Ajosshis & Girls’ Generation: The Panic Interface of Korean Sexuality

Girls' Generation's Ajosshi Fans…Gender matters in the ways that it shapes social interaction. Identities, of course, are products of and sustained through interactions with others. Social interaction thus is an important setting in which gender emerges and is enacted. As Ridgeway (p. 219) observes: “It is striking that people are nearly incapable of interacting with one another when they cannot guess the other’s sex.” That the identification of someone as male or female facilitates social interaction testifies to this category’s power in social life. (Amy Wharton, The Sociology of Gender {2005}, p.10)

And throw in my age, ethnicity, and language difficulties into the mix too, then you’d think that discussing gender issues and sexuality with Korean women would be quite a trying experience sometimes (source, above).

Ironically though, I usually find them to be better informed and more willing to talk about them than men.

One reason might be because women the world over tend to be better language learners, and as my Korean speaking ability is much worse than my reading ability, then my conversations with Koreans on abstract subjects are confined to those with relatively good English.

But that doesn’t explain the relative disinterest of Korean men at the same level,¹ and so more much likely is that whatever their degree of interest originally, sooner or later all women are invariably forced to deal with at least the consequences of Korea’s systematic sexual discrimination, perhaps the first time being when they’re deliberately shunted into non-advancing career tracks as they enter the workforce, under the assumption that they’ll no longer work (or be fired) upon marriage or childbirth.

In contrast, such things usually impact men at a much later stage in their life cycles, if at all. Perhaps when trying to decide with his wife if they can afford to have a second child for instance, and/or if it’s worth her returning to work when she will likely only bring home 41% of the wages he does, the highest gender wage gap in the OECD. Indeed, if my wife — a 31 year-old mother of two — wasn’t lucky enough to be able to work from home as a recruiter, then we’re not entirely sure what she could do, and even that is hardly an advancing career.

That is not to say that Koreans are only ever interested in issues that directly concern them of course, or that there aren’t parallels in other countries. But there are still yet more factors working against Korean men being interested in gender issues. Most notably the profoundly patriarchal ideology of Neo-Confucianism that is all-pervasive here,² buttressed by the the socialization experience undergone during their mandatory military service.

(Source: unknown)

Admittedly these are generalizations, and to an extent they become self-fulfilling: as I’ve gotten older, I find it more and more difficult to find the effort to befriend Korean men, so different do I expect our work-family priorities and opinions on gender issues to be. This inhibits me from raising such issues in free-talking sessions with advanced students also, although in that case it’s more because I respect that their purpose in attending my classes is not for me to lecture to or argue with them.

But surely there must be some feminist Korean men out there? If you are one, or know of one, then by all means let me know! But unfortunately the differences are real, and a good illustration of the difficulties in finding common ground on gender and sexuality issues are our opinions on — you guessed it — teenage girl groups like Girls’ Generation (소녀시대) and the Wondergirls (원더걸스).

Why the focus on them specifically? It’s a reasonable question, as they’re not the first young girls groups in Korea. What distinguishes them though, is that they are the first groups explicitly created to appeal to men 20 years their senior, and as such they are very much at the forefront of the increasing sexualization of young girls in the Korean media in recent years, setting the tone for the wave of 15, 16 and 17 year-olds following them.

Where I and most 30 and 40-something Korean men — ajosshis — differ on them is that I don’t buy into the collective narrative that we all like these girl groups because we have a brotherly, paternal, or avuncular affection for their members. Instead, while I can’t imagine having any kind of sexual or romantic relationship with them in reality, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to bang them whenever I see them on stage…and so would those ajosshis. Try to get one to admit that though, even one you know well and in a bar just with other men like themselves, and you’ll soon realize that not for nothing do I use the term “panic” in the title of this post.

(Source)

I also use “interface,” because acknowledging things like why 15 year-old f(x) band member Sulli’s (최설리) shorts are so high above, for instance, or why she is pulling her dress up in the other pictures in that photoshoot, are very literally where commercialized teenage sexuality and conservative Korean social mores meet. And I seriously doubt that pressing issues of teenage prostitution and abysmal sex education can even begin to be rectified while the collective Korean establishment — read: ajosshis — can’t admit to something so blatantly obvious.

But this is on old, tired theme for regular readers, and not what this post is about. Rather, I’m belatedly concerned with the question of why it is the case.

One possible reason is Occidentalism, for as blogger Michael Hurt argues, this platonic rationalization:

…parallels the notion in idea that in Korea, people are all good, clean Confucians who don’t do dirty things (but just save it for the love motels and leave that “skeleton bone” there – hehe, yes, I meant for a double entendre to be read there!), while Americans apparently hump everybody, according to everybody not American.

And recall that Occidentalism doesn’t actually need a physical Occidental in the room in order to be operating: indeed, it’s better that there isn’t, for greater distance gives greater leeway to imagine an “other” with which to advance a domestic agenda. And that proves to be the crucial point here, for as the following translation of a Korean music columnist’s thoughts reveals, all of this is by no means merely a face-saving device employed to obscure unsavory aspects of Korean society from inquisitive foreigners.

I warn you: the translation is rather long, a little melodramatic in places (less so in the original Korean, my wife assures me), and doesn’t actually offer an answer as to why. But still, I’m glad to have made a start by removing the “wild card” of the foreign observer from the equation:

(Zhang Wei, 2006?)

“‘섹 시한소녀시대 좋아하는 죄 인가요?” (or 대한민국평균아저씨소길동 고백)

Is it a Sin to Like Girls’ Generation Because They’re Sexy? (or The Confession of an Average Korean Man)

Kim Bong-hyeon, 4th February 2010

이제 고등학교에 입학하는 조카가 있다. 조카는 ‘소녀시대’의 팬이다. 당연히 이번 달 단독 콘서트 예매도 이미 끝냈다. 조카는 특히 서현을 좋아한다. 한정판 소녀시대 카드 중에서 다른 멤버들 것은 줘도 서현의 것은 끝내 안 준다. 소신이 뚜렷한 녀석이다. 크게 될 놈이다.

내가 글쟁이인 것을 아는 조카는 며칠 전 이번 새 앨범 음악이 어떠냐고 물어왔다. 해줄 말 중에는 좋은 것도, 나쁜 것도 있었다. 어차피 나쁜 말하면 귀담아 듣지 않을 테니 대충 좋은 말만 하고 넘어갔다. 실은 내가 오히려 묻고 싶은 게 하나 있었다. 하지만 묻지 않았다. 이것이었다.

“네가 진짜로 소녀시대를 좋아하는 이유가 뭐야?”

At the moment, I have a nephew entering high school. He’s a fan of Girls’ Generation. Of course, he has already reserved a ticket for their concert this month. His favorite member is Seo-hyeon, and while he will happily exchange picture cards of other members with his classmates and friends, he won’t trade any of her. Clearly he is a man of his own ideas, and is destined for great things!

Knowing that I was a writer, my nephew asked what I thought of their new album. It has good and bad points, but guessing that he wouldn’t have listened to the latter, I just talked about the good things. But actually there was something I wanted to ask him (although I didn’t), which was:

What is the real reason that you like Girls’ Generation?

(Source)

이걸 묻고 싶었던 이유는 간단하다. 나 자신에게 물어봤는데, 나에게서 나온 대답이 정답인 것 같아서 다른 남자(!)에게도 확인해보고 싶었기 때문이다. 한마디로, 나는 소녀시대가 ‘섹시’해서 좋다. 물론 기본적으로 귀여운 매력이 크긴 한데 섹시한 매력도 나에게는 그 정도 크기는 된다.

이게 무슨 뚱딴지같은 소리냐고? 노파심에 말하자면 나는 변태도 아니고 과대망상증 환자도 아니다. 그리고 이제는 자신 있게 말할 수 있다. 소녀시대는 분명히 섹시하다. 정확히 말하자면, ‘섹시하지 않은 척 하면서 섹시’하다.

내가 소녀시대에게서 섹시함을 느낀 건 ‘Gee’ 이후였던 것 같다. 그전까지 소녀시대는 나에게 그저 귀여운 여동생에 불과했다. 그러나 소녀시대가 Gee로 컴백해 딱 달라붙는 배꼽티와 스키니진을 입고나오자 ‘소녀’는 ‘그녀’가 되었다. ‘소원을 말해봐’는 ‘Gee’의 심화판이었다. 핫팬츠와 하이힐, 제복을 입고 그녀들이 내게 ‘소원을 말해보라고’ 외쳤다. 신곡 ‘Oh!’는 한술 더 떠 치어리더 콘셉트다. 더 무슨 말이 필요하나.

The reason I wanted to ask this was simple. I knew why I liked them – and all men like them – but I wanted to confirm that he would give the same answer: that it’s because they’re sexy. Of course, they do also have a cute charm about them, but they’re at least as sexy.

What foolish talk is this you ask? But no, asking this does not mean I am a pervert, nor that I’m a mental patient having excessive sexual fantasies about Girls’ Generation. Rather let me say this: of course, Girls’ Generation are sexy. Or to be more accurate, they are sexy while pretending not to be.

It was with their song Gee that Girls’ Generation really started appearing sexy to me; before that, they were merely like little sisters. But then they started wearing tight, clinging croptops and jeans, and the girls had changed to women. This was even more so with their song Tell Me Your Wish, combining hotpants, high-heels, and uniforms while crying “tell me your wish…”. And with their new song Oh!, they continue that theme with a cheerleader concept. What more is there to say? (Source, below).

여기서 중요한 건 섹시 그 자체가 아니다. 소녀시대보다 섹시한 가수들은 얼마든지 있다. 포인트는 소녀들이 ‘더없이 순수한 눈망울’을 하고선 남성의 성적 판타지를 자극하려는 의도가 분명한 옷과 액세서리, 그리고 노랫말과 춤동작을 선보인다는 점이다. 나는 고민에 빠진다. 그 순수한 눈망울들이 나를 죄책감의 구렁텅이로 몰아넣는다. 내가 저 천사 같은 아이들을 두고 대체 무슨 상상을 한 걸까. 나는 변태인가. 난 누군가 또 여긴 어딘가.

분명히 맞는 것 같은데 증명할 방법이 없다. 섹시함을 주 무기로 삼으면서 겉으로는 그렇지 않은 척한다. 그런데 더 가관(?)인 건 그렇지 않은 척하니까 대놓고 그러는 것보다 더 섹시하다는 거다. 낮에는 현모양처, 밤에는 요부를 바라는 어쩔 수 없는 남성의 본능이다. 가히 최악의 상황이다.

이런 상황에서 ‘기획사 너희들! 일단 남성의 성적 판타지를 정확히 자극한 것에는 10점 만점에 10점을 주겠어. 대단히 유효한 전략이었지. 하지만 어린 여자애들 데리고 더 이상 교묘하게 섹스를 팔지 마! 이제 더 이상 당하지 않아!’, 이렇게 외친다면 (비록 속은 다를지라도) ‘아니, 어떻게 이렇게 귀여운 여동생을 보고 그런 천박한 생각을…’, 하며 경멸어린 시선으로 변태 취급당할 가능성이 다분하다.

The important point here is not how sexy they are: there are many female singers sexier than Girls’ Generation (James: I think he means more “sexual” than sexy). Rather, that despite their innocent expressions, Girls’ Generation’s clothes, accessories and lyrics are all designed to provoke men into having sexual fantasies about them. But this leaves me feeling a little perturbed and guilty: how can I think like that when I see those angelic faces? Am I a pervert? Who am I…where am I?

This is all true, but it is impossible to prove. While deliberately being sexy, Girls’ Generation pretend that they aren’t. Which proves to be even sexier than it they just admitted it, for every man’s instinct is to have a woman who is a wise mother and good, virtuous wife by day, but a shameless hussy at night.

This is a very bad situation.

About this, I say “To the people that work at the company! First, I give you 10 out of 10 points for knowing what stimulates men’s sexual fantasies so well. But please stop using these young girls to sell sex so skillfully! I won’t put up with it anymore!”. And I do so even though many people may scorn me and label me as a pervert, asking how I can think such things of such cute, innocent girls.

과연 나만 이런 생각을 하는 걸까? 나만 섹시함을 섹시함이라 말하지 못하는 ‘소길동’의 덫에 걸린 걸까? 아니라고 본다. 모르긴 몰라도 적지 않은 대한민국 성인 남성이 나와 비슷한 고민을 하지 않으려나?

여기서 두 가지 고민이 발생한다. 그리고 그 전에 하나 전제되어야할 것이 있다. 바로 ‘소녀시대의 기획사는 어린 소녀들을 통해 남성의 성적 판타지를 자극해 교묘히 섹스를 판매한다’는 합의다. 물론 이 같은 판단에 소녀시대의 팬이나 어린 학생들, 그리고 여성들은 동의하지 않을 수도 있다.

이유는 여러 가지다. 우선 소녀시대의 팬들에게 이 같은 지적은 소녀들에 대한 모욕일 수 있고, 어린 학생들이나 여성들의 경우에는 진심으로 이러한 부분을 체감하지 못했을 수 있다. 그러나 이것은 엄연히 현존하는 사실이다. 양해를 구한다. 그렇게 사실로 인정하고 넘어가도록 하자.

Well, am I the only person that thinks like that?Am I the only guy to have fallen into the trap of not recognizing sexiness when I see it? I don’t think so. In fact I think that all Korean adults suffer the same.

Based on the premise that Girls’ Generation’s company is skillfully encouraging men to have sexual fantasies about the group and basically selling sex then all this raises two problematic issues to worry about. But I don’t expect many fans, young students and women to agree with me, for many reasons: first, because to Girls’ Generations’ fans, this sort of opinion is considered insulting to the group; and in the case of young students and women, they can’t really understand these physical feelings of men. But while I seek their forgiveness, the facts remain. Let’s continue on that premise (source, left).

첫 번째 고민은, ‘욕망하는 것은 과연 나쁜가’이다. 더 정확히 말하면 ‘의도된 자극에 예상된 욕망으로 반응하는 것은 나쁜가’가 되겠다. 말이야 바른 말이지 은근슬쩍 성적 판타지를 자극해 오는데 모른 척하며 억지로 속으로 눌러야 하나? 오히려 그게 솔직하지 못하고 자신을 속이는 것 아닌가? 남에게 피해를 주지 않는 솔직함은 미덕이라고 배우지 않았나. 굳이 말을 하자면 자극받는 쪽보다 자극하는 쪽이 나쁘지 않느냐는 말이다. 하아, 나는 왜 불필요한 죄책감에 사로잡혀 있었을까. 문제는 개인이 아니라 구조이고 시스템인 것을.

두 번째 고민은, ‘어린 소녀들을 통해 섹스를 파는 행위는 과연 나쁜가’이다(‘미성년자’라는 법적 개념으로도 판단할 수 있겠지만 여기서 논하려는 건 그러한 차원은 아니다). 어떻게 보면 누이 좋고 매부 좋은 거래가 아닌가. 기획사는 돈을 벌고, 소녀들은 스타가 되고, 대중은 욕망을 충족한다. 소녀들이 특별히 공공질서를 저해하는 음란 행위를 하는 것도 아니고, 대중이 소녀들에게 위해를 가하거나 범죄를 저지르는 것도 아니다. 상부상조하는 좋은 거래다.

The first thing to worry about is the question of if desire is a bad thing. Or to be more precise, is getting sexually stimulated bad when that is the deliberate and expected reaction? Does the fact that it is done indirectly and stealthily mean that we have to pretend that we don’t feel aroused? Isn’t that being dishonest and deceiving yourself? We all know that as long as it doesn’t cause harm to others, honesty is a virtue. And surely it is worse to so insidiously arouse men than to feel aroused. Why on Earth was I feeling guilty about this? This is not a problem with myself, but more a systematic thing.

The second worry is that the act of using young girls to sell sex is bad (I don’t want to discuss the legality of using minors for this though). But if you look at it in a different way, it is can actually be a good thing. The company makes money, the girls become stars, and men’s sexual desire is satisfied. Nor are the girls committing indecent acts, or the public harming ordinary girls in any way or commit crimes against them. So in a sense, everybody helps each other.

그러나 이렇게 간단하게 정리하고 넘어갈 문제가 아니라는 게 바로 문제다. 기본적으로 나는 욕망하는 주체다. 그리고 욕망하는 나 자체는 건강하다. 그러나 내 욕망을 충족시켜주는 것들이 모두 옳은 건 아니다. 다시 말해 나는 내 욕망의 정곡을 찔러주는 소녀시대의 무대를 보면서 기획사의 의도대로 욕망을 느낀다.

하지만 그 반대편엔 욕망의 크기만큼이나 커다란 이성 역시 자리 잡고 있다. 나는 소녀시대가 내 성적 판타지를 충족시켜준다는 점을 인정하면서도 동시에 그들 기획사의 전략이 야기할 부정적인 단면들을 고민한다. 즉 나는 끊임없이 욕망하면서 동시에 그 욕망을 충족시켜주는 것의 올바름에 대해 끊임없이 의심한다.

그렇게 의심해본 결과, ‘섹시하지 않은 척 하면서 섹시한’ 소녀시대는 몇 가지 문제점을 내포하고 있다. 먼저, 이것은 기획사의 입장에서는 분명 대단히 효과적인 돈벌이 전략이지만 사회적으로는 성의 이중성을 더욱 공고히 할 뿐이다. 성적 판타지를 자극하도록 설계된 소녀들에게서 당연하게(?) 예정된 욕망을 느끼더라도 남성들은 그것을 제대로 표출할 수 없다. 욕망 표출의 해방감 대신 그들에게 부여되는 것은 일종의 죄책감이다. 욕망은 점점 안으로 파고 들어가고 겉과 속은 달라진다. 그렇게 섹시한 것을 섹시하다고 말하지 못하는 소길동이 되어간다.

Unfortunately, the problem isn’t as simple and easily resolved as that. Basically, because I have sexual desire. And that is healthy and good, not a sin. But not everything that arouses me is correct and proper (James: should be acted on?), and one of those is watching Girls’ Generation dancing on a stage.

On the other hand, while I do have sexual desire, I have just as much logic and rationality to me. So although I admit to at the fact that Girls’ Generation arouses me, at the same time I worry that I am just being manipulated by their company. Or in other words, while I am unceasingly aroused by them at the same time I think seriously about if both that and what the company is doing is correct and appropriate.

As a result, I realize there are many problems to Girls’ Generation being sexy while pretending not to. First, while it is undoubtedly a very effective strategy for the company to make money, to society it reaffirms that there is a public and private face to put on sex. For while the group is designed to stimulate men’s sexual fantasies, they can not admit to this. Rather than expressions of sexual liberation, they must instead have guilt about how differently they feel inside and what they must actually say. This is why you have men like me saying that sexiness is something else entirely.

(Source: unknown)

또 하나. 다름 아닌 소녀들 걱정이다. 윤아 걱정, 유리 걱정, 무엇보다 우리 조카를 위해 서현 걱정이다. 어쩌면 이게 제일 중요한 문제일지도 모른다. 나는 소녀시대의 무대를 볼 때마다 매번 이런 생각이 든다. 쟤네들은 자기가 어떻게 소비되는지 과연 알고 있을까? 남성들의 시선과 속마음에 대해서는 얼마나 알까? 만약 알고 있다면 그게 쟤네들이 원하는 걸까? 혹시 기획사의 의도와 속내가 충돌해 괴롭지는 않을까?

이게 무슨 오지랖이냐고 웃을지도 모르겠다. 하지만 ‘소녀들도 이제 엄연한 법적 성인이니까 자기 일은 자기가 알아서 하겠지’라고 안일하게 생각하기에는 아직도 소녀들은 많이 어릴뿐더러 소녀들 개개인의 힘에 비해 시스템의 권력이 너무 크고 거대하다. 또한 ‘자본주의 사회에서 소녀시대 역시 하나의 상품이며 상품이 된 것 역시 소녀들의 선택’이라고 치부하기에는 머릿속에서 ‘인간의 존엄성’이라는 단어가 자꾸만 아른거린다.

서현. 가장 순수할 것 같고 실제로도 가장 어린 서현. 지금, 상처받지 않고 있을까? 그리고 앞으로도 상처받지 않을 수 있을까?

글을 마무리하면서 문득 지금의 내 메신저 대화명을 떠올렸다. ‘소시 앨범 득템! 화보 쩐다.’ 화보가 쩌는 건 사실이지만 아무래도 당장 다른 대화명으로 바꾸어야겠다. 갑자기 이 저열한 욕망의 바다에 물 한 방울 보태기도 싫어졌으니까.

(Source)

One more thing: I worry about the girls of Girls’ Generation themselves. I worry about Yuna, about Yuri, and most of all about my nephew’s favorite Seo-hyeon. This may be the most important issue of all, and whenever I see them on stage I think it: do they know how they are being consumed? Do they know how they are viewed and felt by men? If they do know, is that what they really want? By any chance, do they suffer from their own wishes and their company’s clashing?

People will ask why I worry about them. After all, they are legal adults. Despite that however, the system they operate in is far more powerful. And against the argument that they are in the music industry – just the product of a capitalist society – and that it’s their choice, I still frequently pause to think if it’s not an affront to human dignity.

Seo-hyeon: she looks the most innocent, and in reality she is the youngest too. To her I say are you getting hurt at all now? Or is there any way you can avoid it in the future?

As I was writing this article, I added some words next to my name in my messenger program: “I’ve bought Girls’ Generation new album! Their pictures are fantastic!”. While that is true though, I have to change it. I suddenly really don’t want to add one drop to this ocean of base, vulgar sexual desire. (end)

(Source)

As always, apologies for any errors with the translation (there’s bound to be with something of this length), and I’d really appreciate it if you could let me know if you spot any. And what do you make of Kim Byeong-hyeon’s “confession”?

Or, hell, my own? Not that I think that mine is any great surprise to long term readers of course(!), and I don’t mean to imply that I’m embarrassed at only having Korean female friends now. Indeed, most of my Western male friends here also had equal numbers of male and female Korean friends in their first few years here, only to lose the former for much the same reasons I mentioned earlier; or at least, those that like myself came in their early to mid-20s,and have stayed for 5-10 years since. And they’re by no means gender studies geeks either, although I confess that we do still talk mostly about women when we meet! ;)

What is your own experience? How are things similar or different for Western women here also?

Notes:

1) Rereading this in November 2013, nearly 4 years later, I cringe at the numerous generalizations I make based on only my own personal experience; I would be much more careful to avoid those and/or acknowledge my biases were I to write on the same subject today. On the other hand, unfortunately it’s also true that my personal experience remains largely the same.

2) I also try to avoid the “C word” these days. Although this is hardly the most egregious example, Confucianism is very overused as a catch-all, explain anything and everything device in English-language writing about Korea.

108 thoughts on “Ajosshis & Girls’ Generation: The Panic Interface of Korean Sexuality

  1. Thanks for that one, James. It was really interesting to read an ajosshi’s words on it, “from the horse’s mouth” — I’m curious, though, how common this sentiment is, and what the response to his article has been online.

  2. Can I add that I want to know what the SNSD members’ parents think about their “sexy” marketing? I’m certain the girls know exactly how they are being marketed and perceived. I’m not entirely sure why none of them are putting on a defiant feminist act, but I guess they have to obey and comply in order to survive/make a living. Korea is tough :(

    Personally with me, given I’m a Korean girl who lived majority of her life in a Western country, I tend to be conservative in terms of how I present myself. Yes I discuss issues like this freely (freedom of speech!) but in terms of how I dress/communicate/act, I choose not to be eye candy. Sure I don’t get perceived as “aesthetically attractive” compared to other girls (Asian and non-Asian), but I prefer people to judge me based on my intelligence, wit and personality. I’m a nice person but I don’t like the idea of men thinking of me as an object of sexual desire, I feel disgusted thinking about that. I admit I dress up and dance wildly etc if I’m at a party though…. :/

    I think the Korean pop industry has really young idols, which I’m not really happy with. Some of them are 14!!! @_@ Even America had an uproar with Miley Cyrus growing up too quickly (the infamous magazine cover), yet Koreans seem to be fine with their young idols. I wish there was a Disney channel equivalent where Korean teens can do appropriate acting/dancing/singing so the kids, tweens and teens can have better role models. Despite the controversies that sometimes come with Disney (stars), I think it’s a good idea overall. There seems to be no “bridge” between a child’s world and the adult world in the Korean entertainment industry; or if there is it’s not well established enough because I don’t know it!

    With SNSD – I think their innocent sexy image being reminscent to Georgian/Victorian England. Think Jane Austen. So many social restrictions, yet they project a sexiness to which they have to be nonchalent about. Then again, I think Korea in general is a bit Victorian England when it comes to sex, although this is changing. Sexual exploitation/fantasies of SNSD by ajusshis/Korean males is something that’s expected and should happen; it’s what marketing WANTS – marketing is a very advanced subject. With guilt – would men feel the guilt if there was no such societal attitudes and restrictions? I wonder if guilt is formed from social construct.

    I want to know what you, everyone else who reads this blog (and the male Korean population) think about 2NE1 “the baddest female(s) Seoul City ever had”??

    PS: How do you get through everyday life in Korea with limited Korean skills? Or do you just communicate in English….?

    • Just about to head out for a little walk with the family sorry, but I have to say that my spoken Korean skills aren’t that bad!^^ I don’t need any help with most everyday things like talking to a bank clerk or ordering pizza and so on, but teaching English all day and then coming home to look after the kids doesn’t give many opportunities for practicing more abstract Korean I’m afraid.

      For that reason my Korean was actually much much better before they were born, and I’m kind of embarrassed at how my skills have deteriorated since to be honest. Korean colleagues avoiding me because I’m a foreigner, or either speaking to me in English or like I’m native Korean instead of meeting me halfway doesn’t help of course, but best I not go off on a rant about that!

    • The girls are most certainly not stupid. They know how they are marketed and why they are marketed in a certain way; this is the most likely assumption so I shall be going by this premise. Considering they’ve made it that far into the industry.

      This is my own personal opinion but to me it makes the most sense. Using capitalism and the basic principles of supply and demand, one can figure out easily why the companies are doing what they do. Korea has just recently began their economic surge into the international stage, capitalism is THE capital idea! If there is a demand, there must be a supply. If there is a mouth that’s hungry? Then there has to be a hand to feed it. If there are horny men looking for eye candy? Someone must sell them sex! (Ok enough with the analogies). It is the obvious answer.

      Whether we should discuss the ethical business behavior of these companies would probably be something else. But it goes by the same token that if there are companies offering these positions for women to take up on, then it is still the choice of the women themselves who decide whether they should put themselves in such a position. If they wish to become objects of sexual desire for the money or fame or whatever other reason they have, then it is their choice. Plus in Korea, women aren’t exactly high up in the food chain of things; does it really matter if they sell themselves this way, its embedded in their culture! Do you understand my point? There is no need for, case in point, feeling sorry or pity for the women. If there is a demand there is a supply. I say,”Capitalism at its best” (With a tinge of irony).

      • i mostly agree w/ what you said! i do think these girls know what they are getting into when they start off in the business and they know how they are marketed. when i was younger and in highschool i knew what it meant to dress sexy if you wanted to get noticed. just look at how american kids do it these days. its crazy. but its just like the debate on how the entertainment companies work the kids too hard etc. well money is what (generally) makes the world go around and if you want to be a celeb in korea, etc then you should know/do what they tell you to do otherwise someone else who is more willing will take your place ..plus aren’t jessica and tiffany from the States? they should be very well aware of what they are selling/representing . i don’t think it has to do w/ age and even if they are 15 and sexifying (ok that’s not a word..) themselves for photoshoots, ahjussi’s, etc, they have given their consent by agreeing to do what it takes to be a celeb.

    • wow i agree so much with you..i love both SNSD and 2ne1 so much but for different reasons, obviously. SNSD in real life are such innocent and natural personality girls who act politely and fresh , bring laughter and fun to variety show yet looking so different in their performance, cloths , music concept. i wonder if those are really what they want. most of snsd are religious and educated. take example of seohyun, she is so modest, intelligent, sweet, kind , strict and conservative in real life but how on earth that she can pull of those extra short with loads of leg revealing and sexy dance move, like whaa? two diffrent person. so as to others. they are really kind and naturally act in real life. i keep blaming the company market for make them become like this.and not only them but most of the girl groups. and most of the fans are girls, so what do they expect us to think while seeing our idols doing sexy seduction act on stage? well surely we can admire snsd multi talents and amzing singing, dancing , acting skills beside their goddess like beauty. but what message do they try to convey..are teenage girls suppose to enjoy their music, or getting inspired to must be perfect to be success like their idol..while the old mans are fantasizing abt them.. gosh

      2NE1 on the other hand, they are superb brilliantly talented, great music , great personality or each member yet they dress classy and unique without trying hard to appear sexy. on stage they are strong , fierce , enjoy to watch and just wonderful. in real life , they are unbelieveably cute , nice, funny, independent and just natural in front of camera. just see how Dara pleasant personality or Park Bom adorableness and how mature both CL and minzy are, despite their young age. they are truly inspiration for women from their music, lyrics and individual. just curious how man see them. they release opposite impression from snsd.

      both girl groups are the pioneer of the two category in kpop idol girl group = sweet/sexy or baddass/classy

      • “how on earth that she can pull of those extra short with loads of leg revealing and sexy dance move, like whaa?”
        The answer is simple. Fame, success, money, exhibitionism, the satisfaction that comes from feeling that you’re great in your performing art. You must ask yourself which image is closer to the real Seohyun (you can switch her with any idol). I think that the “off the scene” image is much more built up than the stage image.

        “2NE1 on the other hand, they are superb brilliantly talented, great music , great personality or each member yet they dress classy and unique without trying hard to appear sexy”
        You seem to have forgotten that one of Minzy’s nicknames is “Ero Minji” and that she was kindly requested to hold back a little on stage. And what about the BDSM latex suit that Bom wears in “I am the best”? CL and Dara also have their own way to be sexy. May we say that sexiness is in the eye of the beholder?

        That said, I like both SNSD and 2NE1, but I feel that SNSD (as a group) are becoming way stiffer (and boring) as time goes by, probably to keep pace with their sophisticated off scene image. Maybe that’s the reason why my 4.5yo daughter goes around the house singing “naega jeil jal nagaaa…”.

  3. Very interesting to see the adjussi view for Girls’ Generation… Usually they only talk to me about Japan and Korean Genetic Superiority. But I’ll ask them about K-Pop next time I meet a soberish one.

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  5. I do know one feminist ajosshi. Actually, he’s not technically an ajosshi (not married so maybe, just maybe – gay). Also, he’s very liberal and HATES Lee Myung Bak.

    What a fascinating article. It seems so obvious to me that GG are supposed to be sexually desirable that I forget sometimes that there are people who don’t (won’t?) see them that way. I hope Koreans read it and it makes them think.

    I don’t really like the condescending “[women] don’t really understand the feelings of men” part, though. Has the term “chocolate abs” not taught this guy that women also lust after pop idols?

    • Yeah, with the slight quibble that it’s actually “[women] don’t really understand the physical feelings of men,” I found that that line a little strange and condescending too. For all the credit due the author for acknowledging that Girls’ Generation and are sex objects to be consumed rather than simply pretty little sisters, the whole column still reeks of paternalism. And by seemingly excluding women “that don’t really understand” too, it’s positively Victorian!

      • I agree with both of you on this, it is condescending and unnecessarily paternalistic, but then again do all of the women who consume Girls’ Generation understand? Do the teenage girls who buy into everything Girls’ Generation realise that men just want to have sex with them? Undoubtedly some must do, but then why is there not a big populist undong against it? The fact that there’s not would seem to indicate that either many of GG’s huge female fanbase don’t realise that much older men use them as fantasy sex objects, or that they know this but don’t understand the implications (that if men feel like that about GG then they can about other girls as well), or they understand all of this but do nothing to combat it.

        Is the author really so wrong, then, when he says that women don’t understand. I wouldn’t say they don’t understand because they’re women, but that simply far too many people in Korean society don’t understand it sufficiently. As this author usefully points out, the very men we’re discussing deny that it’s even possible to think of GG in that way. So how are these young girls to understand that they actually do? Yes, they have their own sexual desires, but as you’ve written about before, they’re often socially discouraged from admitting to them, which hinders the application of that line of thinking in this situation as well.

        It’s a complicated issue, and I’ve done it no justice. I do worry that whether or not young female fans of GG are aware of the way men think of GG, one of the following must be true:

        1. They fail to apply that logic to society in general, which would lead them to realise that men can/do view other young girls in the same way, and this means them. Or,

        2. They do understand that men must/might also view them in the same way as they carnally view GG, but they choose or unable to act upon this.

        My reasoning is that, as I said, there is no popular movement or action against this state of affairs, either from the female fans or people of a feminist inclination in general. The author of this post is clearly in a minority in Korea in that he acknowledges GG as sex objects, that this is how he sees them, and that it’s wrong that they’re marketed in this way. Surely that sort of view should be the majority? It’s not, and that’s troubling, because it clearly seems so obvious to so many readers of this blog at least.

        • All agreed in turn, with two small caveats (but which I doubt you’ll disagree with!):

          - First, I think the points you make about teenage girls are all valid, but considering that just before he mentioned that women “wouldn’t understand these physical feelings of men” he also said that [young] students wouldn’t, then I think it’s pretty clear that he really did mean women and not teenage girls. And if so, then he does himself a disservice, because like I said it makes the article positively Victorian in that it implies that discussions on such indelicate matters as sexuality are best left to men.

          Many female commenters in particular have criticized that line on other blogs where this translation has been picked up, like Seoubeats and Omona They Didn’t!, and I think quite rightly.

          - Second, do Girls’ Generation have a lot of teenage girl fans? I’m not saying that they don’t, but it would be interesting to see a break down of fan club members and so on to find out. Anybody have any ideas on how to go about finding out?

    • Women don’t understand the physical feelings of men? That was my reaction to James’ expression that “Instead, while I can’t imagine having any kind of sexual or romantic relationship with them in reality, I do want to bang all of them every time I see them on stage…and so do those ajosshis.”

      ALL of them? Really? In spite or perhaps because of plastic surgery. some of the girls are not attractive to my heterosexual American female eyes. Moreover, virtually every image posted here is the product of extensive photo editing. If those legs got stretched out any more, the girls would look like they were made of Silly Putty. It’s been said that women are more sexually selective than men, and that seems to be the case. The mating choices of Tiger Woods and Ashley Cole bear truth to the evolutionary notion that some men will fling their sperm into any open vessel.

      • Well, not all of them no, and I’m sure I’d be even more selective if I saw any in real life too (indeed, that sort of happened recently). But then I just made that statement for the sake of demonstrating the stark contrast to what I’m prepared to say about them and what most ajosshis are, and I didn’t intend for it to be taken so literally sorry.

  6. Also, “asking this does not mean I am not a pervert” should actually be “asking this does not mean I am a pervert.” Thanks for the translation, James, I’m really glad you posted it, it’s an excellent read and a breath of fresh air. This guy should start a 반소녀시대성적판매국민운동 – which is probably not the most accurate term, but you get the idea :-) I love these Communistic Korean terms, they make me smile.

  7. Thanks so much for translating the article! It was a good read.

    I’m about to head to bed but I thought I would just raise some points/questions. I’m apologizing beforehand for the random nature of these thoughts.

    I wonder about this notion that men are not concerned about “gender-issues”. I think it is true, that to find a man who talks about female-gender issues it is quite difficult. However, all these other examples – Military (I haven’t finished it but I’ve really been enjoying the article about the Korean military), Patriarchal Society, etc. all essentially equate to gender-issues, just male gender issues.

    I found this article interesting because it brings into question these notions of masculinity and manhood (in the sense of what makes a proper/accepted man) in the context of sexual desire. It is a generalization but for most men sexual desire is a center piece for manhood. The overall question I read in this piece was is it okay/proper for a man to desire these consumable and constructed young innocent women? His self-described confession grapples and arguably allows for men to say yes…these feelings are okay, and these feelings do not contradict his manhood. For there seems to be a point where men become perverts, a categorization different from being a man, and he is debating where that line is drawn.

    Lastly, I find the overall age of Korean pop groups to be staggering. Even male member groups are reaching into the early teens to find the newest and most beautiful Korean stars. I’m blanking on the group name. While I’m not sure the ajuma is running around being a huge fan the boy band groups are marketed in similar hot/sexy manners. Do women thus have similar confessionals about liking young boys (YAIO style)??

    • @Sung123
      “Lastly, I find the overall age of Korean pop groups to be staggering. Even male member groups are reaching into the early teens to find the newest and most beautiful Korean stars. I’m blanking on the group name. While I’m not sure the ajuma is running around being a huge fan the boy band groups are marketed in similar hot/sexy manners. Do women thus have similar confessionals about liking young boys (YAIO style)??”

      In a way, yes, and I find this very interesting. In Korea, it seems perfectly acceptable for older women to be sexually attracted to younger men. Many male celebs in their late teens to early 20s are known as noona/ajumma killers, and the marketing surrounding them openly targets older women — e.g., the other day I saw a Valentine’s Day ad where a popular heartthrob speaks to an off-screen girlfriend whom he calls “noona.” There are also many TV dramas and movies depicting older woman-younger man relationships, and they are usually shown as true and pure relationships, unlike the sex-starved-cougar-paying-for-a-boy-toy image that predominates the American media, which I find mindbogglingly sexist. This particular aspect of Korean pop culture is refreshingly feminist, whether or not intentionally so.

      (James: Comment moved closer to Sung123′s to make it easier to find!^^)

      • Rina, you might also be interested in this post of mine on how demographic change is changing the composition of fan clubs – middle-aged women are coming to dominate male idols’ fan clubs here – and I written a lot about the older woman-younger man relationships in Korean television and movies, nearly choosing to write my MA thesis on it. Scroll up to the “My Constantly Evolving Thesis Topic” title in bold on the right to find many links, but probably this and then this are the best for how that whole trend started.

        Sung123, no need to ever apologize for sleepy, random thoughts(!). But while I’d agree that those things you mentioned are gender issues that Korean men might be more likely to be interested in though (I think “male gender issues” and “female gender issues” is a bit of a false dichotomy), I don’t think that they really are. Not that that’s unique to Korea of course – in most universities around the world, gender studies courses (if they exist at all) evolved out of women’s studies ones for instance- but I do think that the taken-for-granted superior position of men here would make them less inclined to think deeply about it (but not impossible of course!). On top of that, recall that the Korean education system very much discourages critical thinking too! :(

        Must end this comment prematurely as I have to go and play with my kids while my wife makes phone calls sorry, but before I do I wanted to say that I also found it interesting how there seems to be a definite line between considered being a man and being a pervert or pedophile here, especially strange considering how Korea has largely escaped the mania about that in Western countries (although on balance I still think it needs it!).

        • Thanks for the links, James.

          As for finding male feminists in Korea, one method is to keep an eye out for men who dote on their daughters and granddaughters. Nothing brings the feminist out of a man like having an only child who is female (which I believe is starting to affect Chinese views of gender as well as a byproduct of the one child policy). Conversely, women with sons (a.k.a. mothers-in-law) have been complicit in upholding the paternalistic structure for centuries.

          • Ooops: lot’s of sloppy writing in that comment of mine sorry, and I’ve just realized that I actually forgot to add the link to the post about middle-aged women and fan clubs, in the first line. Must have read rather strangely without it!

            Good point about the daughter-doting Korean men: I read the same about British and American fathers back in May in Jezebel too, but had never considered what impact the one-child policy in China would have had on that there.

            • Things in China are equally, or maybe even more, mind-boggling:
              On the one hand, the one-child policy has had the effect of getting parent’s wishes for the educational achievement of their son or daughter to be more similar.
              For parents with higher socio-economic status, it has gone to the point of making them want their daughter to form some male characteristics, such as career ambition and strength of character.

              At the same time – and that these are seen as male characteristics already points to that – there continues to be a very strong concern for getting men to be male enough (which includes their having a natural, physiological interest in sex), and women to become truly feminine: charming, courteous, highly concerned about other’s feeling and their impression on others, beautiful and cute.
              Most importantly, perhaps: to study hard and not take any interest in boys during school (and preferably university, or so the parents would like to have it); not even to know about sex, let alone develop sexual desire.

              What they are constantly told, and especially by doting parents, is that their only real chance at having a good life is by finding a good husband.
              And for that, they need to get a university education, to enhance their quality (inner beauty, some would say), but they also need to preserve their purity, i.e. virginity, because only that makes for a good woman who has a chance of getting a good husband.

              So, the one-child policy does have effects, but not towards a change in gender roles.

              Where things get interesting about that is in the young women’s view: they do see that it’s easier to get a job through good looks than a good education (except maybe if at the “right” university), they know that marriage is probably going to be the end of their career – but they also know that men are nearly given the right (remember the part about physiological needs…?) to have sexual relations outside of their marriage (whereas they would be social death for the woman – and so is divorce), and are thus very concerned about finding a good man – and making money themselves; they know that, and I quote, “a good job is still easier to find than a good man,” and they see that, more likely than not, both husband and wife will have to work to make a decent living…

              On a different note, I can imagine that the women do not quite recognize the sexualization taking place. Or rather, they do, but do not see it as such, as something problematic. Many of the clothes and ways of dressing are “cute & sexy,” but simply not seen as an expression of sexiness – since no good woman would ever do that.
              I’m not sure if that’s not been changing, but the point where this becomes visual is that only advertisements with Western models show truly sexual poses, even – shocker! – kissing, ads with Chinese models will show sexy poses, but what you are supposed to see in them is just being feminine/cute/sexy, definitely not an expression of female sexuality.

              • From what I’ve observed, I definitely agree with you on a lot of points.

                a good job is still easier to find than a good man

                When I talked to people in China that I want to live in Taiwan or Korea for some time, 99 % responded that men there don’t treat women well, with having a ‘second wive’ being a standard. Funny enough, 99 % of those who said that have never set a foot in these countries before. Also, I have heard from friends and acquaintances who live in China that it is very common for Chinese business men to cheat on their wives. Actually I’ve heard the same about Western countries, and it wasn’t just business men cheating on their wives either but also vice versa. So cheating apparently excludes nationality or gender but denial seems to apply to Asian countries more?

                I’d still say that most women in China these days set their priority to find a good rich man because a good job is still harder to find for the average Chinese.

    • Ogling teen and young adult male entertainers seems to be a Korean and Japanese ajumma thing. North American women, at least ones in my social set, don’t do this.

      A disturbing trend in Western countries, notably the US, Canada, and Britain, is the increase in publicized female teacher-male student relationships. Women convicted of sex with minors tend to get much ligher sentences probably because the males aren’t seen as real victims. In one famous case, the teacher bore a child by the student, who was in middle school when the relationship began, and they married after she got out of prison.

  8. I wanted to add something but I feel everything has already been said… It’s a very interesting read and actually what I’m wondering is the same thing as YB, regarding the parent issue… I’m also a woman and a daughter and I remember my father asking me where I would be going wearing this mini skirt. I bet they also know how they’re being marketed but actually what can they say about it? Sometimes I wonder how Korea manage with that amount of girl/boy bands, especially that they are also others band (hip-hop/dance/rock etc…). They release almost every two months, with a new look, a new choreography etc… You have to recognize that the market is pretty tough… I think the girls would want to only rely on their talent but what sells the most? Sex of course… Even if you don’t want to, it’s so much easier to go this way

  9. I wonder if it’s Confucianism that burdened Koreans or Asians in general to always think in black and white? When I have more time, I’ll go through your linked articles in search for more answers ツ

    Concerning the guilt-ridden post of this Korean Ajusshi, as an Asian female in her 20s, I don’t have any problem to admit that e.g. the Korean actor Daniel Oh is hot (not sure if he’s a good actor as well, since I’ve never seen anything he was in). Why should I? Isn’t this exactly what their company went for? The same goes for SNSD. Those aren’t random 9 girls but carefully selected ones, with lots of skills (singing, dancing, acting, languages, piano etc.) whilst looking pretty/hot/cute to get publicity and sell some ramen noodles, new phones or even some CDs (coz that’s a tough job these days). The only thing that I find creepy is that business men in their 50s scouted these girls when they were 12 or even younger to raise them as what they are now. Apart from that, it all boils down to nailing their consumers’ desires.

    I guess it’s due to cultural conditioning why I can’t relate to his ‘Crime-and-Punishment’-esque self-condemnation of such seemingly small matter. At the same time the majority of Asians don’t second-guess topics like having to marry at a certain age – it doesn’t matter if love or even someone slightly compatible for the future involved.

    This was particularly interesting:

    people are nearly incapable of interacting with one another when they cannot guess the other’s sex [...] the indentification of someone as male or female facilitates social interaction (and) power in social life

    It makes a lot of sense in general but things seem to have changed a bit. If you think about Amber from f(x) who is very popular because of her boyish looks or Jo Kwon of 2 am who denies being gay although his rise to recent popularity was surely aided by his ‘ssanti’ (lewd feminine moves) behavior.

    I think everyone’s better off from not just seeing black or white. If you like it and you’re not causing anyone harm, then by all means go for it! For the Ajusshi this particular Oscar Wilde quote comes to my mind: It is the confession and not the priest that gives us absolution.

    • …I can’t relate to his “Crime-and-Punishment”-esque self-condemnation of such a seemingly small matter….

      Good way to put it, because it was indeed a bit melodramatic, and over such a small matter really. Seriously, what would happen if some middle-aged guy admitted that he felt sexually attracted to SNSD members? The sky would fall in or something?

      The more I think about it, this collective silence about something so trivial is just downright bizarre really.

      Glad you liked the quote, but I’m not really sure how it relates to Amber or Jo Kwon sorry, because we’re not interacting with them per se (here’s someone else who’s also interested in that aspect of Amber though, and this is something interesting to bear in mind with for Jo Kwon too). Although I admit it was a bit unnecessary because I was preaching to the converted really, I just put it up there first to hint towards the fact that gender is more important than it may at first seem (almost as much as postmodernists, gender studies…er…people constantly have to justify the discipline itself), and then to show how despite that it operates in ways that you wouldn’t expect in Korea. To be frank though, I’m surprised that the whole dynamics of Westerners’ friendships with Koreans of both sexes that I discussed in the text didn’t really get picked up on here, as I thought that would have a universal appeal. True, it is just a side issue really, and I took a bit too long in the post to get to the real issue which was the column.

      Ahem. Sorry for rambling a bit: waiting for my dinner to cook in the oven, and a bit low in blood-sugar until then!^^

      • Ahhh the anticipation of a hot meal! It’s fully understood and shall always take first place ;)

        About Amber/Jo Kwon, imo they stand out, and not because they are ugly but because they are different (from their environment) thus I believe it is more likely that people would strike up a conversation with them to get to know them more as opposed to the other band members that don’t stand out. Just my 2 cents.

        What’s puzzling to me is that Aigoo thingy (old) guys go nuts about. I mean, women acting like little girls and that is what apparently captures those Ajusshis’ hearts? *cough* Pedo-Alert?! *cough*
        I remember the semester I spent in Taiwan where one of my roommates was a Taiwanese who always did the Aigoo thing. When Western friends came over to my room and she suddenly started talking in her pseudo-cute voice it would freak every one out hahaha a room full of 20-somethings and suddenly one girls speaks like a doll! Everybody went like wth?!?! lol good times!

        Oh! (pun intended) on the relationships thing, seems to me like you’ve been in Korea too long. Things that started as fascinating is now merely annoying. I feel that sort for every place after about 1 year. ツ

        • Well, at first I thought it was just a cultural thing – a preference for cuteness over sexiness – but by now I think it’s a full on sexual fetish. It sort of bothers me that 20 something year old women are expected to act like 10year olds to be perceived as “cute.” Because the “cuteness” employed in Korean media or Korean women isn’t a natural cuteness. It’s very different from the way say, Taylor Swift, is cute. It’s a totally contrived cuteness when a woman starts acting like a child. But hey, it’ll probably be another 10 years until another ajossi has the guts to admit its a sexual fetish.

  10. I’m sorry James, but it was a really difficult article to read. I just simply could not make it past the first picture. I mean, it was just…(drool)…

    I’ll reiterate the already established sentiment that this was an interesting read. I would also like to say that I am establishing a Perverts Anonymous group, and all males who desire to do the horizontal nasty with Girls’ Generation can join.

    One thing that I did think was kind of odd was that the author’s nephew had difficulty admitting the physical attractiveness of GG. I would think that the closer or younger one’s age is to the members of GG, the less “shame” there would be in admitting GG’s sexiness. When my friends and I were in middle school, we had no problem admitting that Britney Spears, at the time a nascent singer, was “hot” to girls and our (worried) parents. I’m four years older than the youngest girl, and I would not be ashamed to admit my attraction to GG since I feel our ages are relatively close. But would that be wrong to so readily admit that despite my relatively similar age? Am I in fact much too old?

    • He actually says he didn’t ask the nephew, he just wanted to, but he thought he would give the same answer, and if he didn’t it would be a lie. I think the main thing, though, is that GG aren’t marketed as “sexy,” or sex objects, and neither do they openly act/appear in a way which is blatantly moulding their own image into that of sex objects. This is what the author was getting at, it’s disguised. It can easily be contrasted with Lee Hyori, Brown Eyed Girls or Britney Spears for that reason. Their cute faces, emphasis of them being young and playful in a girlish, but not womanly way, causes some Korean men to deny that they’re sexy, and that they lust after them. They feel uncomfortably about saying that about girls who are apparently portrayed as “little sisters,” so the sexuality of it all gets ignored and denied.

  11. Thank you so much!! I’ve been pointing this out to basically everyone I met (I’m Korean and I’m currently living in Korea) and everywhere I asked, I got the same answers:

    Girls: Yeah, but they’re so pretty!! *shriek*
    or
    Yeah, I know -_- it’s disgusting

    Guys: *turns away and looks troubled*

  12. This was a wonderful post, reading the music columnist’s succinct, thought out points about a group like Girls’ Generation was refreshing to see and gives hopes that there is at least a self-awareness of the “idol” image within the culture. Thanks for posting this!

  13. I’ve been a regular reader for about 2 years now, props to you James, you should be teaching this stuff at a University by now .

    This post, more than any other block of information about Korea, truly highlights the sheer insanity of this culture. Insanity in that it is completely unhealthy psychologically from any sort of western standpoint.

    I particularly like:

    “We all know that as long as it doesn’t cause harm to others, honesty is a virtue. And surely it is worse to so insidiously arouse men than to feel aroused.”

    Wow! Denying both basic ideas of morality and human/mammalian nature!

    • Word.
      Confucianism is really psychologically unhealthy. I mean wouldn’t you be confused and frustrated if you thought A, but since it’s not socially accepted for you to admit you feel A, althought everyone knows it, so you really have to pretend like that’s not the case and instead say, B. It’s very hard to tell what someone really means or what you mean.

  14. Thank you for an interesting post! I’ve been wondering for a while about how sexual appeal in advertising and music videos is so easily disavowed when it comes to young women in Korea. Recently I was particularly puzzled about WonderGirls’ ad for BBQ chicken where they fight over a very phallic-looking chicken drumstick and the commentary goes on about “gold size” of the chicken, which they cannot resist, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OivCdu0BT3g
    To me the ad seemed rather obscene, but all my Korean acquaintances recognized only the comical part of the ad.
    Ajossi’s confession sheds some light how this mass denial can operate…. Again, thanks for the translation!

  15. Humans have an excellent capacity to ignore things which are inconvenient, and this is just another example of this. Some places are also better at doing this than others…

    Good luck in finding ‘feminist’ (or at least less chauvinistic and more open minded) men over there.

  16. http://news.sbs.co.kr/section_news/news_read.jsp?news_id=N1000703109

    I found the Korean news coverage above quite interesting, culture-wise. Perhaps the French would see something akin to their own distinct ye-ye tradition?


    We don’t have a Gainsbourg here…yet. Jun Boram from TIARA has a famous singer father who was an idol himself in the 70s, but by all accounts he acts like a typical Korean father. (Sort of grudgingly supportive.)


    How do you anglophones feel about this one? Moi, I love the lyrics. ;-)

  17. >feminist Korean men

    http://djuna.cine21.com/bbs/zboard.php?id=main

    A Koeran SF writer-cum-film critic 듀나’s official board, in Korean. Perhaps you know about it already?

    There you will find male & female feminists of various denominations. There are inevitable academic types, but some are definitely home-grown. Mostly leftist and pro-gay, but they do all kinds of fan-talk about SNSD, Yu-na, Obama, 2MB, etc. I mostly go there for good SNSD pictures. Come to think of it, that’s how I got here. Ha.

  18. Another great article and one that was NSFW. ㅋㅋㅋㅋ

    As a Korean American who personally claims there is no one as caught right dab in-between the two cultures, I struggle with the very things you talked about.

    I’m glad it bothers you as much as it does me. When I’m out with caucasian friends and/or church people the issue does come up and how it’s actually quite sad. Then when I’m out with Korean co-workers or family, they often can’t stop drooling. Shoot, I do both. Thankfully I’m much less engulfed in the sexual aspects of k-pop culture than many Korean males, but then again how can you not like SNSD or the Wondergirls?

    • I concur with the aforementioned. Who doesn’t like pretty, talented girls dancing and singing ? Korea probably has 50 girl groups touring at any one time. Some better than others. My niece from Taiwan posted f(x) Hot Summer on my F/B wall a few years back and I was hooked. I don’t recall any sexual fantasies at the time. I was taken with the choreography, the colorful outfits, the catchy tune and, of course, the lovely Choi Sulli……..

      • I am a western male, early 40′s. I love SNSD (Girl’s Generation), think they are beautiful and, yes, so very cute. But I would not really say that it is lust that fascinates me with them. It is a different emotion. It is more like a true “crush” as we would call it in the US. When you have a crush, sexual lust is not really the dominant emotion. Trust me there are plenty of 20-something American actresses or singers who I am attracted to in a sexual way, and yes I do think that Tiffany and Taeyeon are about as sexy as it gets, but there are other emotions at play. Perhaps this is why the so called “uncle fans” are protesting against the pervert label. To put it bluntly, I am no prude and have searched for my share of porn, but I would never “fap” to a SNSD video. I do have their photos on my computer desktop as wallpaper though, and I enjoy a different sort of endocrine rush from those. Is it so bad to have a silly fantasy crush, really what is the harm? It would be delightful just to chat with one of them.

        And anyway, even if it is all about sex, these girls aren’t THAT young. Most of the girls in Playboy, etc are the same age and who buys those magazines? Middle aged men. This is a story as old as mankind. Get over it.

  19. Pingback: Is it a Sin to Like Girls’ Generation Because They’re Sexy? « Latilati's Weblog

  20. I don’t think that our family is a rare exeption in Korea. But I can count almoust four couples (Korean/Korean) where the men support their wives, the women who are the bread winners and playing the major role in the family. One couple in their 60s now. One couple early 50s. Two in their 30s. I am excluding us cause we lived the longest time in Germany.

    • Not sure I see the relevance to this post sorry Jens-Olaf (did you mean to post it elsewhere?), and I’m a bit confused by it as “supporting their wives” means that they are the breadwinners in English (do you mean supporting them as in staying at home and helping to raise the family?). But regardless, good to hear from you after so long, and when are we all going to come and see you in Gimhae again?^^

      • James, maybe I’ve got confused. Somewhere you were asking for the male Korean feminist. Now I can’t find the post again.
        But really, all korean women I mentioned are the bread winners. Just in case you need some data for further research.
        Yes, see you in Gimhae. Btw, I am the bread winner now (for how long?) after 16 years. ^^

  21. I have to say that this is not just a Korean issue. I lived in Taiwan for a few years and they have pop artists that have a very similar sort of appeal. There was one program in particular that I remember, called 我愛黑澀會 (a complex pun) that features a dozen or so teenage girls dressed in short skirts and doing playing silly games. A lot of the programs in Taiwan feature similarly young or young-looking girls playing games that had a tinge of sexuality, like you were saying about these Korean girls.

    I think part of it is that the girls involved are somewhat more naive than we are used to from looking around at American teens, like France Gall was above in the French video that someone put up a link to. A lot of the young people that I dealt with tended to be unaware of possible sexual connotations implicit in their outfits and behavior. They don’t have their defenses up like Americans do, because they aren’t subjected to the same pressures that American teens are put under.

    I sometimes used to say that in Taiwan, that they didn’t make a distinction between sexy and cute the way Americans do. Taiwanese girls would see sexy as being attractive because of the way that it got them attention. They wouldn’t be thinking about what the men would want to do to them–they wouldn’t be thinking that far ahead.

  22. I am making a massive, sweeping generalisation here – based on limited knowledge to boot – but I’d say that in much of Asia the same “cute but not sexy” theme is prevalent in the entertainment industry and society at large. Possibly imported somewhat from Japan, the first, most successful (even admired, though possibly not acknowledged) advanced country, and also as a result of the conservative culture, which many countries share broadly, especially when it come to women. This probably also has some influence as to why the women/girls have little concept of what their outfits and behaviour really conveys to men. Or perhaps they subconsciously know but don’t want to acknowledge it – that would make them ‘loose women’?

    The massive hypocritical and double standard laden attitudes to women (not to mention nonsensical) when there is a so called “scandal” in various Asian countries is also similar. The “sex video” scandals and such (or even when there isn’t even a video – or even any sex!), talk about a storm in a teacup. The public seems shocked, shocked I tell you, that famous women have sex! Imagine that, next we’ll be hearing that they eat and fart too! In fact, the public are so shocked and outraged at this clearly deviant and unnatural behaviour that they can’t see/read/hear/talk enough about said behaviour. Err, makes sense to someone I guess.

    At least the public in ‘Western’ countries is generally aware that celebrities are human(!) and do things we do too – but they just find other completely useless things to pore over, so I wonder if that is actually any better.

    • I really do agree. I think somewhere confucianism starts distorting not only what you admit in public, but your own perception as well. Confucian culture dictates women aren’t supposed to have premarital sex you don’t talk about sex in public. And then because of the repression since you’re not supposed to talk about sex, or aknowledge that you think about sex, your head gets dazed and you start thinking OMG, that celebrity has sex?

  23. http://article.joins.com/article/article.asp?total_id=3188146 (in Korean only)

    This is a link to an interesting newspaper interview with Girls’ Generation themselves conducted by Park Kyung-chul (a famous essayist and a surgeon) two years ago.

    Ironically subtitled: THEY ALWAYS ASK IF WE REHEARSED OUR ANSWERS. WHY CAN’T YOU BELIEVE OUR WORDS?, Park deliberately asks “difficult” questions and gets guarded and somewhat obtuse/hostile answers in return. Park is an ajusshi but definitely not a fan of entertainment industry, and there was also a chaperon/manager present. Here’s a translated excerpt.

    ——

    QUESTION: Let me ask you some questions that might be uncomfortable. Do you think the word ‘Girls’ Generation’ is really innocent as it sounds? Don’t you think there’s a disguised sexy code [sic] behind the mask of innocence?

    ANSWER: Anyhow we are not the ones who created that code. We know there are people who see it that way. It hurts to read ogling comments about us on the internet sometimes. But presenting the innocent girls’ image as it is—that is what has made us [successful.] We’ve shown you an image of girls who are growing up, and we will continue to do so in the future. Of course when we get older, it will be different. But that time hasn’t come yet. If they choose to see us like that, that is not really our problem. Why do you/they want to do it anyway? We are still kids. Don’t you think the real problem lies not in the way we show ourselves as we are, but in the fact that you/they compulsively see what us kids don’t actually possess?

    (And here Park thinks to himself:)
    But the girls’ rather uniform make-up style, obvious traces (to my trained surgeon’s eyes, that is) of cosmetic surgeries, their miniskirts, and the way they sit and dress—-all this “processed” feel leads me to think of the unknowingly worn facade of ‘ladies,’ not ‘girls.’

    ——

    Whew. Talking about double entendres. Frankly, the girls react like hard-bitten soldiers who live in barracks. (Like most teenage idol groups, they’ve actually lived together in a dorm-apartment for many years.) Park even likens them to slippery politicians. So I guess you can throw away the notion of naivete, at least in GG’s case. I’d say they are fully aware, perhaps more so than the others, of the contexts surrounding them. Not sure about the interviewer though. The guy’s kind of ambivalent, though not as unreflective as the music columnist.

    >Imagine that, next we’ll be hearing that they eat and fart too!

    You are not too far off the mark, but probably not in the way you mean. LoL

    • Sorry for taking so long to reply, and I did glance at them when I first found the image of Sulli that I used actually, but in hindsight perhaps didn’t give them as much attention as I should. Thanks for pointing that out to me then, and I’ve added a note to the text.

  24. I am American and it seems to me when Britney Spears became famous during her first album there was much the same problem of men admitting the desire for her because of her age (she even debuted with a school girl’s outfit like the Wonder Girls in “Tell Me”). I remember when I was in middle school talking to my uncle and he said that her image as the virgin-whore was what sold her to everyone, especially men his age (I was a precocious youngster who had many adult conversations…) but it was never hard for younger men (her age at the time) to admit she was “hot”. However, I find that even korean men who are of the same age group of these young women profess that they like them “because their cute,” an answer I cannot stand because one look at these music videos and you know it’s not true (or at least it’s not the only answer). I never understood why they could never admit their sexual interest, but this post has made me see some possibilities. As well, if you need a Korean man who is a feminist, or at least believes in equal rights (as I believe “feminist” can have a bad ring to it sometimes), by all means, contact me…I like to believe my boyfriend is one. And finally, I loved the quote from the other blogger about everyone thinking Americans are the sexually deviant country and what not: I, nor any of my American friends, have ever had any one night stands etc., but most Korean girls I know have and do and because they act cute and innocent everyone thinks (or allows themselves to think) that they are truly so while because my American friends and I talk more freely about sex, or things to do with sex, we are seen as (probably) generally easy(ier) to “score” with by the surrounding Korean males. Sometimes I feel like everyone in Korean wants to be fooled…

    • Thanks for your comment, and although I can’t really add much to what you say about Western men’s reactions to Britney Spears and so on sorry (I never really asked those sorts of questions before I came to Korea!), I can point you in the direction of someone who has at least, and whom in my opinion has written one of the best comparative analyses of the issue of teenage sexuality in popular culture. I should note that the posts of mine he refers to are nearly 2 years old though, and now my opinions are (I hope) much better informed and much more nuanced than they were then, but indeed in large part because of posts like his, and I’m sure you’ll love it.

      Thanks for telling me about your boyfriend: please tell him to comment on the blog sometime, it would be interesting to hear from more Korean men. And are you in Busan by any chance?^^

    • Confucianism really is about fooling and being fooled. “I’m an Ajossi who likes SNSD but since everyone will think I’m a perv for saying that I’m sexually attracted to them, although it’s natural, I’ll admit that I only like them because they’re cute, like a sister.” And then you start thinking that you should actually think that you only like them because they’re cute, and then before you know it, if a fellow ajossi had the audacity to talk about how sexy SNSD is, you’ll probably be accusing him of perversion, because if you don’t not only are you going against social norms, you are also admitting that you are a pervert(in the perception of people, not that an ajossi actually is a perv for thinking SNSD is sexually attractive) too, and you also have to worry that your fellow ajossi friend will think you’re a perv. Welcome to the world of confucianism and delusion =]

  25. I know this is an old blog post, but I’ll comment here anyway.

    I find it interesting that no one here so far has mentioned on whether this is healthy for girls who consume this type of music. It’s no secret that here in America, girls have unhealthy image issues. I find it hard to deny, even without empirical evidence, that this doesn’t exist in Korea.

    Is there a girl in Korea, who after having dinner with her family, excuses herself to the bathroom and sticks her fist down her throat, because she doesn’t want to be fat, and wants to look like Jessica from SNSD or Sulli from f(x)? If there’s at least one, I wonder if the existence of this type of group is beneficial to a society at all.

    • Please always feel free to comment on an old post Alex: at the very least, I will notice it, and so too will any other readers who have subscribed to that post (usually those who have commented on it already).

      Having said that, I’m not really sure what sort of response you expected sorry. As you’re probably aware, I’ve already written a great deal about the negative body images groups like SNSD promote in Korea, and so couldn’t agree with you more about that sort of thing. But are they “beneficial to a society”? Well, it’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges, but yes, I’d have to say they were…even if I wasn’t a heterosexual male, I think I’d take it for granted that Korea would surely be a far duller place without girl groups.

  26. Well, here’s another super-late comment!

    My husband and I are Americans (California, born and raised) who have recently immersed ourselves in whatever Korean culture we can access through the internet. We went to college in a town where Koreans were the ethnic majority, but this was years ago, and now we know none in person.

    What’s interesting is the reaction to SNSD we’re seeing among the friends with whom we share their music videos. Their innocent image – whether it’s a facade or not – really seems to bring out the protective nature of otherwise very sexually liberated males. One example would be a friend of ours who is just about the same age as the average SNSD member and is known for “having a ‘thing’ for Asian girls.” He’s also much closer in experience to the stereotypical American man than any of our other friends. However…

    If we put on an SNSD music video, he’ll drop what he’s doing and watch, engrossed, for the entirety of the presentation. And if someone tries to make a less-than-honorable comment, he will shush them, saying, “You know I’m all for Asians and boobs and the combination of the two, but you will not talk about these girls that way. They are too cute!”

    Most of our other friends his age feel the same! I was very surprised. They’re usually a lot more willing to objectify women – especially Asian women, unfortunately!

    Now, these are our secular friends. In Christian circles, it’s a different story. SNSD seems to make our evangelical Christian friends uncomfortable – much like the ajosshi you mentioned. What an interesting article. Thank you for the translation!

    I personally found myself identifying with a lot of what he had to say, especially concern for the girls and any possible naivete on their part. [I wonder how his worldview/upbringing/belief system affected the thought-pattern that went into writing his confession.]

    It seems to me he’s going through what a lot of college-age Christian men go through when they leave the shelter of their conservative community and set about their own process of self-actualization in a culture overwhelmingly saturated with sexualized media. Many of them must wrestle alone with issues their parents were naive enough to ignore in the hopes that they wouldn’t have to be dealt with at all. The healthiest course of action for them is to learn to discern between *arousal* versus *appreciation*.

    And although I’m all for equality of the sexes, I took no issue with his statement regarding what women can and cannot understand. If there’s anything I’ve learned through years of marriage and friendship with men of all ages, it’s that women perhaps may understand *that* men have these “physical feelings,” but they can never understand *what* it’s truly like to have them! (In the same way, men can sympathize with women, but never truly empathize when it comes to certain gender-specific issues.)

    Goodness, I’ve written quite a lot, and here all I really wanted was to thank you profusely for all the helpful blog posts (I’ve read about five now); and to provide a little insight from the perspective of a Westerner surrounded by more Westerners, left and right!

    • Thanks very much for your interesting comment (and compliments), and I just wish I could think of something to add to return the favor. But I can at least think of a couple of questions though: why do you think your friend feels that way about SNSD, and does he feel the same way about other girl groups that age, Korean or otherwise? If he does indeed just feel that way about SNSD though, then I can sort of appreciate it in hindsight, as they looked reaaaally young just a few years ago when they first debuted, so their cuteness and/or the paternal feelings they can arouse in men (or women) are by no means complete fabrications designed to hide their sexual attraction to them. Having said that, of course they were still given a very very sexual image from Day 1 too, as discussed in the post.

  27. Indeed – they do come across as a lot younger than groups their age here in the USA seem to do.

    Perhaps that has something to do with it. This friend definitely seems to have partitioned off into a special place in his mind SNSD in particular, as he is known for embracing the idea of arousal in response to women regardless of age, race or profession.

    (The first time I visited his home, he had nude photos of a reality tv star on the big-screen tv in the living room, where his mother sat working on her laptop. Another visitor asked how his [Asisan] girlfriend felt about these images, and he waved his hand and grinned, saying, “She knows how much I like ****.” [I typed out the word he said, but erased it because it makes me uncomfortable, lol! Female breasts, basically.])

    Now that I look back, all the guys I know who have no problem seeing SNSD as nothing more than “cute” are in a committed relationship of some kind. I don’t know if that’s circumstantial, but it’s only fair to mention it. =o]

    As for the compliments, you’re entirely welcome to them! My husband and I feel we may find ourselves living in South Korea in the next few years and are extremely grateful for the insight gleaned from your posts!

  28. LOL OMOMOMOO Poor ajussis! But we pedonoonas have the same problem…My thoughts about Dongho from Ukiss just are *not* pure…If it makes you feel any better the guys are just as bad as the girls.

    Probably like a thousand times worse.

    I’m not the fan of any girl groups…but the “boy” groups–luckily the ones I like are mostly legal–do all this aegyo. I would DIE for my hubby to do aegyo like that LOL. Soo cute, right. Like little babies. BUT what’s worse is in between all the really overpowering adorableness, they give the hottest fan service and dance in … sexy ways…singing provocative songs you name it. It’s pretty sick, but there’s something for us girls, too. Sigh.

    The guys do a lot of teasing to fans, too. Like showing body parts in a teasing way, doing fake-homo fan service. I love it! It is pretty sick, but I guess SM entertainment has effed us ALL up.

    • I know what you mean! I’m glad that I’m younger than all the idols I practically drool over, but I can’t help but feel bad for the noona fans. They’re debuting fifteen year old boys who do aegyo and then proceed to just turn around and do a body wave while licking their lips. These boys are thrusting their hips (Though I am in NO way complaining) and singing about girls before they’re even old enough to drive.
      I don’t understand the constant need to debut kids who aren’t able to cross the street by themselves.
      Stop promoting jail bait eastern asia!

  29. I read the ahjushi’s “confession” and think while I read the part where he worries about the girls, whether they know about this and is this what they wanted to be when they started out. 1st, I think we must realize that men isn’t the only sexual being. women has desires as well, though maybe not as strong as men does. from a girl perspective, I think women does not want to be a sexual object BUT as a women myself, I must state the fact that some women find it flattering when men see them as sexy. as we don’t know what Girls’ Generation think about this, let’s just assume that they are just normal, typical, early 20s girls like the rest, so some of them maybe are flattered by it. although they are not the best singers, dancers, or entertainers in the world, they are talented in their respective areas. I also think as flattered as they are, they still won’t like to be seen as sexual objects only. despite that, I think it is a pity that music has to be sold through sexual packaging. of course good looks don’t hurt, but as a girl I also pity them and the people who can’t see beyond their appearances and actually listen to the music or see their capabilities.

    I’m a new reader, doing a thesis on K-Pop. I see your pieces on K-pop and your opinions are fascinating. if I may, I’d like to contact you through email or something, there are a few things about the culture itself that I want to ask your opinion. no pressure, and thank you for even considering :)

  30. OMG such a smart read. I like the efforts you put into this and i agree with you. As a girl, it’s really weird for me to look at SNSD from the beginning. I’ve always has a vibe about them that’s…..different from other girl groups. I can look at Britney, Gaga, After School, Kesha doing their sexy things and though i do feel awkward, i feel more offended when i watch SNSD video. Like in Genie, their songs is about granting wishes and most of the scenes look like a guy’s fantasies with half the vid zooming up so their legs can look longer, in Gee they act innocent but wear those long shirts that resemble pajamas asian girls wear and leaning against each others, and then Oh! was just pure fanservice. I know that SM intended for them to portrait this kind of image because Lee Soo Man said before at a press conference that SNSD image is intended to target 30 yrs old since they are the major cultural consumers but for some reason their name is Girls Generation…something i find kinda offensive because is SM saying girls should act cute and innocent while sending off sexual innuendos? What does that reflect on kpop culture for sending off such images in such a wrong manner?

    Fans defend them but that’s cuz they’re blinded by the way cutesy ways the girls act that they can’t comprehend what they’re really doing and that’s what i find very sad about the situation since i could spot it immediately the moment i saw Gee the first time.I think if a woman should show sex appeal in a confident way, it’s her choice but to act innocent about it….is just fake and not a good message to tell others…

    • The first time I ever saw what you are talking about was at my first cosplay event that I happened upon in Taiwan. The same aegyo behavior and carefully calculated cuteness. As a westerner it was my first exposure to this sort of “cute as sexy” vibe. To me it was a new concept compared to US girls who have largely abandoned this way of being feminine in favor of 1) overt or agressive sexiness or 2) tomboyishness, professionalism, or other more traditionally “masculine” personality traits. In the US, girliness beyond a certain age is interpreted as regressive or weak by most women in the post women’s liberation era. I can’t say I really had a “thing” for Asian women before my first trip to Asia but after encountering this type of femininity so proudly on display I sure do now. Sometimes men like for women to act innocent and sweet, there is enough of “showing sex appeal in a confident way” as you suggest. I am so bored with that.

  31. Pingback: Ajosshis dan Girls’ Generation: Sebuah Wujud Kepanikan Sosial di Korea « Asoka, No Sorrow

  32. That’s non of your business.
    SNSD has a human right. Their sexual talent and how they live life is their rights.
    Why do you insist your moral to other people.
    I like sexual women and I will marry a sexy woman.
    I think you would blaim Prostitutes for moral harassment.
    Every person has rights to do live their life as they want.
    If you want to live a life like a virgin do it. But not insist others to live like yours.

    • Don’t worry about SNSD. They are not Kids that has to be worried by you.
      It seems that they are happier than you.
      I found this article disgusting.
      I don’t mind you study gender or feminism but your disgusting commenting on korean singers or women actors and discribing they are like whores by pimp is irrtating.

    • Judging by your writing ability in these comments and another one on another post, then it’s obvious that the level of English in this blog is much too advanced for you.

      You may well disagree, but the fact remains that you’re completely misunderstanding what you’ve read, and I don’t want to waste any more time reading any more of your knee-jerk criticisms.

      Banned.

  33. Interesting. These are generalizations though, because there are plenty of men who will not bat an eye at someone young enough to be their daughter, even if they strut around half naked. Also, this double standard. There are pleny of ahjumma fans of boy bands that act cute, innocent or rip their shirts or whatever (even maknae’s) and nobody bats a eye, but when a girl does it and draws ahjussi fans everyone acts like it’s a bad thing or tries to justify it. I don’t see how it’s any different when females look at SHINee, BB, whoever and want to bang them(because they surely do) vs males looking at SNSD and want to bang them.

    And SNSD is not stupid, they may not know how horny some men are (Like everytime their on stage wanting to bang them-wtf?) But they surely know that Oh and Genie are not innocent and all cute.

    I think it’s a shame, because they are talented, but most people only look at their legs or bodies and don’t pay attention to the actual music or their talents. I wish kpop was not so focused on looks, but rather talent and music.

    • wow nice i love girls generation. these are generations beautifull and funny . and SNSD is not stupid . they are talented . good luck SNSD

  34. Pingback: Episode 26 – It’s Not Over | Always Rational Kpop Podcast

  35. Pingback: Aegyo, Oppas, and Dirty Old Men | SEOULBEATS

  36. At the end of the day kpop is crap and who will be listening to this stuff in 10 years old. Just think spice girls and then youll know what Im talking about. Real music is about soul, artificial pop is like candy, looks good is sweet but it doesn’t last and will never be classic.

  37. Pingback: Age Gaps and Lolita Effect « My Musings

  38. Interesting article and discussion.

    The skillful use of innocence and sex appeal to make money is nothing new–look at J-Pop. They’ve been at it for decades and have honed that skill to a laser point. You see it in anime, manga, pop music, TV shows, movies, magazines, and it’s totally ingrained in the Japanese modern culture. Hell, they even have a term for it–Lolita Complex. As most of you probably know, most Asian countries have been heavily influenced by Japan in the last few decades, so it’s not as if Asian audiences in general are new to this type of manipulation.

    There’s nothing shady going on–it’s all out in the open. It’s not as if SM Entertainment is secretly forcing the girls from GG to sleep with powerful politicians or the members of the mafia (which is what can happen in Japan sometimes, because of the reach of the Mafia and the corruption in politics).

    There’s a saying now, I think originating from the movie Crazy, Stupid, Love.–it describes the ideal woman as “the perfect combination of cute and sexy.” This is not a secret–a large portion of both men and women agree with that statement. Men want someone who’s both cute and sexy, and women aspire to become that. What is GG’s manufactured image if not that?

    There is no secret agenda–it’s all done out in the open, for everyone to see, and if people are too slow to realize that’s what SM Entertainment is doing, then I worry about the overall intellectual capacity of the general public. I mean, it’s right there in your face–how can you not see it? Women in their early twenties singing lyrics like “How to do my first kiss”? SERIOUSLY? That kind of willful innocence barely fits teenagers these days, and are likely more suitable for pre-teens. It doesn’t get any more fake and manufactured than that. It’s plain as day and SM Entertainment is betting their investments on the fact that we will eat it up and beg for more. And that is why they are brilliant at cultivating and packaging pop idols–they know how to entice the public.

    Would it surprise anyone, if the members of GG were asked if they aspire to be “the perfect combination of cute and sexy,” and they answered “yes”? Sure, they’ll add something about wanting to be smart and kind and do meaningful things with their lives and all that, but on a purely simplistic and primal level of attraction between men and women, it would be dishonest for most women to say she does not wish to be seen as someone who’s the perfect combination of cute and sexy by others. Again, we’re not talking about ambition, integrity, contribution to society, and the rest of that noble stuff–we’re talking purely primal desires of both men and women.

    And would it surprise anyone if the members of GG said they love doing the sexy dance moves and wearing clothes that showed off their alluring figures, while singing lyrics about being shy and nervous about having a crush on some guy? Maybe not all nine of them feel that way, but I highly doubt they object to it. I mean, what’s the alternative? Singing about wanting to jump some hot guy’s bones, shaking their ass at the club, and how they’re so hot that everyone wants a piece of their ass? I would think they’d object to that much more than the willful innocence.

    Another thing to think about, is the multifaceted aspect of Asian idols. They don’t just sing and dance. They also model, act, endorse products, host shows, participate on variety shows, and so on, and those various activities are just as important to their career as the singing and dancing. And it is because of this GG is as successful as they are. Any true fan of GG will tell you how the girls have adorably dorky personalities, and that’s one of the main reasons why the fans love them–it’s because of their tendency to act like lovable dorks in front of the camera, and how the cameras capture their friendship with each other. Yoona with her pranks and alligator laugh. Taeyeon with her pixie-like mischief, Sunny with her aegyo, and the list goes on and on. To solely attribute the success of GG to their manufactured image in their music videos and live performances is sort of missing half the reasons why they became a phenomenon.

    Or is it? It’s sort of a chicken vs. egg situation, isn’t it? Did the fans fall in love with them because of hearing their songs, seeing their music videos/live performances, or saw them acting like cute dorks on variety shows? I think if you polled all the Sones out there, you’ll unearth the real allure of GG, which is the fact that the sum is greater than its parts. Individually, their songs, music videos/live performances, and variety show appearances are all entertaining and fun, but combined, it becomes this unstoppable phenomenon. Other girl groups might have tricks up their sleeves too, but they tend to only be strong in one or two areas but not all. For example, strong in singing and attractive, but no adorable personalities. Or, funny and cute, but not very good singers and dancers. Or, they sing and dance and are fun personalities, but they just aren’t that good looking. Or, they simply don’t have much chemistry between the members, and it shows. To be able to pull off all that off is where GG is different, and why the people at SM Entertainment are counting their blessings–they managed to put together the ideal all-around entertainment group that can attractive fans for a variety of reasons.

    • I agree in Rob’s opinion. I can say that I fell in love with GG not only because they’re sexy and cute (we can’t deny that) but because of their dorky personalities and ability to be well-rounded entertainers. I think the writer focuses to only one of the reasons why GG became a phenomenon.

      From a personal point of view, a mere singing and dancing talent with perfect combination of sexy and cute image will not bring artists to heights like where these girls are now. They must be also be talented in other areas. Another thing, they must be also ‘adorkable’ (being dorky and adorable) because this is a huge ‘plus factor’ that makes their followers fall for them even more.

  39. this was truly an interesting article, thank you for translating this^^
    honestly, I’ve never thought of SNSD this way. I always saw them as ‘cute’ and quite innocent actually, but i never thought of what a guy’s point of view might see them as, ahjussi’s particularly. As i was reading, it really has a deeper meaning that i find it hard to understand, and i tried to explain to my older sister about this. She’s 18, and a huge fan of SNSD, but as i did, she called me stupid D: ..She kept on asking “Then why are they doing this? Whats the whole point of it?” Well..pretty much that. I’ll just keep on perusing on explaining this to her, hopefully she’ll try and understand what i’m trying to tell her :/ My mom introduced SNSD to my dad just recently. He watches their MV’s on T.V. a lot..replaying over and over. God..i feel sick. I cringe every time. I really wished he never heard of Kpop….Sorry, getting off topic!

    Anyways, I really liked this article and I’m glad that ahjussi had admitted to this though, it made me think deeper, and question a lot about Kpop and the media/industry etc.

    • Thanks, and you’re welcome. But I’m a little confused by your sister though: what did she mean by “Then why are they doing this? What’s the whole point of it?”? What’s the “this” sorry?

  40. so, the conclusion is that snsd is used to fulfill sexual desire? i mean from their appearance and their concept, i think yes. ahjossi or boys mostly answer “i like snsd cz they are cute, beautiful, and sexy” when they are asked ‘why do you like snsd’, but almost none answers ‘i like them cz they can sing well or something’. the company know how to sell the girls well.
    i think it is good article. thank you!

  41. Though I hate what they’re doing, I do have to hand it to SM and their marketing team. They picked innocent-looking girls, gave them cute (and only slightly suggestive) lyrics while having them parade around in revealing clothes.
    And for a country like korea, it’s the perfect combination; Korea’s adorable little sister in heals with a ‘come hither’ look on her face.
    I don’t expect them to wear turtle necks and mom jeans, in fact, I hope they keep their sexy wardrobe (It obviously helps them sell) I just want them to own up the sex appeal they try to convey while singing about their pure-hearted first love.
    (lol I believe that was more of a rant than a response) XD

  42. I spent some time thinking about this piece, and then I ended up writing a whole blog post about it. I have SO so many thoughts: http://theunlikelyexpat.blogspot.com/2012/02/ajosshis-girls-generation-and-taking.html
    (some of the links and the pictures I used didn’t transfer. Sorry about that. Checkout the post.)

    Let me say this to the author – I can’t help but take serious issue with your views on male sexuality. Frankly, I’m really disturbed. And straight up offended.

    You said “every man’s instinct is to have a woman who is a wise mother and good, virtuous wife by day, but a shameless hussy at night.”

    Every man? !!?? Seriously? And this an “instinct”?!? WTF!!

    I gotta say, that sounds really psychologically unhealthy to me – not to mention bizarre as hell. I am man, and I love women. For my entire history as a sexual adult I have been really sexually attracted to women, but I have never, ever thought of women that way. I know lots of men that share that attitude, and value system. Admittedly though, not many of them are part of East Asian cultures…

    I think it is really odd and unspeakably wrong to generalize male sexual psychology that way. It’s simply not accurate to make generalizations like that. Speaking on behalf of men everywhere, not all men think that way. I sure as hell don’t.

    That shit is really offensive to men who identify with progressive feminist values. And to men who love strong women.

    Personally, I want to be with a woman who is sexy and smart and confident – including being confident about her sexuality. I want a woman who knows what she wants, feels good about herself, and wants to share that with me. That is what I think is sexy.

    If my partner and I chose to someday get married and have kids she could also be a good mother and wife and be “virtuous,” and be sexy. All at the same time. Which is totally possible. These things are not mutually exclusive. Being “good” is not the opposite of being sexy.

    Being a sexy woman does equate to being a “shameless hussy.” Can’t a woman just be sexy without being slutty or shameless? What the hell!

    And men “instinctively” want a “good wife?” What about just a loving and supportive partner, who is sexy – among having other attractive qualities? Personally, I find women who are deeply afraid of/uncomfortable with their sexuality to be incredibly unattractive. Because I know they feel tortured and conflicted and afraid of who they are. I can’t really imagine anything more ugly than that. Well, except anorexia and plastic surgery…

    What you are saying sounds exactly like the whole Madonna-Whore Complex. Which defines women as either being morally virtuous – but sexless – or else sexy, nasty, and morally contemptible. (And okay to abuse and degrade.) This is not a healthy way to view women dude! Or a healthy way to think about sex.

    Also, I have met a lot of intelligent women, women I respect and admire, that REALLY hate being viewed within this narrow dichotomy – and thereby limited by it. Talk to some educated feminists that feel good about their sexuality (as in not feeling ashamed of it).

    I am fairly certain that none of them will be happy about hearing women being characterized that way. And if they take that logic a step further, they probably don’t think it’s cool for men’s “instincts” to be defined as needing a schizophrenically bifurcated, repressed, and fucked up Madonna/Whore personality in a partner.

    I have also met lots of real-life women that really hate it when dudes think about women that way. It causes HUGE problems in their personal lives. Precisely because it makes having healthy sexual relationships with guys who think that way all but impossible. Have you ever heard a woman say this? “Gosh, I just wish I could meet a nice guy with a Madonna-Whore Complex…”

    Thinking about women and sexuality along those lines may be common in Korea, as Girls Generation’s successfully marketed image can attest. But I think it is really, really dangerous to characterize this type of thinking as innately male, or instinctive, or “natural.” Although I hear this kind of logic a lot in Korea…

    Sex and sexuality is instinctive. Sex is a biological function, like eating, sleeping, and breathing. That much is clear. But what we are attracted to, and why, and how is not really scientifically understood yet. Mostly because it’s really hard to detach our thinking from our culture, and the values we ascribe to. Lots of people who have tried to do so have totally failed. And ended up looking like huge assholes. Ahem.

    Ever read any Evolutionary Psychology? What you are saying sounds a lot like the regressive pseudo-science that has trashed the image of Evolutionary Psychology. Because Evolutionary Psychologists are notorious for saying crazy shit, like: “Rape is a ‘natural’ adaptation” and “Women ‘naturally’ desire men with high incomes.”

    I also highly suggest reading the comments on this Jezebel post about that clever bit of satire. Note that most of them are written by WOMEN, and in particular women that want to be respected as humans.
    Note that Evolutionary Psychology is not accepted at all in the scientific community. It fell from grace when Eugenics and other racist/sexist/really-fucked-up pseudoscience disciplines were canned from academic institutions in deep, deep shame following the horrors of World War II.

    Famously loathed Evolutionary Psychologists like Satoshi Kanazawa say really offensive stuff about women, and then try to claim it is “natural.” Kanazawa published a paper entitled “Are All Women Essentially Whores?” And then followed up with one about why Black women are “naturally” less attractive than white women. Note: I am pretty sure his paper on women’s innate sluttiness was based on some really similar logic to the quote that initiated this whole piece.

    Are these beliefs “naturally” part of human behavior? Hell no! But they might sound “natural” for a shockingly sexist Japanese dude that grew up thinking along these lines. Students at the London School of Economics, where Kanazawa teaches, have been campaigning to get him fired because they are so pissed off.
    Not all men have “natural instincts” that draw them towards women who seem innocent, non-sexual, and therefore morally “good,” but who may be secretly sexual behind closed doors.Not all men want women to repress and deny their basic sexual needs. That is really fucked up for everyone involved. And let me say again, on behalf of confident men everywhre, that is NOT what I am attracted to. Quite the opposite.

    That twisted, regressive, and arch-conservative thinking is the product of deeply conservative cultural values. It is not “instinctive.”In any way, shape, or form.

    Honestly, having those beliefs and attitudes must cause some painful psychological conflicts. Compartmentalizing one’s emotions and needs that way can only be difficult and unpleasant. It sounds like some heavy-duty repression to me. Did you happen to grow up in a Christian cult or something? Is your marriage okay?

    No one on earth should expect women to dichotomize themselves like that. Much less submit to twisted male needs for them to. Not their minds, their bodies, or their lives.

    Thanks for your writing. I do enjoy your blog. But DAAAAAMNN….

    Also, the whole premise of that post was really warped. You – and middle age Korean dudes – should not be fantasizing about touching teenage girl-group performers. Aren’t you like 30? The fact that you get turned on watching that is pretty weird dude. And that is not in any way about “instinctive” male needs. Why is being demure, passive, and childlike so attractive to you? Are you somehow deeply emotionally stunted?

  43. Dammit. I took that too far. I regret making a few personal jabs there, which was ignorant. I took them off my blog post, and I would take them down here, but I cannot. The bulk of that response, however, still stands.

    • As I’ve just posted on your own blog:

      A clarification – the bulk of the post in question is not my own writing at all, but my translation of a February 2010 article by music columnist Kim Bong-hyeon, which you can find here: http://www.pressian.com/article/article.asp?article_num=60100203164550&section=04

      I don’t mean any offense, but I’m surprised that you overlooked that I was providing a translation, and it appears that all your criticisms are of Bong-heyon’s article rather than anything I wrote myself. So, I’d appreciate it if you’d edit your post to make that clearer.

      In hindsight, I should have written a disclaimer at the end that I don’t 100% endorse Bong-hyeon’s opinions, and indeed I have many of the same problems with the article that you have.

      • Yep, you are totally right James. I totally took that out of context, and it was wrong of me. Sorry I yelled at you for some other dude’s words. I was being ignorant and rash. And I apologize for not reading your post closely enough.

        The post on my site is down. If I put it back up it will be extensively rewritten. Foot –> Mouth.

        I guess I should be mad at Kim Bong-hyeon, and not you. Which would make even less sense, since he is Korean – and therefore part of a culture with radically different expectations for gender, sexuality, and social behavior.

        Thank you for initiating this dialogue. Honestly, I share many of your concerns and experiences. I also find it more and more difficult to make the effort to befriend Korean men – in no small part because I expect our attitudes and opinions about gender to be so radically different.

        I have tried hard to make friends with Korean women – in part because I have yet to meet any critical Korean feminists, and also just because I hear a lot of stuff from Korean dudes that makes me wildly uncomfortable. Like the quote from Kim Bong-hyeon that I mistakenly went on a wrongheaded polemic about.

        But I’m a Western guy, so being friends with Korean women comes with its own baggage. Korean people assume we are dating, and make assumptions that I’m a foreign sleaze. And many Korean women have never had male friends (although that is changing a lot.) There is, from a Western view, a surprising amount of awkwardness between the sexes.

        And the general climate of accepted sexism is mind-blowing, as your links regarding broad and record-setting gender inequality so accurately attest to. Thanks for articulating that so well.

        There is a really interesting range of responses going on. Congrats for getting that ball rolling.

        I TOTALLY agree with the above post from Sonam, who said:

        “This post, more than any other block of information about Korea, truly highlights the sheer insanity of this culture. Insanity in that it is completely unhealthy psychologically from any sort of western standpoint.”

        And with HiExpat who said:

        “Word. Confucianism is really psychologically unhealthy. I mean wouldn’t you be confused and frustrated if you thought A, but since it’s not socially accepted for you to admit you feel A… you really have to pretend…that’s not the case and…say B….Welcome to the world of Confucianism and delusion.”

        But then as I read back through the posts, I also noticed dudes like Dazed and Confused, who said:

        “I’m sorry James, but it was a really difficult article to read. I just simply could not make it past the first picture. I mean, it was just…(drool)…”

        All I can say is that I find the demure, veiled objectification of very young performers like Girls Generation to be really disturbing.

        Sorry I flipped out. Thanks for not banning me.

    • I would argue that your ignorance extends to the inability to comprehend what you read – that was a translation from an article, not the opinion of the blog author. Geez Louise!

  44. I’m so glad I’ve found this thread (and this blog) that I need to post even if the discussion is cold from a long time. I’ve already tried to discuss this topic with a Korean blogger, but unfortunately his English was worst than mine, so we couldn’t estabilish an effective communication.

    I’m an Italian middle aged man (a wife, a daughter, a job in the information systems area), so I think I’m the perfect target for S.M. Entertainment. Spending some time listening to music is one of my favorite ways to relax, and having been a boy/youngster across Seventies and Eighties I had the chance to be very open minded about music, so I listen to many genres, from classical to dance, going through rock, metal, ethnic, R&B, soul, Hip-Hop and pop.

    I stumbled on K-Pop by chance, I was searching for some HD videos on YouTube when I found Orange Caramel’s “Magic girl” instead. At first I thought they were Japanese, and even though I have a great interest in some aspects of Japanese culture, I also know that their tastes are often very far from those of european audience, so my first reaction was a smiling “these girls are nuts…”. For some reason, I kept watching the video and before I knew it the aegyo had already done its job. I’ve been trapped by the smooth sound of Korean language, the simple joy of the music and the cuteness of the girls. I needed more, so I spent many nights surfing the web for information, discovering SNSD, Kara, T-Ara, Secret, Rainbow and many others, watching music videos, TV shows and reality shows. I was amazed of how many K-Pop addicted exist across the planet (even in my city, Roma). Not all groups or songs are worth listening, and it’s clear that producers and composers are often drawing their inspiration from existing works, anyway they can be really good at packaging the final product (in terms of pop music).

    My late night appointment with K-Pop becomes a very pleasurable habit, it gave me a great energy for the next day. When I told of my new passion to my wife, she smiles and replies “I know, everytime I came into the study you’re staring at the monitor with that idiot smile on your face…”.

    Yes, that’s the point, K-Pop made me feel alive and happy, like a fresh sea breeze. Maybe my testosterone level is dropping down too much with age, but while I (sadly) guess that female idols would classify me as a “samchon fan” (translated, drooling old perv), the truth is that I was happy in a innocent, light-hearted way. I’m not saying that I don’t fancy a gorgeous young girl, I’m rather saying that sex is not so relevant in this context, at least for me. Yes, idols are beautiful and charming but, frankly speaking, in the Internet age I don’t see why somebody should turn to K-Pop to satisfy his/hers sex fantasies. In fact, things are more complex. Speaking of SNSD for example, I totally agree with Rob Chang when he says:

    “They don’t just sing and dance. They also model, act, endorse products, host shows, participate on variety shows, and so on, and those various activities are just as important to their career as the singing and dancing. And it is because of this GG is as successful as they are. Any true fan of GG will tell you how the girls have adorably dorky personalities, and that’s one of the main reasons why the fans love them, it’s because of their tendency to act like lovable dorks in front of the camera, and how the cameras capture their friendship with each other. Yoona with her pranks and alligator laugh. Taeyeon with her pixie-like mischief, Sunny with her aegyo, and the list goes on and on. To solely attribute the success of GG to their manufactured image in their music videos and live performances is sort of missing half the reasons why they became a phenomenon. ”

    I also found very interesting all of ConfuSius’s posts. “What’s puzzling to me is that Aigoo thingy (old) guys go nuts about. I mean, women acting like little girls and that is what apparently captures those Ajusshis’ hearts?” First of all, I want to reassure her that from a western european point of view, aegyo can be considered just a funny part of the show, as long as it comes in small doses, otherwise it turns into C.C.P. (Cuteness that Calls for a Punch). After all, most of the girls in the world use a certain amount of their natural, discreet aegyo when it’s needed (even my 4 years old daughter does it consciously).

    Next, I share the relaxed approach that she expressed in the following quote, even if I don’t think an absolution is required:
    “I think everyone’s better off from not just seeing black or white. If you like it and you‚Äôre not causing anyone harm, then by all means go for it! For the Ajusshi this particular Oscar Wilde quote comes to my mind: It is the confession and not the priest that gives us absolution.”

    Finally, what I think is the key point:

    “The only thing that I find creepy is that business men in their 50s scouted these girls when they were 12 or even younger to raise them as what they are now.”

    Getting to know the K-Pop scene better, I got this feeling that something in the whole picture was wrong. Watching reality shows and interviews, even the most famous idols seem to be really down to earth, which at first I thought it could be a positive factor, maybe related to a Korean vision of show business e surely more salutary for the girls, compared to the western music industry. No frills, no supercars, no money ostentation, no alcohol and drugs, no leaked naked photos, no gossip magazines talking about countless boyfriends.

    On the other hand nevertheless, they seemingly don’t have a private life. They live together in dorms, sometime sharing rooms and beds, far away from their parents since they were little more than children. They must obey to tight schedules. They don’t manage their own money. They are not even allowed to date boys which, for a girl in her twenties, is a real cruelty (and a tremendous waste of the best sexual energy that can be experienced in life).

    I started thinking whether or not these girls are in control of their own lives and careers or if they are some kind of slaves of music corporations.

    I must confess that these thoughts have taken out a big part of the fun. In the meantime, I’ll wish that the whole thing turns out to be a great opportunity for the girls.

    • Good Toppic and @PhacocoeruS – Thank you so much.100% agree. The only difference between us: I come from germany and have a son. I enjoy K-Pop, but sometime I had a bad feeling to watch this mix of cuteness und sexiness as a man in the 30+. But if you look at charts of “Sexiest Women of the world” you see women at the same age. Sometimes it is too much of the “aegyo-thing” – it looks more like a parody of old-mens-fantasies. But who make the concepts of the boy-/girl groups? I guess – older business men…

  45. Pingback: Lady Gaga, Too, Gets Banhammered | seoulbeats

  46. Pingback: kpop fever « starrystellar

  47. Great post! I, like you, love looking at all the sexy K-pop stars and do want to bang all of them. There are so many beautiful women here in Korea. The sad thing is that they are usually shunned into these meek shrews, who are too afraid to express themselves sexually or even romantically in public. Living in Andong, I can see it very easily. I had a friend, who like me, is a foreigner. He was a teacher at a hakwon here in Andong, and got involved with a Korean co-teacher of his. While in public, they wouldn’t hold hands, kiss or do any sort of public display of affection. In Andong, Korean and foreign couples are rare, and if seen aren’t really accepted. She was worried what her friends, family, and other people might think if they were seen together holding hands in public. Counter that with two other friends of mine, a Korean and foreign couple, and they did the exact opposite. When they were in public, they would show affection and people didn’t seem to mind all that much. It’s mind boggling! South Korea has a pop culture where girls practically simulate sex on stage with some of the dance choreography, and wear next to nothing, and a society where traditional gender roles and expectations are held hand-in-hand. Korea has a very sexually repressed population, and any real discussion about sex and sexuality in Korean society doesn’t happen. Whatever problems they have with teen pregnancy (which happens), divorce, adultery, etc. is swept under the rug and ignored. They pretend that it’s not there, there is no problem, but everybody else can see (it’s especially clear to [western] foreigners in Korea) there are BIG problems that need to be dealt with. It’s quite frustrating and I do feel bad for a lot of the women here. Seoul, Andong, Daegu, Busan, Gwangju, no matter where you go, Korean women face massive gender discrimination. Something needs to change.

  48. Pingback: Fapville, abbiamo un problema : TIME smaschera il fandom degli zii nel kpop! | Moshi Moshi Netizen!

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