No Skin Required: Healthy Images of Couples in the Korean Media

Han Ji-hye So Ji-sub Bang BangMuch as I’d like to always present a sophisticated and hard-hitting persona on the blog, I’d have to admit that the following two commercials from Bang Bang (뱅뱅) are very sweet and endearing, and put big smiles on my wife’s and my faces.

More to the point though, they also provide a timely reminder that if presenting healthy images of couples is the deliberate intention, and (much needed) ones of romantically assertive women in particular, then you don’t need to have them lounging around in their underwear or “accidentally” falling into awkward sexual poses to do so. Ironically however, the first two commercials in this series with Han Ji-hye (한지혜) and So Ji-sub (소지섭) featured precisely that, which makes one wonder if Bang Bang mixed the order up.

Here’s what was said in the first video, a little stranger than it looks:

용감한 데님

[Her] Brave Denim Jeans

난 아직 그녀를 안아줄 용기가 없습니다.

Ji-sub: I haven’t had the courage to hug her yet.

이때 그녀의 데님이 내게 속삭입니다.

But this time, her denim jeans whispered to me.

대신 나를 살짝 잡는거예요.

Ji-hye’s jeans (to Ji-sub): Instead, [you should] softly grab me (the jeans).

그녀의 친구는 나보다 용감합니다.

Ji-sub: Her friend [the jeans] is braver than me!

Be my best, 뱅뱅

Be my best, Bang Bang.

And in the second one from Ji-hye’s perspective, which came out at the same time:

친절한 셔츠

[His] Friendly, Warm-hearted Shirt

이 남자, 아직 내 손도 잡지는 못해요.

Ji-Hye: This man, he hasn’t [even] been able to hold my hand yet...

이때 그의 셔츠가 내게 말합니다.

But then, his shirt spoke to me.

“먼저 내 소매를 잡아봐요.”

Ji-sub’s shirt: First, try grabbing his sleeve.

그의 친구는 내게 친절합니다.

Ji-hye: His friend [the shirt] is very friendly to me!

“Be my best, 뱅뱅”

Be my best, Bang Bang.

So Ji-sub Han Ji-hye Bang Bang(Image Sources: Paranzui)

All together now: awwwwwww! But seriously, are any readers aware of any earlier Korean commercials featuring couples in which the woman…or her clothes…took the lead in becoming (slightly) more intimate with her partner, like in the first one here? Not that it’s that radical of course, nor – even if it is the first of its kind – that by itself it will make serious dents in Korean social expectations of romantically meek and passive women. Hopefully it is the start of a trend though, and that would indeed make a difference.

Or am I projecting too much from Koreans’ sexual behavior onto their dating behavior? It is true that many Korean women are so concerned about maintaining virginal appearances as to make them feign lack of knowledge of contraception for instance, and so either not provide nor insist on their partners using it, so it seems reasonable to suppose that this passivity would also be the case at earlier stages in their relationships. But this is a generalization of course (which didn’t even apply to my own wife and former girlfriends), and I haven’t actually dated in 9 years either (sigh), so I may be a little out of touch. I’d appreciate it then, if more experienced readers could pass on their own impressions!

Korean Gender Reader

Wedding Campaign 2005

( Poster for Wedding Campaign [나의 결혼 원정기 ], a 2005 movie about finding brides in Uzbekistan; Source )

Back to normalcy after the conference.

Demographics

1) “Seoul Increases Support for Muliticultural Families”

Or to be more precise, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is paying Korean men marrying foreigners 1 million won to attend a 20 hour course on multicultural marriages. But it is not available to Korean women.

Obviously this is discriminatory, but as some commenters at The Marmot’s Hole pointed out, not only are (2) Nine in Ten foreign spouses women, mostly Southeast Asian (see Korea Beat also), but it is even at the behest of the Women and Family Affairs department, and is based on preexisting programs run in other parts of Korea by the Ministry of Gender Equality (여성부) in cooperation with local governments. In addition, a crucial difference with this program is that it is targeted at husbands-to-be, with the aim of preventing problems before they occur.

3) Probably not by coincidence, last week all foreign spouses in Korea would have been visited by an official from the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs (보건복지가족부), with an individual survey in their own native languages to be completed, although clearly orientated towards Southeast-Asian wives judging by the questions. Here are scans of the covers of information sheet, a Korean sample version, and my own English survey I made while waiting for them to be collected:

A National Survey on Multicultural Families 2009 Korea

Meanwhile, see here for German blogger Madang’s take on his own survey.

4) Divorcees Face Asset Seizure for Neglect of Rearing Children

According to the Korea Times:

A new civil law went into effect Sunday, empowering a court to seize the assets or salary of a spouse failing to share expenses for the raising of their children after divorce.

Under the law, it will be legally binding for divorcees to shoulder the expenses of bringing up children. In the past, there were no legal grounds to enforce payments if a spouse did not keep his or her promise to help pay for the costs.

Good news of course, but on the other hand it’s telling that I’m no longer shocked that no law existed previously.

Sexy Korean Dance5) Seoul is Aging Fast

6) Young Women Suicides Double in Four Years

Mostly attributed to recent economic difficulties.

Sexuality

7) The image on the right is from a popular recent advertisement for a promotion for Nate.com, a Korean portal site, showing how one can learn how to dance seductively (유혹댄스) simply by searching on the internet. I think that that’s debatable myself,  and it begs a lot of commentary on Korean attitudes to sexuality and dance, but Brian in Jeollanam-do has largely already provided that for us. But it’s still amusing, and you may recognize it as part of the series that prompted this post (source).

Update: Perhaps it does work. Singer Son Ga-in (손가인) of the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운아이드걸스), the main character in the music video for Abracadabra (아브라카다브라; see #9 below), claims to be a virgin and to have learned her provocative dance moves simply from watching adult films!

I think it might have been more effective if it had finished with the women in the pink dress successfully seducing the object of her affections (at some point in the future) though, not him grinding with the better dancer that she resorted to desperate measures to distract him from in the first place!

8) After reading yet another excellent meta-post at Ampontan, this time about why Japan is consistently misrepresented in the foreign media, then I’m inclined to take this article at abc News on “the new trend of Konkatsu, or Marriage Hunting” with a grain of salt, especially over whether it is quite as big a “departure” for Japanese singles as claimed. Is it really only in 2009 that Japanese singles actively sought marriage partners?

9) Yet Another Band Uses Faux-Lesbian Pictures to Market Itself

Like PopSeoul!, I think that this means of getting attention is now probably counter-productive to the groups involved, and has finally run its course. But new readers, please note that I definitely don’t include the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운아이드걸스) in that category for their recent song Abracadabra (아브라카다브라): while it was easily the most erotic Korean music video I’ve ever seen, it was also very creative and refreshing, and more importantly provided a much needed kick against the limits on how women’s sexuality could be presented in the Korean media (see #2 here for a fuller discussion of that).

Ivy 아이비

10) Singer Ivy Finally Ready for her Comeback

I’ve mentioned the false sex-tape scandal that derailed Ivy’s (아이비) career on numerous occasions, so rather then link to all of those here see Dramabeans for a succinct summary of both that and how she’s managed to overcome it recently (source).

11) Students in Conflict Over Stolen Underwear

A slow news day at the Korea Times?

Seriously though, if there has indeed been a spate of thefts as reported, it’s good that a female student finally complained about it publicly, and which got results.

Won-binBody Image

12) Who is the Sexiest Korean Man Over 30?

Voting still open at AllKpop, with extensive galleries and bios available (source).

13) More Taipei Youth Undergoing Cosmetic Surgery This Summer

From the Taipei Times. While I’d be wary of the accuracy of the figures in either report, see #7 here for a July poll of Korean university students, with comparable percentages in both countries.

14) Living with Curly Hair

A Korean woman with naturally curly hair, who spent her childhood in the US, discusses how she was forced to get her hair straightened because of peer pressure when her family came to Korea, and more generally about pressures to conform. To place these into perspective, see here for some historical and religious factors specific to Korea that exacerbate those, especially for women.

15) Young Generation Confused Over What an “Average” Spouse is?

According to a Korea Times poll of 20 and 30-something that is, but I seriously doubt that “91.7 percent of males and 83.7 percent of females want Mr. or Miss Average as their spouse” as the article claims. Is it really much of a surprise then, that both sexes’ ideal partners are much taller and richer than average brides and grooms in reality?

Media

16) Roboseyo rarely writes long posts, but when he does they are invariably worth the wait. See here and here for a much needed sense of perspective on recent racist depictions of foreign males in the Korean media.

17) Saharial at London Korean Links provides a great how-to guide to choosing which Korean drama to watch. And after reading that, make sure to check out the comments to this post for some recommendations made by my readers.

18 Also well worth the wait, Korea Pop Wars has an in-depth post on the slave-like contracts of most Korean stars.

Han Ji-Hye Nude Naked19) Not that she’s the only Korean female celebrity doing so by any means, but literally every time I have seen Han Ji-Hye (한지혜) on television, she has been wearing fewer and fewer clothes (see here and here), and I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t the deliberate policy of her management company.

See Paranzui for her latest commercial.

20) As expected (see #1 here), having made her mark by getting banned from TV because of the sexual innuendo and heavy breathing in the first version of her her song “Oppa, Can I do it?” (오빠! 나 해도 돼?), rookie rapper E.via (이비아) is to release an edited, tamer version of her entire album.

나의 결혼 원정기

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“Korea is a Conservative Country”

han-ji-hye-in-her-underwearNot to be overanalysed, but it turns out that my last post on Han Ji-hye (한지혜) may prove to have been quite prescient on my part(!), for her commercials for the Korean clothing company Bang Bang (뱅뱅) with So Ji-sub (소지섭) have taken a decidedly raunchy turn recently. Yes indeed, what would one expect from a company with a name like that, but then Korea is rife with accidentally lewd English company names and phrases of which the originators are blissfully unaware, and in fact there’d never been so much as a single reference to the double-entendre in any of Bang Bang’s commercials and advertisements up until now, and not even in the first in this new series (0-0:14 below) from last month either. Moreover, while of course I’ve seen plenty of Korean commercials with actresses and models just so happening to fall into awkward sexual poses (most notably this classic one with Lee Hyori), and it’s nigh impossible to avoid the numerous lingerie infomercials on cable here, this second commercial in the video below (from 0:15) is definitely the first time on Korean television at least that I’ve seen anyone lounging around in their panties for the sake of selling jeans, let alone such a well-known actress:

Why? Maybe this is exhibit A in the predicted shift to sexier and/or more shocking advertisements as companies get increasingly desperate during the recession? Maybe just coincidence? Either way, So Ji-sub and the youthful Han Ji-hye look quite unlike a married couple, who have generally learned to have more pride than to wear matching “couple clothes,” and so regardless of whether or not the commercial is merely a reflection of (or a catalyst for) wider public acceptance of cohabiting couples, I heartily approve of the general…er…thrust of Bang Bang’s new advertising campaign.

For anyone further interested in why Koreans generally live with their parents until marriage, see my most recent post (of many) on the subject here, and a brief follow-up here.

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