Did you know that middle-aged sexual harassers often claim that they were just being affectionate, touching the victim simply as if they were their own daughters? Naively perhaps, I had no idea, so I didn’t give this commercial a second thought when it came out in 2005. But armed with that knowledge, I can certainly understand why it would have made so many women uncomfortable, as pointed out by Park Hee-jeong (박희정) in her article on the commercial that I’ve translated below, and which was echoed by numerous commenters.
Then it hit me. If all this was already well-known by the Korean public in 2005, then it takes no great leap of the imagination to see how middle-aged men’s sexual attraction to 15 and 16 year-old girl-group members could so quickly and readily be framed in the same terms just a couple of years later, albeit more as an avuncular (uncle) love rather than a paternal one for some reason.
That would remain the case for the next few years, as you can read about in depth here, here, here, here, and especially in Ch’a U-jin’s chapter on girl-groups in Idol: The Cultural Phenomenon of Idols from H.O.T. to Girls’ Generation by Lee Dong-yeun, et. al. (2011), as he was one of the very few prominent academics challenging that consensus at the time. Only upon a perceived spate of sex crimes against children in July 2010 would the media begin (and I stress only begin) acknowledging the sexual element, and how that could be problematic.
Update – I’m afraid I was confusing Cha’s chapter with Soo-ah Kim’s article “The Construction of Cultural Consumption Way: The Discourse of Uncle Fans with the Girl-Idol Group” in Media, Gender & Culture, 15 (2010): 79-119 (“소녀 이미지의 볼거리화와 소비 방식의 구성: 소녀 그룹의 삼촌 팬 담론 구성”, 미디어, 젠더 & 문화). I should also point out that I haven’t read either myself sorry, as academic Korean is still a little beyond me!
Of course, that’s just scratching the surface of ajosshi (아저씨; middle-aged man) fandom, and I certainly don’t want to imply that middle-aged men’s interest in young girl-groups can’t be anything but sexual. Nor that when it is sexual though, that that’s fine for 20 and 30-somethings, but somehow wrong or “unnatural” when coming from older men. Either way, the crucial thing is that it’s acknowledged, and that the impact of – and consequent possible restrictions on – entertainment companies using underage performers to cater to this sexual interest are considered.
This “just like my daughter/niece” rationalization though, is a complete denial, and deserves further exploring: finding it in two different contexts can’t just be coincidence. In particular, I think that that it may be much more common of Korean harassers than of those from other countries, and would appreciate it if readers could confirm or deny this.
Meanwhile, Park Hee-jeong’s article is more about the memories of such harassment the commercial evokes, and especially on the “beautiful flowering”-type gender socialization contained within the narration. I think she overstates the latter a little when she discusses how awkward the reality of puberty is for girls though, as it’s certainly no picnic for boys either, with other family members likewise invariably embarrassing them or making them feel uncomfortable as they develop. Also, when she implies that wet dreams are celebrated as a sign of manhood, then it’s clear that actually she knows very little about raising teenage boys. But still, it’s a very eye-opening short article, and thanks again to the reader that passed it on to me:
딸의 미소는 남성들의 판타지일 뿐 삼성생명 TV광고 ‘인생은 길다’ 딸 편
A Daughter’s Smile is Only a Male Fantasy, Samsung Life Insurance ‘Life is Long’ Daughter Version
저녁 식사 자리, 등을 두드리는 아버지의 손길에 딸은 불편한 얼굴을 보인다. 알고 보니 처음 착용한 브래지어가 신경이 쓰였던 것이다. “장조림 많이 먹어라” 하며 다독이는 아버지의 말에 딸은 수줍게 미소를 짓는다.
As a father and daughter sit down to eat dinner, he gives her an affectionate pat on the back and says “Eat up!”. But we see that this makes her uncomfortable, as she is wearing her first bra, and later she gives an embarrassed smile to her father.
삼성생명의 TV광고 시리즈 ‘인생은 길다’ 중 딸 편의 내용이다. 화면이 진행되는 동안, 광고에서는 아버지의 목소리로 “딸의 인생은 깁니다. 어느새 여자가 될 것이고, 사랑을 하고, 결혼하고 엄마가 될 것입니다” 라는 나레이션이 흐른다.
In this commercial, part of the Samsung Life Insurance “Life is Long” series, the daughter is the focus. In the background, the father narrates “My daughter’s life will be long. Before I know it, she will be a woman. She will fall in love, she will get married, she will become a mother”.
‘훈훈한’ 성장의 확인?
Affectionately noticing how his daughter is developing
이 광고는 딸의 성장을 깨닫는 아버지의 마음을 다루고 있다. 훈훈하고 감동적이어서 ‘눈물까지 흘렸다’는 아버지들의 이야기도 들리는 걸 보면, 많은 남성들이 이 광고의 정서에 공감하고 있는 듯하다.
In this commercial, the father notices that his daughter is growing up. Seeing as many men have been so moved by it as to be almost crying, it is indeed a warm commercial that plays on one’s heartstrings.
그러나 한 켠에서 불편한 감정을 호소하는 여성들의 목소리도 흘러나오고 있다. S씨(28)는 광고를 보며 느꼈던 불편함을 이렇게 말한다. “브래지어를 한 등을 만지는 모습이나 움찔거리는 딸의 모습이 싫었어요. 그 상황에서 느꼈을 기분 나쁜 감정이 떠올라서. 실제였다면 그 상황에서 결코 딸은 웃지 못하죠.”
On the other hand, women are expressing feelings of awkwardness with this commercial. Miss S (28), said it made her uncomfortable, and that “I hated it when the girl shivered after being touched on the back by the father. That feels nothing but bad. Daughters wouldn’t be able to just laugh about it, yes?”.
우리 사회에서 딸들에게 성장, 특히 ‘성적인 성장’은 훈훈한 경험이 되지 못한다. 광고 속 딸도 브래지어를 한 등에 아버지의 손이 닿자 깜짝 놀란다. 십대 여성들에게 성적 성장은 부끄럽고 감추고 싶은 일처럼 되어있다. 브래지어 자체도 몸의 건강과는 상관없이 가슴을 보정하고 감추기 위한 것이지 않은가. 그런 면에서 브래지어를 착용하고 긴장하거나 누가 만지기라도 할까봐 안절부절 못하는 딸의 모습은 훈훈하기 보다는 차라리 안타까운 모습에 가깝다.
In our society, growing up, especially sexual development, is by no means a warm and wonderful experience for girls. In this commercial, even the daughter is shocked and surprised by the father touching her on the back. After all, the bra itself is for hiding and adjusting one’s breasts, regardless of how healthy one’s body is [James - I think this means it is taboo for women not to wear a bra in Korea]. Moreover, worrying about having one’s bra touched [James - Or noticed and/or pointed out?] is a source of tension and stress for girls, making the scene more something to be lamented than as an example of fatherly affection.
“딸 같아서 만진다”
“I touched her because she’s like my daughter”
여성들이 이 광고를 보면서 느끼는 불편함의 한 켠은 ‘몸을 만지는’ 행위에 있다. 우리 사회에서는 가족이라든가 친하다는 이유로 타인의 몸에 손을 대는 행위가 쉽게 용납이 되는 경향이 있다. 나이 지긋한 분이 성희롱 가해자로 지목되면 “딸 같아서 만진 건데 잘못이냐?”는 변명(?)이 나오는 것도 그런 이유다.
One reason women feel uncomfortable watching this ad is because of the act of the daughter’s body being touched. That is because our society approves of and/or grants permission to men touching them in a friendly manner, like they would their own family members. Indeed, when an older male is accused of sexual harassment, often he fastens on to the excuse that “Can’t I affectionately touch someone like my own daughter?”.
그러나 성장을 기뻐한다는 의도로 몸을 만지는 일들이 자식들의 입장에서는 기분 나쁜 일이 되기도 한다. P씨(30)는 초등학교 시절 가슴이 나오기 시작한 걸 흐뭇해하던 아버지가 맨 가슴을 만진 일에 상처를 받았다고 한다. “아버지야 나쁜 의도가 없으셨겠지만 기분이 나쁘고 싫었거든요. 기분 나빠하는 걸 귀엽게 여기는 게 더 싫고 화가 났지만, 별 수 없었죠.”
While one can touch children because you’re pleased with how they’re growing [James - I highly doubt this is meant in a pedophilic sense. But the next sentence definitely does sound strange though], from children’s perspective it can feel quite bad. Miss P (30) said that when she was in elementary school and her breasts had started appearing, her father touched them in a pleased way [James - as in, "Wow, my girl's growing up!"] and that this [emotionally] hurt her. “My father didn’t mean anything bad by it, but I still felt bad and hated it. My father thought it was cute though, which just made me angry and hate it all the more, although I couldn’t do anything about it”.
“딸 같아서 만진다”는 말이 통용되는 사회에서 삼성생명의 광고는 많은 여성들에게 불편한 기억을 환기시킨다. 광고 속에서는 의도된 스킨십이 아니었지만, 불편해하는 딸의 모습을 아름답게 바라보는 시점 자체가 이미 여성들을 불편하게 만들고 있는 것이다.
“I just touched her like I would my daughter” is an excuse used so much in Korean society, that this Samsung Life Insurance commercial evokes many uncomfortable memories in women. In particular, having something that would in reality be so uncomfortable for the daughter, to be just cutely dismissed instead, already makes women feel uncomfortable. Even though the father’s intention was not skinship [James - i.e., not sexual. See #2 here for more on what "skinship" is].
Life as a woman?
광고의 마지막에 수줍은 미소를 짓는 딸의 모습은 그래서 불편할 뿐만 아니라 현실적이지도 못하다. 성적인 변화를 부끄러워하고 수줍어하는 십대여성의 모습을 아름답게 여기는 것은 남성들의 판타지일 뿐이다.
The commercial’s final scene with the girl shyly smiling is not just uncomfortable and awkward, but unrealistic. The notion that a teenage girls’ sexual development is beautiful is just a male fantasy, whereas in reality it is embarrassing and often full of shame.
무엇보다 딸의 성장을 대표할만한 것이 어째서 브래지어가 되어야 하는가. ‘여자’ ‘사랑’ ‘결혼’, 딸의 인생을 한정 짓는 말의 진부함은 더 말할 필요도 없다.
More than anything else, why on Earth is a bra considered so representative of daughters’ development? And there’s no need to limit her future to simply the old-fashioned goals of becoming a woman, of falling in love, and getting married either (source, right: unknown).
바 꿔서 생각해보자. 이를테면 처음으로 수염이 나거나, 첫 몽정을 한 아들을 두고, “어느새 사랑을 하고, 결혼을 하고, 아빠가 될 것입니다” 라며 흐뭇함을 느끼는 어머니의 모습은 쉽게 연상되는 이미지는 아닐 것이다. ‘아들의 성장’이 가지는 이미지는 성적 성장, 가정을 이루는 것 등에 국한되지 않기 때문이다.
Let’s try changing the sexes. Instead of a son’s first shave or wet dream being a sign of manhood, let’s imagine a mother sitting in front of her son thinking “Before I know it, he’ll fall in love, get married, and become a father”. Unlike daughters, when you think of sons growing up, you don’t only think of their sexual development and of them becoming parents themselves.
삼성생명의 ‘인생은 길다’ 시리즈 광고를 두고, 흔히 접할 수 있는 보통 사람들의 모습을 담고 있는 ‘리얼리티’ 광고라 한다. 그러나 그 리얼리티 속에 실제 딸의 성장과 느낌은 박제되어 있다.
Samsung Life Insurance’s “Life is Long” series is widely seen as very touching and realistic. But [hidden] in that [fabricated] reality are daughters’ real feelings and development (end).