Korean Sociological Image #47: East End Girls, meet West End Boys

Yes, it had to happen eventually! A big round of applause to Nextour (넥스투어) for producing the very first Korean commercial to feature a Korean woman literally dreaming of having a romantic and/or sexual relationship with a Western man, and with no suggestion that there will be anything but happiness once she succeeds.

New readers shaking your heads in disbelief however, then by all means prove me wrong by finding earlier examples. But before engaging on what I think will ultimately be a long and fruitless search, please consider reading other posts in the “interracial relationships” category, especially here, here, here, here, here, and here. And please also ponder the following quote from Hyun-Mee Kim in her chapter “Feminization of the 2002 World Cup and Women’s Fandom” in Feminist Cultural Politics in Korea, ed. by Jung-Hwa Oh, 2005, pp. 228-243 below on the then unprecedented public attention by Korean women on the bodies of the Korean players in the summer, and which gives a big clue as to why it has taken 8 years(!) for such an essentially innocuous commercial to emerge:

…if Korean women’s enthusiasm had mostly been directed at handsome Western soccer players, such as England’s Beckham or Owen, Portugal’s Figu, Italy’s Toti or Spain’s Morientes, the situation would have been drastically different. That they zealously applauded Hiddinck, a Dutch male and the director of the Korean team, seemingly too much of a “father” for them to desire sexual union with, and the familiar handsome guys of Ahn Jeong-hwan, Kim Nam-il, and Song Jong-Guk, must have been the chief reason for positive response the Korean women fans got from the rest of the society.

In particular:

The attitude of the Korean media that looks down on Japanese women for expressing their love for Beckham and treats them as “ppansun-i”s [빤순이, or condescending slang for crazed girl fans - James], clearly shows what line the Korean women should dare not cross. This World Cup, which ended up as a worshiping of the 23 [Korean players], delineates the limitations as Korean women rose up as the subjects of their own sexual desires. This is a society in which there is still a strong belief in the sexual union of the full bloods: for the women to collectively root for Ronaldo or Morientes, there is too much at stake. It is so much easier to shout out that they want the “yellow bodies” of our own race rather than “white and black bodies”. Hence, the happy union of women’s sexual desires and new patriotism in the 2002 World Cup. (p. 239)

Naturally one commercial doesn’t mean a sexual and racial revolution of course (note that all the Western men were Caucasian), but it is a start, and certainly provides a welcome contrast to the general persecution of foreign males in the Korea media in recent years, as most recently demonstrated by the fact that Anti English Spectrum’s Lee Eun-ung was uncritically allowed to present his repulsive, unsubstantiated views on foreign males on a national radio show for instance. Indeed, the lack of netizen reaction to the commercial so far hopefully demonstrates that things may have actually improved a little since 2002, and provides a healthy reminder that, just like in other countries, the Korean media is probably not a very accurate guide to public opinion in the first place.

Meanwhile, see here for the male version, albeit a slightly seedy one (caressing a sandcastle woman anyone?), and young readers see here also if you didn’t understand the “East End Girls” reference!^^

Update, November 2011: Alas, it wasn’t actually the first! See here for an example from 2006, and one more from later in 2010.

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

26 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #47: East End Girls, meet West End Boys

  1. What exactly is the point of cheering on a commercial that glamorizes western men? To get revenge for having commercials that glamorize western women? That’s not really a well thought out way to handle the situation, and even more condescending than the side you are apparently against (especially when you are openly supporting subjective and romanticized views). This is all in despite the fact that, society as a whole, glamorizes western men on a large majority. The cards were always on the other side. However, I am not here to rant about that at all. I’m just downplaying your alleged victory over an imaginary double standard.

    The bottom line is, no matter which side you are on, nobody should be glamorizing anything or anyone. And just because you analyze a commercial and think you are right, it doesn’t always make it so. Sometimes they are just funny..or even complete crap at the same time. I found your blog through the H&M post which was solid, but I don’t find anything in this post of good taste. I’m just glad I’m reading a blog…

    • shw, I think the problem is you don’t seem to be a long-time follower of this (or perhaps similar?) blogs. If you were, you would probably understand this post more in the context in which it was meant to be read and understood. That is, the while in Korean society there are of course women who fantasise about western men and date, marry and have relationships with western men, the media has never been willing to show this in a positive or even neutral light. Some Korean women who date western men get grief for it, and the men have been greatly victimised in the media as sex-crazed, perverted, often paedophilic and generally immoral. On the other hand, Korean men who date, marry or have relationships with western women have generally been praised, and western women are presented in the media in a highly objectified, sexualised way. I’m not trying to criticise you, but if you read more on this blog you will certainly find examples and evidence to back this up.

      In that context, this post is not trying to cheer on a commercial “that glamorizes western men.” Rather, it is finally an example that goes against the traditional grain in the Korean media: that Korean women who want to be with western men are “easy” and are somehow betraying their race/nationality. Of course this is not necessarily the best reflection of actual Korean society, but nobody is claiming it is. The point is that it is a view that is portrayed and perhaps even strengthened by the media. And believe me, this commercial really does seem to be the first to portray a Korean woman thinking in this way about western men. For a blog with the stated purpose and aims of this blog, then, I think it’s perfectly suitable to be blogged about.

      • Thank you Seamus and Abcfsk for your replies to Shw, but although it’s true that part of the problem is that he or she doesn’t seem to be a long-time follower of this or similar blogs like Seamus said, I do always try to write my posts for both long-term and first-time readers (often quite a thankless task), and what’s more clearly and explicitly do so here.

        Nevertheless, Shw still chose to not only completely ignore the mass of evidence presented not just in this post but in all the others of my own and other bloggers I link to (“an imaginary double standard”), but even decided to insult my blog in the process.

        I don’t need any more justification for not wasting any more time on the comment.

  2. To shw — simplifying this blog post to “yay this commercial is great” I think severely misrepresents the motivation behind it. Surely you can appreciate that this is about broader issues than commercials glorifying this and that and about a society where, on this particular topic, borderline racist attitudes still hold strong? And cracks in that historical luggage finally showing?

    Anyway, others can chime in on this, but watching various talk / variety shows where questions to pop idols about his or her “ideal person” annoyingly shows up with an impressive frequency, am I wrong in noting that to a larger extent non-Korean fantasy objects show up? Now I haven’t been watching Korean TV for THAT long, so maybe it’s been a longtime presence, and if anyone knows better, please correct me. Here’s an example, with “which non-Korean male do you lust for?” being given its own segment in interviewing SNSD:

    • I don’t watch them myself (English or Korean), and so thanks for passing that on, as I never would have known of it otherwise. And if you’re right about the trend, then that’s almost noteworthy of a post in itself!^^

      Sorry I can’t help though. Meanwhile, anyone wanting to see for themselves, the questions about Western men begin at 3:37.

  3. I like that touch at the end, snuggling up with a huge smile on her face with the foreign guy. Haha Korea… becoming more like Japan every day ;)

    • Any country with a US military bases will promote white privilege and the people treat whites better than their own people. SAD…Japan is dying and Korea will too – they have given up their dignity.

      Notice…white people won’t even watch an Asian man with a white girl. There is NONE of that in the West, yet there are tons of Asian who have been here since 1900. But white people can step of the boat in asia and get better treatments.

  4. Great…another white-privileged-driven post about how FINALLY korean women have “come to their seneses” and now recognize the white man for what he truly is…the best and most awesome thing alive, right?

    Your blog is really informative on korean culture (I’ve read for over 1 year now) but posts like these drive me nuts. It’s so funny how you sit there and are like “yes, finally koreans realize how great us white guys are”…and then most arrogantly say something like: “koreans are becoming more open-minded”. Fuck that shit…there’s a reason why koreans as a whole, especially the media, don’t like english teacher loser white guys. It’s because Koreans aren’t stupid; all the koreans I know know that teachers here are retards who can’t get jobs or gfs back home. At the very least, they know that teachers have no future plan for themselves.

    I for one applaud koreans for not tolerating bullshit like ATEK, or even worse that gangnam group of teachers who wanted to “protest” because they’re housing allowance (which was given by the gov’t as a BONUS) got cut from like 1 million won/month to 300,000. The truth is those teachers AREN’T qualified, including you. You’re a teacher right? but have you ever been trained to teach? No, yet you make a living doing it, all because you’re white. All the while you sit there complaining about media portrayals and then congratulate yourself whenever you find that Koreans are “starting to improve themselves” (aka recognize the greatness of white people).

    Just gotta call you on the bullshit man. I don’t expect you to agree even 1% with me….cause white people can never see the bullshit they perpetrate whenever it comes to race discussions. But I can tell you that anyone who is a non-white person cannot even read that post without laughing how absurd you are.

    • Let’s see: a complete and utter misrepresentation of both me and the post; precious little evidence that you’re even read it, let alone your claims to have read the blog for over a year; completely unrelated racist rants about white men and teachers; and personal insults to me to boot.

      Banned.

  5. Thank you, thank you for finding this commercial. I saw this in a movie theatre, before the film started, and the Korean woman I was with was tickled pink. I searched on YouTube for it, but couldn`t remember what the product name was, so I couldn`t find it.

    abcfsk;

    Thanks for that YouTube video.

    • Thank my new exercycle: am spending a lot more time in front of the TV because of it, and if I hadn’t seen the one time I did I would probably have completely missed it!

      Just wish it would have rained more than once in the nearly 3 weeks since I bought it to make me feel better about buying it…sigh.

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  7. Well I don’t see any problem with the ad, some koreans are a bit mad about preserving their “pure race”, like they never mixed in past with russians and other ethinical groups.

    Most countries I know don’t give a f*ck about black men with blondes as far as I know, maybe her parents can care but never the competition. girls around the world like just bieber and guys who care are obviously just jealous of him. My pal is black+white and he had a blonde gf once and I don’t see any problem with that. I noticed he is a lot into blondes.

    I just think if some korean women like western men, nice, I’m happy because I’m usually attracted to them too, very feminine women indeed, harder to find this type elsewhere in the world. For Korean men, I’m sure if you put an effort in yourself, stop talking and start doing it, buy some cool clothes, fix bad habits(if any) you won’t find reasons to complain about this because you’ll be dating great korean women too. Truth be said, the ones who are complaining are the ones who are getting nothing. Just remember guys no woman wants a man without life goals and bad habits whether you’re yellow, black or white. great men deserve great women. don’t expect great women coming for you if you’re a p*ssy who just complains about life being cruel but does nothing at all to change.

    *Life was also very cruel to me, I even starved once, but at least I kept myself strong enough to go ahead and do something to change for better and I still do.

  8. I am Asian born American and after reading some of the comments criticizing your post, I would like to toss in my thoughts.

    While you say foreign men (particularly White) in Korea are misrepresented, the opposite can be said about foreign men (Asian) in the rest of the west. While I do not watch a lot of European programming, I do watch American.

    The Karate Kid, The Departed, Romeo Must Die, 21, and many others movies snub Asians left and right. Take for example The Departed. Hollywood assumes and I fear are right, that Asians are not a good “catch” to draw American audiences. Given the movie’s main leads are men, you get the drift. Add the scene where a trade deal goes on with the Chinese and Jack Nicholson makes the small penis reference and you can see why some Asian (particularly men) will get annoyed. This movie went on to win best picture at the Oscars.

    More recently, Scott Pilgrim versus the World. Scott Pilgrim has a bubbly Asian girlfriend who is obsessed with him but he isn’t and goes for Ramona, a white girl.

    In 2006, The Host was the highest grossing film in Korea, then Spiderman 2 came along. I am not a movie critic so I can’t say which one was better. I am just pointing to box office success. The Host shows Koreans in a movie with complex relationships, character development, and so on, so does Spiderman 2 except with all foreigners. Could The Host reach the box office success in America like Spiderman 2 did in Korea? No. I didn’t even see any commercials for it. It was recognized by good publications but nowhere near Spiderman 2.

    I honestly think a lot of Asians realize either conscious or unconsciously that eastern soft power is often limited to food or martial arts.

    Tie this back to Westerners in the east. While you don’t see Korean girls with Western in Korean media, you can see it everywhere else. Can a Korean male see himself with a white woman in the western media? Does that cause angst or unbalance? This might not seem important but I truly believe it is.

    To be frank, I’ve seen many Korean ads and dramas with Westerners (men) portrayed in a positive light and often in an attractive manner. The same cannot be said for Asian men in the West.

    • Thank you for your comment, and I don’t dispute any of the points you make about the representation of East Asians in the US media. But to be frank, it’s extremely tiresome to hear them virtually every time any negative commentary is made on the representation of Westerners in the Korean media, often with the argument that the latter is mitigated or even justified by the former. While it’s true that you don’t explicitly state that, it is implicit in your raising of a completely irrelevant issue.

      Regardless, I do acknowledge both White privilege in Korea and the overwhelmingly positive portrayal of Westerners in both Korean ads and dramas. But the fact remains however, that despite both this appears to be the first Korean ad ever to portray Korean females in relationships with Western males (let alone in a positive light), and hence my drawing people’s attention to it here.

      • I don’t think the issue I raised is irrelevant at all, for it shows pathologies between why commercials you posted are so rarely seen. And if by your reasoning that you find it tiresome, you must understand that there is an ethos behind it and it must be called out whenever Westerners are saying they are the ones being oppressed.

        At the end of the day I guess some Asian guy would feel the need to make a post too if an Asian man was being fantasized by Western women in a commercial.

        • To be clear, by “irrelevant” I don’t mean uninteresting or worthless, but there are just so few commonalities in the racial, sexual, nationalist, religious, and demographic histories of the US and Korea that I think it is misguided, at best a waste of one’s resources, to understand the media representation of minorities of one in terms of the other.

          And besides which, that never seems to be the point of people who raise the former, including yourself. You first say that “I must understand that there is an ethos behind” the misrepresentation of minorities in the US media, as if simply by virtue of being Caucasian I was previously completely unaware of that and unable to understand it for myself. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure I do still have a lot to learn from Asian-Americans about the topic, but it is extremely patronizing and racist of you to feel that you absolutely “must” mention that Asian-Americans are also oppressed in the US “whenever” Westerners say that the same can also happen to them a little in East Asia.

          And if not to educate us ignorant Caucasians about it, then why mention it at all? I put it to you that 99% of the time the intent is nothing more profound or enlightening then saying “Stop whining”, which is not exactly the most helpful response to receive every time one raises an issue that is of relevance and concern to them.

          Thank you though, for admitting that it is only natural for me to draw people’s attention to the commercial.

    • > More recently, Scott Pilgrim versus the World. Scott Pilgrim has a bubbly Asian girlfriend who is obsessed with him but he isn’t and goes for Ramona, a white girl.

      To strengthen your point, the ending with Scott + Asian girlfriend was apparently made and audiences didn’t like it; from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Pilgrim_versus_the_World#Development

      > In the film’s original ending, written before the release of the final Scott Pilgrim book, Scott ultimately gets back together with Knives. After the final book in the series was released, in which Scott and Ramona get back together, and negative audience reaction to the ending during testing, a new ending was filmed to match the books, with Scott and Ramona getting back together.[23]

      Citing http://collider.com/scott-pilgrim-interview-mary-elizabeth-winstead-ellen-wong-scott-pilgrim-vs-the-world-interview-the-thing-prequel-die-hard-5-alternate-ending/42597/ which oddly enough, doesn’t seem to actually say anything about an audience reaction. (Better tag that for verification.)

  9. I did not mean to imply “Asian American” only. I meant Asians in the west as a whole. And although you say there are gaps in between, I don’t believe things should be isolated to certain area when it can be addressed as a whole.

    I do apologize if you saw this as some sort of pretentious lecture and I am sorry it came across that way for I assure you it was not my intention. I am not saying “stop whining.” I am saying that to celebrate the notion that Western men are being fantasized by Korean women in media brings attention to that fact that without ads or commercials or anything else, many Asians already know by history alone that the Caucasian male can get the Asian girl just through their complexion.

    Now I am not saying White people are horrible human beings who rely on their pigmentation or White people are not capable of being good human beings. I am saying that by virtue alone of having a Western ancestry and culture gives you an advantage in Eastern countries not given to others.

    I am also not saying you shouldn’t post anything positive about Westerners on your blog. I am just “tossing in my thoughts” as I had originally posted on why some were criticizing this post. They should have not posted in such an unfriendly manner and probably due to how the world educates its people, its reason why but that is another thing. I just think criticisms such as experienced in this post did not stem out of nothing.

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  11. Lol, it’s always amusing when a bunch of white kids go to some other country and analyze this and that and think that they have something to offer. Calling themselves ‘ex-pats’ like it’s some sort of an honorable title and muddling white blood. Honestly, what do you hope to achieve by this kind of blogging? It seems like you are fixated on shallow stuff anyhow. Maybe it’s your repressed psyche craving for some same-online-loser groupie attention.

    Stupid waste of space. And it’s not like the majority of Korean people need to give you stupid expats the much craved attention. Stop living in some delusional space in some closet. This is not Narnia, buddy.

    Also, @ Diyi, if you travel to Asian countries (Korea included), you will see that Asian grls who go for white men are always losers (in the head) just as the white men who go for Asian girls are losers. Why would anyone who fits into their group want to marry a person from another group even at the risk of problems such as communication, half-breed production, child education, and national identity, etc?

    Finally, @ James, there’s a good reason why ex-pats such as yourself are not appreciated in Korea. You guys stay there too long and think you guys should be appreciated. And you think that’s ‘sociological’ justice. Typical screwed-up ‘entitlement’ mentality. Just admit that people like you are bunch of traitors to your country and that you are some rootless Tom, Dick, and Harry. Seriously, if you did that, this dumb blog would never have materialized in the first place.

    Talk about overanalyzing media impact..

  12. What the hell kind of comment is that?

    Seriously, even if I wasn’t ddrunk, I’ve got better things to do than deal with your justification/rationalization, if you have one. So, banned.

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