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

Let’s Talk About 섹스, 베이비~

Kim Soo-yong's 19 Show Banner(Source)

I showed my (Korean) wife this thread. Her response:

“They think Koreans can’t talk about gay rights? How insulting. We’re more advanced than you think. Gay issues are talked about all the time on talk shows and in the media. [Those commenters] clearly do not understand Korean culture.”

(Comment at Gusts of Popular Feeling)

I would have said more “ignorant” of Korean culture, but you get the idea. And, as if to prove her point, somehow the very next thing in my browser was the new Kim Soo-yong’s 19 [R18] Show, hosted by (obviously) comedian Kim Soo-Yong and announcer Kim Min-jin, and also starring psychologist Dr. Choi Chang-ho and comedian Yun Sok-ju.

Although this particular show may not have talked about LGBT issues (yet), it hit home because it provided a second healthy reminder that Koreans are frankly talking about sex at least, despite foreign stereotypes of their extreme sexual conservatism. Indeed, there’s actually been shows like this for many years now.

Here’s the introduction to it on the Kukitv station website:

Kim Soo-yong's 19 Show(Source)

My (very quick) translation:

Men and women,

Out of feelings they share when they love each other, there’s some things they don’t understand, or they do understand but feel strange about, or they thought they understood but can be easily mistaken about.

From the first date, skinship, and sex to proposing and marriage, we need to something to clear the wish-washy, hidden, unspoken things between men and women.

For the hidden sex stories in your heart, to the secret urges of your partners whom you thought you knew well…

And fortunately for something that plays at 1:10am on weeknights, all of the 5 shows so far — and shorter segments of shows — are available on Youtube here. Here’s the full first episode to get you going:

Alas, language-wise, it’s not for the faint-hearted: the Korean subtitles are minimal, and there’s unlikely to ever be English ones available. Can anyone please recommend any similar shows that are more accessible for non-Korean speakers, and/or — seeing as they inspired this post — pass on any of those that have dealt specifically with LGBT issues? Thanks!

(Update: I should also mention the Talk on Sex podcast that I’ve been following on and off for years, but again that’s entirely in Korean).

SNL코리아 Does Sexual Harassment Prevention Video

From back in June. Here’s the original US version, from April 2005:

This blog being what it is, my first thought was that many men people really do think that dealing with sexual harassment just requires a simple phone call to HR. So, however funny, ultimately these videos just perpetuate that dismissive stereotype.

But I already made that point last year, about a similar joke in a popular newspaper cartoon, so I don’t really need to repeat it here. Instead, it’s more interesting to compare the 2 versions of the video.

For instance, naturally the Korean version doesn’t begin with:

“…businesses are filled with working women, with corresponding breasts and vaginas. As a man, you want to have sex with ALL of them.”

And the US version, again just as naturally, doesn’t feature a scene in a women’s toilet.

What do you think of them? Any other (cultural) differences you can think of?

The Economist on K-Pop’s Role in Celebrity Endorsements

(Source)

Well, I covered it in passing in an opinion piece in The Korea Herald over a year ago, and many times on the blog (and on Busan Haps) since, but hey: I admit that The Economist is probably a more authoritative-sounding source. See here then, for a discussion of how the dynamics of the Korean digital music industry are forcing labels to financially rely on celebrity endorsements, and which is a big factor behind why 2 out of 3 Korean advertisements feature them, one of the highest rates in the world.

While frustratingly brief, it does have some money quotes:

…SM Entertainment’s boss complains that even 1m downloads cannot cover the cost of making a music video….

….SM Entertainment and other purveyors of K-pop cover this shortfall at home by having their stars hawk the latest phone, or appear on television variety shows. The biggest labels have become adept at squeezing cash out of their pop stars’ names, rather than their music. But only a handful of musicians are famous enough to benefit.

South Korea’s old business model, perfected by its carmakers, was to use a captive home market as a launch-pad from which to invade foreign shores. The country’s pop musicians have turned this model upside down: they have to export their tunes to make up for meagre pickings at home.

(Source)

See bloop69′s comment also, who contends that things are not as dire as they seem (for a similar discussion between abcfsk and myself, see here):

A huge chunk of the money is made in “collectable” CDs and DVDs, which can run north of $150 per shot and are constantly churned out. It’s not a case of INVADING other shores you clueless dolt. It’s a case of using Youtube and videos as LOSS LEADERS to capture a small number (tens to hundreds of thousands) of hardcore fans who spend $100s US EACH to support their “fandom”

You don’t even begin to perceive it but in fact the Koreans are using a very progressive model… similar to League of Legends or FarmVille to give customers a free “taste” of the music. Like Kpop free to play MMOs also rely heavily on “whales” and heavily invested customers to carry the rest of the customer base. It has nothing to do with “invading” other shores. This is the strategy they have been using in Korea and are using around the world.

Finally, a quick request: please ask your Korean partners, friends, colleagues and so on if they know what “celebrity endorsement” is in Korean. If they struggle to answer, as my wife did, then I think that will be testament to just how pervasive they are here! (Eventually, she came up with “유명인 보증”).

The Male Gaze and the Korean Mass Media (Or: Ways of Seeing Son Ye-jin as Fat…)

(Sources: left, right)

Another week, another group of perfectly healthy women fat-shamed on Korean television. Yes, even Son Ye-jin too, no matter how disarmingly attractive she looks above.

It was such a pleasant surprise then, to see the following denouncement from Entermedia reproduced in the entertainment and celebrity sections of Daum and Yahoo! Korea too. The first time I’ve ever comes across a lengthy critique about the male gaze and impossible body ideals alongside, well, numerous examples of exactly those, the optimist in me hopes that this represents some kind of turning-point. Or, at the very least, a consensus that the offending programs clearly overstepped a line, even by the Korean media’s standards!

손예진 몸매 논란, 무엇이 문제일까 / Controversy About Son Ye-jin’s body; What is the Problem?

by Bae Guk-nam, Entermedia, July 2 2012

- 손예진이 통통하면 이득보는 사람들 / There are people that profit from Son Ye-jin being fat
- 미디어, 이 땅의 여성들 말라깽이 강박증 환자로 내몰아 / The media encourages Korean women to be obsessed with thinness

처음 제 귀를 의심했습니다. 다음에는 설마 그럴까라는 생각을 했습니다. 그리고 파급 효과가 엄청나다는 인식에 이르렀습니다. 바로 여성 몸매를 제시한 세 개의 방송 프로그램을 보면서 느낀 제 반응과 생각입니다. 그리고 세 개의 프로그램을 보면서 여성 몸매에 대한 매스미디어와 일부 남성의 편견에 찬 시선의 현주소를 알 수 있었지요. 그러한 시선은 이 땅의 수많은 여성들로 하여금 몸에 대해 과도한 집착을 하게 할 뿐만 아니라 육체에 대한 불만과 취약성, 결핍을 끊임없이 느끼게 만들어 지극히 정상적인 자신의 몸에 대해 비정상으로 바라보게 만드는 병폐를 심화시키는 문제를 야기 시키고 있다는 것도 절감하게 됐습니다.

At first, I doubted what I was I really seeing. Then I thought “Really? OMG”, and realized how much of a controversy would be raised. That was my reaction when I saw three recent programs about women’s bodies.

While watching, I got to know the reality of the deep prejudice with which the mass media and some men viewed women’s bodies. I realized that through this, Korean women don’t just get excessively attached to their body image, but are also disempowered through continuously feeling frustrated with their bodies, and coming to feel that theirs are abnormal .

여성의 몸에 대한 미디어와 남성의 시선, 그리고 그 병폐를 적나라하게 노출시킨 방송이 바로 지난 6월23일 방송된 MBC < 세바퀴 > 입니다. 이날 방송에서’남자들이 통통한 여자를 좋아한다는 말이 사실인가?’라는 설문에 대한 이야기를 나누던 중 이혁재는”출연진 중에서는 안선영과 안문숙 정도가 통통한 것 같다. 이경애는 통통한 게 아니고 고도비만이다”라고 말해 충격을 주더니 지상렬은 통통의 기준이 되는 연예인이 “손예진이다”라고 답해 출연자 뿐만 아니라 시청자들을 경악하게 만들었습니다. 헬스 트레이너 숀리는 여기에서 더 나아가 “조여정, 송혜교를 통통하다고 하는데, 저는 예전부터 그런 몸을 좋아했다”라며 안방 시청자의 몸매에 대한 인식에 대한 생각을 다시 한번 하게 만들었지요.

The problems of this media and male gaze were very evident in the June 23rd episode of World-Changing Quiz Show, broadcast on MBC [James — see here and here for Part 1 and 2]. On that show, the discussion topic for the panel was “Is it true that men like fat women?”, and comedian Lee Hyeok-jae (male) not only remarked that two female members of the panel — comedians Ahn Sun-young and Ahn Moon-sook — were fat (literally, he said “Fat like them you mean?)” , but that a third—  Lee Kyong-ae — was extremely so, shocking other panel members and the audience. Then comedian Ji Sang-ryul (male) opined that among women in the entertainment industry, Son Ye-jin was the standard [James - upper limit?], further adding to everyone’s astonishment. Finally, health trainer Sean Lee mentioned that people say that Jo Yeo-jung and Song Hye-gyo are fat, but that he has liked such body types for a long time, again making viewers at home dwell on the subject of fatness.

6월25일 방송된 KBS < 안녕하세요 > 에선 46Kg의 몸무게를 유지하라는 남편 때문에 고민이라는 한 여성이 출연했습니다. 남편이 연애시절부터 마른 여자를 좋아해 75Kg체중을 46Kg으로 만들어 결혼했다는 황은미씨는 “결혼한 지금도 46kg의 체중을 유지하라는 남편의 감시를 받고 있다. 매일 배가 어느 정도 나왔는지 남편에게 검사를 받는다”며 몸무게 대한 남편의 기준을 완화해 달라고 부탁을 했고 이에 황씨 남편은 “(애프터스쿨) 유이씨 정도면 좋겠다. 나이가 좀 있으니까 양보해서 48kg 유지해라”라고 답했습니다.

Then on the 25th, a woman called Hwang Un-mi appeared on Hello! on KBS, describing the suffering she’s endured because of her husband demanding she stay at a weight of 46kg. He’s liked thin women ever since they started dating, so she went from 75kg to 46kg before she they got married, and she said that “Since then, he still insists I stay at 46kg, and checks my belly thickness every day to make sure.” When she asked her husband on the show for some relaxing of his standards, he replied “I like a body like that of Uee’s from After School. But seeing as you’re older, I’ll let you go up to 48kg.”

6월19일 방송된 tvN’화성인 바이러스’에는 압박붕대로 얼굴에서 발끝까지 온몸을 감으면서 생활하는 일명 ‘미라녀’김유정씨가 출연했지요. 압박붕대로 체중 10kg 감량에 성공했다는 김유정씨는 “3~4년간 계속 압박붕대를 감다 보니까 요령을 터득하게 됐다. 살 많은 곳을 세게 감을수록 (다이어트)효과가 좋다”며 다이어트를 위해 몸에 사용하는 압박붕대는 복부 4개를 비롯해 23개에 달한다는 충격적인 설명을 태연스럽게 했습니다.

이 세 개의 프로그램은 여성의 몸에 대한 남성의 시각과 그리고 미디어의 행태, 그 결과의 양태를 단적으로 보여준 것입니다.

And earlier, on the 19th, “Human Mummy” Kim Yu-jeong appeared on Martian Virus on TvN [James — this show highlights strange and unusual people], who wraps herself in pressure bandages from head to toe in order to lose weight. She matter-of-factly explained “I’ve successfully lost 10kg this way, and have figured it out while I’ve been doing it over the last 3-4 years. It’s very effective if you have a lot of weight to lose,” and that she applied 4 pressure bandages to her abdomen each time, and 23 on her body overall.

These three programs clearly showed the male gaze on women’s bodies, and the media’s views on them too.

대상을 바라보는 방식은 우리가 알고 있는 그리고 우리가 인식하고 있는 것과 깊은 관련이 있습니다. 여성의 몸매에 대한 것도 마찬가지입니다. 안선영 안문숙 손예진 조여정 송혜교등이 통통하다고 바라보는 이혁재 지상렬 그리고 숀리의 언급은 상당수 남성들의 여성의 몸에 대해 바라보는 방식을 드러냈다고 봅니다. 이상적인 여성의 몸매마저 통통하다고 인식하는 이러한 남성들의 여성의 몸에 대한 문제 있는 시선은 방송, 신문, 인터넷 등 매스미디어를 통해 확대재생산되고 수많은 사람들에게 여성의 몸매를 바라보는 인식의 토대를 마련해줍니다.

The way we see things is deeply related to what we already know and what we recognize. And it’s same with women’s bodies.Through the mass media, the problematic viewpoints of these male entertainers, who believe even those women with ideal bodies are fat, has spread extensively. This has laid the groundwork for how many people view women’s bodies (source, above).

매스미디어와 상당수 남성들은 끊임없이 여자 연예인으로 대변되는 몸매의 이상형을 제시하며 수많은 여성들에게 몸매에 대한 채워지지 않는 욕망을 자극시키고 있습니다. 이혁재 지상렬로 대변되는 일부 남성들과 매스미디어는 현실에서 좀처럼 존재할 수 없는 완벽한 이상형의 여성 몸매 제시를 통해 여성의 정상적인 몸매 더 나아가 손예진 송혜교 등으로 대변되는 이상화된 몸매마저도 비정상으로 치부하고 있습니다. 이 때문에 수많은 여성들은 정도의 차이는 있지만 자신의 몸매에 대해 부족과 결핍을 느끼게 만듭니다.

Through female entertainers, the mass media and many men present women’s ideal body types, and this creates a lot of anxiety and anguish for women about their own bodies. Men like Lee Hyeok-jae and Ji Sang-ryul consider ideal women’s bodies like those of Son Ye-jin’s and Song Hye-gyo’s as abnormal, while at the same time presenting as ideals body types and shapes that are impossible in real life. And while some women will be closer to those ideals than others, all will still inadequate and lacking.

(Source)

여성의 몸에 대한 상당수 남성들의 시선과 매스미디어의 응시 방식은 수많은 이땅의 여성들의 몸에 대한 인식에 크나 큰 영향을 줍니다.’여성은 그녀 자신의 모든 것을 관찰해야만하고 또 그녀가 무엇을 할 수 있는가를 생각해야만 한다. 왜냐하면 스스로가 다른 사람에게 궁극적으로는 남성에게 어떻게 비춰질 것인가 하는 문제가 여성의 삶의 성공 여부를 결정짓는 가장 중요한 관건이기 때문이다. 여성 자신의 스스로 존재에 대한 느낌은 다른 사람에 의해 내려지는 그녀에 대한 평가에 의해 보완되어져야만 하는 것이다’라고 존 버거가 ‘Ways of Seeing’ 에서 설파한 것처럼 여성의 몸에 대한 남성의 시선은 몸매에 대한 여성의 인식과 태도에 지대한 영향을 미칩니다.

The way most men look at women’s bodies, and the way the mass media presents them, has a big influences on the way women themselves view them. Like John Berger said in Ways of Seeing [James — on the second page of Chapter 3 {p. 46} in my 1972 Penguin edition]:

She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another.

(James — Ways of Seeing was originally a documentary, which is now available online; see here and especially here for more information. It’s the second episode that is most relevant here)

매스미디어의 여성의 이상적 몸매의 강요에 가까운 현실는 남성의 여성에 대한 왜곡된 몸매의 시선을 강화시키고 그 결과 수많은 이 땅의 여성들을 자신의 육체와의 비정상적인 전쟁으로 내몰리고 있습니다. 물론 이 전쟁의 진정한(?) 승자는 여성도 남성도 아닌 여성의 몸에 대한 끊임없는 결핍의 이데올로기를 설파해 막대한 이윤을 창출하는 뷰티산업, 성형외과, 광고, 매스미디어 등이지요.

This reality of the mass media promoting [impossible] ideals of women’s body shapes distorts how men view women’s bodies, and in turn this encourages women to fight against their own bodies. The real winners in this war are not men, nor women, but rather the beauty, cosmetic surgery, advertising and mass media industries that make vast profits from propagating an ideology of an unceasing dissatisfaction with oneself.

여성 몸매의 이상형이라고 할수 있는 손예진 송혜교 마저 통통하다고 말하는 지상렬 등으로 대변되는 여성의 몸매에 대한 남성의 시선과 매스미디어의 응시 방식은 아내의 46Kg의 몸매 유지를 요구하고 애프터스쿨의 유이의 몸매를 이상적 몸매로 꼽아 아내마저 제2의 유이로 만들려는 남성들을 더욱 더 확대재생산합니다. 그리고 이 때문에 정상 체중인데도 아침엔 다이어트용 시리얼에 저지방우유, 점심엔 채소와 밥 반공기, 저녁엔 아무것도 먹지 않고 운동 2시간을 하는 주부들과 압박붕대 20여개로 감싼 기괴한 모습으로 다이어트를 하는 20대 여성들이 양산되고 있습니다.

(Source)

[It is the callous environment in which entertainers can describe female celebrities like Son Ye-jin and Song Hye-gyo as fat that is at least partially responsible for the husband that demanded his wife have a body like Uee's]. And it’s also because of that that both housewives and women in their 20s, all of healthy weights, will only diet cereal with low fat milk for breakfast, for lunch just vegetables and half a bowl of rice,  and nothing for dinner, yet exercise for 2 hours. Some will even also go the extremes of wrapping themselves with 20 pressure bandages.

여성 몸매에 대한 남성의 문제 있는 시선과 여성들의 완벽한 몸매를 지속적으로 강요하는 방송 등 매스미디어의 행태는 이 땅의 수많은 여성들을 이상화된 몸에 대한 과도한 집착을 초래하고 자신의 몸에 대한 끊임없는 불만과 결핍을 불러옵니다. 그리고 급기야 정체성과 자기실현을 왜곡된 방향으로 유도하며 정신없는(mindless) 몸매(body)만을 만드는 육체와의 전쟁터로 내 몰고 있습니다. 이제 여성의 몸매에 대한 문제 있는 미디어의 행태와 남성의 시선은 교정돼야합니다.

손예진씨, 당신은 결코 통통하지 않습니다!

Men’s problematic gaze of women’s bodies, and the mass media’s encouragement of women to desire impossible perfect body types, only leads to unhealthy obsessions and unceasing dissatisfaction. Furthermore, they induce a distortion of women’s identity and self-realization,  and creates a war in which women only fight to have a good body, not a good mind or spirit. This problematic men’s gaze and mass media’s attitude needs to be corrected.

Son Ye-jin, you will never be fat!

(Thanks to Daheefanel for passing on the story!)

Korean Sociological Image #49: Lee Hyori has an Asian Bottom?

Well, bottom half of her body to be precise. But then she is Korean after all, so what on Earth does that make her top half?

Western, according to her. And while she’s quite happy with that at least, in contrast she’s dissatisfied with her Asian legs, claiming that she has to always wear high heels to compensate for them.

However, despite my original shock at hearing her describe herself in such terms, ironically I find myself defending her statements.

No, really.

But first, the context. From the Hankyung:

가수 이효리가 “상체는 서구적인 반면 하체는 동양적이다”라고 말해 눈길을 끌고 있다 (source, above).

Singer Lee Hyori is drawing lots of attention for saying “While I have a Western top half, on the other hand the bottom half of my body is Asian.”

지난 20일 방송된 MBC ‘섹션TV 연예통신’에 출연한 이효리는 서구적인 상체를 가지고 있는데 반면 “동양적인 하체를 가지고 있다”며 “하이힐은 생명과도 같다”고 말해 주위를 웃음바다로 만들었다.

Appearing on the MBC show “Section TV Entertainment Report” on the 20th of August, she then said that “High heels are as important as life itself!”, which turned the audience into a sea of laughter.

이날 이효리는 “샵에서 효리씨가 입어주면 옷이 잘 팔린다며 옷을 공짜로 준다”며 “옷을 잘 입는 방법은 얼마나 자신의 체형을 잘 커버하느냐인 것 같다”고 설명했다.

She also explained that “When I go into a shop, the owners give me clothes for free because they will sell well if I wear them”, and that “How well you wear clothes depends on how much of your body shape you cover up.”

이효리에게 ‘숨기고 싶은 신체적 단점’에 대해 질문하자 “상체는 서구적인 반면 하체는 동양적이다”라고 말했다.

When asked what were bad points about her body she wanted to hide, she replied that “I have a Western top half, but an Asian bottom half”.

이어 동양적인 하체를 커버하기 위한 해결책으로 “절대로 하이힐을 벗지 않는 것”이라고 강조하며 “10cm 이하 하이힐은 쳐다보지도 않고 잠을 잘 때도 하이힐은 신고 잔다”고 말해 주위를 폭소케 했다.

Accordingly, she emphasized that the solution for covering(?) her Asian bottom half was “never taking high heels off”, and that “not only will I not look at high heels with a heel less than 10cm high, but I even sleep in high heels”, producing hysterics in the audience.

( Source. Source below: unknown )

Apologies for the terrible quality of that “news report”, but as I type this unfortunately I’m only able to find minor variations of it on the Korean internet. But lots of them, albeit only because Korea’s top female sex-symbol is admitting to having (self-perceived) flaws, and definitely not because of her views on different races’ body shapes.

And why should they be news? Are they really as strange as they first sound?

In short, no, for 3 main reasons. Firstly, as some commenters at K-pop blogs allkpop and Omona! They Didn’t have pointed out, she probably merely meant that she had larger than average breasts and short legs instead, and was not necessarily denigrating women cursed with the latter, nor Asians in general. And that’s probably true.

Still, why not just say that instead?

But would you? In English, we describe people by their races all the time; much less so, the specific features that make us characterize them as such. Moreover, I’ve certainly met many people with a blend of racial features too, let alone the 2 I’ve fathered myself!

So although it sounds extreme and even amusing in English, I’d be very surprised if Lee Hyori wasn’t indeed just referring to certain body feautures when she said she had a seogujeogin (서구적인) top half and dongyangjeogin (동양적인) bottom half. Indeed, and finally, it behooves non-native speakers like myself not to take the Korean language too literally.

I learned this lesson myself back in February, through trying to understand the 2009 buzzword cheongsoon-glaemor (청순글래머). Meaning “innocent” or “pure”, then cheongsoon at least was easy enough, but glaemor (글래머)? Naturally I assumed it meant the same as the English, but as several readers pointed out, it’s a false cognate, actually meaning “large breasts” instead. So cheongsoon-glaemor means “innocent and busty” in English.

Yes, that does indeed sound inane in any language, but the point is that it’s rather different to “innocent and pure-looking but while still having a rich and glamorous celebrity lifestyle”, which is what I originally thought. And just in light of a mistake like that alone, then surely Lee Hyori should be given the benefit of the doubt in this case, rather than instantly being accused of racism and/or – ironically – feelings of racial inferiority.

Still, after almost spitting out my coffee while reading about the story this morning, I admit I’m a little reluctant to let her entirely off the hook.

And indeed, just like the term glaemor originally came from a mistranslation by the Japanese, stemming from the well-endowed busts of glamorous Hollywood starlets in the 1950s, the notion that all Korean women should envy the large breasts and long legs of their Western counterparts seems simply absurd considering what their bodies are like 60 years later. So it is high time more Koreans challenged this stereotype, and pondered what sustains it nevertheless.

Perhaps a good place to start would be ubiquitous cosmetic-surgery advertisements, which seem to have an inordinate number of Caucasians in them? What do you think?

( Source: BeautyMe Cosmetic Surgery Clinic )

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

Share