Why Did Allure Korea Take 10 Years to Have a Korean Cover Model?

Shin Min Ah, First Korean Cover Model for Allure, August 2013(Source: Unknown)

Basically, because its Korean readers wanted and expected foreign cover models. No matter how many commenters may try to shoehorn narratives of racism and cultural imperialism into those preferences.*

See my latest Busan Haps piece to learn more, or alternatively go straight to the source: the 2009 Korean Journalism Review article “Glocalization of International Women’s Magazines in Korea: Global-local nexus in the production process” written by Oh Hyun-sook of the Yonsei Communication Research Institute, upon which most of the first half of the article is based.

Meanwhile, related to the second half, Carol Dussere, a commenter in the Every Expat in Korea Facebook group noted:

When I first moved to Korea in 1988, all of the models used in sexy ads on the subway were non-Asians. It definitely carried the message to Korean men that non-Asian women were readily available.

This confused me, as I read years ago (and have often repeated since) that restrictions against foreign models weren’t lifted until as late as 1994. Checking, I found the following on page 103 of  “Neo-Confucian Body Techniques: Women’s Bodies in Korea’s Consumer Society” by Taeyon Kim, Body & Society, June 2003 vol. 9 no. 2 97-113:

In June 1994, changes in laws allowed the Korean advertising industry to use foreign models and celebrities, which led quickly to a sharp increase in the use of foreign models to sell domestic wares.

(Source)

This is repeated on page 7 of  “Perpetuation of Female Beauty Stereotypes through Korean Mass Media: Emancipation or Objectification of Women?” by Jee, Min-Joo. and Oh, Byoung-il. in a paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in 2006 (although both are based on Byun, Eun-mi {1997}, ‘Foreign Supermodels Emerge as Fashion Stars on TV Commercials’, in Korea Newsreview Vol. 26{5}: p. 32-3). However, it didn’t necessarily mean that Carol was wrong, and indeed I also found the following, tantalizing line in “Gender Role Portrayals in American and Korean Advertisements” by Roxanne Hovland et. al., in Sex Roles, December 2005, Volume 53, Issue 11-12, pp 887-899:

The use of foreign models in advertisements has been popular since the Korean government lifted restrictions on the use of foreign models in 1989.

Sophie Marceau Korean Advertisement 1989And only then did I really notice the continuation of the “Neo-Confucian Body Techniques” article, which resolves everything quite nicely (right: French actress Sophie Marceau advertising LG cosmetics in 1989; source):

No longer were only foreign products sold to Koreans with a foreign face, now even domestic products were marketed to Koreans by the likes of Cindy Crawford, Meg Ryan, and Claudia Schiffer.

When I have time, I’ll try to find some Korean language sources to confirm, and to pinpoint the exact year of the law changes (but even if they do confirm it was 1989 rather than 1988, Carol can certainly be forgiven for her ever so slight inaccuracy 25 years later!). Until then, I’d appreciate any extra information readers can provide, and/or any comments on my article.

*Of course, racism and cultural imperialism are indeed factors to consider here. I’m just a little tired of patronizing, contradictory assumptions of passivity and unwillingness on the part of (especially female) Korean consumers if they enjoy foreign cultural products (are they *forced* to buy them somehow?), and/or that they’re somehow being duped by Caucasian men on Madison Avenue when they do so.

Consent is Sexy: SISTAR, slut-shaming, and sexual objectification in the Korean idol system

SISTAR GOT CONSENT(Sources, edited: text, image)

Give it to me, SISTAR.

Slip up just once while you’re promoting your new album, and give me your honest opinion of your costumes, your choreography, or your lyrics. Tell me what input you had in them. Tell me if you ever rejected those that Starship Entertainment provided for you.

Or did you waive that right when you signed your contracts?

Because several things are going to happen in the next few weeks: some people are going to slut-shame you for the lewdness of your performances, and some people are going to raise concerns about your sexual objectification. Some people might even do both.

용감한 Producer 씨스타 SistarAnd whatever they say, the issue of your consent will be the elephant in the room.

First, because it’s both misogynistic and asinine to slut-shame you if you’re actually projecting a creation of your management company, rather than expressing your own sexuality and personality. Second, because as discussed back in April, there is both negative and positive (or benign) objectification, and the presence or absence of the consent of the person(s) involved is crucial for determining which is which:

According to Martha Nussbaum (1995; opens PDF) then: ‘In the matter of objectification context is everything. … in many if not all cases, the difference between an objectionable and a benign use of objectification will be made by the overall context of the human relationship (p. 271); ‘… objectification has features that may be either good or bad, depending upon the overall context’ (p. 251). Objectification is negative, when it takes place in a context where equality, respect and consent are absent.

(Evangelia Papadaki,”Feminist Perspectives on Objectification“; source, above)

On positive objectification, “dissident feminist” Camille Paglia is very much on point (my emphases in bold):

SISTAR BoraEarly on, I was in love with beauty. I don’t feel less because I’m in the presence of a beautiful person. I don’t go [imitates crying and dabbing tears], “Oh, I’ll never be that beautiful!” What a ridiculous attitude to take!–the Naomi Wolf attitude. When men look at sports, when they look at football, they don’t go [crying], “Oh, I’ll never be that fast, I’ll never be that strong!” When people look at Michelangelo’s David, do they commit suicide? No. See what I mean? When you see a strong person, a fast person, you go, “Wow! That is fabulous.” When you see a beautiful person: “How beautiful.” That’s what I’m bringing back to feminism. You go, “What a beautiful person, what a beautiful man, what a beautiful woman, what beautiful hair, what beautiful boobs!” Okay, now I’ll be charged with sexual harassment, probably. I won’t even be able to get out of the room!

We should not have to apologize for reveling in beauty. It is not a trick invented by nasty men in a room someplace on Madison Avenue….It is so provincial, feminism’s problem with beauty. We have got to get over this.

(Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays by Camille Paglia {1992}, pp.264-5; source, above)

Granted, Paglia is unfairly homogenizing and stereotyping feminism, as my own favorite feminist scholar explains:

Few issues have caused more debate within feminism’s history than the sexualized representation of women….Feminist activists and scholars have long tangled with the issue of whether images liberate women from or enforce traditional patriarchal notions of female sexuality. From Laura Mulvey’s psychoanalytical constructions of the “masculine gaze” to Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon’s longstanding appeals to broaden both cultural and legal definitions of pornography, there is a wide and influential range of contemporary feminist discourse on the ways in which women are manipulated and victimized through various cultural representations. These have led to a popular stereotype of the “feminist view” (if there ever were such a monolith) of the sexualized woman as a consistently negative one. However, the history and evolution of the women’s movement problematizes this stereotype, as women have actively demanded the right to act as free and discerning sexual subjects even as they may be interpreted or serve as another’s object of desire.

(Pin-up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture, Maria Buszek {2006}, p. 5)
Sinfest Sex Object(Source)

Be that as it may, in my experience there are precious few commentators on K-pop that heed Paglia’s imperative, let alone make any consent-based distinctions between negative and positive objectification. I’m especially frustrated with Korean commentators who, caveats about my article-searching skills aside, tend to view increasing sexual objectification — and/or sexualization — as a blanket evil, SISTAR usually only getting a mention as one, interchangeable example in a roll-call of groups at the forefront of these pernicious trends. Certainly, I’ve yet to find someone who bothered to find out if equality, respect and consent are indeed absent in your relationship with Starship Entertainment.

Then I remembered that if you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself.

So, I became your biggest fanboy, spending the last two weeks poring over all your interviews and TV appearances. Whereas I used to think that they were just mindless trash, and that you weren’t free to speak openly, I finally — belatedly — realized I could no longer simply assume either.

But ten plus hours of videos, and numerous reading later? No offense SISTAR, but now I know they’re mindless trash.

I’ve learned, for instance, that: Bora has a mole on her left ear (32:37); Hyorin met her first love when she was in her second year of high school (7:10); all of them just love Las Vagas (7:00); there is an unofficial rule that band members can secretly start going out on dates once they approach 1000 days since their debut, but as of 973 days neither Hyorin nor Bora had (15:20); Hyorin has a pet snakeSoyou prepared for Christmas, 2011 by listening to a lot of carols (1:55); Dasom‘s mother is a big fan of the host of YHY’s Sketchbook (4:35); and so mindlessly on and on…

Sistar AegyoI would have watched more, but stopped paying much attention after watching one show that had you all spitting gum at a target for five minutes. Then I quit altogether when I came across another that opened with a pig shitting, as if to taunt me. Because suddenly I realized, what on Earth was I doing? How was that pig shit really any different to the contents of all those other programs? (Source, right).

But, most of all, I was giving up out of frustration at how many interviewers and TV show hosts would waste their precious time with you by almost always asking the same sort of inane questions, with the same predictable “Awww-we-love-you-[insert city/country/name of show]-guyz” type answers.

True: I am highlighting the most inane, the most vacuous, the most trivial parts of them. This may be patronizing and unfair: after all, some people are interested in such things, I’d probably be more interested myself if they were about, say, Lee Hyori, and providing them is an integral part of creating and sustaining a fanbase. Also, the Sketchbook one is interesting in another way — albeit a negative one — for the disproportionate attention given to the handful of samchon (uncle) fans in the audience (5:50; that will have to be another post!). And I did learn one thing, albeit via the Soompi blog, rather than a video — that perhaps you’re forced to wear short skirts sometimes:

SISTAR’s Soyu recently revealed her dislike of short stage outfits.

On the June 1 episode of “Beatle’s Code: Season 2,” Soyu honestly talked about the late controversies behind the group’s outfits.

Park Han-byul short skirts high stools yoga schoolSoyu stated, “It is a little upsetting, it might be a good thing in a way. Even if we wear the same hot pants as other girl group members, when we wear them people call it racy. We think it’s because we have a healthy image so we try to think of it in a good way.”

When asked if she liked wearing short skirts/dresses, Soyu answered, “I really hate wearing short skirts/dresses. Sometimes there are rude people who take photos from below us. There are even people who touch us with their hands.”

I’d add that sometimes PR people or press conference organizers will take advantage of this, only providing high stools for female celebrities to sit on (source, above-right). But Soyu, did you mean you would wear something different given the choice? Or that you just don’t like the perving? Why, oh why, didn’t the interviewer just ask?

And that was the best I got for ten hours work. (Readers will surely understand why I’ll refrain from the addressing the post to SISTAR from this point!) But in hindsight, perhaps it was naive of me to expect anything more than frequently tantalizing — but always unsatisfying — hints, for several reasons.

The Dazed and Confused Blogger October 29th 2011First, because I’ve already discussed the problem of Korean language sources in my ongoing Who are the Korean Pin-up Grrrls? series. As always, I welcome readers’ suggestions for critical Korean commentary on K-pop; of course do know of, have read, and have translated some here; and acknowledge that my inability to find as much as I’d like doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s not more of it out there.

But frankly? As someone whose idea of a good time is to Google “성 상품화” after a couple of Black Russians, that caveat is sounding increasingly hollow and unnecessary.

Second, because for all the associations with the Korean idol and Japanese jumisho systems, as I’ll discuss in a moment, things are really little different for Western performers:

Women have always felt the pressure to look decorative or pleasing, but within pop and rock, when the star is the focus of a mass gaze, this expectation is increased tenfold. In the face of the pop orthodoxy that a woman is there first and foremost to look attractive, female artists have consistently had to negotiate the Image issue. “There’s always what we call the Cleavage Question,” said singer Suzanne Vega. “How much to show, when to show it, if at all.”

While Cleavage was the main sexual barometer of the 80s, when pop was in its infancy, with 20s vaudeville blueswomen and 40s jazz swingers, focus was on the Leg. With 50s dream babes the emphasis may have been on the Derriere, as opposed to the fetishizing of the Hair in the 60s. Whatever the focus, the acceptability of women in pop has rested on their ability to read and wear the codes, to promote whatever body part is fashionable at the time.

(She-Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Popular Music by Lucy O’Brien, 2012; pp.168-169)
Kate Bush The Kick Inside 1978(Source)

Kate Bush provides an illustrative example:

An early shot from Kate Bush’s 1978 publicity campaign has her looking full-lipped and big-eyed, wearing a clinging vest, her nipples showing through. When asked about her image at the time, Bush insisted that she didn’t feel exploited. “I suppose the poster is reasonably sexy just ’cause you can see my tits,” she continued matter-of-factly. “But I think the vibe from the face is there….Often you get pictures of females showing their legs with a very plastic face. I think that poster projects a mood….I’m going to have trouble because people tend to put the sexuality first. I hope they don’t. I want to be recognized as an artist.”

Some years later, at the time of her third or fourth album, the penny dropped. “I was very naive and I was very young,” she said of the early photo sessions which led to her being one of the most popular ‘wank’ images to grace student bedrooms. “It was all very new to me and, in the first year, I learned so many lessons about how people wanted to manipulate me.”

(p.171; see 3rd paragraph down *here* also)

(Update: I really wanted to mention — but felt that the post already had more than enough quotes –  “Selling an image: girl groups of the 1960s”  by Cynthia J. Cyrus in Popular Music, May 2003, as the similarities between Korean girl-groups of today and US and UK girl-groups of the 1960s are simply astounding. Please email me if you’d like a copy, or of any of the other journal articles mentioned here.)

Taeyeon 25 No Boyfriend NeededThird, because it’s by no means only Korean reporters and TV hosts that are restricted in what they can ask Korean stars. As John Seabrook revealed in “Factory Girls: Cultural technology and the making of K-pop” in last October’s New Yorker, for instance:

Half an hour before the Anaheim show, I was backstage, on my way to meet Tiffany and Jessica, the two members of Girls’ Generation born and brought up in the U.S., who are both in their early twenties. An S.M. man was guiding me through the labyrinth of dressing rooms, where various idols, mainly guys, were having their hair fussed over and their outfits adjusted. There was a lot of nervous bowing. My minder hustled me along, telling me what questions not to ask the Girls. “Was it sad to say goodbye to your friends who didn’t make it?” he said. “Do you have a boyfriend?” He paused. “This is all going to Korea, and it’s a little different there,” he said. “So if we could stay away from the personal questions like boyfriends.”

(Update: Gag Halfrunt provides a second example in the comments)

Nine Muses of Star Empire(Source)

Finally, because I watched Nine Muses of Star Empire (2012), an 82 minute documentary about Nine Muses’ life and training under management company Star Empire Entertainment, directed by Lee Hark-joon.

Or rather, I watched the 47 minute version that played on BBC World in mid-February (available here; it doesn’t embed well sorry), which by all accounts turned it into much more of a “journalistic exposé” than was originally intended, and certainly — deservedly — portrays Star Empire Entertainment in a very negative light. While SISTAR’s Starship Entertainment is of course a completely different company, I still probably wouldn’t even have bothered with their interviews if I’d first seen Nine Muses’ PR Manager (3:15) schooling them in exactly what to say at theirs, or their CEO (10:15) personally choosing — how empowering! — outfits that showed off their honey thighs:

Nine Muses Honey ThighsThat said, I do encourage readers to check out two interviews of the director, particularly in the latter link where he says:

Q) In the documentary the managers can be seen deciding on the girls’ outfits, songs and choreography. Do the girls have any say in their group’s concept, or is everything decided on for them?

A) The girls’ and boys’ band concept is decided by the agency. However, not all successful bands are like that. As they adjust to the music industry, they start composing their own songs and have more of a voice in their concept. In the documentary, the girls are told by managers: “If you become a star, your opinion is law. If you think you are treated unfairly, become a star.” What the manger said is cruel but it shows a reality.

Nine Muses I really did my best(Source)

Next, I insist readers check out at least Part One of — and especially the much longer comments to — W. David Marx’s series at néojapanisme on the Japanese jumisho system that the Korean idol system is based on, and which it’s clearly still very similar to. (The introductory chapter to Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture{2012} is also helpful, as is Googling “idol” and “Seoulbeats“; here’s a good starting post). Assuming that you have, then it’s an opportune moment to stop and take stock here:

  • CL GQKRIt’s difficult to find material on SISTAR specifically
  • There is great variation in different management companies’ relationships with their employees/groups/artists. Star Empire Entertainment, T-ara’s Core Contents Media, and KARA’s DSP Media would be at one end of the scale, and probably 2NE1′s YG Entertainment and The Brown Eyed Girls’ Nega Network at the other.
  • These relationships — i.e., level of groups’ freedom, autonomy, and involvement in their work — change over time, as indicated by director Lee Hark-joon above. To wit, SM Entertainment has reportedly improved in recent years, and just this week JYP announced that he no would no longer insist on having his name mentioned at the beginning of songs, and would allow his artists more freedom with composer choices
  • Not being able to ask artists tough questions doesn’t preclude us from making informed guesses about their relationships with their management companies. Moreover, unfiltered news and confessions does appear all the time, After School’s UEE admitting just last week that their CEO effectively forced them to do (painful) pole dances in their latest MV for example, and CL on the right (source; edited) mentioning back in March that she refused her company’s requests for her to get cosmetic surgery before her debut (something YG would later do a complete 180 on). Likewise, I hope SISTAR will be more  — er — revealing in the future too.

But where does all that leave the question of how to determine sexual objectification in K-pop?

Recall that in the last post, I provided some criteria on sexual objectification devised by various feminist scholars, and concluded that most purported examples in K-pop (and specifically, SISTAR’s Gone Not Around Any Longer MV and TV performances) didn’t meet those. Commenter ‘dash’ however, to whom I’m eternally grateful, pointed out that because of the levels of coercion involved in the idol system, then most likely idols did meet those criteria, even if — the main thrust of my post — sexy dancing and showing skin aren’t necessarily sexually objectifying — or rather, negatively sexually objectifying — in themselves.

To refresh readers’ memories, here are the seven specific criteria devised by Nussbaum, plus three more provided by Rae Langton:

  1. instrumentality: the treatment of a person as a tool for the objectifier’s purposes;
  2. denial of autonomy: the treatment of a person as lacking in autonomy and self-determination;
  3. inertness: the treatment of a person as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity;
  4. fungibility: the treatment of a person as interchangeable with other objects;
  5. violability: the treatment of a person as lacking in boundary-integrity;
  6. ownership: the treatment of a person as something that is owned by another (can be bought or sold);
  7. denial of subjectivity: the treatment of a person as something whose experiences and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.
  8. reduction to body: the treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts;
  9. reduction to appearance: the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses;
  10. silencing: the treatment of a person as if they are silent, lacking the capacity to speak.

Applying academic theories to the real world is often messy and unsatisfying, but to conclude that we just don’t know if SISTAR are coerced by Starship Entertainment, so we just don’t know if #3, #7, and #10 apply, so we just don’t know if they’re negatively sexually objectified or not? It just felt galling, as if the last two weeks had been a complete waste.

It also presented quite an impasse, which took another two weeks to overcome.

Nana After School What's Next(Source)

For a while, it was tempting to leave it just at that, as you could argue that objective definitions are actually unnecessary, and/or seeking them misguided. After all, you’d think devising some for pornography would be much easier, but my (layperson’s) impression is that despite laws distinguishing between its many forms, and despite various coda used by law enforcement agencies to police, say, child porn (for example, the COPINE scale), we’re actually no closer to having objective definitions of it than when Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said in 1964 that it was hard to define the hard-core stuff, but that he knew it when he saw it (note it was later regretted and retracted however).

Perhaps, that vagueness is partially because the world’s first peer-reviewed academic journal on pornography won’t even be launched until next year?

In contrast, Buszek’s quote in the introduction is a reminder that academic work on objectification has a long pedigree, and is indeed the primary means — and likely will remain the primary means — by which we discuss “the ways in which women are manipulated and victimized through various cultural representations.” And who could doubt it the necessity of doing so, after watching the following video?

Not what it may seem, Escher Girls describes it as:

A video about the straight cis male gaze in cinema (and video games), examples of it, and talking about how even when men are sexualized on screen, it’s still as active agents and not as a collection of body parts where the camera zooms in and cuts to various secondary sex characteristics. Not a new concept, but the video is still interesting, even as just food for thought.

I also think having it deconstructed visually like he does, helps one pay a little more attention to how the world around us is constructed via the media we consume, in even small subtle ways, like where the camera focuses, pans, and zooms in on, and the difference between cuts that show pieces of the body versus full face & body shots.

….Also, this doesn’t mean it’s NEVER a thing to do, sometimes it can be used very effectively, and increases the understanding of a scene…but it’s when it becomes the norm of depicting women in all situations…

Dal Shabet Legs Objectification(Source)

So, after two weeks of banging my head against a brick wall, it finally occurred to me to Google PDF files with “sexual objectification” in the title. In just — ahem — five minutes of looking, I came across the solution in the form of “Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research” in The Counseling Psychologist 39(1), 2011, pp. 6-38 by Dawn Szymanski, Lauren Moffitt, and Erika Carr, as I was immediately struck by how their five core — but very interrelated — criteria of a “sexually objectifying environment” were eerily similar to life in a management company:

A) Traditional gender roles exist

The first thing that came to mind upon reading this were the traditional gender roles perpetuated by a significant number — but by no means majority — of songs and MVs by girl-groups, buttressed by the ridiculous double-standards of Korean censors. But, while that’s certainly something worth exploring, it’s more appropriate to focus on the environment in which management company employees work in.

Especially as this is a concept originally devised for places like Hooters (pp. 21-22):

Hooters KoreaSpecific to the workplace, [one researcher] used the term gender role spillover to refer to the carryover of these traditional gender roles into work environments where they are irrelevant or inappropriate. This phenomenon is more likely to occur when gender role is more salient than work role and/or gender ratios are highly skewed, because under many circumstances, individuals use gender role stereotypes to guide behavior, especially in male-female interactions. In particular, gender role spillover occurs when women (more than men in similar occupational roles) are expected to project their sexuality through behavior, appearance, or dress. When gender role spillover occurs, the effects may be magnified when women hold jobs where one aspect is reminiscent of a sex object (i.e., cocktail waitress). In this position, women are likely to be targets of unwanted sexual attention but may (inaccurately) attribute the way they are treated to their job rather than to their gender. A dynamic is then set up where men are expected to take the role of sexual initiator. One potential outcome is a sexualized work environment where sexual remarks, seductive clothing, and sexual advances are tolerated and encouraged.

(Update: See here for more on Hooters in Korea {source, above})

B) A high probability of male contact exists (physically speaking, a male-dominated environment)

Here, the authors’ meaning is the greater numbers of men compared to women in the environment in question; lacking that data, this cannot be confirmed or denied in the case of Korean management companies. But we can guess — and this is confirmed by Nine Muses of Star Empire — that the female idols do have considerable contact with the same few men, and…

…the extent of contact with men [is] a key predictor of incidence of harassment, number of different types of harassment, sexual comments, sexual categorical remarks, and sexual materials for women. Thus, contact with men may serve as a mediator between women and sexual objectification (SO). Frequent contact with men may create a more sexualized environment, which in turn allows for more SO experiences. (pp. 22-23)

Next, consider the disproportionate power of those men:

C) Women typically hold less power than men in that environment

This can be taken as a given. But Seabrook puts it well, and the combination he describes is covered well in the comments to Part One of the jumisho series at neojaponismé:

When you replicate the American entertainment business, and add the Confucian virtue of rigid respect for elders to the traditionally unequal relationship between artists and suits, the consequences can be nasty.

I’d also add that although men can and do write, direct, and/or produce — for want of a better word — feminist songs and MVs, and that although those intended for heterosexual men can be willingly embraced by women (of all sexualities) nevertheless, the example of lyricist Kim Eana (and others) points to the common-sense conclusion that the more women in the industry, the more feminist and/or positively-objectifying songs and MVs will likely be produced.

California Beach Jewelry red(Source, right)

The final two are also self-evidently true:

D) A high degree of attention is drawn to sexual/physical attributes of women’s bodies

Environments where women are required, often by specifications of a uniform, to reveal and emphasize their bodies are clearly sexually objectifying. Additionally, wearing tight or revealing clothing may facilitate self-objectification, as women constantly review their appearance and the fit of their clothing in the surrounding mirrors. Supporting this notion, [one study] found that women in fitness centers who wore tight and fitted exercise clothing (gym tops and gym pants) placed greater emphasis on their appearance attributes and engaged in more habitual body monitoring than women who wore looser clothing (T-shirts and sweatpants). Relatedly, [other researchers] found that the attention focused on women’s bodies in fitness centers leads women to self-objectify more. (p. 23)

E) The approval and acknowledgement of male gaze

세상을 바꾸는 퀴즈 현아…girl watching is a “targeted tactic of power” where men use gaze to demonstrate their right to physically and sexually evaluate women. The activity serves as a form of playing a game among some men; however, the targeted woman is generally understood to be an object, rather than a player, in the game. Thus, from a male point of view, “acts such as girl watching are simply games played with objects: women’s bodies”. The effects of male gaze on women may be intensified by the accompaniment of sexually evaluative commentary. (p. 24; source, right)

And with that, I could finally conclude my month-long inquiry. Which in short, is that I now more or less agree with dash(!), the commenter that started me on it. Or in full, that:

  • Given everything we know about the idol system, it is fair to assume that management companies are sexually objectifying environments
  • Consequently, it fair to assume that female performers do not always consent to the sexual objectification asked of them
  • Consequently, it is negative sexual objectification
  • And crucially, if the management companies and/or performers feel that these assumptions are incorrect and unfair, that the onus is on them to prove us feminist whiners wrong

As many do

Ga-in Bloom(Source, above; below)

Yes, you can argue that that’s a lot of assumptions. And/or that, because the first set ivory tower criteria from the last post didn’t work in the real world, that I’ve merely gone and replaced them with another. Both criticisms are fair. Also, I acknowledge the very very broad range of topics above, and am aware of the many exceptions, over-generalizations, and just plain simple mistakes involved in covering them all. I welcome and appreciate readers pointing them out to me, and look forward to discussing them in the comments.

SISTAR give it to me pleaseYet most of all, I’m happy that I now longer feel so stymied, so…inadequate when talking about objectification in K-pop because I feel I won’t ever been able to hear enough about it — or indeed, anything about it — from the singers themselves.

Of course, the drudgery of religiously scanning news reports and interviews for their voices — i.e. to make assumptions into facts –  is still essential, and, having recognized that, motivated fanboying is something I definitely plan to continue doing in the future. But spending hours toiling over, say, all 114 pages of the SISTAR tag on allkrap allkpop for those slip-ups before you can feel you can even write? Really, us feminist whiners can do much better than that.

And SISTAR, so can you too. Give it to me indeed.

You know what I mean!

Update: The dynamics of guest-host interactions on Korean talk-shows are a little more subtle than I gave them credit for in this post. See “Goo Hara is Allegedly Rude because ‘MCs Gotta MC’” at Seoulbeats to learn more.

p.s. Like this post? Did it keep you occupied for half an hour? Please consider making a small donation, to help me write more of them — I’ve only had one two so far this year! ㅠㅠ

Korean Sociological Image #71: “Specs” for the perfect Korean wife or husband

(Source)

When I lived abroad in Korea, I spent a lot of time doing work in cafes. Probably a 100 or more during my 2 years there. As such, I eavesdropped on thousands of conversations. And nearly every one of those conversations was about two topics: complaints re studying English and complaints re losing weight.

(Patricia Park, Korean Bodega, June 15)

Maybe I’m just nostalgic for my bachelor days, but it’s conversations about “specs” (스펙) that I’ve really noticed myself. A Korean term for the criteria used to evaluate a potential spouse on, it’s also my experience that it’s almost exclusively used by women, although that may just be because there’s usually more women than men at my local Starbucks.

Either way, in February Kim Da-ye at the Korea Times argued that looking at marriage this way is a relatively new phenomenon, and that it’s “matchmaking companies that rate spouse seekers by specs [that] have fueled [such] materialism”. And, as if to bolster that point, Donga-Reuters would report on exactly the same phenomenon emerging in China after I’d already begun writing this post.

But as discussed below, matchmakers have been encouraging such pragmatism for decades, so they can hardly be described as driving that change in outlook. Rather, it’s economic factors that are responsible, as Kim later acknowledges in her article:

(Source)

…today’s buzzword “Sampo” generation (삼포세대) …indicates a 30-something who has given up dating, marrying and giving birth because of the lack of financial means…

Contrast the “880,000 won generation”, which generally refers to 20-somethings. Continuing:

….What’s interesting about such preferences for the partner’s economic qualification is that they don’t come from conservative parents or rigid social structure but independent, young individuals….

….The near obsession with fine lifestyle is a contrast to the attitude of the baby boomer generation, many of whom used to say that they can start from a small rented room….

When asked why the younger generation isn’t willing make such a humble start, Lee, a single woman in her mid-30s working at a media firm, said, “Back then, amid fast economic growth, people had hoped that they would be able to climb up the social ladder and afford a bigger place in the future. Nowadays, people feel that if they start in a small room, they will be stuck there for the rest of their lives.”

The high cost of getting married naturally leads to some couples to be heavily indebted after the honeymoon ends. In addition to the Sampo generation, another phrase linked to both the economy and marriage has emerged — “honeymoon poor.”

And Kim — whose article is very informative overall — gives several examples of engaged couples’ fights over money, some of whom ultimately break up. Yet those would not be out of place in popular discourses of marriage in, for example, the 1980s, when women’s magazines were similarly promoting the virtues of arranged ones. Presumably, at the behest of their advertisers:

(Source)

Passage Rites Made Easy [A 1982 Korean book by Ko Chonggi] describes marriage through an arranged meeting as more “rational” behavior than simply falling in love because the candidates for romance and matrimony have already been carefully scrutinized by parents and matchmakers. Korean women’s magazines also emphasize the value of prior screening in choosing a mate, suggesting by the frequency with which they address this topic that their youthful readership is by no means convinced of the merits of matchmade matrimony:

Today, with the trend towards frankness in sexual matters, talk of “arranged meetings” or “matchmade marriage” might sound excessively stale. Even so, in marriage the conditions of both sides enter into things. Matchmade marriage, where you can dispassionately investigate these considerations beforehand, has some advantages that cannot be ignored (“The Secrets of a Successful Arranged Meeting,” Yong Reidi, 3 March 1985: 347).

From pages 89-90 of Getting Married in Korea: Of Gender, Morality, and Modernity (1996), by Laurel Kendall, the next page sounds a little ironic 18 years later:

The evolution of Korean courtship practices provides one excellent example of how notions of progress, of an enlightened “now” versus a repressive “then”, mask the particular disadvantages for women in new forms of matrimonial negotiations, be they “matchmade” or “for love” — a mask which sometimes slips in angry conversation or social satire. Through courtship and through all of the talk about getting married, notions of ideal “man” and “woman”, “husband” and “wife”, “son-in-law” and “daughter-in-law” are constructed, reinforced, and resisted….

….In Korean popular discourse, the evils of old-fashioned matrimony, in which near-children were forced by the will of their elders to marry total strangers, have been replaced by more enlightened practices. The “old days” are still on the horizon of living memory, but are recalled as from an utterly vanished time. In confessing that he never saw his wife’s face until his wedding night, the writer Cho P’ungyon states [in 1983] with a touch of hyperbole that “Today’s young people would consider this laughable and the faint-hearted might swoon away, but in my day these procedures were considered natural.”

(Source)

The difference being that in 2012, financially-strapped singles can no longer afford to be so dismissive (nor Japanese ones either). Moreover, while they’re not marrying complete strangers perhaps, many Koreans do marry people they’ve only known a few weeks, as discussed in an earlier post. Also, some mild social coercion can indeed be involved, as Gomushin Girl explained:

It’s important to differentiate between different kinds of matchmaking arrangements…lots of Koreans use services that are similar to eHarmony, It’s Just Dinner, and other similar paid and unpaid services. Just like in the US, there’s free and paid computer matching sites, and more expensive and comprehensive personalized dating services. These offer a great deal of flexibility, and allow you to reject partners at many stages of the process – the worst consequence being that the agent in charge of finding you matches will decide you’re too picky, and start sending you “lower quality” matches. You’re free to meet multiple people at once, and they’re basically meant to facilitate dating.

However, 선 (Seon) matches are pretty different. Most of the time the people proposing the arrangement are close family or friends (of your parents), and parties are expected to make up their minds pretty quickly. Delaying too long or changing your mind after the first few dates is strongly frowned upon, and may even cause major social riftts. This means that women especially are pressured to marry people before they’re comfortable with them, and even if they’re not really what they’re looking for. Seon is serious, and you’re expected to commit yourself pretty quickly.

It’s also expected to override existing social relationships. My Korean host mother once called me up to ask if I’d go down to Busan to meet a friend’s son, who was interested in a seon meeting with me. I told her I’d just started dating someone, and her response was essentially, “That’s wonderful! When can you come to Busan?”

(Source)

And on that note, let me leave you with a translation of the image that prompted this post, a poster for last week’s Slutwalk in Seoul. The slogan reads, roughly, “Let’s stop these fantasy gender roles now. Let’s play at being ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, 2012 Slutwalk Korea”; while the specs it mentions, though mostly universal, also have some quintessentially Korean ones:

For the “man” (literally, it says “manliness”):

  • 키180이상 Over 180cm in height
  • 전문직 A professional
  • 대기업정규직 Regular worker at a big company
  • 인서울4년제 Went to a 4-year university in Seoul
  • 자차소유 Owns a car
  • 장남아닐것 Not a first-born son
  • 데이트비용 Pays for everything on a date
  • 신혼집구입 Buys a home after marriage
  • 사회생활잘함 Good social skills
  • 성격좋음 Good personality
  • 술잘마심 A good drinker
  • 정력왕 Good sexual stamina

For the woman (“womanliness”):

  • 키170미만 Under 170cm tall
  • 몸무게50미만 Under 50 kg
  • 가슴C컵이상 A C-cup or over
  • 30살이하 30 or under
  • 날신한몸매 Thin body
  • 작고하얀얼굴 Small and white face
  • 화장은기본 Always wears make-up
  • 제모는상식 Shaves legs and underarms
  • 명품백하나쯤 Have at least one brand-name handbag
  • 애교있는성격 Have aegyo
  • 시댁을부모처럼 Treats parents-in-law like her own parents
  • 섹스경험없음 Be a virgin

Are there any others readers would add? Especially Korean ones?

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

Korean Sociological Image #69: Attitudes Towards Sexual Objectification, 2004 vs. 2012

Back in 2004, I would study Korean by translating articles about Lee Hyori’s breasts. Because that was much more interesting than reading about the joys of kimchi-making in Korean textbooks.

So, I hardly romanticize that era as more innocent and chaste than today’s. Nor, by highlighting just one complaint by one women’s group from then, about the use of women in bikinis in a tourist brochure, do I mean to imply that the Korean public was necessarily more prudish back in 2004, or that it’s necessarily more permissive today. After all, my Google News Alert for “성상품화” (sexual objectification) still provides me with fresh critiques of the recent Miss Korea Pageant every day. And who can forget the role “Bikini Girl” played in April’s congressional elections?

Having said that, things definitely have changed in 8 years:

  • Starting about 2006, ubiquitous soju ads started featuring women in revealing clothing after decades of almost exclusively using demure, virginal-looking models.
  • A little later, dominant media narratives about girl-groups, depicting middle-aged male fandom as platonic rather than sexual, provided a window for their objectification to flourish.
  • Men have also been increasingly objectified, particularly after the “chocolate abs” label was coined in 2009.
  • The number of smutty online-ads has surged, especially in the last year.
  • And last but not least, it’s difficult to find an advertisement for water-parks (also ubiquitous) that doesn’t feature a scantily-clad girl-group, with one — Ocean World — even inventing a group specifically for that purpose. (Boy bands and male models are used also, most notably by Caribbean Bay below, but my strong impression is that there’s much less of them than women)

In short, it is via the increasing objectification of (especially) girl-groups that you can see a clear McDonalidization of Korean cultural industries in recent years (see here, here, herehere, and here for more on the hows and whys). And, because of that shift, it’s difficult to imagine a complaint like this being given much attention in 2012:

전남관광 책자 두고 ‘여성상품화’ 논란 일어 / Controversy over Sexual Objectification of Women in Jeollanam-do Tourist Brochure

Oh My News, June 15 2004. By Gang Seong-gwan.

지난 6월초 전남도가 여름 관광객을 겨냥해 제작배포한 관광 홍보책자 ‘남도스케치’에 사용된 비키니 차림의 여성사진이 논란이다. 광주여성민우회는 14일 성명을 통해 “남도스케치 배포를 즉각 중단하라”고 요구하고 나섰다.

Controversy has arisen over the use of women in bikinis in the June edition of tourist brochure Namdo Sketch, a widely-distributed brochure aimed at summer tourists . In an announcement on the 14th, the Gwangju branch of Womenlink demanded that it stopped being distributed immediately.

전 남도는 ‘남도스케치’를 제작하면서 책 표지, ‘전남이 추천하는 여름 여행지 BEST’ 중 완도 명사십리 해수욕장 등 7곳을 소개하면서 비키니를 입은 여성의 사진 10여장을 게재했다. 이 책자는 겉표지까지 총 85페이지로 구성됐으며 비키니 사진은 책자 앞 부분에 게재했다. 전남도는 제작된 책자 2만여부를 터미널 등 공공장소와 전남도내 기초단체 등지에 배포를 마친 상태이며 조만간 2쇄에 들어간다는 계획이다.

이에 대해 광주여성민우회는 “여성을 성 상품화했다”면서 전남도의 공개사과는 물론 책자 배포 중단을 요구하고 나섰다.

With a cover title of “Best Recommended Tourist Sightseeing Areas in Jeollanam-do” [James - I can't see that title myself, but unfortunately that opening photo was very small], Namdo Sketch introduces 7 tourist sights, including Wando and Myeongsashibri Beach, and uses a total of 10 pictures of women in bikinis on the front cover and in the first part of the brochure, out of 85 pages. By the end of its first printing, the Jeollanam-do Provincial Government had distributed roughly 20,000 copies to transport terminals, public places, and civic groups, and planned to make a second printing.

Gwangju Womenlink said that the brochure sexually objectified women, and demanded a public apology as a matter of course, as well as a halt on further distribution.

“여성 성 상품화 한 것, 배포 중단”…”문제제기 이해하지만, 시원한 여름을…” / “This is the sexual objectification of women, distribution must stop”…”We understand, but hey: this is summer…”

광주여성민우회는 “전남 관광홍보는 여성의 비키니만이 유일한 대안인가”라며 “공공기관에서 나온 책자인가 할 정도로 낯뜨거운 장면이 많이 실려 있어 당혹스러움과 황당함을 느낀다”고 밝혔다.

Gwangju Womenlink argued that “Are women in bikinis the only option for a tourist brochure?”, and said “We are embarrassed and perplexed that a public institution would go so far as to use such crude [James - I think this is a better translation of "낯뜨겁다" than "obscene" or "rude"] images in a tourist brochure.” (source, right)

이어 “지역에 관광객을 유치하기 위해 명소를 소개하는 것은 좋지만 관광지역의 구체적인 정보와 특색 있는 프로그램의 홍보 대신 여성의 비키니 복장을 내세워 시선을 끌어보고자 하는 공무원의 얄팍한 속셈은 용납될 수 없는 행위”라고 비판했다.

Continuing: “It is good that tourists are being attracted to this area by having places of interest introduced to them. But instead of providing concrete information and unique tourist programs, the PR simply consists of pictures of women in bikinis, designed to attract one’s attention. This is both shallow and misguided of Jeollanam-do officials, and can’t be forgiven.”

또 여성민우회는 “지역의 명소를 알려내기 위한 기본 조건은 다른 지역과 차별되는 테마를 만들어 남도만의 색다른 맛을 느끼게 하는 것이다”면서 “노력해야 할 것은 따로 있는데 엉뚱한 것으로 메꾸려는 것은 직무유기”라고 주장했다.

여성민우회는 “여성의 성 상품화를 부추기는 공공기관의 홍보책자는 결코 용납될 수 없다”면서 ‘남도스케치’의 배포중지를 요구했다.

Also, Womenlink emphasized that “What should have been done to inform tourists about places of interest was showing them how different they were to other ares and what unusual tastes, experiences, and feelings Jeollanam-do has to offer. Instead of making an effort and doing their duty though, officials offered this rubbish.”

It added that “Promoting the sexual objectification of women is never acceptable”, and so demanded an immediate halt to the distribution of the brochure.

(Sources: left, right)

이에 대해 전남도청 한 공무원은 “문제제기는 이해한다”면서도 “여성의 사진을 표지에 넣는다고 해서 이 책자가 눈길을 끌고 있는 것은 아닌 것 같다”고 말했다.

그 러나 또 다른 공무원은 “여성의 비키니 사진을 두고 상품화까지 이야기하는 것은 지나친 것 아니냐”며 “오히려 여성단체들이 그렇게 주장하면서 폄하시킨 것은 아닌지 모르겠다. 물론 어느 정도는 이해할 수 있지만 이런 사진을 많이 사용한 것도 아니지 않느냐”고 주장했다.

In response, a Jeollanam-do official said ” We understand the concerns, but it’s not because of the women in bikinis on the cover that people are drawn to the brochure.” Another emphasized that “It’s a complete exaggeration to claim that just pictures of women in bikinis is objectification. Rather, it’s women’s groups that are degrading women by doing so. And it’s not like we used many in the brochure.”

관광책자 제작 담당부서인 전남도청 관광진흥과 이명흠 과장도 “여성단체의 지적사항에 대해서 전혀 모르는 바는 아니다”면서도 “행정관청에서 발행한 책자여서 그럴텐데 여름에 맞춰서 시원한 해수욕장과 수영복을 입은 모습의 여성을 모델로 했을 뿐이다”고 말했다.

이어 이 과장은 “행정기관이 발행했다는 느낌이 들면 잘 보지 않는다. (관광객들의) 눈길을 끌 수도 있다는 생각에서 진행한 공격적인 마케팅의 일환이다”며 “너무 한쪽으로만 생각하지 말고 발상을 바꿨으면 좋겠다”고 주장했다.

(Source: Metro Seoul, 31 May 2012, p.49)

Lee Myung-hum, the head of the Tourism Promotion Office of Jeollanam-do Provincial Government that produced the brochure, said “It’s not like I don’t understand women’s groups concerns. But only swimsuits are appropriate for female models promoting cool swimming areas in the summer.” He added that “No-one ever pays attention to anything produced by a council tourism promotion office. The images were simply part of an aggressive marketing technique designed to get the attention of tourists, and shouldn’t be overanalyzed.”

한편 ‘남도스케치’ 표지모델은 전남도청 여성 공무원 중 희망자들이 참여하기도 했으며, 지난해에도 전남도는 여름 관광홍보 책자를 제작하면서 표지 등에 비키니을 입은 여성 사진을 게재한 바 있다.

The models used in the brochure included Jeollnam-do female officials [James — it says only the cover, but there were only 2 women on that], and a similar brochure was produced the previous year (end).

James — While the Jeollanam-do officials didn’t sound too sympathetic in that June 2004 article, another from the next month points out that in the second printing the bikini models were removed from the cover and 2 more pages, although some did still remain. It’s from that article that the before and after covers came from.

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

International Magazines in Korea: A Cultural Invasion? (Part 1)

(Sources: left, right)

With covers like these, it’s easy to overestimate the “Westernizing” effects international magazines have on modest Korean readers. Especially by those who resent such changes.

Say, those who have ever called someone a “beanpaste girl” (dwengjangnyeo; 된장녀) for instance, a derogatory term for young women that supposedly spend beyond their means in pursuit of a Sex and the City lifestyle. But which in practice they can be called for doing no more than simply buying Starbucks coffee, nice clothes, or foreign food.

When such decadent women want to do some reading while sipping their frappuccinos though, until recently they were much more likely to be seen behind an international women’s magazine than a purely Korean one. That wasn’t just confirmation bias by their accusers.

Why are they so popular? And why, despite that, are they still not quite as big an influence as they may appear? Let’s answer the first question in this post and Part 2, and the second in Part 3 after that.

(Sources: left, right)

There are three reasons they are so popular. First, a practical one. Consider why they were once able to justify more expensive ad rates than Korean competitors, despite having much lower circulations (Sook & Firth, 2006; see the end of the post for references):

According to an interview with a media expert in an ad agency (June, 2004), international magazines justify [them] by claiming that they use modern printing techniques, higher quality paper, glossy covers, and more sophisticated advertising techniques…

I doubt that this difference in quality still applies in 2012. But when it did, it would have quite literally added some gloss to their preexisting exotic appeal. So much so, that the combination meant that international magazines:

…[could] deliver the ‘right target’ to advertisers. Instead of housewives, the major target audience of international magazines is single women. They are a segment who is interested in fashion and beauty and who possess disposable income.

Having different targets meant different content, which is the third and the most important source of their greater popularity, to be covered in Part 2. Indeed, jumping ahead, the greatest impact of international magazines has been that: a) most domestic competitors have likewise sexed-up their own content in order to better appeal to spendthrift single women; and b) a slew of wholly Korean magazines exclusively aimed at them have also appeared (e.g. Singles/싱글즈, not quite the symbol of Western depravity it may at first appear). And in light of that, it behooves me to point out that this series of posts is based on 5 and 6 year-old sources using 8 year-old data, and to reiterate that international magazines may actually no longer be the preferred choice of single Korean women.

But still: regardless of which are the more popular now, and well before consumers can get to grips with content like “His First Sex”, first they have to be persuaded to open a magazine at all. And ever since the first Korean edition of Elle appeared in the Korean market 20 years ago, international magazines’ combination of exoticism and content aimed at young, hip Korean women (rather than fuddy-duddy ajummas) has been a powerful and enduring source of appeal.

Possibly, the sophisticated consumer in you balks at that at something so simplistic-sounding, especially if you’re one of those young, hip Korean women yourself. But then no matter how impervious to suggestion we all like to think we are, on occasion we’ve all bought magazines primarily for things as frivolous as: the feel of the glossy paper; the “edgy” photography; ego-boosting headlines (“2012 Is Your Year!); the rebellious frisson of purchasing something with a nude person on the cover in a crowded bookstore; and so on. Maybe, if we’re honest, as something to be seen with too, and/or because we feel it’s what our imagined selves ought to buy. For its possession can signify aspiration towards or membership in a social class or group (in sociological terms, a form of “objectified” and/or “institutionalized” cultural capital), even if only to ourselves.

Say, like my April 2000 copy of the New Zealand music and lifestyle magazine re:mix for instance:

Partially, I present that here to demonstrate that I’m not trying to distance myself from people who buy magazines for “shallow” reasons, a common failing of commentators on pop-culture. But primarily, I do so to admit my own intellectual baggage, and the possibility that I’m simply projecting. By all means, please call me out on that if you think so, and of course just because re:mix happened to trigger various cyberpunk-millennial fantasies in me at 24 – and, ahem, still does at 36 – doesn’t mean that all 24 or 36 year-old Korean women likewise buy international magazines simply to indulge in their own Occidentalist fantasies.

But then, surely some do. And whereas I knowingly made particularly strong associations between a magazine and a life I aspired to, the possibility of consumers making any associations at all is precisely what magazine editors are aiming towards, influencing all aspects of its production. As this marketer explains:

Consumers have gathered from the beginning of consumption. Auto enthusiasts, quilting bees, and Tupperware parties are early examples of the impulse. Many consumer groups share an affiliation that is based upon enthusiasm and knowledge of a specific consumption activity.

In fact, academics and consultants have recognized these groups and dubbed them “consumer tribes” – a term borrowed from anthropology, describing groups of people who are brought together not around something rational, such as a job, but around deeper, more profound needs, such as kinship, passion, and identity.

Moreover, just like advertisers are constantly inventing new role models for consumers to aspire to, all the better to sell them products that (supposedly) help them achieve that goal, it’s especially helpful for companies if those creations are centered around their brands (think of the stereotypical Apple or Harley Davidson consumer for instance). This is especially true for foreign companies entering a new overseas market for the first time, as (source, right):

…they seek a sense of familiarity and want control over their brands. In order to meet their demands, advertising agencies focus on “developing what are deemed to be more cost-effective global campaigns that circumvent national borders by creating more expensive global consumer tribes linked by lifestyle values or preferences rather than spatial location.” (source, quoted in Sook & Firth 2006; my emphasis)

Logic which certainly applied to magazine producers (quite explicitly so by Cosmo below!), and accordingly it’s via advertising that international magazines can be said to have had the greatest Westernizing effect on the Korean media, as will be discussed next week.

But before I do, let me leave you with a parallel from the real world, lest you’re still unconvinced about the importance of branding by magazines.

(Source)

To be precise, a parallel from an unidentified brand name shoe store in North England. Sociologist Steven Miles worked there for 10 weeks in the mid-1990s, posing as “an especially enthusiastic member of staff who was showing particular interest in customers and their purchases”, asking them numerous questions in order to (Miles, 1998):

…address the significance of consumption in their lives, most particularly in relation to the training shoes (sneakers) they were considering purchasing. The meanings with which these shoes were endowed, the role that these meanings played in the construction of personal identities, and the cultural context in which such meanings operated, were therefore the issues addressed….

The priority…was for the customer to discuss the role that training shoes (and often, as the conversation developed, other types of consumer goods) had in their lives, and what factors they believed influenced that role.

Sneakers may sound like a strange topic here, but recall that they were once considered so important by young people that they were prepared to mug and even kill for them, and Miles is very positive about the important, pro-active role one’s consumption choices can play in one’s identity, whether of sneakers of anything else.

However, it’s especially the next that has echoes in the purchase of magazines, by any age group (source, right):

…consider the atmosphere that the management actively seeks to promote in its stores. All branches of the sports store concerned are dominated by a large TV monitor overlooking the shop floor. This acts as a magnet for passing customers. British branches of the store often broadcast MTV…as far as the head office is concerned, this helps to create a relatively straightforward means of perpetuating a superficial feeling, on the part of the customer, of personal familiarity with what it is to experience this particular store.

And in particular (my emphasis):

What is also of interest in that paradoxically, measures are taken by the company to actively disguise the impersonal nature of the experience of shopping [there]….Though on the one hand the company’s training literature is entirely open about the importance of giving the consumer a common experience on entering the store in whatever country, on the other, any hint that efforts are being made to control such an experience are hidden from the customer’s actual perception of the shopping environment.

In the case of international magazines, these can be things as trivial as the choice of font and line-spacing, all designed to replicate the appearance and style of the overseas editions on which they’re based. Which may sound trivial, but next week I explain that, these days, Korean editions of international magazines have on average only 30% of “lift” material taken from those (down from 60% a decade ago), much of which has no more resemblance to the original articles and so on than the rough subject and the look. Or in other words, that “international” magazines sold here certainly have a foreign veneer, but are really a lot more Korean than they may seem.

Yet a veneer considered so enticing to consumers, that the Korean magazine Woman Sense/우먼센스, for instance, would change its cover title to English in 2009:

(Sources: left, right)

But all that will be discussed in Part 2 and 3. And on that note, apologies for the day’s delay with this post, the best I could do after having to get my modem changed 3 nights in a row last week(!) and thanks to all readers who tried to find copies of Sook’s and Firth’s papers below for me, and/or passed on other interesting related papers instead. As it turns out, while their download links on their citation pages here and here still aren’t working, if you do a search on the main allacademic page for, say, abstracts with the terms “Korea” and “magazines” in them, then you’ll get a list of search results with links that do work, and so you can click here and here for PDFs of them (or just ask me to send them).

Sources:

- Oh, Hyun Sook. and Frith, Katherine. “International Women’s Magazines and Transnational Advertising in South Korea” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Dresden International Congress Centre, Dresden, Germany, Jun 16, 2006

- Oh, Hyun Sook. and Frith, Katherine. “Globalization and Localization in the Production Process of International Women’s Magazines in Korea” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, TBA, San Francisco, CA, May 23, 2007

- Miles, Steven, “McDonaldization and the global sports store: constructing consumer meanings in a rationalized society” in Mark Alfino, John Caputo, and Robin Wynyard, ed.s, McDonaldization Revisited: critical essays on consumer culture, Praeger Westport, 1998, pp. 53-65.

Update, October 2013: Alas, I never did get around to writing Parts 2 and 3, feeling that they would require too much regurgitation of the source material. Instead, I wrote a single, much shorter article for the Autumn edition of Busan Haps.

Quick Hit: Disney Princesses as Cover Girls

(Source)

As explained at Visual News:

Many girls dream of being princesses and many also imagine a fairy tale of their face gracing the cover of popular fashion magazines. Young artist, Tumblr user, and admitted Disney fan, Mary (Petite Tiaras) gives us a mashup of the best of both worlds by designing covers for popular fashion magazines, such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Elle, with Disney princesses as cover girls.

See there for more examples. A big fan of Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate my Daughter, I loved the uncannily accurate satire, and couldn’t help but compare some real Korean magazine covers, compiled together each month by Eiffel in Seoul:

(Source)

Probably the biggest thing of note though, is the lack of Korean celebrities on any covers except Céci, which is a little disappointing. Lest the editors be accused of cultural imperialism though, Korean consumers actually tend to prefer Western models and celebrities, at least in women’s magazines.

Also, I was hoping that seasoned pop-culture commentator Alice Jeong Turnbull (5), would be more scared than drawn to them (especially that “edgy” allure cover), but instead she told me that they were “nice”. Still, I suppose that’s an improvement over the usual “pretty”!

Happy New Year’s everybody!