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

(Source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Sources: left, right)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Korean Sociological Image #22: Fresh, Young Meat

Kara Cob Chicken Advertisment Male Objectification

For reasons that will soon become clear, girl-group Kara’s (카라) latest commercial for Cob Chicken (Cob 구어조은닭) is making big waves at the moment.

But probably most men are missing just how ground-breaking it really is. Mainly, because of Nicole’s buttocks thrust into their faces just 2 seconds in:

Part of Kara’s “butt dance” used in the choreography to “Mister” (미스터) though, which is playing in the background, it have been very strange not to have used it here. Indeed, it’s become something of a meme in K-pop, aptly demonstrated by this rather surreal clip of perhaps 25 female singers simultaneously performing it in a recent comedy program:

Korean Butt Dance

In light of that, it’s actually the sudden entrance of the well-muscled male at 0:17 that’s the most interesting and surprisng. And no, it’s not “groundbreaking” in the sense that it’s an explicit case of male objectification, which is not exactly a first for Korea. Rather, I label it as such because not only is the first time the makers of a Korean commercial have acknowledged their objectification of women and men therein, it’s also the first in which that acknowledgment has become a central, almost satirical theme of the commercial. Consider the screenshot viewers see immediately after the half-naked man for instance:

Kara Cob Chicken Advertisment Objectification

In English, it reads: “Because the chicken is grilled, the fat is removed completely. Chicken’s young taste,” and, judging by the advertisement from the Cob Chicken website below, the association between chicken meat and lithe young bodies isn’t a one-off. Moreover, although the Korean language lacks the associations the English term “meat market” has, it has a close equivalent in “물이 좋다,” or “The water is good”, and of course there are numerous instances of food terms being used for body parts. For the most recent example, consider Matt’s excellent commentary at Gusts of Popular Feeling on the invention of the term “honey thighs” (꿀벅지), and one high-school girl’s laudable rare attempt to demonstrate how sexist and demeaning such language is.

Kara Cob Chicken Advertisment(Source: Cob Chicken)

Granted, lauding a commercial objectifying both sexes is perhaps a strange choice to include in that vein. But recall that the academic studies of gender studies and feminism don’t really seem to have permeated wider Korean society like they did in the 1960s and ’70s in the West, with the result that a Korean language search for, say, “sexist advertisements”, will provide very few Korean examples. Getting the notion that objectification occurs in advertisements and in wider society out by whatever means then, I’d argue, is a very important first step towards rectifying that (however ironic this particular example is!).

Update: For comparison, numerous examples of the sexualizing and/or gendering of food in Western advertisements are available here.

Update 2: An amusing post from Seoulbeats on how appearing in chicken commercials seems to be a rite of passage for up and coming Korean stars.

Update 3: A photoshopped image that has been spreading around the Korean internet in the wake of the advertisement(s). Normally I’d demur from posting this sort of thing, but it seemed appropriate here:

(Source)

(For more posts in the Korea Sociological Images series, see here)