back up your assertions in this essay? I’m just curious, because I’ve never run into anything that would suggest such a mass reaction to the IMF crisis from the married women of korea. There very could have been, but I’ve never seen anything to suggest it and I’m curious as to how you developed this conclusion.

“in just a few short weeks forever changing standards of dress, discourses of sexuality, and cementing these new ideals of the Korean man.” – you’re kidding right? A few weeks? Unless you’re talking a bloody revolution, or something similiarly radical, I”m not aware of any social movements that can change societies that quickly. I highly doubt a soccer tourney ranks like that.

Your essay overall suggests something pivotal occured in the gender relations in South Korea due to the IMF crisis, but you just make some bald assertions without even giving examples. It’s a little tough to swallow, especially to people who are not in South Korea to see what you are talking about, if indeed there is anything to support your assertions.

I thought that last point was a little harsh, but still, those are some valid criticisms. Hence my lengthy response below, which I decided to make a post of rather than burying it in the comments section to a post that most people were unlikely to reread!

slightly-irritated-korean-woman( Source: Unknown )

I do have evidence, but I admit that the charge that I “make some bald assertions without even giving examples” is fair. The lack is partially because I wrote this too much in the style of an opinion piece, and partially because regardless it would have been virtually impossible to provide satisfactory evidence in only 800 words. Like I said in that post, in hindsight this was a very bad choice of subject for a newspaper article.

But that doesn’t mean that what I wrote is somehow all just wild conjecture on my part.

I will be giving a presentation on this subject at a conference in a few months, for which I have to write an accompanying paper first, so if you can wait I will be beginning to present the evidence on the blog in a few weeks. But here’s the gist of what it will include below, and my problems with some of your criticisms.

To start, a discussion of a series of films, novels and plays of the mid-1990s that dealt with married women’s sex lives for the first time. Very controversial when they first appeared, they challenged the widely-accepted notions that women suddenly became asexual upon marriage and that they should simply acquiesce to husband’s affairs and frequent visits to prostitutes, and so many portrayed women (angrily) having affairs of their own as a form of revenge.

내마음의포르노-김별아-kim-byeol-ah-the-pornography-in-my-mind-1995Left: Kim Byeol-ah, author of the 1995 novel “The Pornography in my Mind” (내마음의포르노); interview in Korean here (source).

Well before the period of the Asian Financial Crisis (AFC) then, women’s frustrations with popular notions of Korean sexuality were already being articulated, and they were very receptive to new ideals of Korean Men. It is in this context that the Asian Financial Crisis occurred.

Next, that very rapidly after the AFC, there were many dramas indirectly criticizing the fact that married women were overwhelmingly targeted for layoffs (to the extent that they worked hard to keep their marital status a secret from their employers), and there was a sudden spate of movies depicting relationships between older Korean women and younger men. Thinking that there might be some connection is what got me started on this line on research.

Yes, correlation does not imply causation, and while logical, to claim that the changes were primarily a reflection of women’s anger does require a leap of faith to a certain extent. I am working on finding more concrete evidence for that, but unfortunately, occurring in (still) a largely pre-internet era, and with me having a family of four to provide for(!), then practically speaking that is proving quite difficult. So I have been concentrating my research on other aspects of the origins of flower men first.

But of course, even if I am fully correct, am I ever going to find bold, unequivocal statements saying “Fuck those previous ideals of strong provider types. I’m going to fantasize about weaker, effeminate ones to get back at them” to prove the link? And yet even subtler expressions of this sentiment are still going to be few and far between, and more open to (biased) interpretation. True, these days internet forums and so on are indeed full of bold expressions of anger at women, again, being the first to be laid off in the current crisis (see #1 here), but beyond these the reality is that Korean women are still under severe restrictions as to how explicitly they can challenge the current state of gender relations in more traditional forms of media, of which I can provide dozens of examples just off the top of my head (see here for one of the best examples). You can imagine how much more restricted they were in 1998.

(Update: In hindsight, of course people don’t really change their tastes so willingly and knowingly like that, do they? Ultimately, it may be quite misguided and pointless of me to seek out explicit confirmations of the shift. Particular events can certainly make people more receptive to new things though, so long as those are available and/or fashionable already….hmmm…)

Which begs the question of what would be “sufficient” evidence for my argument exactly? I’m at a loss as to what more evidence than a spate of indirect critiques in popular culture and increased popularity of other ideals there could be really. But then there is the important counter-argument that flower men ideals were primarily, say, the result of imported manga instead, which I will deal with next.

azuma-kiyohiko(  Manga Illustrator: Kiyohiko Azuma. Source: unknown )

For the record, although I did do this when I first started researching this subject a year ago, now I will never deny that manga did played a large role – hell, the primary role – in the fact that Korean women’s new ideals of men came to be flower men rather than, say metrosexuals, and indeed I was at pains to allude to that in the article in the last paragraph of the article. For that reason had the AFC not occurred, then I admit that it is entirely possible that some new forms of flower men or similar ideals would have eventually emerged in Korea regardless. But it did, and the timing is crucial, as it renders any claim that the teens that read it then were somehow responsible for the movies and dramas of the late-1990s I describe as naïve and anachronistic at best.

Only just now, in 2009, are there signs of a critical mass of Koreans that are prepared to admit that Koreans have pre- and extramarital sex, and lots of it, and that women’s sexual desires in particular are not just miraculously turned on like a light on their wedding night and just as quickly turned off after the birth of their first child. But still very much today, and sure as hell back in the late-1990s, what public discourses on women’s sexuality that existed were very much confined to married women and that it should and only occur within the confines of marriage. So in short, young unmarried women, very defensive of their virginal reputations, were in no great position to make demands of and/or have their sexual desires reflected in popular culture.

korean-red-devil-in-croptopFinally, enter the 2002 World Cup, which no, I’m definitely not kidding about: while people may not have noticed this particular aspect at the time, anyone that was actually here would readily agree that it was an amazing time to be young and in Korea, and was just as revolutionary in terms of expressions of women’s sexuality as I described. In all seriousness, consider what life was like for unmarried women literally just a week prior to the start of the games: they would often be criticized walking down the street for merely wearing short sleeves – remember that 19 out of 20 women would wear t-shirts over their bikinis at the beaches then – and it was quite taboo to discuss sexual feelings and preferred men’s bodies, even to close friends. Meanwhile, soccer was very much seen as a men’s game – who were originally rather taken aback by women’s sudden interest – and members of the national team(!) made less per year than I made then as an English teacher.

And yet four weeks later – yes really, just four weeks – literally millions of women had made soccer their own, often outnumbering men in attendance at games and mass viewings of them on big screens in city streets and then celebrations and rallies and, as it was done in the context of a national event, “allowed” and praised by the media to wear crop tops and so on too, just so long as it was in the context of being “Red Devils,” or supporters for the soccer players, and whose bodies they could now suddenly wax lyrical over (and whom were suddenly making millions in advertising deals). Lest you think that I’m exaggerating about how free women were to do either before though, note that women still came under harsh criticism for doing the same to any foreign players, and that the Korean media basically, well, laughed at Japanese women for doing so. Moreover, although it is not making too much of events to characterize all this as unmarried women taking rapid advantage of an outlet for their frustrations, none of it would have been possible without married women taking part in equal if nor more numbers.

It is certainly true that after the World Cup is when the flower men “wave” really started, spearheaded by attractive soccer player An Jung-hwan who sent Korean women’s hearts aflutter ever time he kissed his wedding ring upon scoring a goal and so on, but as I outline in that earlier post I mention (and which I go into these aspects of the  World Cup in much more detail), he’d already been appearing in male cosmetics commercials, for instance, years earlier. So the ground for the wave was paved, so to speak, by married women in the half-decade earlier, and that is why “in just a few short weeks” the World Cup ”forever chang[ed] standards of dress, discourses of sexuality…cementing these new ideals of the Korean man.”

korean-mother-and-daughter-red-devils( Source 2nd from above: unknown. Source above: Louis Theran )

To sum up then, if the AFC has not occurred then we probably still would have flower men today: like I say in the article, the tastes of teenage readers of manga in the late-1990s are now having a strong impact on popular culture.  But it did, and without five years of angry, frustrated, and disappointed married women expressing their displeasure in the only (indirect) ways that were permissible in Korea’s deeply patriarchal society to precede it, then flower men ideals for Korean men would not be as entrenched as they are now. And in particular, the 2002 World Cup would not have had the revolutionizing effect on expressions of women’s sexuality that it did, and today Korea as a whole would be a much less liberal place than it is.

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10 thoughts on “Korea’s “Flower Men”: Where’s the Beef?

  1. James,

    Thanks for the reply.

    I certainly understand that you have time constraints due to other obligations and so are not able to put greater time into your blog here as you might wish.

    I understand that to some extent, in studying social phenomenon, evidence is always tough and never complete enough for some people. Of course we should all try to be as complete as we can (though I certainly wasn’t asking for anything like that from a blog).

    I wonder to what extent however, whether the whole effeminate preference is the result more of or as much of influence of Western trends? If you look at the major Hollywood stars of that period, you have the big names like Leonard DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Ryan Phillipe, etc. All men of very small frames with effeminate visages. Indeed, there was even a somewhat popular cable television program that showcased metrosexual consultations to the hapless and clueless male of the American species.

    Doing a little research, I see that the Korean cinema industry was still in its infancy in terms of production value and mass appeal vis a vis Hollywood, during this time. From a couple of films I’ve watched (Hah — Public Library has a few Korean film DVDs!)

    It would not be surprising to have a development where the the local film industry copies Hollywood themes and memes structured into local societal context.

    Plus, consider that the development of the internet, which started coming into its own throughout the world during this time, enable the propagation of memes from one corner of the earth to everywhere else in a matter of hours and days whereas it might have taken months or years previously.

    I often have the thought that feminism arises out from economic prosperity. The huge leaps that korean society has experienced in terms of economic development is bound to have destabliziing effects on pre-existing social norms. Newly available economic resources almost always will cause shifts in behavior. General prosperity often increases so-called licentious behavior, as the economic consenquences of such behavior become negligable. (After all Roman farmers went from eating millet and strong extended families in mud huts to feasting on rare animal buffets and having orgies in marble halls in the space of about 100 years – and that was before the power of internet! lol! ;))

    So the idea that an increase in the power of feminist ideas occured during an economic crisis, and because of it, seems a little odd to me.

    Perhaps what you have been seeing and experiencing over there is not a homegrown korean phenomenon, but part of the increasing westernization of cultures across the globe that is perhaps becoming even quicker due to the influence of such new media such as the Internet and satellite television.

    There may be local triggers that generate the next societal trend with regard to gender/age/etc., but from what you have written and from my own thoughts, I’m not sure that these trends you identify are all that unique to korea or even korean in origin.

    Finally manga has been a part of East Asian cultures for a very long period of time. Was there something about the 90s manga in that made its influence different?

    Sorry for the long and rambling post. This was fun.

  2. I congratulate you on finding such an interesting topic to write on. Although a fellow blogger, this is one (of several) field where I feel almost unqualified to write about, let alone comment on. Your writing skills and research certainly do you justice.

    With all that said, I almost wonder if there’s a simpler cause and effect. Women, through their own idealistic viewpoint or realistic job perspectives, began shifting their mindset from ‘I need a strong provider for a man’ to ‘I want someone who fulfills me / looks cute in pink’ – effectively moving up Maslow’s hierarchy. Manga certainly helped since they shaped what the new ideal would look like (at least from the tiny bit I’ve seen). That image of ‘flower boys’ became in demand by women, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that clothing stores picked up on the sentiment and began marketing the look to men.

    An interesting question to ask might be this: as women have penetrated higher and broader levels of economic development, how have their needs / wants / desires changed when looking for a partner?

  3. “In all seriousness, consider what life was like for unmarried women literally just a week prior to the start of the games: they would often be criticized walking down the street for merely wearing short sleeves – “

    Maybe out in the countryside women were harassed for wearing short sleeves but certainly not in Seoul. In fact, by the time I left in 2001, women were sporting sleeveless blouses and sweaters, still taboo when I arrived in the early 90s. Another taboo broken by 2000 was wearing shorts in the city. I observed both men and women, including middle-aged Koreans, wearing shorts on a hot summer day. About the only clothing taboos remaining (and they might be on the way out) are exposed thighs for people over thirty, cleavage for any woman, and going shirtless for men. I always thought it unfair that Korean women could show off their skinny legs, but I couldn’t show off my boobs. One of the freedoms I relish back in the US is wearing a camisole with a shelf-bra on a hot July day.

    • Mellow –

      James,

      Thanks for the reply.

      I certainly understand that you have time constraints due to other obligations and so are not able to put greater time into your blog here as you might wish.
      I understand that to some extent, in studying social phenomenon, evidence is always tough and never complete enough for some people. Of course we should all try to be as complete as we can (though I certainly wasn’t asking for anything like that from a blog).

      Indeed, but by all means feel free to critique me more thoroughly you would an average blogger on this particular topic(!), as I have to write a paper and give a presentation on this in three months (and start my thesis on it, although I currently lack the money to technically sign up for it!). The question of evidence is something I very much have to deal with, and soon.

      I wonder to what extent however, whether the whole effeminate preference is the result more of or as much of influence of Western trends? If you look at the major Hollywood stars of that period, you have the big names like Leonard DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Ryan Phillipe, etc. All men of very small frames with effeminate visages. Indeed, there was even a somewhat popular cable television program that showcased metrosexual consultations to the hapless and clueless male of the American species.

      Still, I have to say that I disagree with much of what you write in your comment because, starting above, it seems to have been written with very little knowledge of (or at least reference to) the specific Korean social landscape at the time, and reads almost as if you could replace most instances of “Korea” with, say, “Taiwan.” When I say this I really do mean no offense, but I find much of what you write here to be a prime example of what describe in the article, which is that most (especially foreign) commentators simply attribute everything to imported metrosexuality. This is simply not true.

      In this specific example, while Korean women were subconsciously at least looking for new ideals of men, the vast majority of Koreans really did blame the IMF (and hence the West in general) for, if not the Asian Financial Crisis itself, at least for taking advantage of Korea’s weakened state and hindering it’s recovery (hence the politics of what term to use, like we discussed in that earlier post). So the late-1990s was when Westerners (metrosexuals or otherwise) were the least popular in Korea (and hence Korea was one of the few countries where the movie Titantic, for instance, was snubbed). Moreover, like I said, in Korea there was no mainstreaming and then commodification of gay culture that underlay the rise of metrosexuality in the West, and certainly no programs like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that you allude to; in fact, although the subtitled English version did appear a couple of years ago, more influential Korean versions of programs concentrating on fashion and makeovers and so on are only just starting to appear now.

      Doing a little research, I see that the Korean cinema industry was still in its infancy in terms of production value and mass appeal vis a vis Hollywood, during this time. From a couple of films I’ve watched (Hah — Public Library has a few Korean film DVDs!)

      It would not be surprising to have a development where the the local film industry copies Hollywood themes and memes structured into local societal context.

      Plus, consider that the development of the internet, which started coming into its own throughout the world during this time, enable the propagation of memes from one corner of the earth to everywhere else in a matter of hours and days whereas it might have taken months or years previously.

      Again, is this really Korea you’re talking about? Regardless of the popularity of Hollywood blockbusters, back then there were quotas meaning that something like 66% of viewing time at Korean cinemas had to be of Korean movies (true, that meant a lot of movies literally shown to no-one), and moreover the late-1990s saw a dramatic increase in the quality of Korean movies and dramas, which underlay the overseas popularity of the “Korean Wave” a little later.

      And yes, the internet does have the effect that you describe, but with the Korean internet being so far ahead of the rest of the world back then, and language barriers and other peculiarities of the infrastructure of Korean internet (see here), then the Korean internet was very much a virtual intranet, which now begins and ends with Naver. The internationalizing effect of it is still there of course, but much less so than in most other countries.

      I often have the thought that feminism arises out from economic prosperity. The huge leaps that korean society has experienced in terms of economic development is bound to have destabliziing effects on pre-existing social norms. Newly available economic resources almost always will cause shifts in behavior. General prosperity often increases so-called licentious behavior, as the economic consenquences of such behavior become negligable. (After all Roman farmers went from eating millet and strong extended families in mud huts to feasting on rare animal buffets and having orgies in marble halls in the space of about 100 years – and that was before the power of internet! lol! ;))

      So the idea that an increase in the power of feminist ideas occured during an economic crisis, and because of it, seems a little odd to me.

      I completely disagree that Feminism arises out of economic prosperity. Most modern manifestations of it have appeared when women have suddenly been forced into and/or out of the workforce in large numbers, and/or well-educated enough to find lives as housewives unfulfilling and unrewarding. All three didn’t occur until the 1990s in Korea.

      Perhaps what you have been seeing and experiencing over there is not a homegrown korean phenomenon, but part of the increasing westernization of cultures across the globe that is perhaps becoming even quicker due to the influence of such new media such as the Internet and satellite television.

      There may be local triggers that generate the next societal trend with regard to gender/age/etc., but from what you have written and from my own thoughts, I’m not sure that these trends you identify are all that unique to korea or even korean in origin.

      Finally manga has been a part of East Asian cultures for a very long period of time. Was there something about the 90s manga in that made its influence different?

      Yes, two things. First, depictions of men like we describe became very popular in Japanese manga in the 1990s (see the details here), and second, and most importantly, restrictions on imports of Japanese manga were lifted in October 1998.

      Sorry for the long and rambling post. This was fun.

      And sorry if I sounded too harsh in response! At the very least, you’ve certainly forced me to put my money where my mouth is…

      Chris, Sonagi – That took me 2 hours: it’s time for breakfast! I’ll reply to your comments later today.

      • Chris –

        I congratulate you on finding such an interesting topic to write on. Although a fellow blogger, this is one (of several) field where I feel almost unqualified to write about, let alone comment on. Your writing skills and research certainly do you justice.

        Thanks, but it just goes with being a niche blogger and writing and thinking about the same sorts of things all the time.

        Come to think of it though, writing a thesis on this certainly helps a little…

        With all that said, I almost wonder if there’s a simpler cause and effect. Women, through their own idealistic viewpoint or realistic job perspectives, began shifting their mindset from ‘I need a strong provider for a man’ to ‘I want someone who fulfills me / looks cute in pink’ – effectively moving up Maslow’s hierarchy. Manga certainly helped since they shaped what the new ideal would look like (at least from the tiny bit I’ve seen). That image of ‘flower boys’ became in demand by women, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that clothing stores picked up on the sentiment and began marketing the look to men.

        Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but isn’t that really what I said in the post?

        I don’t know who Maslow is/was though, and it sounds like I should. Could you please enlighten me?

        An interesting question to ask might be this: as women have penetrated higher and broader levels of economic development, how have their needs / wants / desires changed when looking for a partner?

        For sure, although I think it’s more country-specific than many people realize. In Korea and Japan for instance, salaryman, male-breadwinner systems of employment and welfare meant that much of the economic prosperity passed them by as women and as individuals. Which is why – I’ve said it a million times, but it deserves to be – women’s economic and political position in SK today is more similar to that of Western women in the 1960s (think Betty Friedan and the era of “Housewife Syndrome”) than of Western women of 2009. They will reach that level well before 2049 though!

        Sonagi –

        Maybe out in the countryside women were harassed for wearing short sleeves but certainly not in Seoul. In fact, by the time I left in 2001, women were sporting sleeveless blouses and sweaters, still taboo when I arrived in the early 90s.

        Certainly, and you being in Seoul and me being in Jinju then are always going be the cause of much of our differing perceptions of life then! I admit that I was using an extreme example though, although the fact that it occurred at all was noteworthy (students in my classes mentioned it). On the other hand, it meant that the contrast between then and how many of them dressed during and after the World Cup was all the greater than in the bigger cities, and however unverifiable and biased it is(!), to me personally that convinces me of how much of a watershed that event was all the more.

  4. “In this specific example, while Korean women were subconsciously at least looking for new ideals of men, ”

    Tapping into the Jungian collective unconscious are we? (I kid! I kid!). But seriously – this is a really bad way to present an argument, I mean you’re not seriously claiming to know/understand the subconscious thoughts of korean women are you?

    “the vast majority of Koreans really did blame the IMF (and hence the West in general) for, if not the Asian Financial Crisis itself, at least for taking advantage of Korea’s weakened state and hindering it’s recovery (hence the politics of what term to use, like we discussed in that earlier post). So the late-1990s was when Westerners (metrosexuals or otherwise) were the least popular in Korea (and hence Korea was one of the few countries where the movie Titanic, for instance, was snubbed). ”

    Umm…Looking at box office for that year, Titanic was the most successful movie in korea by a huge margin.

    “Moreover, like I said, in Korea there was no mainstreaming and then commodification of gay culture that underlay the rise of metrosexuality in the West, and certainly no programs like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that you allude to;”

    I’d make an argument here that by the time something becomes mainstreamed, the idea/trend is already firmly established in society enough so that there is a critical mass large enough to make itself acknowledged by the rest of society. Again along with my theme that this is a general continuation of westernization, there does not have to be specific some mainstream program for the influence of a cultural meme to become established and working towards becoming established. After all, metroxsexuality in the US did not start out from a television program. Of course this goes into the eternal push/pull or demand/supply problem which is a whole nother universe, but suffice to say there were established antecedents to the now mostly passe (thank god!) metrosexual trend in the US.

    “in fact, although the subtitled English version did appear a couple of years ago, more influential Korean versions of programs concentrating on fashion and makeovers and so on are only just starting to appear now.”

    This does not surprise me. Despite being in the internet age of meme distribution, I don’t believe all memes will be distributed with equal force or with similar timing in all cultures. The mainstream of native cultures most likely will resist outside influence, until or unless that meme grows large enough to overwhelm such resistance, so there may be delays or failures of some aspects of outside cultural influence. Not all outside influences will be able to penetrate native cultures (after all, that would have meant a universal culture a long time ago), but the stronger trends from outside sources are difficult to resist.

    ” Again, is this really Korea you’re talking about? Regardless of the popularity of Hollywood blockbusters, back then there were quotas meaning that something like 66% of viewing time at Korean cinemas had to be of Korean movies (true, that meant a lot of movies literally shown to no-one), and moreover the late-1990s saw a dramatic increase in the quality of Korean movies and dramas, which underlay the overseas popularity of the “Korean Wave” a little later.”

    Yes, as I alluded to, my examination(cursory as it is) of the korean movie scene back then; is that it was developing in quality as you say, but still not quite up to Hollywood. In fact that was my point. Korean movies during this period of time seems to have been in a period of rapid development and evolution. In fact, from the boxoffice numbers, it seems that only since the turn of the millennium, have korean movies reached a sufficient quality level so as to be able to dominate their own home market. I don’t understand your disbelief(?) that I was talking about korea here.

    “And yes, the internet does have the effect that you describe, but with the Korean internet being so far ahead of the rest of the world back then, and language barriers and other peculiarities of the infrastructure of Korean internet (see here), then the Korean internet was very much a virtual intranet, which now begins and ends with Naver. The internationalizing effect of it is still there of course, but much less so than in most other countries.”

    Okay seriously….what planet were you on? “Korean internet being so far ahead of the rest of the world back then” ??? I don’t know, and there may have been some korean governmental infrastructure buildouts there that early, but korean electronic technologies, including network tech, was nothing compared to that of the US at the time. (and I might add, still mostly isn’t all that, given the MS/Intel’s unbroken duopoly, and afaik, Cisco has never lost it’s tech lead in networking tech). The sheer mass of information availabe in the US through the internet at this period of time dwarfed anything else in existence. Only recently have the chinese even begun to challenge that. The only possible thing that korean internet may have been ahead in were average transmission speeds – and if so, how you believe that 100 mbps vs 1 mbps in other countries contributes to an intranet effect is lost on me. Nothing in the link you provided about the peculiarities of korean internet or language barrier is convincing as evidence of a virtual intranet. Even back then, free translation software was available for one thing. Furthermore, media such as video or audio, do not necessarily require translations. All it takes is for a single person to view a video or translate an article and spread it’s ideas to others in his community. I don’t know that your opinion of the lack of international effect vs other countries has any weight – certainly no way to prove something like that. In fact, given the obvious strength of American cultural influence the world over, and korea’s unusually entangled, recent, and continuing close relationship with the US, I would think the opposite to be true.

    “I completely disagree that Feminism arises out of economic prosperity. Most modern manifestations of it have appeared when women have suddenly been forced into and/or out of the workforce in large numbers, and/or well-educated enough to find lives as housewives unfulfilling and unrewarding. All three didn’t occur until the 1990s in Korea.”

    Women have been in the ‘workforce’ for most of human existence. It is only with the rise of prosperity due to industrial/commercial revolution that any sort of mass of women have had the luxury to be able not participate in the workforce. It is also with rising prosperity that society can devote resources to educating large numbers of women through college, in turn creating expectations of return on their investment from education. Perhaps these things didn’t occur until the 1990s in korea because there wasn’t a sufficient level of prosperity until then? The whole concept of finding fulfillment in your life is arguably one based on living in a superior economic situation – cause without that, you’re really more concerned with survival. It’ll be interesting (though sad and tragic) to see what this worldwide downturn does.

    Consider the events you describe, not as anything korean, but a universally highly probable development of any society that was experiencing genuine mass prosperity for the first time in its history, combined with the insistent waves of foreign cultural influence from America – the source of most of their technology, their national security, the destination for their exports (the wellspring of their aforementioned prosperity), and the dominant worldwide cultural influence. Consider also the other commenter’s remark about Maslov’s hierarchy.

    Just a feeling I’m getting here, but I’m starting to think you are too close and are not looking at forest for the trees, as the expression goes.

    Finally, don’t worry about being harsh or whatever on my comments– I don’t :)

  5. Oops. Sorry — for some reason a paragraph didn’t make it on the last comment.

    There should have been a paragraph where I speculate that any of the metrosexual trends would have been absent without the american influence, despite the rising prosperity of korean society in general. For example, other cultures that rose to properity in the post WWII era did not have this type of feminist development towards metrosexual trends, but were influenced by other trends from America at the time of their increasing prosperity.

    Also, just saw your last comment on not knowing about Maslov’s heirarchy of needs – here a wiki link

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

    • I said: “In this specific example, while Korean women were subconsciously at least looking for new ideals of men, ”

      Tapping into the Jungian collective unconscious are we? (I kid! I kid!). But seriously – this is a really bad way to present an argument, I mean you’re not seriously claiming to know/understand the subconscious thoughts of korean women are you?

      Sure. Actually I wrote an update to that effect in the post just after I wrote my last comment, but naturally you probably missed it.

      Umm…Looking at box office for that year, Titanic was the most successful movie in korea by a huge margin.

      I’d be interested in seeing those figures, but I’ll take your word for it. Still, regardless of how many Koreans saw it or not, it definitely was regarded as a symbol of the rapacious, gloating, kicking Korea-when-it-was-down “West,” as both middle-aged and university-aged students of mine still report to me over a decade later.

      I’d make an argument here that by the time something becomes mainstreamed, the idea/trend is already firmly established in society enough so that there is a critical mass large enough to make itself acknowledged by the rest of society. Again along with my theme that this is a general continuation of westernization, there does not have to be specific some mainstream program for the influence of a cultural meme to become established and working towards becoming established. After all, metroxsexuality in the US did not start out from a television program. Of course this goes into the eternal push/pull or demand/supply problem which is a whole nother universe, but suffice to say there were established antecedents to the now mostly passe (thank god!) metrosexual trend in the US.

      Well isn’t that a case of the pot calling the kettle black? I’m not disagreeing – indeed, I argue that the women’s anger at the Asian Financial Crisis is what made alternate ideals for men so appealing – but the popularity of a certain program doesn’t ipso facto mean that popularity of an idea/trend and/or cultural meme for its acceptance exists. Moreover, while Sex and the City – for one – has had a huge effect on Korean women that was quite unanticipated at the time, and I personally think that that was based on the bedrock of change that occurred due to the World Cup as I described, it is certainly possible to argue that there was something radically different about or unique that made it popular ahead of its times so to speak. Just like you’ve maintained, to move beyond speculation ultimately one needs evidence.

      Yes, as I alluded to, my examination(cursory as it is) of the korean movie scene back then; is that it was developing in quality as you say, but still not quite up to Hollywood. In fact that was my point. Korean movies during this period of time seems to have been in a period of rapid development and evolution. In fact, from the boxoffice numbers, it seems that only since the turn of the millennium, have korean movies reached a sufficient quality level so as to be able to dominate their own home market. I don’t understand your disbelief(?) that I was talking about korea here.

      You misinterpreted me. I said that what you wrote “…seems to have been written with very little knowledge of (or at least reference to) the specific Korean social landscape at the time, and reads almost as if you could replace most instances of “Korea” with, say, “Taiwan.” In other words, I meant that you were talking so vaguely and with so little reference to actual facts about Korea that it could virtually have been any East Asian country that you were describing. Which brings me to my next point:

      I said: “And yes, the internet does have the effect that you describe, but with the Korean internet being so far ahead of the rest of the world back then, and language barriers and other peculiarities of the infrastructure of Korean internet (see here), then the Korean internet was very much a virtual intranet, which now begins and ends with Naver. The internationalizing effect of it is still there of course, but much less so than in most other countries.”

      Okay seriously….what planet were you on? “Korean internet being so far ahead of the rest of the world back then” ??? I don’t know, and there may have been some korean governmental infrastructure buildouts there that early, but korean electronic technologies, including network tech, was nothing compared to that of the US at the time. (and I might add, still mostly isn’t all that, given the MS/Intel’s unbroken duopoly, and afaik, Cisco has never lost it’s tech lead in networking tech). The sheer mass of information availabe in the US through the internet at this period of time dwarfed anything else in existence. Only recently have the chinese even begun to challenge that. The only possible thing that korean internet may have been ahead in were average transmission speeds – and if so, how you believe that 100 mbps vs 1 mbps in other countries contributes to an intranet effect is lost on me. Nothing in the link you provided about the peculiarities of korean internet or language barrier is convincing as evidence of a virtual intranet. Even back then, free translation software was available for one thing. Furthermore, media such as video or audio, do not necessarily require translations. All it takes is for a single person to view a video or translate an article and spread it’s ideas to others in his community. I don’t know that your opinion of the lack of international effect vs other countries has any weight – certainly no way to prove something like that. In fact, given the obvious strength of American cultural influence the world over, and korea’s unusually entangled, recent, and continuing close relationship with the US, I would think the opposite to be true.

      Granted, that that link didn’t. Try this, this, and especially this (although the latter doesn’t work in Firefox sorry) for the early Korean lead, and this, this, this, this, this, this, and this on the virtual Korean intranet today.

      That you find those assertions ludicrous though, helped me to finally identify my unease with the rest of the paragraph and well, the gist of your most of your arguments so far: other than your points about movies, you’ve never really referred to Korean examples in any of them. No, really (and remember you invited me to be harsh): you clearly know nothing about the development of Korean internet, and so instead of discussing that you make very general arguments about the internet in general to “disprove” that points I made. While many of the points you make are still plausible in themselves, they still happen to be completely wrong in the Korean context, which anyone who’s read virtually anything about the subject can confirm. Seriously, there’s only so much time I can spend debating on these issues with someone who seems to lack knowledge of the place that just a freshman course would provide.

      That’s not at all to say that I think you’re stupid, or that I don’t respect your arguments, or that any arguments using other countries as evidence are thereby invalid, or that you may lack knowledge of the development of the internet in other East Asia countries. But Korea? No, you don’t seem to, and I can’t really hope to convince someone about some point about Korea who instead of refuting my examples drawn from there, simply gives very general arguments overwhelmingly based on examples from other countries instead.

      I said: “I completely disagree that Feminism arises out of economic prosperity. Most modern manifestations of it have appeared when women have suddenly been forced into and/or out of the workforce in large numbers, and/or well-educated enough to find lives as housewives unfulfilling and unrewarding. All three didn’t occur until the 1990s in Korea.”

      Women have been in the ‘workforce’ for most of human existence. It is only with the rise of prosperity due to industrial/commercial revolution that any sort of mass of women have had the luxury to be able not participate in the workforce. It is also with rising prosperity that society can devote resources to educating large numbers of women through college, in turn creating expectations of return on their investment from education. Perhaps these things didn’t occur until the 1990s in korea because there wasn’t a sufficient level of prosperity until then? The whole concept of finding fulfillment in your life is arguably one based on living in a superior economic situation – cause without that, you’re really more concerned with survival. It’ll be interesting (though sad and tragic) to see what this worldwide downturn does.

      Sure, what’s to disagree with? You paint such a broad picture, with nothing untrue in itself, that it’s difficult to find a single target. Still, you have some misconceptions about Korea.

      Granted that prosperity means that women can go to university, and that this didn’t occur until much later in Korea than in Western countries, but despite that where do those “expectations of a return on their investment” come from exactly? Women’s education primarily for the sake of merely getting a more desirable mate goes back to Jane Austin’s time and beyond, and I have several books behind me on the bookshelf that demonstrate that that still very is the case in Korea today. Some other event – say, being targeted for lay offs explicitly because they were married and/or women, and structural shifts since that mean that two incomes are required these days– are the cause of ascribing other values to university education in particular, not simply prosperity in itself.

      And you have to remember the unique value Koreans have always placed on education too, throwing a spanner into the works so to speak. But I don’t want to keep repeating my point about the necessity of using specific Korean examples.

      Consider the events you describe, not as anything korean, but a universally highly probable development of any society that was experiencing genuine mass prosperity for the first time in its history, combined with the insistent waves of foreign cultural influence from America – the source of most of their technology, their national security, the destination for their exports (the wellspring of their aforementioned prosperity), and the dominant worldwide cultural influence. Consider also the other commenter’s remark about Maslov’s hierarchy.

      Just a feeling I’m getting here, but I’m starting to think you are too close and are not looking at forest for the trees, as the expression goes.

      Dude, I think you’re not even looking for the forest, you’ve simply painted a watercolor of an American-inspired landscape from your head instead.Seriously, while you wrote that last, could you honestly have remembered the original topic of our discussion had someone asked?

      Regardless, it reads like the Korea of 1979, not today. Where does the cultural and economic influence of Japan, for one, fit into all that?

      Like I said, I do respect your opinions, and hell, for all I know your knowledge of other East Asian countries may well put mine to shame. But please try to bear in mind that this is Korea we’re talking about.

  6. An update: Most of Jon Huer’s columns in the Korea Times have very many problems with them (to put it mildly), but this one is a reasonable introduction to what is effectively the Korean intranet.

  7. Pingback: Drastic change in Korean male prototypes: the “flower boys” | hellokpop

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