Korean Sociological Image #33: Take the Wondergirls, Lolita Sexy Style!

( Source )

Well, that is literally what it says:

원더걸스를 가져라! 그녀들의 스타일! 그녀를의 매렬에 끌린다면…소녀의 감성과 성숙함이 공존하는 앙비귀때(Ambiguite) 섹시함을 입어라

Take the Wondergirls [with you]! Their style! If you are attracted to their charm…wear Ambiguity’s sexiness, which has both girls’ sense and maturity.

But lest I give the wrong impression, it’s just the name of one line of JYP Entertainment’s new Wondergirls-themed cosmetics brand. And given the essential randomness of the names of the others too, and the fact that English terms routinely get incororated into Korean almost completely devoid of their original meaning, then I doubt that much thought went into it. Certainly it’s difficult to argue for nefarious intent in this case at least.

Still, it’s inappropriate.

Debuting in early-2007 when 3 of the 5 members were only 14 years old, the Wondergirls have been routinely described as Lolitas by the Korean media ever since; as were Girls’ Generation, and presumably as all the teen members of the new girl groups following them will be too. Using that term while simultaneously denying the sexual connotations to it however, is an oxymoron, and part and parcel of the Korean public’s wider refusal to acknowledge the sexual ways in which they’re marketed.

Hence the name is problematic. But granted: this is a tired theme, so for a change, it was very encouraging to see music columnist Kim Bong-hyeon (김병현) challenging that myopia earlier this month. And now I’ve also learned of a famous essayist and surgeon named Park Kyung-chul (박경철) too, who asked probing questions to Girls’ Generation members themselves in an interview nearly 2 years ago. Thanks very much to “A Korean Student” for passing on a partial translation, which I’ve pasted with his or her commentary below:

( Source )

…[In an interview] 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?

( Source: Unknown )

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 (end)

James: Thanks again for the translation, and very much a healthy reminder to myself of how much I may have missed before I started regularly using Korean-language sources on this blog!^^

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

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24 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #33: Take the Wondergirls, Lolita Sexy Style!

  1. Did you hear about Korean student who got stabbed by local Russian youth while walking with his girlfriend ?.He was 22 year old University student ,its a big news there !!!
    I saw it on KBS somewere ..Russian nationalism is resurgence .
    Its sad news ..

  2. Darn it James. You’ve developed a sense of Nunchi that is almost as good as any native Korean! You correctly surmised that I was secretly sent by the infamous SNSD Affairs Division of VANK—-in order to provide a subtle deterrent to further bloggings that could prove detrimental to our beloved Soshi members’ interests. So you decided to act accordingly, by presenting US with yet ANOTHER flashy post! Told them I’m no good at this pop sociology stuff….

    Just kidding, of course. ^^;

    http://blog.naver.com/donodonsu/100052034303 (in Korean)

    I found the orignial unedited version of the interview on Mr. Park’s onw blog. The first two paragraphs deal with his final impressions which he says were surprisingly positive (e.g. the girls were far “better” than he expected, they seemed quite intelligent, determined and hard-working, I sincerely hope they realise their dreams some day, etc.), but they still sound like a disclaimer to me. Perhaps Park’s paternalistic instincts got the better of him because he can’t really bring himself to ‘blame’ the girls, despite everything. Instead, he directs his anti-commercial sentiments towards their boss and susptected drillmaster Lee Soo-man. As the de facto owner of the SM Entertainment, Lee has been under fire for some time due to his ‘exploitative’ legal relationships with his idol groups, you know.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sm_entertainment#Controversies

  3. Hello James~~
    I have a good news.
    I’m not a student anymore. I’m working in Dong-a university.
    So I’m busy very much. But I’m very happy.
    I want to tell you that news.
    Take care~~.

    • Speak of the devil…it was my last day at Busan I.T. when your comment came through, and was I reminiscing about your classes with the last remaining 2 students!^^

      Congratulations on the new job, and seriously: please let me know if any jobs for English teachers come up there!!!

      • Oh, James~~
        I’ll let you know when we need English teacher.
        I hope to work with you.

        I miss you~~.

        Um, I don’t undrestand your blog content. ㅠㅠ
        My English still suck.;;;

        Anyway I will be back. Take care~~^^

  4. Hi James,

    Not 100% sure what you’re trying to say in the first parag. above. What would be nefarious and non-nefarious intent? Did you mean in the use of 가져라 or in Lolita? I don’t think there’s any doubt that JYPE is very deliberately trying to push heavily the Lolitaesque girl/woman thing with WG–at least there isn’t to me, regardless of some people’s seeming blindness to it, as discussed often here at TGN. I also think ambiguite is actually a great choice for the name, because I think that it fits well with the coy way in which JYP pushes the envelope by suggesting that he is just trying to be “cute” knowing larger social reaction. The man and his company know what they are doing. He also knows to introducing just enough self-mockery to keep the audience off-balance (e.g. his own appearance in the “Nobody” video; the slipping on the red carpet in “So Hot”). Take a lot at some of the other text on their site: twisted maximalism?? Indeed. I think that’s actually pretty brilliant, and betrays some thought. Whether one wants to call this a cleverly satiric manipulation of popular culture or pure cynicism is a matter more for individual judgement. My own view is that it is both simultaneously. JYP seems to know how to have his cake and eat it too……

    • Hmmm…I’ve added “in this case” at the end of it, but in the event that that doesn’t clear it up either(!), I meant in the use of “Lolita,” and that taken in isolation, it was difficult to argue that this was anything other than random Konglish. In hindsight though, I realize that writing that may partially have been a subconscious attempt on my part to always imagine that each post I write is the first a new reader sees, and if he or she was unaware of JYP’s background too then it would seem like I was reading too much into things. But I will try to stick to my guns in the future – especially about JYP, whom I’m feeling more confident talking about as a result of what I’ve learned from our emails on him (and so on) – although it helps that the Raison d’être of this “Sociological Images” series is to provide cumulative evidence to refer to in each post on a subject that I don’t have to worry about seeming to read too much things into things. Certainly I won’t in my next WG and/or JYP post.

  5. James, I wasn’t suggesting that we need to actually hear evidence that stars do create flatulence like the rest of us, though it was helpfully provided!

    Do the girls sleep in a line like that normally in their barracks, or was that just for that particular show? And I really hope that they aren’t filmed while they are asleep all the time, that is going way too far.

    In fact, I am surprised that there isn’t a Big Brother style show about a girl group (is there? I have no idea, and in fact would be incredibly disturbed if there was), where they are filmed 24/7 for the audience’s voyeuristic pleasure. That would provide piles of bland material for the disturbingly numerous and vapid ‘entertainment’ shows.

  6. Eh… it is a survival show. The show is called Invincible Youth and it resembles the Simple Life in that it has 7 girl idols (G-7) including two SNSD members doing manual labor in a remote moutain village. It is a very popular and rather endearing show. (Check YouTube) I guess you don’t want to hear about the outhouse episode, though. ;)

    p.s. The SNSD members live in a huge multi-million dollar luxury apartment in Seoul. Yet curiously, two members share a bedroom each. Only Tiffany, a Korean American who doesn’t have her family living in Korea, has an independent bedroom.

    • Sorry Chris, was in original email of A Korean Student, so was my duty to include it! More seriously though, thanks for those details Ajosshi, and it is bizarre that they live in a luxury apartment but have to share bedrooms really, and if Tiffany gets a room of her own because she doesn’t have family here, then sharing a room is clearly a minus.

      Considering how they’ve been together 24/7 for many years now, then you’d think that having one private space to get the hell away from each other when needed would be much better for them…

      • Well there are nine people and space is a premium in Korea, even in a multi-million dollar apartment. Tiffany is said to have brought all her stuff to Korea so she needs more storage space anyway. I also read somewhere that her family in the U.S. is not exactly supportive of her career choice. She often feels lonely when other SNSD members are home on furlough so it might be better not to have a roommate at all, from a psychological viewpoint.

        (with Eng. subs)

        Relevant? Insightful? voyeuristic? You decide.

        • Hmmm, yes and no. With SM Entertainment’s wealth, then I don’t really think that the cost of having 9 bedrooms was ever a consideration, even in Gangnam.

          As for the video, thanks for it, and “relevant” and “voyeuristic” yes, but “insightful” would be a bit of stretch!

          • I do know that celebrities do fart, but it is something that should really stay in the realm of ‘not actually seen evidence of’. I know many things happen, but I prefer not to know too much about them!

            Yeah, if they are popular they must surely bring in enough to be worth a room each! If they have spent that many thousand days together, surely they would need to “get away” from each other, and have a small space of their own. Must be part of their slavery agreement, err, totally non exploitive contract with their management – they are lucky they have ‘graduated’ from living in big dorms.

            Hmm, oh dear, Invincible Youth sounds exceedingly boring, but sadly I am not surprised to hear that it exists or that it is popular. It seems like exactly what Koreans love to watch – celebrities, silliness, blandness and inanity, by the truckload.

            • Reading over your comment, I’m just suddenly reminded of how Korea doesn’t really place its celebrities on a pedestal like we tend to do in Western countries (not quite to same the same extent anyway), hence all the “making of” commercials which completely ruin the fantasy element to them personally, and – yes – the farting.

              Forgive me if I’ve mentioned that already to you, I’m sure I have dozens of times on the blog already. It’s just what came to mind…

            • C’mon Chris. The show’s not as bland or exploitative as you imagine it to be. For example, I didn’t know how one makes organic tofu or grow bean sprouts from scratch and now I do. Half of Invincible Youth is cooking show anyway. ;)

              >If they have spent that many thousand days together, surely they would need to “get away” from each other,

              I guess they go home when they really want to get away from each other. But I read somewhere that East Asians’ sense of personal space is much smaller than their Western counterpart. Perhaps that’s why Tiffany, a Korean Amercian, has a room of her own… Hmm… food for thought.

              • Well, I may be biased against reality TV, and most TV for that matter, but 24/7 stalking, err, filming for a TV show for months (years?) on end does not sound good to me.

                Well, “East Asians” may have (or be told to live with) less personal space, but both common sense (I think they spend quite enough time together already, and you don’t want them to go crazy) and business sense (be good to the goose which lays the golden egg) suggest that giving them their own rooms would be a good idea.

                Perhaps Tiffany ‘needed’ more space because the company needed a plausible excuse to give one of them preferential treatment – they were too cheap to buy a house with enough rooms. The rest are part of the ‘group mind’, but she, having spent time amongst the uncivilised, isn’t. I have heard this about Japanese who spend years overseas, that when they return they aren’t part of the ‘group think’ (they are, shock horror, different and individual) which pervades Japanese society, where nearly everyone thinks and acts the same. Similar in SK? Or a bit cynical perhaps?

                > I guess they go home when they really want to get away from each other.

                Aren’t they allowed to escape from the clutches of their minders only a few days a year?

  7. Hi! I’ve been reading some entries since January this year. I wonder if you have already heard about the new girl group GP Basic? I want to read your take on it, as there have been issues with regards to its members’ age range since their profiles were out. Thank you so much. :)

  8. Pingback: Kpopped and I Just Can’t Stop – Part I « Idle Revelry

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