An ‘Oppa Industry’ Founded on Powerless, Frustrated Men’s Desire / 무기력한 남자의 욕망에 기초한 ‘오빠 산업’
‘오빠’ 노래가 최근 처음 등장한 건 아니다. 하지만 여자 가수들이 약속이나 한 듯 동시에 ‘오빠’를 불러대는 모습은 과거에도 보기 드문 장면이었다. 대체 어떤 연유로 ‘오빠 강풍’이 불기 시작했을까?
This is not the first time that there have been Oppa songs. But, just as you’d expect, it was rare to find female singers [actually?] saying the word in past songs. [So] what on Earth was the origin of this Oppa Craze?
물론 ‘오빠’ 소리를 듣고 싶은 남자들이 많기 때문일 것이다. 걸그룹에 열광하는 남자팬들의 다수가 연애조차 하기 힘든 비정규직 세대라는 점을 기억할 필요가 있다. 이들이 걸그룹에 환호하는 이유는 소위 ‘초식남’이 만화주인공과 사랑에 빠지는 이유와 비슷하다. 그들에게 걸그룹은 ‘망가걸’의 실사판인 셈이다.
Of course, the reason is that there are many men that want to be called “Oppa”. We need to remember that the majority of enthusiastic male fans of girl-groups are a generation of men who work hard at irregular, [dead-end] jobs, and [so?] have difficulty even getting a date. The reason they cheer girl-groups is similar to the reason so-called “Herbivore Men” fall in love with the main characters in manhwa comic books: to them, girl groups members are like real-life versions of “Manga Girls”.
James: jumping ahead to a point I’ll make again in the conclusion, things like this mean we should be very wary of such sweeping statements about the demographics of K-pop fans, not least those made by myself. But I do find Kang’s arguments compelling overall.
한국 걸그룹이 외환위기 이후에 등장했다는 사실은 의미심장하다. 특히 한국 경제가 장기침체로 들어선 2000년대 후반 등장한 원더걸스나 소녀시대는 1990년대 후반의 에스이에스(S.E.S.)나 핑클 등의 ’1세대 걸그룹’과 구별되는 특성을 보인다. 훨씬 어리고, 노출 정도가 크고, 몰개성적이며, ‘리드보컬’ 개념이 매우 약하거나 존재하지 않으며, 대규모 오디션과 ‘연습생’ 제도에 의존한다.
It is telling that Korean girl-groups first appeared after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98. And [in turn] the Wondergirls and Girls’ Generation that appeared in the second half of the 2000s, after years of economic stagnation, can be distinguished from those “First Generation Girl-groups” such as S.E.S. and Fin.K.L. in several ways: they were way too young; they exposed their bodies a great deal more; they were de-indivualized, with the “lead vocal” concept not existing at all; and they depended on intensive audition-processes and practice and training-sessions.
James: Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling has two great posts on the differences between the two generations of girl-groups here and here, and Mellowyel at Mixtapes and Liner Notes has an equally interesting post here that deals with those and other differences, including less stress on vocals by later groups. But while I certainly agree with all those differences, and would be the first to admit that many girl-group members are essentially faceless and interchangeable to all but their most ardent fans, nevertheless I think saying that they’re “de-individualized” puts it a little too strongly, masking an important point. Specifically, consider what Philip Vannini and Scott Myers wrote about manufactured Western bands a decade ago (in “Crazy About You: Reflections on the Meanings of Contemporary Teen Pop Music”, Electronic Journal of Sociology, available online here):
Producers’ control extends from songwriting to image-packaging and personality development. Any boy-band act is put together to appeal to various personalities and life outlooks of fans as each band includes a member portrayed as cute and sweet, one funny, one good-looking and mysterious, one creative and goofy, one talented and motivated, one dark and tough, and such. Bands are created with the consumers’ demand in mind…
Then compare what allkpop wrote about Korean girl-groups last year (the first source I could find sorry!):
Osen recently pointed out that cute members of female groups tend to generate widespread interest and bump up a group’s popularity singlehandedly. Every member has their own individual role in the group, and every group has a member in charge of being the ‘cute’ one. In Korea, fans call this certain member “Kui-yo-mi (귀요미),” meaning “the girl with the cute image (귀여운 이미지를 가진 이).” This member is in charge of garnering fanboy love with her cute/lovable/girly charm, which will result in a bigger fanbase for the group. In this report, Osen identified four girl group members that fit this role.
So sure, while many girl-groups are large, and some are getting larger all the time, who’s who in them does still have some relevance. (AKB48 they ain’t!)
Back to the article:
Caption: 한국 걸그룹은 ‘망가걸’의 실사판 이미지에 가깝다. 리본, 분홍, 천진한 표정이 드러내는 유아적 여성 이미지와 검은 눈썹에 금발을 한 인물의 탈국적성 등은 일본 만화캐릭터에서 보편적으로 발견되는 특성이다.
Caption: Korea girl-group members are close to being real-life Manga Girls. There’s the ribbon; the pink; and the naive, innocent expression, which combine to give an infantile image. Add black eyeliner and blond hair, and you’re left with an figure devoid of ethnicity, i.e. the universal Japanese manhwa character.
나머지는 ‘세대착취’ 부분에서 자세히 다루기로 하고, 우선 ‘어린 나이’와 ‘노출’에 대해 살펴보도록 하자. ‘롤리타 콤플렉스’라 불리는 소아성애는 약화된 남성성과 관련이 있다. 경제적 능력이 남성 권력의 토대인 가부장제 사회에서 경제력의 상실은 곧 남성성의 상실을 의미하게 된다.
I will talk more about the exploitation of this generation in detail later [in Parts 3-5]. First, let’s examine the issue of exposing the bodies of young people. [In short], there is a relationship between this pedophilia called the “Lolita Complex” and weakened male sexuality. And in a patriarchal society based on economic ability and male power, accordingly the loss of economic power equates with a weakening of male sexuality.
한국경제가 장기침체에 들어서며 어린 ’2세대 걸그룹’이 등장했듯, 일본 역시 1980년대 경기침체를 겪으면서 ‘로리콘(ロリコン) 캐릭터’가 급부상했다. 한국 걸그룹과 일본의 ‘로리콘 캐릭터’의 속성은 동일하다. ‘어린 얼굴에 성인의 몸을 가진, 위협적이지 않은 성적 대상’이다. 약화된 남성들에게 성숙하고 당당한 여성은 감당할 수 없는 위협이기 때문이다.
When the Korean economy entered a period of long-term stagnation, the second generation of girl groups-appeared. Likewise, Japan also went through a period of long-term economic stagnation in the 1980s, and “Lolicon” characters quickly appeared. Korean girl-group [members] share many characteristics of these Lolicon characters. With childlike faces with adult bodies, they are non-threatening sex-objects. Because to weakened men, mature and confident women are too threatening.
<게으름뱅이 정신분석>의 저자 기시다 슈도 비슷한 맥락에서 성범죄를 분석한다. 그에 따르면, 성범죄자는 남성성이 넘치는 사람들이 아니다. 이들은 정상적인 교류상황에서는 성능력을 발휘할 수 없는 ‘고자’ 혹은 ‘불능남’이기 때문에, 여성을 위협해 무기력한 상태로 만들거나 아예 저항 능력이 없는 연소자나 장애인을 택해 범죄를 벌인다는 것이다.
Syu Kishida, author of “A Psychoanalysis of Lazy Bastards”, made similar lines of connection with sex-criminals. According to him [her?], sexual criminals are not [exactly] men overflowing with male sexuality. [Rather], because they are “eunuchs” or impotent men who can’t develop sexual ability through normal [life and] interaction, they prefer to threaten or make women powerless, or choose to commit sexual crimes against the young or disabled because those groups are unable to reject them.
스티븐 엡스타인과 제임스 턴블이 잘 정리했듯, 한국 걸그룹은 ‘순진’, ‘애교’, ‘수줍음’, ‘수동성’, ‘도발’ 등의 특성을 갖는다. 얼핏 보면 ‘순진’, ‘수줍음,’ ‘수동성’은 ‘(성적) 도발’과 대치되는 듯 보이지만, 사실은 모두 ‘도발’을 위한 장치일 뿐이다. 무기력한 남성을 도발하기 위해서는 순진하고, 여리고, 수동적인 여성 이미지가 필요하기 때문이다.
Stephen Epstein and James Turnbull summarized this well. Korean girl-groups’ shared characteristics are naivety, aegyo, shyness, passivity and sexual provocation. While at a glance those first personality traits seem to contradict the last, in fact all are simply a device for sexual provocation. To powerless men, a naive, weak, and passive image of women is required for this.
한국에 등장한 ‘꽃미남’, ‘화장하는 남자’, ‘초식남’은 일본이 앞서 경험한 현상이다. 그렇다면 한국 걸그룹이 해외에서 얻는 인기는 경기침체로 인한 ‘롤리타 콤플렉스’ 및 일본 ‘로리콘 캐릭터’의 보편화와 떼어 생각하기 어렵다.
Trends for men that have emerged in Korea, like “Flower-Beautiful-Men” (Kkotminam), “Cosmetics-wearing Men”, and “Herbivore Men” are all things that Japan has also experienced. On that basis, it’s very difficult not to think that there’s something in common with the popularity Korean girl-groups are gaining overseas [Japan surely?] and the popularity of the Lolita Complex and Lolicon characters there that arose with long-term economic stagnation (end).
James: I think Kang’s central point about the economic and consequent cultural parallels between Japan and Korea is valid, and that it’s certainly true that some Japanese men’s liking of the Lolita Complex and Lolicon characters would predispose them to also liking Korean girl-groups. But with this final paragraph, I think he extrapolates a little too much, for two or three reasons (source, right):
1) There are huge differences between Japanese Herbivore men and Korean Kkotminam (I’ve never heard of “Cosmetics-Wearing Men”), the latter of which would by no means be considered powerless. But I concede that Kang may simply have been pointing out yet more similarities with Japan here, rather than making a connection to those particular groups of men and male fans of Lolicon and Korean girl-groups per se.
2) More to the point then, has any actual research been done to confirm these alleged tastes in Lolicon and so on of Japanese male fans of Korean girl-groups? (While it does makes sense, like I said we should be very wary of taking it as a given, particularly considering the next point)
3) And crucially, the vast majority of Japanese fans of Korean girl-groups are in fact girls and young women, as – ironically – Korean girl-groups reportedly provide a much more mature image than their Japanese counterparts. If so, then rather than embracing Korean girl groups, logic dictates that in fact powerless Japanese men would positively reject them.
Which again demonstrates the need for more research into the demographics of Japanese K-pop fandom. Or perhaps it has already been done, and readers can point me in its direction? (hint hint)^^ Meanwhile, Part 3 on The “Irregular Generation’s” Double-Exploitation / ‘비정규직 세대’의 이중착취 will be up on
Thursday or Friday Monday (possessive meant as in “by”, not exploitation “of”).
Caption: 일본 ‘로리콘’ 캐릭터. 1980년대 일본 경제침체가 심화되면서 ‘위협적이지 않은’ 어린 소녀를 성적 대상화하는 현상이 두드러졌다. ‘롤리타 콤플렉스’는 무기력한 남성의 정체성을 반영한다. 외환위기 이후 등장한 한국의 걸그룹 현상도 같은 맥락으로 볼 수 있다.
Caption: Japanese “Lolicon” characters. With the deepening economic stagnation in Japan in the 1980s [1990s?], the sexual objectification of unthreatening young girls became noticeable. This Lolita Complex reflected the identity of powerless men, as does the rise of Korean girl-groups.
(See here for Part 3)