Korean Sociological Image #83: Vintage Contraceptive Pill Commercials

Spending the weekend looking for 8 year-old contraceptive pill commercials, as one does, I ended up finding some adorable 38 year-old ones instead:

Take the title dates with a grain of salt: this brief post says that they actually come from 1982, 1976, and 1976 respectively, and the second at least is corroborated by very similar print advertisements appearing in 1976 newspapers. The writer gains further credibility by noting the names of the actors in the first (An So-yeong/안소영) and third ones (Yeon Gyu-jin/연규진 and Yeom Bok-soon/염복순), and by pointing out that the 1970s ones would have appeared in cinemas rather than on television—although as TV bans on contraceptive commercials weren’t actually lifted until 2006, then presumably the same goes for the 1982 one too.

Here’s what Yeon Gyu-jin (love his expression!) and Yeom Bok-soon ‘say’ in the last one, although I confess I’m a little confused by the end caption that says it’s a “contraceptive pill that you don’t take” (먹지않는 피임야):

M: 이봐, 이봐, 첫 아기는 아들이야. / The first one has to be a son.

W: 어휴, 어휴 아들 좋아하네. 누구맘대로. 딸이 좋단 말이예요. / Tsk. You like boys, but it won’t happen. I like girls.

M: 글쎄 아들이라니까. / Well, I said I like boys.

W: 어휴, 어휴 딸이란 말이예요. / Well, I said I like girls.

M: 당신같은 딸 낳아 누굴 또 속 썩일려구. 어휴…. / If we get a girl like you, she’ll be a handful…

W: 그럼 자기 나 닮은 아들, 딸 어때요? Then, how about a boy and a girl that look like me?

M: 에이,,에이.. 그게 당신맘대로 할 수 있어? Is that something you can happen just because you want it to?

W: 그건 저한테 맡겨 주세요. 제가 자신있으니까요.  You leave that up to me. I’m confident!

Korea Contraceptive PillCelebrating 50 years of the pill in — where else? — a nightclub :) Source.

However charming the commercials may appear now though, any nostalgia for simpler times would be misplaced, as in reality Korea’s population polices were every bit as systematic and draconian as China’s back then. What’s more, the state tended to view the pill as a temporary or supplemental contraceptive at best, much preferring one-shot and permanent methods. In the 1960s, that would be the “patriotic” and “ideal” IUD; by the 1980s, sterilization.

In light of that, these pill commercials become all the more exceptional(?) and intriguing. I’d appreciate any additional information readers can provide about them.

Likewise, it’ll be interesting to see what contraceptive commercials appear — or rather don’t appear — on Korean screens in the future as the Park Geun-hye administration grapples with Korea’s ironic world-low birthrate. Because on the one hand, it is regrettable that the former Lee Myung-bak administration saw no need to defend women’s access to the pill, and it is preposterous that his (re)criminalization of abortion — which simply puts women’s lives at risk — is likewise viewed by his successor as a viable method of baby-making. But on the other, because of course Korea is now a democracy, and finally aired its first condom commercials on television in July last year, and with a firm sex-is-fun message at that (in contrast to the PSAs that were briefly allowed in October 2004). Here’s hoping there’ll be a lot more coming this year too! ;D

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

The Pornification of K-pop?

K-pop Porn

Pornography is art, sometimes harmonious, sometimes dissonant. Its glut and glitter are a Babylonian excess. Modern middle-class women cannot bear the thought that their hard-won professional achievements can be outweighed in an instant by a young hussy flashing a little tits and ass. But the gods have given her power, and we must welcome it. Pornography forces a radical reassessment of sexual value, nature’s bequest of our tarnished treasure.

Camille Paglia, Vamps & Tramps, 1994.

For reasons of space and propriety, an opening quote that didn’t make it to my latest article for Busan Haps. But, without denying for a moment that there’s been a lot of gratuitous T&A in K-pop this summer, with many more examples in just the few weeks since this article was written, I think Paglia’s quote brings a healthy dose of realism to the discussion, and frames the one on Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show in the conclusion nicely. Please click on the image to see what I mean.

For much more on the concept of sexual objectification, why it can sometimes be positive, and why consent is so important for determining that, please see here. Also, a must-read is Peter Robinson’s “Naked women in pop videos: art, misogyny or downright cynical?” in The Guardian from last week, which raises many of the same issues (and is a reminder that the “pornification” of K-pop still has quite a long way to go).

The Korea Herald: Should pornography be censored?

Pornography Censorship(Source)

I make a brief appearance in the Korea Herald today, in an article by John Power on the recent government crackdown on pornography. With his permission, here are all of his original questions and my replies, with some links for further reading:

1. Do you foresee the Korean public becoming increasingly unhappy with the heavy censorship of pornography and other sexual content in the short term? Or do you think a largely conservative Korean public will remain happy with the status quo?

In all my 12 years in Korea, ordinary Koreans have loudly and consistently complained of being treated like children by censors. But the censorship of movies has been considerably relaxed in recent years (recall that the Korean Supreme Court overturned a ban on Shortbus for instance), and even the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has begun to acknowledge its own excesses with music videos. So this latest crackdown actually goes against recent trends, and I expect it to face a lot of opposition.

2. Often, censorship is justified to protect young people. Do you think there is a feasible way of protecting youth, while not controlling what adults wish to see?

Frankly I don’t, but this is a dilemma faced by every democracy. Most, however, don’t resort to the draconian restrictions imposed by the Korean government, yet somehow have equal or lower rates of sex crimes by and/or against minors nonetheless.

(“Because I’m a man / 남자기 때문에.” For English subtitles, click on “captions”)

3. A local site pornography site called Soranet had 600,000 subscribers before it was shut down in 2004, showing the widespread nature of its consumption. Do you think the government is fighting a losing battle in trying to ban such material?

If nothing else, banned sites will remain available via proxy servers, but I’m sure young, tech-savy Koreans won’t need to resort to using those. With the proviso that of course the government should continue to monitor the pornography industry as a whole, to prevent exploitation and the use of minors, you have to question the government’s zeal in attacking an otherwise victimless activity, and which there is clearly a huge demand for. Surely the time and resources could be better spent? Perhaps on more up-to-date and effective sex-education, so people could better judge the supposed harmful effects of pornography for themselves?

4. What do you think is the true motivation for censorship of adult content in Korea? Or, put another way, do you think there are sometimes hidden agendas at play?

As someone who notoriously devoted Seoul to God as mayor, and who believes that (re)criminalizing abortion is an effective method of raising the birth rate, clearly Lee Myung-bak’s conservative and religious beliefs are playing a big role here. That aside, blaming pornography for sex crimes, and censoring it on that basis, is also an easy way for the ruling party to appear to be doing something to address public concerns during its candidate’s presidential election campaign, yet without doing anything about their real causes whatsoever.

Ga-in's BEG Concert Teaser(Source)

5. Do you think there are double standards at play in the how and what content is restricted?

If we’re talking specifically about pornography, then no. As for K-pop however, both fans’ widespread perceptions and the empirical evidence suggests that female entertainers are disproportionately censored, often for things that make entertainers are allowed to do scotfree. In particular, whenever female entertainers present themselves as sexual subjects rather than just objects for the male gaze, then the ironically-named Ministry of Gender Equality and Family can be expected to come down hard on them. A good recent case of this is the ban placed on Ga-in’s Bloom, a rare song about sexual awakening from a woman’s perspective, whereas the Ministry had no problem with the gratuitous skin shots in Hyuna’s Ice Cream.

What do you think?

Pin-up Grrrl #2: Ga-in, Bloom, and why we’ll still be talking about both 30 years from now

Ga-in Bloom(Source)

Ga-in shared, “Our previous MVs had received R-ratings and we didn’t understand the reason why. So for my recent MV, I decided to give them one.”

(Daily K-Pop News)

And to help, she watched adult videos from many different countries, finding “that the porn from third world countries fit the most with [her] personal tastes.” Accordingly, Bloom (피어나) has many bed scenes, and — yes really — features her masturbating on her kitchen floor.

In contrast, Miss A‘s (미쓰에이) I Don’t Need a Man (남자 없이 잘 살아) speaks for itself, and the video is so family-friendly that my daughters (demand to) dance to it several times a day.* So to many, it might seem like a much more appropriate, softly-softly feminist anthem for “sexually conservative” Korea. Not least, by those who think the pornification of the media has already gone far enough, and/or that imitating porn stars isn’t something that should be celebrated.

To the latter, I would suggest that they actually take a look at the music video. Because while it is certainly erotic, it is by no means mere sexual titillation masquerading as art, nor is it provided exclusively for the male gaze. On the contrary, as Dana D’Amelio explains in a must-read at Seoulbeats (see this follow-up also):

Essentially, what Ga-in does is take female sexual desire, wrest it from the men who have manipulated it to their own device, and put it back in female hands. Ga-in’s sexuality is something that women can get behind, and that’s something you can’t much say for the rest of K-pop; that she herself is portrayed as taking pleasure as much as she is giving it is unique, fresh, and deeply relatable to female viewers.

Ga-in Bloom(Source)

Dana and fellow Seoulbeats writer Mark both compare Bloom to Kim Hyuna’s (김현아) Ice Cream (아이스크림), which is just as sexually-explicit as Bloom, but strangely wasn’t banned by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Arguably, precisely because it did conform to the male gaze and pervasive double-standards of K-pop.

In light of those, the sooner songs like Bloom rock the K-pop boat, the better. And for that reason, I’m going to wager that Bloom will have much more longevity than not just (frankly) vacuous songs like Ice Cream, but also, as explained below, those ostensibly empowering ones like I Don’t Need a Man that actually seem to be about nothing but men. Yet which, unfortunately, now seem to be the dominant from in pop music worldwide:

Lucy O’Brien, author of She-Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul, thinks the continuing importance of image and presentation is to blame. The key thing that ossified gender roles, she suggests, was MTV, which changed popular culture, leaving feminist punk bands such as the Slits and the Raincoats behind. “Image became the big thing, and angry women who didn’t care about it didn’t really fit that picture,” O’Brien says. There was a brief window of opportunity for women who didn’t fit the MTV template in the early 1990s, she suggests, a time when bestselling artists such as Sinead O’Connor ripped up pictures of the Pope on TV, and Tori Amos sang about her experiences of rape (though, equally, O’Connor’s greatest success came with her most MTV-friendly moment, Nothing Compares 2 U). But then came the Spice Girls, appropriating the vocabulary of riot grrrl, and proclaiming “Girl Power”, but within the conventional model of the pop group manufactured by men for young girls. “Everything became sophisticated and sanitised after that, and the industry has never got over it,” O’Brien says.

(The Guardian, March 25 2010; my emphasis. See Mark’s post “Manufactured Girl Power: Female Empowerment in a Male-Powered Industry” for more on K-pop specifically)
She-Bop 2(Source)

Which brings me to today’s translation, found via Lost in Traffic Lights. Here’s her summary of it (emphasis in original):

…the main difference is…while Bloom talks about how a woman views herself, free from social constructs and how people view her. However, while Miss A’s “I don’t need a man” looks like it’s gunning for female empowerment, at the end it’s still feeding into a discourse that men made for a “good girl” or a “sensible woman” in Korea.

I see this a lot actually. On the internet, there’s always a guy-or a male figure-who argues that “all women do is buy luxury bags and leech off men blah blah blah” and the women are like “but we don’t. A lot of us don’t. I am special because I’m not like those other girls. I don’t buy luxury bags, I pay for my own stuff” and so on. But at the end of the day though, isn’t that gunning for another gold star from the men who criticize us?

For much more on that theme, see Nabeela’s review of the song (and especially the comments), and — for starters! — here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for more information about the “beanpaste girl” (된장녀/dwenjang nyeo) and “ladygate” discourses being referred to.

As for the translation, frankly I and my long-suffering wife found it exhausting, and there were many parts we found difficult, so we apologize in advance for any mistakes. Also, there’s much to query in both the author’s generalizations and his details, starting with the confusion in the first part as to whether he’s talking about the music video (far above) or a stage performance (e.g. below, on SBS a few days before the article was published), and indeed although he mentions a part where she supposedly pretends to look into a mirror, I can’t find that in either video. But these don’t detract from the author’s main points, and I hope you’ll all agree that comparing Bloom with I Don’t Need a Man is very valuable and worthwhile.

가인이 피워낸 100%짜리 여자의 욕망 / 100% Women’s Desire Blooms With Ga-in

Naver News, October 17 2012; 강명석 칼럼 / Column by Gang Myeong-seog (two@10asia.co.kr; Twitter).

붉은빛 스웨터를 입는다. 다리에는 가터벨트를 착용한다. 혀 끝으로 입술을 핥는다. 가슴을 내민다. 의자에 앉은 채 허리를 뒤로 젖힌다. 손이 온 몸을 훑는다. 가인의 신곡 ‘피어나’의 무대는 남성들에게 온갖 야한 상상을 불러일으킨다. 그러나, 정작 무대 위의 남성 댄서들은 무표정하다. 그들은 로봇처럼 동작을 소화할 뿐 가인의 춤에 반응하지 않는다. 가인은 그들과 한 번도 정면으로 눈을 맞추지 않는다.

She wears a red sweater. On her legs she has a garter belt. She licks her lips with the tip of her tongue. She sticks her breasts out. She arches her back while sitting in a chair. She touches her whole body with her hands.

Ga-in’s new song “Bloom” provokes all sorts of bawdy male fantasies. But those men actually on the stage with her are expressionless, behaving like robots that don’t even notice her dance. She, in turn, never looks any of them in the eye.

대신 가인의 시선은 무대 정면을 향한다. 정면을 바라본 채, 가인은 다양한 포즈들을 취한다. ‘피어나’의 안무는 동작과 동작을 하나의 흐름으로 연결하지 않는다. 대신 섹시한 느낌을 주는 각각의 포즈들을 취할 수 있도록 구성됐다. 댄서들이 사라지고, 가인 혼자 정면을 바라보며 여러 포즈를 취하는 무대 후반의 구성은 가인의 시선이 누굴 향한 것인지 짐작케 한다. 남자들이 사라져도, 가인은 자신의 섹시함을 표현하는 것을 멈추지 않는다. 마치 거울 앞에 선 자신을 보는 것처럼.

Rather, Ga-in looks directly at us, while adopting various poses. In “Bloom,” the choreography isn’t seamless. Instead, each scene is defined by and constructed around a different pose, each providing a very sexy, sensual feeling.

Later in the performance, in which Ga-on looks ahead while continuing to do various poses, making people wonder who she is actually looking at. Then, the dancers disappear again, but Ga-in doesn’t stop expressing her sexiness. She continues as if she’s looking at herself in the mirror.

Bloom vs. I Don't Need a Man Caption 1(Source: Unknown)

Caption: 가인은 남자들의 판타지를 자극하는 방식의 ‘피어나’를 통해 오히려 가장 주체적인 여성상을 그려낸다 / Rather than stimulate male fantasies, Ga-in provides a very independent symbol for women in “Bloom.”

가인, 타인이 아닌 나를 위한 섹시 / Ga-in: The Sexiness is For Me, Not For Others

거의 모든 여성 가수에게 섹시한 댄스는 타인의 시선을 끌기 위한 장치다. 걸그룹이 곡에서 악센트를 줘야할 부분마다 다리를 벌리는 춤을 추곤 하는 것이 그 예다. 섹시함이 콘셉트 그 자체라 해도 좋을 ‘피어나’도 당연히 시선을 끈다. 그러나, ‘피어나’는 특정 동작을 강조하며 시선을 끄는 포인트 춤이 없다. 대신 모델이 계속 포즈를 취하는 듯한 동작들이 이어진다.

Almost all female use a sex dance as a means to attract people’s attention. For example, girl-groups will often emphasize spreading their legs apart in their dance routines. Naturally, “Bloom” could also be seen in this vein. However, “Bloom” doesn’t have ‘point dances’ which are only used for the specific purpose of getting people’s attention; instead, the poses adopted are more similar to the ones real models use.

가인의 소속사 로엔엔터테인먼트 관계자에 따르면 ‘피어나’의 안무에도 원래 포인트 춤이 포함돼 있었지만, 그 포인트를 빼고 지금처럼 다양한 포즈 중심의 안무를 요구한 사람이 바로 가인이었다. 그 결과 ‘피어나’의 안무는 타인에게 어필하는 것이기도 하지만, 그 이전에 여성이 섹시한 표정과 포즈를 마음껏 해보는 구성이 됐다. 또한 ‘피어나’의 뮤직비디오는 황수아 감독이, 가사는 작사가 김이나가 맡았다. 두 여성은 그들의 시선에서 섹시함을 표현한다. 뮤직비디오에 가인의 베드신이 등장하지만, 가인과 관계를 갖는 남자의 얼굴도 제대로 안 나온다. 대신 카메라는 희열을 느끼는 가인의 표정을 잡는다. <김이나의 가사로 표현한다면, 남자는 ‘내가 선택한’ 존재고, 그가 사랑스러운 것은 나를 ‘high’하고 ‘fly’하도록 만들었기 때문이다. 남자가 어떤 매력을 가졌는지는 묘사하지 않는다. 중요한 것은 남성이든 섹시함이든 여성 자신의 욕망이 선택한 결과라는 점이다.

According to a representative of Loen Entertainment, originally the choreography did have point dances, but these were removed and replaced at Ga-in’s insistence. As a result, the choreography appeals not just to other people [men?], but has as many sexual poses and expressions as it could have too [James - That sentence sounds strange in Korean also]. Also, the director of the music video, Hwang Su-ah, and lyricist, Kim Ee-na [both women], express sexiness from their own perspectives. In the music there is Ga-in’s bed scene, but we can’t really see the face of the guy she’s with [James - The screenshot below would be the closest you get]. Instead the camera focuses on her expression of joy and ecstasy. According to Kim Ee-na’s lyrics, “This is the guy I chose,” and the reason is because he makes Ga-in “fly high.” Crucially, why she finds the man attractive is not described; rather, the important thing is that it’s her sexual desire that is paramount here.

Ga-in Bloom Man(Source)

전체적인 윤곽은 남성의 판타지를 충족시키지만, 그 디테일은 섹시함이 ‘(타인의)시선 따윈 알게 뭐니’라고 노래하는 여성의 욕망을 드러낸다. 이 절묘한 공존은 이 곡의 구성원들의 독특한 조합 때문일 것이다. 안무, 가사, 뮤직비디오는 여성이 주축이지만, 프로듀싱과 작곡은 각각 남성인 프로듀서 조영철과 작곡가 이민수가 맡았다. 이들 중 가인을 제외한 네 명의 남녀는 아이유와 브라운 아이드 걸스를 제작한 바 있다. 아이유는 귀여운 여성에 대한 남성 판타지의 극단이었고, 브라운 아이드 걸스는 섹시함에 터프함을 가미한 강한 여자들이었다.

While the whole character of this song fulfills men’s fantasies, contained in the details is a depiction of sexiness and women’s desire that poses the question, “Who cares about the gaze of others?”. This exquisite coexistence is the result of the unique combination of the people involved in its production: the choreographer and lyricist are women, but the producer, Jo Yeong-cheol, and the composer, Lee Min-su, are men [James - What happened to the director Hwang Sun-ah?]. Moreover, in addition to Ga-in’s songs, these men and women have produced songs for the IU and the Brown Eyed Girls. IU projects a cute image that is an extreme men’s fantasy [James - Actually, this cute image is exaggerated and/or very outdated], while the Brown Eyed Girls’ image is a mixture of tough and strong women.

Brown Eyed Girls Sixth Sense(Source)

가인은 이 네 남녀의 정확한 한가운데다. 남성들에게 확실히 어필할 수 있는 섹시한 콘셉트는 남성 스태프가 짠 틀일 것이다. 그러나 여성 스태프는 그들의 시선으로 섹시함을 표현했다. 여성도 성관계에서 오는 육체적, 정신적 쾌감에 대한 욕망이 있고, 그 욕망을 드러내자 가인은 가련한 소녀도, 남성의 시각적 만족만을 위한 쇼걸도 아닌 무대를 지배하는 주인공이 된다. ‘피어나’는 주체적인 여성에 대한 시각을 무엇을 보여주느냐가 아니라 어떻게 보여주느냐로, 바깥의 시선에서 내면의 욕망의 문제로 옮긴다.

Ga-in is positioned firmly in the center of these 4 men and women. Her sex appeal, which definitely appeals to men, would have come from the male staff; the women’s perspective on sexiness, from the female staff. Women too, find sexual relationships physically and mentally pleasurable, and here Ga-in owns the stage with that desire, rather than being turned into a miserable girl or a showgirl for the male gaze for it.

“Bloom” moves the question of what are independent women from not what they show, but how they show it. Or in other words, from outside appearances to inner perspectives.

미스에이, 타인이 만들어놓은 좋은 여자의 기준 / Miss A Conform to the Standards of Good Women Defined by Others

그래서, 미스에이의 ‘남자 없이 잘 살아’가 ‘피어나’와 완벽한 대비를 이루는 것은 흥미롭다. 박진영이 작사한 ‘남자 없이 잘 살아’의 여성은 ‘내 돈으로 방세 다 내’고, ‘내 차 내 옷 내가 벌어서 산’다. ‘남자 믿고 놀다 남자 떠나면 어떡할’거냐는 걱정을 하기 때문이다. 가사만 보면 ‘남자 없이 잘 살아’는 주체적이고 독립적인 여성을 칭송하는 것처럼 보인다. 그러나 남에게 폐 끼치지 않는 인생은 남자 역시 필요하다.

So, “Bloom” and “I Don’t Need a Man” provide a perfect, very interesting contrast. The lyrics to “I Don’t Need a Man”, written by JYP, say “I pay the rent with my own money,” “I bought this car and these clothes with my my own money,” and that “If you trust and fool around with a man and then he leaves, what will you do?”, which is a constant worry of women.

If you only look at the lyrics to the song, they do praise self-reliant and independent women. [Although] men, too, need a way of life that isn’t dependent on others.

Miss A Jia and Suzy I Don't Need a Man(Sources: top, bottom)

Caption: 반면 ‘남자 없이 못 살아’를 발표한 미스에이는 타인의 시선에 의해 결정되는 여성의 단면을 보여준다 / On the other hand, with “I Don’t Need a Man,” released by Miss A, they show a side of women defined by others

그리고, 이런 경제생활이 당당한 여성의 기준은 타인의 시선이다. ‘남자없이 잘 살아’의 뮤직비디오에서 멤버들이 콧수염을 붙여보거나, 이두박근을 강조하는 것은 우연이 아니다. 미스에이가 노래하는 독립적인 여성은 사실상 남성들이 요즘 ‘개념녀’라고 말하는 이상적인 여성이다. ‘피어나’가 남성들에게 어필하는 코드로 여성의 욕망을 말한다면, ‘남자 없이 잘 살아’는 당당한 여성을 어필하면서 ‘된장녀’와는 정반대인 ‘개념녀’라는 남성의 욕망을 말한다.

Also, these financially confident women are conforming to the standards of others. In “I Don’t Need a Man,” it is no accident that the members of Miss A stick on a fake mustache or emphasize their biceps. The independent women that they are singing about are actually the gaenyeomnyeo, or “good girls,” that men say are their perfect women these days.

While “Bloom” appeals to men while also articulating female desire, “I Don’t Need a Man” provides an image of confident women and also the good girl image that males desire, an opposite of the dwenjang-nyeo, or “bean-paste girl” one.

miss_a_i_don__t_need_a_man_chibi_by_jinsuke04-d5il0nc(“miss A I Don’t Need A Man Chibiby,” by jinsuke04)

‘피어나’는 타인의 시선 대신 내면의 욕망을 더 적극적으로 드러내는 여성의 목소리를 반영하고, ‘남자 없이 못 살아’는 남자, 또는 사회가 원하는 좋은 여성의 기준을 더욱 더 강화한다. 출산과 결혼을 선택하지 않는 여성에 대한 논의가 사회적 화두로 떠오르고, 인터넷에서는 남녀가 수많은 문제들로 논쟁을 하는 이 시점에서 두 곡의 등장은 어떤 징후처럼 보인다. 많은 남자들은 명품 백을 사느냐 마느냐에 따라, 결혼할 생각이 있느냐 없느냐에 따라 ‘개념녀’와 그렇지 않은 여성을 가른다.

Rather than emphasizing the male gaze, “Bloom” reflects more the inner desires and voices of women, whereas “I Don’t Need a Man” does more men and/or society’s standards for women. These two songs are a reflection of how many women choosing not to get married and/or have children has become a hot topic of debate in Korean society, and of the discussion, arguments, and problems as many men and women discuss that on the internet. In which many men are dividing women into good girls or beanpaste girls, or who want to get married or not, [simply] according to whether they buy brand-name bags or not.

반면 많은 여성들은 타인에게 폐 끼치지 않는 한 돈을 쓰고 싶은 곳에 욕먹지 않고 쓸 권리와 결혼과 출산을 하지 않을 자유에 대해 말한다. 주체적인 욕망과 타인의 시선이 정한 기준 안에 들어오는 것 사이의 대립. 남녀 모두 주체적인 여자에 대해 말하는 것 같지만, 그 층위는 전혀 다르다. ‘피어나’가 예상치 못했던 카운터펀치인 이유다. 인터넷에서 끝없이 반복되던 남녀의 가장 중요한 논쟁점이 흥미로운 방식으로 수면 위로 떠올랐다. 그것도 모두가 답 없는 논쟁을 할 때, 여성의 욕망을 놀라울 만큼 잘 드러내면서 남성도 즐길 수 있는 판타지의 접점을 만들면서 말이다.

Ga-in Bloom Doll(Source)

But as long as women do not trouble others with their spending choices, then they have a right not to be sworn at and criticized by others, and the freedom not to choose marriage or children. [However], there is a contradiction between the desire for self-reliance and the standards set by the male gaze. Men are women are talking about the same self-reliant women, but the amount of what they say about them are totally different.

This is the reason why “Bloom” has a surprising counter-punch. The most important thing men and women are unceasingly arguing about on the internet [James - What is that?? Sex?] arose in an interesting and amusing way. That is, in an argument which has no answers, this song provides a rare point of contact in which women can enjoy their desires just as much as men have their fantasies fulfilled.

강하거나, 세거나, 독특한 여성 걸그룹들의 노래들이 하나의 흐름을 형성한 지금, ‘피어나’가 대중음악 시장에서 얻는 반응은 지금 이런 목소리에 대한 수요를 알 수 있는 척도가 될 수도 있을 것이다. 그것은 반대로 ‘남자없이 잘 살아’에 대한 반응도 마찬가지일 것이다. 지금 우리는 주류 대중음악, 또는 걸그룹으로 대표되는 아이돌 시장에서 여성을 표현하는 방식이 아주 조금은 달라진 순간을 보고 있다. 그게 결과적으로 누구의 목소리가 더 크게 멤돌지는 알 수 없지만 말이다.

Now, bold, strong, and unique girl-groups are forming a new trend, and how well “Bloom” does commercially will demonstrate how much of a demand there is for this new voice. The same goes for “I Don’t Need a Man.” Now, in popular music, we are seeing the beginning of a new phase in the way women express themselves. Ultimately, whose voice will be loudest? (end)

Ga-in Bloom Female Empowerment(Source)

*Truth be told, I let my daughters watch Bloom as well, which isn’t that explicit at all really; they love the song and pastel colors, and at 4 and 6, they’re much too young to understand what’s really going on anyway. And I hope that their happy childhood memories of it spur a renewed interest in it much later, just like mine of She-Bop (1984) did for me!

Update: While I’m at it, see here for 10 more songs about female masturbation.

Update 2, November 2013: With the benefit of a year’s hindsight, Gang Myeong-seog’s and my dismissing of I Don’t Need a Man was a little unfair. See here to learn why.

Update 3, March 2014: Here’s another article about more recent songs about female masturbation (or that mention it in passing).

Related Post(s):

The More Risqué, The More Boring (OR, Something You Didn’t Know About the Horse Dance!)

(Source)

Sorry, but I just can’t help it: I get very excited when I see the words “성 상품화” (sexual objectification) and “걸그룹” (girl-group) together.

That’s because I struggled for years to find critical Korean commentary on either. Whereas now, I’m just inundated with articles to translate, with or without relying on my “성 상품화” Google News Alert. And, if nothing else, this recent column of Jo Woo-yeong’s I’ve translated below is testament to that greatly increased public interest and discussion.

Unfortunately though, frankly it says little that is new either, and provides no evidence for its numerous assertions. But on the plus side, I did learn of popular-music critic Kang Tae-gyu’s twitter and blog through it. What’s more, in the process of figuring out what on Earth Jo Woo-yeong meant when she talks about Gangnam Style in the 6th paragraph, I also learnt what apparently every Korean over 30 already knew: the word “horse” (말/mal) has sexual connotations in Korean (source, right).

No, I never thought to ask Korean friends their feelings about horses either. And yes, it’s more what the word reminds them of really: the movie Madame Aema (에무 부인; aema buin) to be precise, and/or its numerous sequels. As Andrei Lankov explains in The Korean Times:

In early 1982 Madam Ema, the most explicit of Korean movies ever made, hit the theaters. Not much can be said about its plot which is, for all practical purposes, absent. It was an erotic movie, often bordering on the pornographic….

….To everybody’s surprise, the censors did not ask too many questions. Actually, the only change they demanded was a change in the movie title. The title….was deliberately conceived in a way which hinted at Emmanuelle, the [French] erotic classic which was also a great hit in Korea of the late 1970s….

….Ema was a huge success. In March 1982 the movie was put on at an experimental late night show which attracted a huge crowd. The late night shows were another invention of the military regime which was preparing to lift a decades-old curfew….

….The pioneering Ema had 12 sequels, which were shot until the early 1990s. This makes it the longest series in the history of Korean cinema. It was very successful commercially as well ― the “first” Ema was seen by 310,000 people during the first year, and it became the box office champion of 1982. Some of the copycats were doing almost as well as the original.

I’m a little confused by the censors’ ultimate title-change though (see the article and/or here for details), and would appreciate it if anybody could clarify. In return, for anyone further interested in sexuality and gender roles in Korean cinema in the period, Yu Gina of Duksung Women’s University mentions that (source, right):

The early 20th century, in the movie, <The Vow Make below the Moon, (1923)> the woman has the role of a good wife that rescues her husband from a gambling addiction. The woman dedicates to her husband, and this women’s character became the origin image of a ‘good wife.’ However, the heroin of <Sweet Dream-Lullaby of Death (1936)> is the opposite of that good wife. She resists her oppressive husband and her desire hits her daughter with a car and poisons herself because of the guilt. The ending contains the message that a woman who refuses to be a ‘good wife’ is going to be punished. This flow is maintained in other movies such as <The Ae-ma Woman and Madame Freedom>. These movies imply that women who pursue their desires are punished and vilified.

I’ve highlighted that last part because of its familiarity: as I explain in depth here, that dominant narrative wouldn’t be challenged until the mid to late-1990s, which proved to be a watershed in Korean cinema history. As might all the radical changes occurring today too, at least in terms of censorship, sexuality, and free speech.

And on that note, here’s the translation. Resolving to be more discerning with my choices in future though (even if this one did result in an interesting tangent), this will be the next one, which sounds very interesting according to Lost in Traffic Lights’ description!

점점 야해지는 걸(girl), 점점 식상해질 걸 / The More Risqué, The More Boring

Jo Woo-yeong, E Daily Star IN, 5 November 2012 (duplicated at Domin.com, 6 November; all images from these 2 sources)

‘란제리룩 의상을 입은 여성이 허벅지에 가터벨트를 착용한 채 봉춤을 춘다.’ 성인용 비디오물에 흔히 등장하는 장면이 아니다. 요즘 섹시 콘셉트를 내세운 일부 걸그룹의 단면을 모아놓으면 이런 모습이라는 얘기다.

Wearing a lingerie-style outfit and a garter belt on the thigh, then pole-dancing, is not a common scene in adult videos. But it has become routine for some girl-groups to do so as part of their “sexy concepts.”

점점 야해지고, 점점 섹시해지고 있다. 속살로 착각을 일으키는 살구색 천이 덧대인 시스루 스타일 의상은 ‘귀여운 꼼수’다. 핫팬츠를 입은 채 다리를 과도하게 벌리는 일명 ‘쩍벌춤’이나 야릇한 상상을 부추기는 교태 섞인 몸짓은 웬만한 걸그룹이 거쳐야 할 필수 코스가 된 지 오래다.

Things are getting sexier and more risqué. Wearing apricot-colored clothing that gives the illusion of skin normally hidden by clothing, faux see-through clothing as it were, is known as a new “cute tactic.” Also, adopting flirty sexual poses that stir up people’s lecherous imaginations, such as dancing with your legs wide open while wearing hot pants (known as the “spread-leg dance”), has long been a requirement of girl-groups.

심지어 남녀간 성 관계 체위를 연상케 하는 커플 댄스도 빼놓을 수 없는 퍼포먼스 아이템이다. 실제 본 무대는 그렇지 않더라도 활동에 앞서 공개하는 뮤직비디오 티저 영상이나 이미지에는 ‘19금’, ‘침대 셀카’, ‘키스’, ‘목욕신’, ‘파격 노출’ 등의 수식어 정도는 붙어줘야 한다.

Worst of all, couple dances with moves that look like sex positions are also performance items. And even if they’re not ultimately done on stage, teaser videos and images beforehand have to have descriptions like “R18,” “photographed in bed,” “kiss,” “bath scene,” “excessive exposure,” and so on attached to them.

애프터스쿨, 카라, 시크릿, 안다미로, 현아, 지나, 걸스데이, NS윤지 등 수많은 여가수가 올 하반기 한 번쯤 선정성 논란에 휘말렸거나 혹은 이를 자처했다. 걸그룹들의 과도한 노출•선정적인 춤에 대한 비판과 이에 맞서 표현의 자유를 부르짖는 목소리는 서로 메아리가 돼 잊을 만하면 돌아온다.

After School, Kara, Secret, Andamiro, Hyuna, G.Na, Girls’ Day, and NS Yoon-G are just some of the female singers and girl-groups that have been embroiled in controversy about their excessive exposure and/or sexual provocation at least once in the second half of this year, or have sought it. But if you criticize either, invariably the rejoinder is that it is merely freedom of expression.

대중은 각박한 현실에서 판타지(Fantasy)적인 이야기와 동경의 대상을 찾기 마련이다. 대중은 일탈하고 싶고, 내가 하지 못하거나 할 수 없는 것들을 해내는 연예인을 보면서 대리만족, 카타르시스를 느끼기 때문이다. 앞서 소녀시대, 씨스타, 나인뮤지스 등은 특정 직업 ‘제복’ 같은 무대 의상으로 일종의 ‘타부(Taboo)’와 로망을 절묘히 배합해 대중의 욕망을 건드리기도 했다.

Wanting to escape from their harsh reality, it is natural that the public yearns for fantasies. So, while watching entertainers doing what they can’t do or won’t do, they gain a vicarious satisfaction and feeling of catharsis. Previously, groups like Girls’ Generation, Sistar, and Nine Muses did this by specializing in a uniform look, provoking the public’s desire with an exquisite combination of taboo [breaking?] and romance.

강태규 대중음악평론가는 “치열한 경쟁 속 대중의 이목을 끌기 위한 방송사나 연예기획사가 결국 대중의 판타지를 쫓고 있다”고 말했다. 스무 살도 안 된 미성년자 연예인을 ‘청순 글래머’, ‘베이글녀’ 등으로 성 상품화 하는 세태가 현실이다. 방송 카메라는 무대 아래서부터 위 방향으로 걸그룹 멤버의 몸을 훑고, 신체 특정 부위를 클로즈업해 촬영한다. 그는 “보다 자극적인 것을 요구하는 사회에서 시청률을 추구하는 방송과 ‘생존의 몸부림’ 치는 연예기획사가 성적 판타지를 쫓는 것은 당연한 수순일지 모른다”고 씁쓸해했다.

Kang Tae-gyu, a popular-music critic said, “In an intense war for the public’s attention, the media and entertainment agencies ultimately provide fantasies.” Yet it’s not just 20-somethings that are sexually-objectified with terms like “Innocent Glamor” and “Bagel Girl,” but even teens. Cameras will go over their bodies from bottom to top while girl-groups are on stage, lingering with close-ups on certain body parts. Kang continued, despairingly, Providing sexual fantasies may be natural with the media and entertainment agencies’ relentless pursuit of higher viewer rates.”

일부 매체 역시 어느덧 가수의 음악을 분석, 무대 전체를 평하기보다 그들의 선정적인 의상•퍼포먼스에 주목한다. 그게 쉽고 편해서다. 수요자(대중)와 공급자(방송•기획사)가 서로에게 원하는 것만을 주고 있는 ‘필요악’인 존재가 되어가고 있다.

But almost before we know it, we have some elements of the media not paying ever paying attention to singers’ music or what’s on stage, but only taking notice of sexually suggestive costumes or performances. This is because it is easy and convenient to do so. Both the public consumers and producers (both in broadcasting and in entertainment agencies) are only giving each other what they want, so in effect this is a necessary evil of the music industry.

역설적으로 코믹한 춤으로 세계적인 인기를 끌고 있는 싸이는 보는 음악뿐 아닌 듣는 즐거움까지 안겼다. 국내 가요계의 큰 수확이다. 하지만 싸이의 ‘말춤’ 역시 그 특유의 유쾌함으로 상쇄됐을 뿐 그 안에 ‘말’이라는 동물이 갖는 묘한 성적 상징성이 담겼다. 사실 ‘섹시한’ 매력은 남녀 누구나 갖고 싶은 본능이라 할 만하다.

Paradoxically though, Psy gained worldwide popularity [not by providing something sexual, but] by providing both a funny dance and listening pleasure, and the Korean music industry in general has benefited greatly from this popularity. Yet while Psy’s comedic “horse dance” is unique, ironically even the word “horse” has sexual connotations. Moreover, man or woman, who doesn’t want to be more sexually attractive?

대중음악 가수에게 순수예술을 바라서도 안 되고 그럴 필요도 없다. 퍼포먼스도 실력이고 잘 생기고 예쁜 외모도 개인이 가진 하나의 능력이다. 문제는 그들이 내세우는 ‘섹시’가 얼마만큼의 당위성과 명분을 갖느냐다. 단순히 눈길을 끌기 위해 속살을 드러내고 몸을 흔드는 것이라면 ‘예술’이 아닌 ‘외설’에 가깝다는 비판을 피하기 어렵다.

We cannot expect singers of popular music to only produce pure art, and not be influenced by commercial imperatives. Also, there is nothing wrong with performing well, and/or being physically attractive. The problem is when sexiness is presented where it is uncalled for, with no justification. Simply showing singers dancing in tight and/or faux nude clothes isn’t art but rather obscenity, and isn’t difficult to criticize.

성시권 대중음악평론가는 “국내 대중의 인식이 많이 변해가고 있으나 마돈나, 레이디 가가 등 유명 팝스타들과 지금 국내 걸그룹들을 비교 대상으로 삼기에는 무리가 있다”고 말했다. 음악과 퍼포먼스, 주객이 바뀐 경우가 많다는 게 그의 주장이다. 그는 “퍼포먼스는 음악에 담긴 메시지를 조금 더 잘 표현하기 위한 수단이어야 하는데 일부 걸그룹이나 여가수의 무대가 과연 그러한지 의문”이라며 “몇몇 그룹이 비슷하게 돌고 도는 섹시 콘셉트는 계속 양산되고 시장서 꾸준히 소모되겠지만, 갈수록 식상함이 더해져 그들 스스로를 가둘 것”이라고 평했다. 그는 “그들은 물론 더 나아가 K팝 발전을 위해 방송•언론•평단과 각 연예 기획사의 각자 역할에 대한 고민이 필요한 시점”이라고 말했다.

Song Shi-kwon, a popular-music critic, said “In Korea, perceptions are changing, but you still can’t really compare them to famous stars like Madonna or Lady Gaga.” But in many cases, girl-groups’ performances are now more important than their music. He continued, “Performance should be a tool to convey the message in the music a little better, but I have to wonder if some girl-groups and female-singers’ stages really do that,” and judged that “by all copying each other in providing a sexy concept, their music and performances will certainly be consumed in the market, but in the process people will becoming bored with it, and so the groups will come to limit each other’s’ development.” Ultimately, “For the further development of K-pop, broadcasters, the media, critics, and entertainment agencies need to seriously think about their own roles in it.”

Korean (Movie) Censors in Retreat?

(Sources, edited: left, right)

With so much attention on restrictive censorship in K-pop these days, it’s easy to overlook how much standards in movies have actually been relaxed in recent years. See my latest column in Busan Haps for more information, especially if you’ve never heard of Shortbus before…

But please let me reiterate here though, that the freedom to show more sex and nudity in popular culture is just one aspect of becoming a more sexually liberal society. For sure, it’s a step in the right direction, and can have positive knock-on effects, just like the first kiss in a Korean ad in 2009 lifted the taboo on PDA for a lot of young couples for instance. (Yes, only anecdotal; but prove me wrong). But on the other hand, with the (re)criminalization of abortion by the Lee Myung-bak administration, recent attempts to limit access to the contraceptive pill, and the continued stigmatization of single mothers, you could reasonably argue that Korea is really just as sexually conservative as ever. No matter how much T&A you can see on the silver screen now, and which is often (usually?) just for financial reasons anyway.

In short, it’s complicated. Anyone that’s been here more than a couple of years, what impressions do you get? And how do you think things will change after the elections?