Korean Sociological Image #27: What, Koreans Can Do The Love Shake Too?

Something that manages to combine both the best and the worst of the Korean media.

Go to the Korean portal site Nate at the moment, and you’ll see a small advertisement with an old VW Beetle on it with the words “흔들리는 자동차 안에선 무슨일이?” or “What is happening inside the shaking car?”. And if you’re using Internet Explorer – this is Korea after all – then it will invite you to move your cursor over it. If you do, then the screen above will pop up, with the following commercial:

The good point about the commercial is the joke about having sex in a car…and just a few days after I wrote that you never see that sort of thing in the Korean media too; hopefully, this shows how much attitudes are changing. Not that there wasn’t already a great deal of sexual innuendo and increasing amounts of skin in the Korean media of course, but the latter especially is by no means a reflection of open and healthy attitudes to sex per se.

If any readers can think of any similar references to sex in the media before it though, then I’d be happy to be proved wrong. And if you do, then I’d wager that you too first found them on a mainstream Korean portal site. Unlike their English-language counterparts, you have roughly a 50% chance of opening Naver, Daum, Nate, Yahoo!Korea and kr.msn.com to be greeted with headlines and thumbnail pictures about sex scandals, accidental exposures (no-chool;노출) of female celebrities, and/or crazed nude Westerners. Which brings me to the commercial’s bad point.

I first saw this advertisement on a work computer during a break this afternoon, already thinking of writing about it here as soon as I saw the shaking car (and as a side-benefit, it meant I could put off the translation for the post I originally planned!).  But when I saw who the occupants were I was simply floored. For in a supreme irony, just two minutes earlier I had been doing a free-talking activity with my students about national stereotypes.

Don’t believe me? Sure, I admit I’m not averse to embellishing details for a good story on occasion. But I really had been doing page 22-23 of my edition of Taboos and Issues with them (which I highly recommend by the way, and I was surprised that my students shared many of my stereotypes about European nationalities). And regardless, I would still have been sat there thinking why, oh why, did the second couple have to be Westerners?

Now, I’ve already written a great deal about how many Koreans have stereotypes of Westerners as being much more sexually liberal and promiscuous than Koreans (especially women), so I won’t rehash that here. And of course there’s a certain element of truth in that (most Koreans live with their parents remember), and it’s not meant entirely negatively and/or without a sense of envy either, although I have heard from some Western female friends that it can lead to some Korean men expecting guaranteed sex on a first date, and so on. Examples like this commercial though, demonstrate why that stereotype is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

Against that, I grant that it appears to have been filmed in a Western city, and that if you watch the video to its conclusion, then you see the Korean couple deciding to get wholeheartedly into the “Love Shake”™ too. But to which I reply a) Why not a Korean city? and b) wouldn’t the Korean couple have appeared more confident and prouder of their nationality if, instead of the Westerners, it had been them in the shaking car, with the Westerners later copying them?

Seriously, how to explain not having either without some serious Occidentalism going on, of which artificial sexual dichotomies have always been a core component? I’m open to suggestions.

Update: On a side note, I know little about the actors Seo Woo (서우) and Im Joo-hwan (임주환) sorry (see Dramabeans for more information on both), but I can confirm that this innocent(ish) looking image of Seo Woo is consistent with her role in both Tamna the Island (탐나는도다), ironically groundbreaking in that it featured a romance between a Korean woman and a foreign male (I think – I only watched the first few episodes sorry), and also Paju (파주; see #7 here)…or at least consistent with the way it was advertised. I just mention that because many Korean celebrities appear in so many commercials that their brand easily gets diluted so to speak, so I couldn’t help but notice that she doesn’t appear to be making the same mistake.

(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

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9 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #27: What, Koreans Can Do The Love Shake Too?

  1. You reminded me of this commercial from some years ago. I don’t remember ever seeing it on Korean TV, but it seems just chock full of the kind of innuendo you are pointing us towards.

    • Ah, yes of course, that classic!^^

      Unfortunately though, the only information one ever reads about it is that it was banned, and I don’t know if it ever (briefly) made it to television either. I wonder if this new one will make it though?

  2. there is one other actually – for the Kumyong Karaoke system starring shin Hyesung.
    there are 2 versions and from what i gather with my scant korean they recite the numbers of the karaoke tracks as a conversation that leads to.. well something that involves moaning!

    Version 1:

    Version 2:

    • Haha…thanks, they’re both really funny, because like you say, the track numbers all have their corresponding titles coming up with them on the screen as they say them, and all of which are pretty similar to what they might actually say in that situation in real life “It’s my first time”…”Trust me”…etc. etc. See the commenter “marybennet” on Youtube via the link to the first video for an exact translation.

      p.s. Don’t know why the first one isn’t embedding sorry.

  3. although I have heard from some Western female friends that it can lead to some Korean men expecting guaranteed sex on a first date, and so on.

    Back in the mid to late 90s, some of my friends and colleagues had horrible experiences with clumsy men who bluntly communicated their expectations. I wonder if the seduction skills of Korean men have improved.

  4. I also noticed that the Western couple was less conservatively dressed than the Korean couple, and the Western woman was showing a lot more skin.

  5. I’m not sure if this car thumping cliche dates from way back, but the commercial reminds me of the little thing you can do in Grand Theft Auto games.. but then again Korea isn’t known for importing games and game consoles in general. Just a thought.

    • I’m sure it dates back to about the time that drive-in movie theatres became popular, the 1950s or whenever it was…;-)

  6. i wonder if the influence of western media, (films like Rebel Without a Cause, Grease, etc.) could have a partial influence on this. the clothes, car styles, etc, seem to have some sort of period/era, and like you james points out, lifestyle connotation, too.

    I think some korean men’s inability to get a hint could come from the way they are “handled” from a young age. they are very catered to, and handled in different ways that inhibit their development of independent thinking skills. many of these men seem not to learn the idea that it takes humility and communication to get what you want without having to step on others… well until they get to the army.. which hands them another bag of issues in itself. similarly, korean women are taught to oblige, serve, and self sacrifice from a very very young age. i would say, within this, they are also taught how to “handle” people very well. i put the word handle in quotations to emphasize that i use it with several connotations. sometimes i wonder if korean men simply don’t realize in what ways other women may be raised, and how this may produce different expectations in a sexual or relationship partner. some western men, too, forget that not all women are privileged and can easily live out feminist ideals. thus, when they date or have relations with these women, there are also many miscommunications. i think ultimately, these sorts of relationships can be a great learning experience, but a relationship with a miscommunication of conditions and expectations between partners is a dangerous environment to raise children in.

    now that i write that, i notice something interesting about the commercial. it seems as though the korean man is portrayed to have the most titillation (no pun intended) to the couple’s discovery, it is ultimately the woman who consents… to a cell phone. it’s funny how the end is. the daytime setting and car top down seem like they are trying to erase all the sexual connotations they previously made. now that i think about it, it’s sort of like sex humor, korean style. like, “if you know what we mean, you know what we mean. if you don’t get it, the show must go on (just pray that someone will teach your sorry ass)”

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