The Korean Ad Industry’s Celebrity Obsession

(Sources: left, right)

See Busan Haps for the full article. It was prompted by Yoo In-na (유인나) and then Kim Sa-rang (김사랑; left) endorsing Gillette razors last year, when suddenly a lot of celebrities seemed to be endorsing products not normally associated with their sex.

Granted, women have been used to sell things to men for as long as advertisements have existed. And as for using Hyun Bin (현빈; right) to advertise a tea-drink that supposedly gives you a “V-line”, that’s just common sense: not only will he appeal to women, but so too might some men be encouraged to think about their own, hitherto exclusively feminine V-lines, thereby creating a whole new market.

But still: I’d wager that there has indeed been a great deal of gender-bending in the Korean advertising industry in the last couple of years. For instance, I’ve definitely never heard of a guy advertising bras before, no matter how dishy I’m assured this one (So Ji-sub; 소지섭) happens to be:

(Source)

Was he chosen just because he’s a pretty face? Or was the reasoning much more subtle than that? I can’t say in this case. But I do know that celebrities have a much greater effect on our consumption choices than we all like to think. Please read the article for more on how and why…

For some hints, here is the interview with Fame Junkies author Jake Halpern that I refer to in it. If for some reason that the video below doesn’t immediately take you to it though (it’s at 34:30), then please click here instead:

Finally, if you’ve read this far, then I heartily recommend watching Starsuckers in its entirety. For me, it was especially what the narrator says at 45:45 that sold me on it, and which I encourage you all to refer to the next time someone accuses you of reading too much into anything you see in the media:

p.s. Sorry for sounding so mercenary, but please let me remind everyone that any donations for my writing, however small, are very much appreciated. Unfortunately though, I haven’t actually received any since January 21(!), and I don’t get paid for my Busan Haps articles!^^

Korean Gender Reader

(Source)

1) Cuban Boyfriend playing in theaters

According to HanCinema, it’s a documentary about a Cuban man who falls in love with a Korean woman 10 years his senior. Unfortunately there’s little information available about it in English, but it does looks interesting.

2) Economic burdens prompting Koreans to delay marriage

3) Mandatory 3-hour training class for Korean men importing Asian brides

(Source)

4) Advice to male idols: don’t you dare avoid your military service!

Roboseyo discusses actor and singer Hyun Bin’s (현빈) decision to join the marines for his 24 months of compulsory military service, unlike most entertainers who prefer comfortable military PR-type positions.

But celebrities aside, Korea has 250,000 ordinary men conscripted each year, and this has a profound effect on Korean life. For more on that, see here, here, and here.

5) Picture of Day: ROK Army Female Cadets Head Out for Training

Like it says, its just a picture (source), but one commenter over at ROK Drop raised some interesting points about it:

ROK women in the military? Big deal. FYI, they’ve been serving alongside their male counterparts ever since 1948. The embarrassingly unjustified attention these Sookdae chicks are getting just b/c they’re in the first women’s ROTC outfit is disgraceful. Korean women have been getting commissions through OCS since the Korean War, the ROK service academies since 1998, and are serving in all ranks and branches (excluding Armor, Artillery and ADA) for decades. (Also, the reason they look so cute in their BDU’s is b/c the Gender Equality Ministry many years ago forced the Defense Ministry to provide tailored utilities specifically cut for women — e.g., female BDU pants have a more flattering cut around the hips, and micro-sizes they offer are small enough to qualify for junior misses or girls’ sizes back in the U.S.)

I disagree about some of the details about that last: the uniforms for women were only first tested last September (and won’t be fully introduced until July), and there’s no evidence to suggest that the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs (여성가족부) was originally behind the decision (see #2 here).

But although less then 1% of Korean soldiers are women, I have no reason to doubt that they’ve been serving for over 60 years, so the commenter is right to query the attention. And recall that The Chosun Ilbo is notorious for finding literally any excuse to post pictures of women and girls!

6) CEO of entertainment agency charged for sexually harassing a trainee

For the details, see allkpop, and see here and here for some context. Meanwhile, in other crime-related stories, Korea Beat reports that a serial child-molester was let off lightly by a judge for quitting his teaching job. And on the plus-side, albeit prompted by a tragic event, Global Voices passes on the news that:

A posting by the mother of the victim has mobilized net users to file an online petition and drawn media attention to a questionable murder case. The mother claimed her daughter was beaten to death while resisting being raped. The police has decided to reinvestigate the case.

7) Who are all these White chicks?

I’m no Picasso adds her insights to Mixtapes and Linear Notes’ post on G-Dragon (지드래곤) and T.O.P.’s recent High High music video.

(Source)

8) Who are all these fat chicks?

And in turn, Hot Yellow Fellows does to my own on the “Piggy Dolls”  (피기돌스). Whom, in addition to everything else, now netizens are also calling too old-looking.

9) Hating the Korean Wave (NSFW)

I’ll let SeoulBeats summarize this one (The Marmot’s Hole also has a little on it):

Netizens have been in an uproar over a Japanese internet manga, created by otakus, which fetishizes a rather unflattering side of the Hallyu Wave that has recently invaded Japan.

The story is told by a fictional former Korean pop idol, working as a hostess, who gives an expose about the “real” inner workings of the K-pop industry to a journalist. The comic presents the Korean entertainment industry as extremely manipulative and seedy in which female idols are forced to give sexual favors to their bosses and their coworkers for fame. In the comic both SNSD and KARA are accused of performing such favors.The manga features highly sexualized images of SNSD and KARA members performing their hit songs “Genie” and “Mister.” Poor KARA has even been drawn performing naked.

10) New Gisaeng Story (신기생뎐) premieres this weekend

(Source)

And for more on gisaeng (기생), the Korean equivalent of geisha, see here and here.

Share

Korean Gender Reader

Ha Ji-won Jinro Chamisul

Granted, that soju posters have been becoming increasingly risqué in recent years is by no means news (see #1 here), and it’s also true that advertisers tend to rely more on consumers’ baser instincts during recessions…but still, even I did a double take when I saw this latest one (source) with Ha Ji-won (하지원), and it makes one wonder what the summer of 2010 will bring if present trends continue.

Ironically however, it is actually rather tame compared to what Korean musicians have been doing recently to get themselves noticed, such as the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운아이드걸스) having a lesbian kissing scene in their latest music video, or former “race-queen” Jung Eun-joo (정은주) producing a music video that is literally soft porn, her management agency (not unreasonably) arguing that she wouldn’t get noticed otherwise. And yet while the latter in particular is complete trash that will never make it to Korean screens, and like Chae-yeon’s (채연) new music video Shake (흔들려) for “suggestive dancing” (see #1 here) and  TVXQ’s songs for their “lewd content” (see #2 here), the Brown Eyed Girl’s effort may similarly also end up being banned from television, those represent just a handful of cases that have cropped up just this year, as cultural producers really do seem to be testing the limits these days. Hence, although Korea’s various state bodies involved with censorship certainly do have corporatist interests in exerting their authority, they may well have their hands full at the moment, and I wonder if as a result we might be about to witness a tectonic shift in the liberalization of the Korean media similar to what happened in 2004, when the following commercial for Hong Kong clothing company Giordano with Jun ji-Hyun (전지현) and Jung Woo-sung (정우성) was banned:

But which resulted in so many clones shortly thereafter that censors seemed to give up on them. Here’s an example from the following year for 17차 for instance, again with Jun Ji-hyun:

True, the former is very sexual, whereas the latter merely glorifies objectifies the female body…a distinction that I’m only just realizing as I type this, and one that I suspect I really haven’t given enough thought to previously: it deserves further exploring. Regardless, lest you think that I’m exaggerating about the potential for a shift, recall that it also occurs in a context where the Lee Myung-bak’s increasingly authoritarian policies towards the media are creating a backlash, and standards for movies have been liberalizing without pause for breath (see #1 here, #8 here, and #7 here for starters).

In other news:

1) Bending over backwards to satisfy his readers, Ask the Expat provides a very comprehensive and clearly well-researched guide to cruising for gay sex in Korean bathhouses.

2) Approaching things from a different angle, Korea Beat translated a lengthy article from The Chosun Weekly about Lesbian clubs in Hongdae, a major night-life area of Seoul.

The Price Of Sin3) Lee Myung-bak pledged Thursday to increase state subsidies for working mothers and provide more nurseries and daycare centers in an effort to boost the country’s birthrate, but given that (among numerous other things) married women have been overwhelmingly targeted for layoffs in the current recession, then I suspect that this will have minimal effect (see numerous past Korean Gender Readers for more information, but best are #1 here, #2 here, and #2 here, and here is the most recent newspaper article on the subject). It also doesn’t help that, with dwindling numbers of newborns, women’s hospitals are blatantly refusing to deliver babies in favor or easier and more profitable skin care and cosmetic surgeries either.

4) Again, Korea’s adultery laws continue to be baffle: apparently one can have sex with others if one is in the process of a divorce, but not if one’s husband or wife puts “proceedings on hold.” As a commenter at Extra! Korea reasonably points out, in this latest case did the husband even know his wife had done so? Indeed, what if the estranged spouse is in the act while being informed? Hopefully, upon hearing that the recipient is otherwise occupied, then the FedEx guy would have the decency to wait for a few minutes before knocking on the door and handing over the legal documents…

No seriously, it’s hypotheticals like this that demonstrate the law’s absurdity, let alone the arbitrariness with which it is by definition applied in a country with one of the world’s largest prostitution industries.

5) The issue is a little old (see here for an earlier discussion), but still, Kim Heung-sook does a good job of summarizing what is problematic about the choice of Sin Saimdang on the new 50,000 won bill.

6) With parallels to affirmative-action politics in the US, some male students preparing to enter law school are preparing to file a petition with the Constitutional Court against Ehwa Womans University Law School for only admitting, well, women. I can see both sides’ arguments, but given that only 17% of the Korean legal judiciary are women, then personally I’m more in favor of retaining the restriction. It is after all, the only law school in the country that has it.

7) I’m usually very wary of articles about polls in Korean newspapers, but for what it’s worth this one of 921 university students revealed that 30% planned to get some form of cosmetic surgery this summer. Broken down by gender, the figures are 40% of women and 19% of men.

Choi Han-bit8) Choi Han-bit (최한빛) on the right (source) has passed the preliminary stage of the 2009 Supermodel Contest. Nothing remarkable about that you might say, except that she was actually born a man, undergoing a sex change in 2006. See here and here for more pictures of her, including when he appeared dressed as a woman on a television show in 2005. To their (rare) credit, the consensus of netizens is that she is no more artificial a woman than all the other contestants that have had cosmetic surgery operations.

9) Korea Beat has translated the Chosun Ilbo’s response to the avalanche of criticism to its week-long attack on foreign teachers, which naturally created some lively discussion (165 comments and counting); don’t miss Korean Media Watch’s take on it also, and for those few of you that all this is news to, see #1 here for many links to get you started.

10) In a strange article that may well have been written – ipso facto – with the intention of actually creating the trend it is ostensibly merely describing, the Chosun Ilbo reports that 30-something salarymen are now avid shoppers and consumers at department stores. I’m not sure I give much credence to an article that prints the opinions of someone who attributes this to the fact that “men in their 30s are for the first time able to go shopping without the help of a woman” though, even if it did come from a professor at SNU.

11) Completing the transitions between the sexes as it were via the images in this post, let me finish here by passing on two photoshoots of Korean men that both made waves last week. First, these pictures of SHINee (샤이니, pronounced “shiny”) from Vogue Girl (source):

Shinee

(Update: Here’s an interview where SHINee explain the concept behind the photoshoot)

And then these of Hyun Bin (현빈), from Cosmopolitan (source):

Hyun Bin Cosmopolitan

While it’s not for me to judge women’s tastes, I am sorely tempted to mention that, lacking pictures of actual transexual men with which to complete the set of woman-transexual woman-transexual man-man, then SHINee certainly provide a pretty decent alternative…!

Share