The Pornification of K-pop?

K-pop Porn

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

Camille Paglia, Vamps & Tramps, 1994.

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

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

The Korea Herald: Should pornography be censored?

Pornography Censorship(Source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ga-in's BEG Concert Teaser(Source)

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

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

What do you think?

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

(Source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Harmful” Advertisements Surge 3-fold in Online Korean News Media

(Source)

“Is it true that your hair grows if you have ‘dirty thoughts’?” (2002)

When so many websites struggle to open under the weight of smutty ads, it’s difficult not to think that the Korean internet used to be a much more innocent place.

At the very least, you’d assume exceptions would be made for articles specifically about such ads.

With no apparent sense of irony however, not only does the website today’s article comes from feature camel toes, nude women, and couples in flagrante delicto, but some media companies will even censor photographs in news stories while keeping similar accompanying advertisements intact. Most recently and notoriously perhaps, some websites pixelated the breasts of “Bikini Girl” and her supporters for instance, but not the heaving bosoms used to advertise cosmetic surgery clinics:

Given that, and given how difficult it was to find a news website that didn’t plaster today’s article with such ads, I was very surprised to find that the normally quite alarmist Ministry of Gender Equality and Family found that only 5.5% of registered media companies had them on their websites.

Partially, that low number is explained by the very narrow definitions used, as outlined in the article. But if you take a look at the top of the following table (not — as per usual — mentioned until the final paragraph), which lists total registered media companies, total active sites, total sites with advertisements, and total sites with harmful advertisements respectively, you soon realize that that 5.5% is derived from 176 of 3216 total registered media companies. As a proportion of the 2,158 sites with advertisements however, which is surely a more appropriate measure, it jumps to 8.2% (although that still sounds much too low to me).

Finally, of special interest is how MOGEF calls for (and has recently helped implement) self-regulation by internet companies rather than imposing its own regulation system, which may come as some surprise considering how actively it censors Korean music. But despite its reputation however, in reality MOGEF has very limited powers (and only 0.12% of the total government budget), which I think plays a big role in the zealousness with which it monitors K-pop.

여성가족부 ‘19 광고’ 언론사들 고발 검토 / Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs  Considering Prosecuting Media Companies for “18 and Over Advertisements”

‘유해 광고’ 올해들어 3배 늘어… “자율규제기구 설치 촉구, 광고주 심의 요청” / 3 times more ‘harmful advertisements’ compared to last year…”We strongly recommend advertisers consider establishing a self-regulatory system”

by 최훈길/Choi Hoon-gil

선정적인 내용이 담긴 언론사의 인터넷 광고가 작년에 비해 3배 가량 증가한 것으로 조사됐다. 여성가족부는 언론사의 자율 규제를 우선 촉구하되, 해당 언론사에 대한 고발도 검토하고 해당 광고주에 대한 심의 요청도 추진하기로 했다.

A survey has shown that media companies display 3 times more sexually suggestive internet advertisements compared to last year. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) recommends that media companies self-regulate themselves, and is considering prosecuting both offending media companies and advertisers themselves.

(Source)

여성가족부가 11일 발표한 ‘인터넷 신문의 청소년 유해광고 유통 현황 모니터링 결과’에 따르면, 올해 유해성 광고는 176개(5.5%)로 작년 유해성 광고 62개(2.5%)보다 3배가량 늘었다. 한 인터넷 신문은 성인용품 사이트 등 청소년 유해 매체물 광고를 성인 인증 없이 게재해 정보통신망법을 위반했다. 유해성 광고는 네트워크 광고의 일종으로, 상당수가 의료쪽 광고이며 문구나 이미지가 선정적이어서 ‘혐오 광고’로도 불린다.

On the 11th of June, MOGEF announced the results of their survey “The present situation of the circulation of internet newspapers’ harmful advertisements among teenagers”, according to which there were 176 sites with harmful ads (5.5%) among those surveyed, roughly 3 times more than last years’ 62 (2.5%) [James — considering the different numbers of sites examined, proportionately there were really only 2.2 times as many]. Among other advertisements harmful to teenagers, one internet newspaper had an advertisement for a sex products site that could be accessed without age verification, which violated the Information and Communications Network Law. Harmful advertisements are a kind of internet advertisement called “disgusting advertisements” [James - called that by who?]; the majority have sexually-suggestive images and terms and/or refer to sexually-related medical procedures.

176개 인터넷 신문 중 20개 인터넷 신문이 전체 유해성 광고물(915건)의 50.3%(406건)을 노출하고 있었다. 여성 가족부는 해당 언론사 실명을 공개하지 않았다. 청소년매체환경과 관계자는 “인터넷 점유율이 높은 곳들이 유해성 광고가 많았고 스포츠, 연예 신문들이 많았다”며 “고발을 검토하는 인터넷 언론사는 종이 신문을 발행하지 않는 곳으로 잘 알려진 언론사는 아니다”라고 설명했다.

Out of the 176 internet newspapers that were found to have harmful advertisements, 20 had more than half of their total advertisements, 406 out of 915 (50.3%), taken up by them. MOGEF didn’t reveal the offending media companies’ names. An official in the Division of Youth Media Environment of MOGEF said: “The internet sites which had the highest number of harmful advertisements were sports and entertainment sites, and those with a lot of traffic,” and added that “the news sites which we are considering prosecuting are not well-known and don’t publish physical newspapers.”

(Source)

해당 유해 광고의 내용은 성행위·성기표현 문구(21.2%)가 가장 많았고, 성적욕구 자극문구(17.7%), 가슴 부위 노출(17.4%), 성행위·성기 관련 묘사(15.8%), 허벅지·둔부 노출(14.5%) 순이었다. 해당 광고주는 성기능 식품(21.%) 관련 업체가 가장 많았고, 비뇨기과(17.3%), 건강보조식품(15.6%), 성기능 개선용품(12.8%), 성형외과(6.8%) 광고주 순이었다.

Of the harmful advertisements, 21.2% — the highest — had expressions related to sex acts or genitalia, 17.7% had expressions designed to arouse sexual desire [James — e.g. "할래/Do you want to do it?], 17.4% exposed the breasts, 15.8% had descriptions of sex acts or genitalia, and 14.5% exposed the thighs or buttocks. Of the advertisers themselves, 21% were selling sexual function products [James — like Viagra?], 17.3% urology services, 15.6% health assistance products, 12.8% products designed to improve sexual performance [James —  how are those different to "sexual function products"?], and 6.8% cosmetic surgery procedures.

여성가족부는 작년과 비교해 유해 광고는 늘었지만 법 위반 언론사들이 대폭 감소한 것을 감안해, 언론사에는 우선 자율 규제를 촉구하겠다는 입장이다. 청소년매체환경과 관계자는 “작년에 34개 언론사가 법을 위반했는데 올해에는 다 시정됐다”며 “언론사들을 직접 규제하기 보다는 인터넷신문협회 등에 자율규제기구인 인터넷신문광고심의위원회의 설치를 촉구하겠다”고 밝혔다.

Although MOGEF points out that the numbers of harmful advertisements have increased since last year, the fact that there are actually less media companies breaking the law also needs to be taken into consideration, so first MOGEF is going ask media companies to regulate themselves. The official in the Division of Youth Media Environment continued: “The 34 media companies that broke the the Information and Communications Network Law last year have all since rectified their mistakes,” and so “a self-regulatory system is preferable to direct regulation, and we demand that the Korean Internet Newspaper Association and so on establish an internet newspaper advertisement consideration committee.”

(Source)

이 관계자는 “이번에 법 위반으로 적발된 언론사에도 시정 조치를 우선 요구하고, 시정이 안 될 경우 형사고발을 할 것”이며 “유해성 광고를 의뢰하는 광고주 사이트에 대해서는 방송통신심의위원회에 유해성 심의 요청을 할 것”이라고 말했다. 언론사에 대한 형사 고발 검토와 광고주에 대한 심의 요청은 올해 처음으로 시행되는 조치다.

Also: “In this case, first we demand that measures are taken to rectify the mistakes of offending media companies, and if this is not done we will consider prosecuting them,” and forward their harmful advertisements to the Korean Communications Standards Commission for consideration. These steps are being enforced this year for the first time.”

한편, 이번 조사는 지난 3월7일부터 5월21일까지 문화체육관광부에 등록된 3216개 인터넷 신문(지난 2월말 기준)의 메인 페이지 및 10개 기사면을 점검한 것이다. 여성가족부는 작년에도 해당 조사를 했으며, 조사 이후 한국인터넷신문협회와 한국온라인신문협회는 ‘인터넷신문광고 자율규제 가이드라인’을 제정한 바 있다. 청소년매체환경과 관계자는 “낙인 효과를 고려해 이번에는 언론사 이름을 비공개로 했다”며 “올해 하반기나 내년에 또 조사를 할 것”이라고 말했다.

The survey, of 3216 sites registered with the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (as of February) was conducted the 7th of March to the 21st of May this year, and examined the main pages and 10 [random?] posts of each. Last year’s survey was conducted by MOGEF, after which the “Internet Advertisements Self-regulation Guidelines” were established with the Korean Internet Newspaper Association and the Korean Online Newspaper Association [James — ironically, Firefox blocks the latter as a dangerous site!]. The official in the Division of Youth Media Environment of MOGEF explained that “because of the harm to their reputations that would come with naming the offending media companies, that information shall be kept private”, and that “a similar survey will be completed in the second half of this year.” (end)

Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 2: Kwak Hyun-hwa (곽현화), Pin-up Grrrls, and The Banality of Sex and Nudity in the Media

(Sources: left, right)

Apologies for the irregular posting everyone — I’ve been really busy for the last month or so, and to top it all off I’m recovering from a bad flu as I type this too. But fortunately the end of the semester is close, and I’m eager to get stuck into the two blog series I plan to devote myself to this summer.

One is looking at the evidence for double-standards in Korean censorship, while this one is about examining the public and media’s policing of — and consequent narratives about — “appropriate” displays of nudity and sexual subjectivity, set against a recent potential backlash against changing gender relations. In hindsight just two different elements of the same investigation, the former focuses on K-pop in 2011 and this one on political protests in 2012.

As you’ll recall from Part 1 though, one problem with looking at anything explicitly political is that partisan reporting gets in the way, which means we need to consider as many sources as possible to be objective, and especially not just rely on English-language sources. So, let me start that by presenting my translation of a post by a blogger known as “비춤” (or on Twitter as @RainyDance01), which was originally posted on his or her blog Rainy Dance, then later reposted at Mediaus. About the photo on the right (source) of comedian turned model, singer, and actress Kwak Hyun-hwa (see Part 1 for the details), as you’ll see I think the blogger’s heart is in the right place, but unfortunately some of their reasoning dodgy at best, and evidence seemingly pulled out of thin air:

곽현화식 투표독려? 누드가 일상이 되면 식상하다  / Does Kwak Hyun-hwa’s Style Promote Voting? When Nudity Becomes Routine, it Becomes Boring

10 April 2012

국회의원 총선거를 코앞에 두고 투표율을 올리고자 수많은 유명인들이 투표 독려에 나서고 있습니다. 소설가 이외수씨는 투표율 70%가 넘으면 머리카락을 싹둑 자르겠다고 밝혔고, 안철수씨 또한 70%를 넘으면 미니스커트를 입고 율동에 노래를 부르겠다고 밝혔지요. 이렇듯 저마다 자신의 공약을 내세워 투표독려에 나서고 있습니다. 이들의 공약은 대중에게 소소한 재미와 더불어 투표참여의 의미를 되새겨주고 있는데요. 거창하진 않지만 자신만의 방식으로 사회적 메시지를 전달하는 유명인들의 모습은 새로운 문화가 되고 있는 느낌입니다.

Just before the general elections, many famous people are doing various things to encourage more people to vote. For example, novelist Lee Wae-soo has pledged to cut his trademark long hair if the voting rate exceeds 70%, while Ahn Cheol-soo has promised to dance wearing a mini-skirt (see below). While these may sound just trivial and fun, they do remind voters about the meaning and importance of voting. Also, while their ultimate impact may not be all that great, they point to a new trend of famous people spreading social messages.

그런데 같은 목표를 지향하더라도 그 방법 탓에 오히려 대중의 반감이 우려되는 경우도 있는데요, 개그우면 곽현화의 경우가 그렇습니다. 곽현화는 투표독려를 위해 자신의 미투데이에 ‘총선거 D-3, 우리가 대한민국의 주인이다! 투표로 보여줍시다’라는 내용이 적힌 종이를 들고 있는 상반신 누드 사진을 올렸습니다. 그 의도야 건설적이지만 이면에는 새로울 것이 없는, 우리의 식상해진 문화 코드가 선명하지요.

However, while they all have the same target, some celebrities’ methods may actually make voters more apathetic. One such case is that of comedian Kwak Hyun-hwa. In her case, she uploaded a photo on her me2day blog in which she is holding a sign in front of her nude upper body. The sign said “It’s 3 days to go before the elections. We are the owners of Korea! Let’s show this by voting!”. But while the intention was constructive, on the other hand this method is hardly original, and shows the paucity of our culture.

자신의 의사를 표현하는 방법에 옳고 그름을 규정하기는 어렵습니다. 하지만 그녀가 지금까지 보여온 행보를 본다면 아름다운 취지보다는 이면의 가십거리가 더욱 부각될 수밖에 없겠지요.  폭소클럽 출연당시 가슴노출이 심한 드레스를 입고 출연해 노출논란의 불을 지핀 이래로, 그녀는 꾸준히 노출의 길을 걸어왔었지요. 섹시화보가 누출되어 세간에 화제가 되기도 했으며, 지나치게 선정적인 앨범 이미지컷으로 눈총을 받기도 했습니다.

It’s difficult to judge what the best or most “correct” way of expressing oneself is. But looking at Kwak Hyun-hwa’s past history up until now, it’s difficult not to conclude that this stunt of hers was more aimed at creating gossip and attention about herself than anything noble. When she was on the comedy Foxclub for example [James — she quit in 2009], she used to create a lot of controversy by wearing a lot of revealing dresses, and since then has continued on a similar path. For instance, she has done a very sexy photoshoot, and received criticism for her provocative and suggestive images for her album.

(James: I’m not judging — and/or defending — Kwak Hyun-hwa in any sense, but just for the record: while she’s certainly done sexy photoshoots, and you can judge her album pictures for yourselves, I think it’s unlikely that she regularly wore a lot of revealing dresses on Foxclub. If she had, then presumably there’d be far more “노출” videos and photos of her on that show available than just those from one short skit back in 2008)

올 초에는 개그맨 동료들과 선정적인 포즈로 찍은 사진이 이슈가 된 바 있는데요. 비난이 잇따르자 이에 대한 반감으로 자신의 미투데이에 바나나를 먹는 야릇한 표정의 사진을 올려 더 큰 역풍을 일으키기도 했지요. 하지만 그녀는 떳떳하게 말합니다. ‘’성적인 감정을 일으켰다고 해서 지탄하는 것은 마녀사냥이다. 의도를 떠나서 개그맨 전체를 싸잡아 욕하는 성급한 일반화의 오류를 범하지 말아 달라’

Earlier this year, some pictures of Kwak Hyun-hwa in pretend sexual poses with some her comedian colleagues became an issue [James — they can be seen here]. In response to the criticism that followed, on her blog she posted pictures of herself with a perverted expression on her face while eating a banana [James — was the author too embarrassed to be more specific?], which led to even more criticism. But in response to that, she boldly replied, “Just because something is arousing doesn’t mean it should be criticized — to do so is nothing but a witchhunt. And whatever the intention(s), don’t make the mistake of making rash generalizations about all comedians.”

(Source)

과연 그녀를 바라보는 냉랭한 시선은 성급한 일반화의 오류일까요. 사실 벗는 것은 여자에만 국한된 것은 아닙니다. 남자도 벗습니다. 초콜릿복근이니 식스팩이니 하며 매력을 뽐내는 남성들도 얼마든지 있지요. 하지만 남성의 매력을 규정하는 잣대에서 ‘벗는 것’의 비중은 상대적으로 크지 않습니다. 지적인 남자, 자상한 남자와 같이 이 시대의 여성이 매력을 느끼는 아이콘은 상대적으로 많은 편이지요. 그래서 벗는 것으로 일관하는 남자는 오히려 역풍을 맞기도 합니다. 여담이지만 한때 1박2일에선 이수근이 숱한 노출을 보이며 빈축을 사기도 했습니다.

Well, is looking at her coldly and making a rash generalization really a mistake here? Of course, it’s not just women that take their clothes off — men do too. To show off their attractiveness, they expose their chocolate abs, their six packs [James - actually, those are the same thing], and so on. But relatively speaking, taking clothes off isn’t as important for men as it is for women; because in this day and age, there are many ways in which women can find their male icons attractive — they can be intellectual or kind. It would be bad if men only took their clothes off. When Lee Su-geun showed too much of his body on an episode of 2 Days & 1 Night for instance, people didn’t like it.

(James…)

반면 여성들에겐 유독 섹시미 혹은 백치미가 강조되지요. 5살 유아부터 70대 할머니까지 섹시하다는 말은 일상어처럼 사용되고 있습니다. 드라마에선 홀로 당당한 일어서는 여성의 이야기는 그다지 성공적이지 못합니다. 여전히 신데렐라의 환상이 더 잘 팔리는 시나리오지요

On the other hand, for women being sexy or being stupid but cute is emphasized. From when they are just girls of 5 to when they are grandmothers in their 70s, the word “sexy” is part of daily life for women. In dramas, the strong, confident woman that succeeds through her own efforts is never a popular story, whereas the Cinderella fantasy is a scenario that always sells well.

이 시대의 남성들은 여성의 매력을 이 한 가지로 국한하고 있는 걸까요, 혹은 여성이 자신 있게 내세울 수 있는 매력은 이 한 가지뿐일까요. 양성평등의 가장 큰 위협은 이렇듯 일방적으로 여성의 섹시함을 강요하는 작금의 문화가 아닐까 싶습니다.

Is this because men of this day and age set limits to women’s sexiness [as just showing off their bodies], or because this is the only sexiness which women can show off confidently? I think this culture of emphasizing just this one side to women’s sexiness is today’s biggest threat to sexual equality.

이 시대의 청년들에게 닮고 싶은 사람을 떠올려보라면, 남성 쪽에선 다양한 매력이 쏟아져 나올 수 있겠지요, 안철수, 안성기, 조국, 손석희, 유재석 등 다양한 분야의 사람을 떠올릴 수 있습니다. 헌데 닮고 싶은 여성상을 물었을 때 우리 사회의 한축을 담당하고 있는 여성을 얼마나 떠올릴 수 있을까요. 그 자리에 섹시아이콘만이 남아 있다면 우리사회가 얼마나 건강하지 못한지를 반증하는 것이겠지요.

(Source)

These days, when teenagers are asked who are their role models, boys mention men who are attractive in many different ways and from many fields of life, such as Ahn Cheol-soo, Ahn Sung-ki, Kuk Cho, Son Seok-hee (above), Yoo Jae-Seok, and so on. In contrast, although there’s many women to choose from, girls just name sexy icons. I think this shows how unhealthy our society is.

(James: Other than their fathers, I don’t believe for a moment that teenage boys mention men in their 50s or older as their role-models, even when they want to impress whoever’s asking)

곽현화는 좋은 취지에서 누드시위를 했습니다. 하지만 그 이면에는 이 땅에서 쉽게 주목받고자 하는 여성의 식상한 방법론이 새삼스럽습니다. 우리 사회의 쓸쓸한 단면이겠지요.

Kwak Hyun-hwa [may have?] had good intentions, but her method was unoriginal and was just a way of getting noticed. This too is a sign of how unhealthy our society is (end).

(Source)

What do you think? Again, I find the blogger’s logic — and especially notions of male and female desire — flawed, but at the very least I am now very interested in finding out more about Kwak Hyun-hwa. Not because I think she has any musical talent though (frankly, I hated Psycho above), nor because I naively think her “nude” photo was anything but completely self-serving. Rather, because:

She deserves a lot of credit for reinventing herself as a model, singer, and actress after being best known as a slightly chubby (by Korean entertainment standards) comedian.

Whatever her musical abilities, it was especially brave of her to even attempt to become a solo singer in her late-20s (old age by K-pop standards).

She’s a maths graduate of Ehwa Women’s University, and has even published a textbook for middle-schoolers (see below), so she’s probably quite smart. And I’m not being facetious when I say that many men and women may not be able to see past her cleavage to realize that (related, make sure to read the classic With Great Cleavage Comes Great Responsibility).

What solo celebrity’s public actions and statements aren’t motivated by self-interest? Which is not to say that they’re always cold and calculating of course, but still: it seems a strange criteria to dismiss someone as a person for (after all, heaven forbid that someone use their sex-appeal to advance their career), and is simply an ad-hominem method of devaluing that style of getting a political message across.

As for its effectiveness, for its stated purpose of encouraging people to vote that is? Well, determining things like that is what this whole series is about, but in the meantime let me pass on Tom Megginson’s take on a similar recent political campaign by Mexican politicians (my emphasis):

Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan is a little cynical about the use of “boobies” to get attention, but I applaud any effort in which women take back ownership of their bodies by using our primal fascination to deliver messages of solidarity for social change.

(Source)

• And finally, remember when Lee Hyori recently publicly admitted that she has sexual feelings and experience? Judging by the reactions of K-pop fans, that was quite exceptional, and indeed I joined in praising her for it in Part 1. But to take a more detached perspective, that this was news at all is really quite an indictment of the sex-only-for-display-nature of Korean entertainment. For remember that we’re not just talking about a 33 year-old woman here, but one who was also Korea’s number one sex-symbol for much of the 2000s. It simply beggars belief that she has ever had to be coy about her sexual subjectivity.

Why do I mention that? Because despite the attention given it, Lee Hyori’s admission pales in comparison to Kwak Hyun-hwa’s stunts with bananas and her comedian friends. And recall that by my own definition, I shouldn’t have to seek-out pin-up grrrls, but rather they should do their darnedest to make me aware of them. In which case, Kwak Hyun-hwa more than qualifies!

And on that definitive note, what is coming in Part 3? Well, frankly a little disappointed with the blog post I translated, next I’ll try make sure to do something more substantial, namely this newspaper report on reasons for the recent “ladygate” phenomenon; i.e., the emerging backlash I mentioned. Thanks to Robert Koehler for the link.

Quick Hit: Is there STILL a stigma against lingerie modeling in Korea?

(Source; edited)

Whenever I give lectures about Korean advertising, I always try to stress how quickly it’s changing. As both a reflection and driver of changes in Korean society itself, it’s one of the reasons why studying it is so interesting.

Who can believe, for instance, that the first kiss in a Korean ad was as recently as 2009?

So, next Monday I was going to mention that one reason you used to see so few Korean women modeling lingerie was because many pornography actors used to do it, giving it a certain stigma (and in turn sustaining stereotypes about the foreign, overwhelmingly Caucasian women used in their place). Yet these days, so many female singers and actresses are doing it as a means of sexing-up their image, and/or getting themselves noticed, that I’ve argued that surely the stigma no longer exists, at least at the celebrity level.

(Source)

But this is a familiar topic to most readers, and I do apologize for the repetition. It’s just that, today, it was reported that Core Contents Media (CCM) had turned down a lucrative lingerie-modelling contract for soon to debut girl-group Gangkiz (갱키즈), as such advertisements “wouldn’t fit [their] musical color and image” (“제안은 감사하지만 갱키즈 음악적 색깔, 이미지와 맞지 않다고 판단한 결정이었다”). Ironically though, most of the reports were accompanied by pictures from a recent bedroom photoshoot of theirs, including one which has one member’s shirt nearly falling off, slightly exposing her bra; one with another member lying expectantly on a bed, her shirt only just held together by a single, strategically-chosen button;  and then of course the opening picture with Lee Hae-in (이해인) above.

One seriously had to wonder what image CCM felt needed to be protected exactly.

On the other hand, while it’s certainly possible that CCM was just seeking attention for Gangliz, that attention could easily prove counterproductive once CCM’s hypocrisy was exposed. So perhaps they they did genuinely have concerns about the effects of “official” lingerie modelling on Gangkiz’s reputation.In which case, just what is the difference between that and exposing lingerie while modelling something else, and/or as part of a random photoshoot? Do Korean models and consumers really make such artificial distinctions?

I decided to refer back to the original article about pornography actors giving lingerie modelling a stigma to get a clearer picture. Partially because it’s been a couple of years since I last read it, and partially because, frankly, I had concerns that I misunderstood it the first time back in 2008, and have been misinforming readers ever since. In particular, there was the distinct possibility that the main reason there were so few Korean lingerie models was simply because it was just too “sexy” for them, and indeed that is still potentially — nay, probably — a very big influence here (they’re not mutually exclusive).

(Source)

To my relief though, I hadn’t misunderstood anything, although it did turn out to be nude models rather than pornographic actors. But — with no offense to the translator, who probably normally makes far fewer mistakes than I do — I did notice a big mistranslation of the following paragraph (from this original Korean article):

홈쇼핑 속옷 모델의 원조는 누드 모델이었다. 90년대 말 S씨 등 스타 누드모델 10여명이 속옷 모델로 나와 방송을 타면서 화제를 모았다. 하지만 그녀들은 “얼굴을 가려달라”고 요구하는 등 몸을 사리는 일이 많았다. 그래서 점점 출연 횟수가 줄었고, 2000년 이후 케이블 TV에서는 국내 속옷 모델이 거의 자취를 감췄다.

Which was translated as:

Home shopping underwear models started as nude models. At the end of the 1990s [Miss] S and over 10 other star nude models caused a stir by moving into underwear modelling on home shopping programs. But they were able to get a lot of work when their attractive faces and bodies came into demand. So more and more of them started showing up, and after 2000 almost all underwear models on cable TV were Korean.

But unfortunately the last two sentences, were, well, completely wrong. Here’s my version:

…programs. However, they [not only] demanded that their faces be covered while were on the air, [but] they were also shy and reluctant to show off their bodies. So, gradually they started appearing less and less, until by 2000 there virtually no Korean women modelling home-shopping on cable TV.

In the translator’s defense, the original Korean article was badly written and confusing (e.g., were those 10 nude models the only Korean lingerie models?), and didn’t respond to the obvious question raised of why on Earth the nude models became shy about lingerie modelling, which I speculate was because of the controversy and fame their presence on TV created. Nor does it mention the fact that there have actually been plenty of Korean women on lingerie homeshopping shows since 2000, albeit fully-clothed and holding the lingerie on coat-hangers while their foreign counterparts alongside them wore it (which is really quite surreal to watch).

But still: hiding their faces? That does explain a lot about how, over a decade later, there are online lingerie stores on which not a single Korean model shows her face, or lingerie fashion shows in which the Korean women (but not the Korean men or foreign women) hide themselves under hats and sunglasses (see #3 here). In hindsight, it’s amazing that this still occurs as late as 2012, and especially that celebrity models haven’t had more of an impact on the industry yet, despite what I recently wrote about their surprisingly strong influence in Korea. I guess that the stigma is stronger than I expected then, and hence some of these women much braver than I gave them credit for.

(Sources: left, right)

For more on related issues raised by the ensuing disproportionate number of Caucasian models in Korea, see this recent post at Seoulbeats, which also discusses their growing numbers in K-pop music videos. As for me though, it’s back to updating my Powerpoint! :)