Pin-up Grrrl #2: Ga-in, Bloom, and why we’ll still be talking about both 30 years from now

Ga-in Bloom(Source)

Ga-in shared, “Our previous MVs had received R-ratings and we didn’t understand the reason why. So for my recent MV, I decided to give them one.”

(Daily K-Pop News)

And to help, she watched adult videos from many different countries, finding “that the porn from third world countries fit the most with [her] personal tastes.” Accordingly, Bloom (피어나) has many bed scenes, and—yes really—features her masturbating on her kitchen floor.

In contrast, Miss A‘s (미쓰에이) I Don’t Need a Man (남자 없이 잘 살아) speaks for itself, and the video is so family-friendly that my daughters (demand to) dance to it several times a day.* So to many, it might seem like a much more appropriate, softly-softly feminist anthem for “sexually conservative” Korea. Not least, by those who think the pornification of the media has already gone far enough, and/or that imitating porn stars isn’t something that should be celebrated.

To the latter, I would suggest that they actually take a look at the music video. Because while it is certainly erotic, it is by no means mere sexual titillation masquerading as art, nor is it provided exclusively for the male gaze. On the contrary, as Dana D’Amelio explains in a must-read at Seoulbeats (see this follow-up also):

Essentially, what Ga-in does is take female sexual desire, wrest it from the men who have manipulated it to their own device, and put it back in female hands. Ga-in’s sexuality is something that women can get behind, and that’s something you can’t much say for the rest of K-pop; that she herself is portrayed as taking pleasure as much as she is giving it is unique, fresh, and deeply relatable to female viewers.

Ga-in Bloom(Source)

Dana and fellow Seoulbeats writer Mark both compare Bloom to Kim Hyuna’s (김현아) Ice Cream (아이스크림), which is just as sexually-explicit as Bloom, but wasn’t banned by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Arguably, precisely because it did conform to the male gaze and pervasive double-standards of K-pop.

In light of those, the sooner songs like Bloom rock the K-pop boat, the better. And for that reason, I’m going to wager that Bloom will have much more longevity than not just (frankly) vacuous songs like Ice Cream, but also, as explained below, those ostensibly empowering ones like I Don’t Need a Man that actually seem to be about nothing but men. Yet which, unfortunately, now seem to be the dominant from in pop music worldwide:

Lucy O’Brien, author of She-Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul, thinks the continuing importance of image and presentation is to blame. The key thing that ossified gender roles, she suggests, was MTV, which changed popular culture, leaving feminist punk bands such as the Slits and the Raincoats behind. “Image became the big thing, and angry women who didn’t care about it didn’t really fit that picture,” O’Brien says. There was a brief window of opportunity for women who didn’t fit the MTV template in the early 1990s, she suggests, a time when bestselling artists such as Sinead O’Connor ripped up pictures of the Pope on TV, and Tori Amos sang about her experiences of rape (though, equally, O’Connor’s greatest success came with her most MTV-friendly moment, Nothing Compares 2 U). But then came the Spice Girls, appropriating the vocabulary of riot grrrl, and proclaiming “Girl Power”, but within the conventional model of the pop group manufactured by men for young girls. “Everything became sophisticated and sanitised after that, and the industry has never got over it,” O’Brien says.

(The Guardian, March 25 2010; my emphasis. See Mark’s post “Manufactured Girl Power: Female Empowerment in a Male-Powered Industry” for more on K-pop specifically)
She-Bop 2(Source)

Which brings me to today’s translation, found via Lost in Traffic Lights. Here’s her summary of it (emphasis in original):

…the main difference is…while Bloom talks about how a woman views herself, free from social constructs and how people view her. However, while Miss A’s “I don’t need a man” looks like it’s gunning for female empowerment, at the end it’s still feeding into a discourse that men made for a “good girl” or a “sensible woman” in Korea.

I see this a lot actually. On the internet, there’s always a guy-or a male figure-who argues that “all women do is buy luxury bags and leech off men blah blah blah” and the women are like “but we don’t. A lot of us don’t. I am special because I’m not like those other girls. I don’t buy luxury bags, I pay for my own stuff” and so on. But at the end of the day though, isn’t that gunning for another gold star from the men who criticize us?

For much more on that theme, see Nabeela’s review of the song (and especially the comments), and — for starters! — here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for more information about the “beanpaste girl” (된장녀/dwenjang nyeo) and “ladygate” discourses being referred to.

As for the translation, frankly I and my long-suffering wife found it exhausting, and there were many parts we found difficult, so we apologize in advance for any mistakes. Also, there’s much to query in both the author’s generalizations and his details, starting with the confusion in the first part as to whether he’s talking about the music video (far above) or a stage performance (e.g. below, on SBS a few days before the article was published), and indeed although he mentions a part where she supposedly pretends to look into a mirror, I can’t find that in either video. But these don’t detract from the author’s main points, and I hope you’ll all agree that comparing Bloom with I Don’t Need a Man is very valuable and worthwhile.

가인이 피워낸 100%짜리 여자의 욕망 / 100% Women’s Desire Blooms With Ga-in

Naver News, October 17 2012; 강명석 칼럼 / Column by Gang Myeong-seog (two@10asia.co.kr; Twitter).

붉은빛 스웨터를 입는다. 다리에는 가터벨트를 착용한다. 혀 끝으로 입술을 핥는다. 가슴을 내민다. 의자에 앉은 채 허리를 뒤로 젖힌다. 손이 온 몸을 훑는다. 가인의 신곡 ‘피어나’의 무대는 남성들에게 온갖 야한 상상을 불러일으킨다. 그러나, 정작 무대 위의 남성 댄서들은 무표정하다. 그들은 로봇처럼 동작을 소화할 뿐 가인의 춤에 반응하지 않는다. 가인은 그들과 한 번도 정면으로 눈을 맞추지 않는다.

She wears a red sweater. On her legs she has a garter belt. She licks her lips with the tip of her tongue. She sticks her breasts out. She arches her back while sitting in a chair. She touches her whole body with her hands.

Ga-in’s new song “Bloom” provokes all sorts of bawdy male fantasies. But those men actually on the stage with her are expressionless, behaving like robots that don’t even notice her dance. She, in turn, never looks any of them in the eye.

대신 가인의 시선은 무대 정면을 향한다. 정면을 바라본 채, 가인은 다양한 포즈들을 취한다. ‘피어나’의 안무는 동작과 동작을 하나의 흐름으로 연결하지 않는다. 대신 섹시한 느낌을 주는 각각의 포즈들을 취할 수 있도록 구성됐다. 댄서들이 사라지고, 가인 혼자 정면을 바라보며 여러 포즈를 취하는 무대 후반의 구성은 가인의 시선이 누굴 향한 것인지 짐작케 한다. 남자들이 사라져도, 가인은 자신의 섹시함을 표현하는 것을 멈추지 않는다. 마치 거울 앞에 선 자신을 보는 것처럼.

Rather, Ga-in looks directly at us, while adopting various poses. In “Bloom,” the choreography isn’t seamless. Instead, each scene is defined by and constructed around a different pose, each providing a very sexy, sensual feeling.

Later in the performance, in which Ga-on looks ahead while continuing to do various poses, making people wonder who she is actually looking at. Then, the dancers disappear again, but Ga-in doesn’t stop expressing her sexiness. She continues as if she’s looking at herself in the mirror.

Bloom vs. I Don't Need a Man Caption 1(Source: Unknown)

Caption: 가인은 남자들의 판타지를 자극하는 방식의 ‘피어나’를 통해 오히려 가장 주체적인 여성상을 그려낸다 / Rather than stimulate male fantasies, Ga-in provides a very independent symbol for women in “Bloom.”

가인, 타인이 아닌 나를 위한 섹시 / Ga-in: The Sexiness is For Me, Not For Others

거의 모든 여성 가수에게 섹시한 댄스는 타인의 시선을 끌기 위한 장치다. 걸그룹이 곡에서 악센트를 줘야할 부분마다 다리를 벌리는 춤을 추곤 하는 것이 그 예다. 섹시함이 콘셉트 그 자체라 해도 좋을 ‘피어나’도 당연히 시선을 끈다. 그러나, ‘피어나’는 특정 동작을 강조하며 시선을 끄는 포인트 춤이 없다. 대신 모델이 계속 포즈를 취하는 듯한 동작들이 이어진다.

Almost all female use a sex dance as a means to attract people’s attention. For example, girl-groups will often emphasize spreading their legs apart in their dance routines. Naturally, “Bloom” could also be seen in this vein. However, “Bloom” doesn’t have ‘point dances’ which are only used for the specific purpose of getting people’s attention; instead, the poses adopted are more similar to the ones real models use.

가인의 소속사 로엔엔터테인먼트 관계자에 따르면 ‘피어나’의 안무에도 원래 포인트 춤이 포함돼 있었지만, 그 포인트를 빼고 지금처럼 다양한 포즈 중심의 안무를 요구한 사람이 바로 가인이었다. 그 결과 ‘피어나’의 안무는 타인에게 어필하는 것이기도 하지만, 그 이전에 여성이 섹시한 표정과 포즈를 마음껏 해보는 구성이 됐다. 또한 ‘피어나’의 뮤직비디오는 황수아 감독이, 가사는 작사가 김이나가 맡았다. 두 여성은 그들의 시선에서 섹시함을 표현한다. 뮤직비디오에 가인의 베드신이 등장하지만, 가인과 관계를 갖는 남자의 얼굴도 제대로 안 나온다. 대신 카메라는 희열을 느끼는 가인의 표정을 잡는다. <김이나의 가사로 표현한다면, 남자는 ‘내가 선택한’ 존재고, 그가 사랑스러운 것은 나를 ‘high’하고 ‘fly’하도록 만들었기 때문이다. 남자가 어떤 매력을 가졌는지는 묘사하지 않는다. 중요한 것은 남성이든 섹시함이든 여성 자신의 욕망이 선택한 결과라는 점이다.

According to a representative of Loen Entertainment, originally the choreography did have point dances, but these were removed and replaced at Ga-in’s insistence. As a result, the choreography appeals not just to other people [men?], but has as many sexual poses and expressions as it could have too [James - That sentence sounds strange in Korean also]. Also, the director of the music video, Hwang Su-ah, and lyricist, Kim Ee-na [both women], express sexiness from their own perspectives. In the music there is Ga-in’s bed scene, but we can’t really see the face of the guy she’s with [James - The screenshot below would be the closest you get]. Instead the camera focuses on her expression of joy and ecstasy. According to Kim Ee-na’s lyrics, “This is the guy I chose,” and the reason is because he makes Ga-in “fly high.” Crucially, why she finds the man attractive is not described; rather, the important thing is that it’s her sexual desire that is paramount here.

Ga-in Bloom Man(Source)

전체적인 윤곽은 남성의 판타지를 충족시키지만, 그 디테일은 섹시함이 ‘(타인의)시선 따윈 알게 뭐니’라고 노래하는 여성의 욕망을 드러낸다. 이 절묘한 공존은 이 곡의 구성원들의 독특한 조합 때문일 것이다. 안무, 가사, 뮤직비디오는 여성이 주축이지만, 프로듀싱과 작곡은 각각 남성인 프로듀서 조영철과 작곡가 이민수가 맡았다. 이들 중 가인을 제외한 네 명의 남녀는 아이유와 브라운 아이드 걸스를 제작한 바 있다. 아이유는 귀여운 여성에 대한 남성 판타지의 극단이었고, 브라운 아이드 걸스는 섹시함에 터프함을 가미한 강한 여자들이었다.

While the whole character of this song fulfills men’s fantasies, contained in the details is a depiction of sexiness and women’s desire that poses the question, “Who cares about the gaze of others?”. This exquisite coexistence is the result of the unique combination of the people involved in its production: the choreographer and lyricist are women, but the producer, Jo Yeong-cheol, and the composer, Lee Min-su, are men [James - What happened to the director Hwang Sun-ah?]. Moreover, in addition to Ga-in’s songs, these men and women have produced songs for the IU and the Brown Eyed Girls. IU projects a cute image that is an extreme men’s fantasy [James - Actually, this cute image is exaggerated and/or very outdated], while the Brown Eyed Girls’ image is a mixture of tough and strong women.

Brown Eyed Girls Sixth Sense(Source)

가인은 이 네 남녀의 정확한 한가운데다. 남성들에게 확실히 어필할 수 있는 섹시한 콘셉트는 남성 스태프가 짠 틀일 것이다. 그러나 여성 스태프는 그들의 시선으로 섹시함을 표현했다. 여성도 성관계에서 오는 육체적, 정신적 쾌감에 대한 욕망이 있고, 그 욕망을 드러내자 가인은 가련한 소녀도, 남성의 시각적 만족만을 위한 쇼걸도 아닌 무대를 지배하는 주인공이 된다. ‘피어나’는 주체적인 여성에 대한 시각을 무엇을 보여주느냐가 아니라 어떻게 보여주느냐로, 바깥의 시선에서 내면의 욕망의 문제로 옮긴다.

Ga-in is positioned firmly in the center of these 4 men and women. Her sex appeal, which definitely appeals to men, would have come from the male staff; the women’s perspective on sexiness, from the female staff. Women too, find sexual relationships physically and mentally pleasurable, and here Ga-in owns the stage with that desire, rather than being turned into a miserable girl or a showgirl for the male gaze for it.

“Bloom” moves the question of what are independent women from not what they show, but how they show it. Or in other words, from outside appearances to inner perspectives.

미스에이, 타인이 만들어놓은 좋은 여자의 기준 / Miss A Conform to the Standards of Good Women Defined by Others

그래서, 미스에이의 ‘남자 없이 잘 살아’가 ‘피어나’와 완벽한 대비를 이루는 것은 흥미롭다. 박진영이 작사한 ‘남자 없이 잘 살아’의 여성은 ‘내 돈으로 방세 다 내’고, ‘내 차 내 옷 내가 벌어서 산’다. ‘남자 믿고 놀다 남자 떠나면 어떡할’거냐는 걱정을 하기 때문이다. 가사만 보면 ‘남자 없이 잘 살아’는 주체적이고 독립적인 여성을 칭송하는 것처럼 보인다. 그러나 남에게 폐 끼치지 않는 인생은 남자 역시 필요하다.

So, “Bloom” and “I Don’t Need a Man” provide a perfect, very interesting contrast. The lyrics to “I Don’t Need a Man”, written by JYP, say “I pay the rent with my own money,” “I bought this car and these clothes with my my own money,” and that “If you trust and fool around with a man and then he leaves, what will you do?”, which is a constant worry of women.

If you only look at the lyrics to the song, they do praise self-reliant and independent women. [Although] men, too, need a way of life that isn’t dependent on others.

Miss A Jia and Suzy I Don't Need a Man(Sources: top, bottom)

Caption: 반면 ‘남자 없이 못 살아’를 발표한 미스에이는 타인의 시선에 의해 결정되는 여성의 단면을 보여준다 / On the other hand, with “I Don’t Need a Man,” released by Miss A, they show a side of women defined by others

그리고, 이런 경제생활이 당당한 여성의 기준은 타인의 시선이다. ‘남자없이 잘 살아’의 뮤직비디오에서 멤버들이 콧수염을 붙여보거나, 이두박근을 강조하는 것은 우연이 아니다. 미스에이가 노래하는 독립적인 여성은 사실상 남성들이 요즘 ‘개념녀’라고 말하는 이상적인 여성이다. ‘피어나’가 남성들에게 어필하는 코드로 여성의 욕망을 말한다면, ‘남자 없이 잘 살아’는 당당한 여성을 어필하면서 ‘된장녀’와는 정반대인 ‘개념녀’라는 남성의 욕망을 말한다.

Also, these financially confident women are conforming to the standards of others. In “I Don’t Need a Man,” it is no accident that the members of Miss A stick on a fake mustache or emphasize their biceps. The independent women that they are singing about are actually the gaenyeomnyeo, or “good girls,” that men say are their perfect women these days.

While “Bloom” appeals to men while also articulating female desire, “I Don’t Need a Man” provides an image of confident women and also the good girl image that males desire, an opposite of the dwenjang-nyeo, or “bean-paste girl” one.

miss_a_i_don__t_need_a_man_chibi_by_jinsuke04-d5il0nc(“miss A I Don’t Need A Man Chibiby,” by jinsuke04)

‘피어나’는 타인의 시선 대신 내면의 욕망을 더 적극적으로 드러내는 여성의 목소리를 반영하고, ‘남자 없이 못 살아’는 남자, 또는 사회가 원하는 좋은 여성의 기준을 더욱 더 강화한다. 출산과 결혼을 선택하지 않는 여성에 대한 논의가 사회적 화두로 떠오르고, 인터넷에서는 남녀가 수많은 문제들로 논쟁을 하는 이 시점에서 두 곡의 등장은 어떤 징후처럼 보인다. 많은 남자들은 명품 백을 사느냐 마느냐에 따라, 결혼할 생각이 있느냐 없느냐에 따라 ‘개념녀’와 그렇지 않은 여성을 가른다.

Rather than emphasizing the male gaze, “Bloom” reflects more the inner desires and voices of women, whereas “I Don’t Need a Man” does more men and/or society’s standards for women. These two songs are a reflection of how many women choosing not to get married and/or have children has become a hot topic of debate in Korean society, and of the discussion, arguments, and problems as many men and women discuss that on the internet. In which many men are dividing women into good girls or beanpaste girls, or who want to get married or not, [simply] according to whether they buy brand-name bags or not.

반면 많은 여성들은 타인에게 폐 끼치지 않는 한 돈을 쓰고 싶은 곳에 욕먹지 않고 쓸 권리와 결혼과 출산을 하지 않을 자유에 대해 말한다. 주체적인 욕망과 타인의 시선이 정한 기준 안에 들어오는 것 사이의 대립. 남녀 모두 주체적인 여자에 대해 말하는 것 같지만, 그 층위는 전혀 다르다. ‘피어나’가 예상치 못했던 카운터펀치인 이유다. 인터넷에서 끝없이 반복되던 남녀의 가장 중요한 논쟁점이 흥미로운 방식으로 수면 위로 떠올랐다. 그것도 모두가 답 없는 논쟁을 할 때, 여성의 욕망을 놀라울 만큼 잘 드러내면서 남성도 즐길 수 있는 판타지의 접점을 만들면서 말이다.

Ga-in Bloom Doll(Source)

But as long as women do not trouble others with their spending choices, then they have a right not to be sworn at and criticized by others, and the freedom not to choose marriage or children. [However], there is a contradiction between the desire for self-reliance and the standards set by the male gaze. Men are women are talking about the same self-reliant women, but the amount of what they say about them are totally different.

This is the reason why “Bloom” has a surprising counter-punch. The most important thing men and women are unceasingly arguing about on the internet [James - What is that?? Sex?] arose in an interesting and amusing way. That is, in an argument which has no answers, this song provides a rare point of contact in which women can enjoy their desires just as much as men have their fantasies fulfilled.

강하거나, 세거나, 독특한 여성 걸그룹들의 노래들이 하나의 흐름을 형성한 지금, ‘피어나’가 대중음악 시장에서 얻는 반응은 지금 이런 목소리에 대한 수요를 알 수 있는 척도가 될 수도 있을 것이다. 그것은 반대로 ‘남자없이 잘 살아’에 대한 반응도 마찬가지일 것이다. 지금 우리는 주류 대중음악, 또는 걸그룹으로 대표되는 아이돌 시장에서 여성을 표현하는 방식이 아주 조금은 달라진 순간을 보고 있다. 그게 결과적으로 누구의 목소리가 더 크게 멤돌지는 알 수 없지만 말이다.

Now, bold, strong, and unique girl-groups are forming a new trend, and how well “Bloom” does commercially will demonstrate how much of a demand there is for this new voice. The same goes for “I Don’t Need a Man.” Now, in popular music, we are seeing the beginning of a new phase in the way women express themselves. Ultimately, whose voice will be loudest? (end)

Ga-in Bloom Female Empowerment(Source)

*Truth be told, I let my daughters watch Bloom as well, which isn’t that explicit at all really; they love the song and pastel colors, and at 4 and 6, they’re much too young to understand what’s really going on anyway. And I hope that their happy childhood memories of it spur a renewed interest in it much later, just like mine of She-Bop (1984) did for me!

Update: While I’m at it, see here for 10 more songs about female masturbation.

Update 2, November 2013: With the benefit of a year’s hindsight, Gang Myeong-seog and I were much too harsh in our critique of I Don’t Need a Man, which definitely has its merits. See here to learn more.

Update 3, March 2014: Here’s another article about more recent songs about female masturbation (or that mention it in passing).

Related Post(s):

Lee Hyori: Korean Pin-up Grrrl #1?

Lee Hyori Pin-up Grrrl(Source)

Out of all this week’s stories, up tomorrow in the Korean Gender Reader, probably one of the most important — but also the most under-appreciated — is the news that Lee Hyori (이효리) will no longer be doing any commercials for products that conflict with her animal rights, environmental, and/or vegetarian beliefs.

This excludes her from working with so many companies, that her agency had to clarify that she hadn’t given up modelling or endorsements altogether.

Certainly, she’s already well known — and liked — for being so outspoken and sassy, which is very rare for female celebrities here. But this is still a significant step, because it’s difficult to think of any other Korean celebrity explicitly rejecting the endorsement culture upon which their agencies so heavily depend. Let alone someone who was once the country’s biggest sex-symbol.

Lee Hyori and Dog(Source)

Moreover, while she’s open to charges of hypocrisy, as it’s undoubtedly much easier to take an ethical stance on endorsements after years of making millions from them, she did at least acknowledge this contradiction in a recent interview, and at only 33 could have continued to do them for decades. Also, with “We can’t help but be subjected to the power of the companies when we sign a contract. Hara, please don’t forget my words,” her tweet of advice to Goo Ha-ra (구하라), one of her replacements as a soju model, she indirectly criticized companies’ excessive power over their endorsers — recall Ivy (아이비) being sued for an completely non-existent sex-tape for instance, or Choi Jin-sil (최진실) being sued for going public about being a victim of domestic abuse, and then being sued again after she committed suicide — and/or entertainment agencies’ willingness to enter into such arrangements regardless. And, albeit perhaps unfairly, has put the onus on much younger celebrities to be more discerning with their own choices (or, rather, to challenge their agencies’ choices).

Can anybody think of any other Korean celebrities that have made similar ethical stands and/or critiques of the media and entertainment industries? I admit I don’t have much time to follow Korean celebrity news, and would be happy to learn that Lee Hyori isn’t as exceptional as I thought!

(Update: Also, if anybody come across a Korean source that places Lee Hyori’s decision in that above context, that would also be appreciated. Unfortunately, apparently they’re just as rare!)

Related Posts:

Oh In-hye: “I don’t regret wearing that revealing dress”

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Does actress Oh In-hye (오인혜) count as a pin-up grrrl?

A virtual unknown before she wore that dress at the opening ceremony of the 16th Busan International Film Festival, she is certainly not above using sex-appeal to advance her career. But of course, that is not something to celebrate in itself. Rather, it can only be considered at all empowering if the woman involved simultaneously exalts in her sex appeal (to both men and women), whether as sexual object, subject, role model, or all three. And above all, she must a) be explicit about what she’s doing (or at least not deny it), and b) not stray out of character by, say, infantilizing herself with cutesy aegyo in the first endorsement deal she lands.

By those criteria, actually very few female celebrities qualify, no matter how much they’re touted as confident, independent, and daring by the Korean media. Oh In-hye did remain a possibility though, as mentioned at the end of my November post first outlining the concept of pin-up grrrls, and as far as I know hasn’t been blessed with the opportunity to behave like a 13 year-old in a TV commercial yet.

All hinges on her own personal explanations/justifications then, which is why this recent interview of her caught my eye. However unlikely-sounding, could she also be considered a role-model?

Alas, once I started translating it, my respect for her plunged faster than her neckline. For not only does she again claim that her choice of dress was completely random, and that she expected no reaction to it whatsoever, but she’s particularly disingenuous when she claims to be worried that her image would detract from the message of her two movies in one Red Vacance, Black Wedding (붉은바캉스, 검은웨딩), as in fact both are essentially soft-porn poorly disguised as art-house cinema (see the NSFW trailer below; tellingly, downloads of the movie are extremely easy to find). Indeed, now I’m more convinced than ever that the dress was actually a deliberate and surely collaborative effort to draw attention to the movie, as first suggested to me by an audience member at a recent lecture I gave in Daegu (apologies for not remembering your name sorry!).

And on that note, apologies also for the irritating faux informal and friendly tone of the reporter, which remains in the original Korean. Unfortunately, as I lamented back in November, beggars can’t be choosers for interview sources. Especially on this topic!

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“I Don’t Regret Wearing That Revealing Dress”

Issue-maker Oh In-hye, main star of Red Vacance, Black Wedding, Dreams of becoming a “humanist actress”

Busan Focus, December 6th 2011, p. 23. Reporter: Jang Byeong-ho.

“There have been big changes since the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). At the time things were just crazy, but now I’m quite relaxed. Things have returned to what they were like before BIFF”.

On the 5th, I met Oh In-hye at a coffee-shop in Seoul, the actress who has been in the spotlight for wearing such a striking dress at BIFF earlier in the year. I couldn’t help but be curious at how she felt about being at the center of such controversy.

“Before I went to the film festival, I thought my visiting it would just be reported as “An actress called Oh In-hye attended”, she said, but to her it was her first time, and an amazing experience. Also, while she was very hurt by malicious news reports and what netizens wrote about her, she confidently said to herself  to “have no regrets”, and that “If I am to go again to the opening ceremony of a film festival, I’ll wear a revealing dress again. But perhaps revealing just a little less though!” (laughs).

(Source)

Also, Oh In-hye is thinking about using the interest in her as an opportunity, “It’s all water under the bridge. Instead, now I have a goal of changing my revealing image. And if I have a goal, I should work on it, right?” she openly and honestly revealed, a complete contrast to the sexy demeanor she possessed when she was wearing the revealing dress [James - having a goal isn't sexy???]. But she also said that she was worried that her revealing image would distort the message of her coming movie Red Vacance, Black Wedding, coming out on the 8th of December.

Oh In-hye has yearned to be an entertainer since she was very young, but didn’t set on an acting path until the relatively late age of 22 [James - she is 27 now]. From 2 to 3 years ago, she has worked without an agency, and firmly said that she “has no plans to join one. I want to be a humanist actress, not just an entertainer who makes issues”.

Finally, she admitted that the director Lars von Trier and the actress Penelope Cruz, Oh In-hye revealed that “increasing my acting ability by studying a lot of acting is my biggest homework!”, leaving this reporter curious about her [James - new?] honest and forthcoming persona (end).

To play Devil’s Advocate, Korean news reporters are notorious for sometimes simply making news up, let alone being very sloppy with their fact-checking. But nevertheless, Oh In-hye’s claims that she would loudly and proudly wear an almost equally-revealing dress at the next film festival are undermined by her wearing a more demure one at BIFF’s closing ceremony. On the other hand, she did wear a very revealing one just a few days after this interview, but that again casts serious doubts on her claims to be worried about “her revealing image [distorting] the message of her movie”, which came out just the day before.

In short, nothing in the interview can be taken at face-value, and frankly now I’m a little embarrassed to present it here. Sigh. Rest assured though, that from now on I’ll be a little more discerning when I hear that a female celebrity has bared all to a reporter, and – as always – would appreciate readers passing on any they find by more reliable sources (including of male celebrities!).

Who are the Korean Pin-up Grrrls?

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No, not pin-up girls, but pin-up grrrls. Let me explain the difference.

First, take another long hard look at Yoon Eun-hye’s (윤은혜) photoshoot for October’s Dazed and Confused, as one does. Because despite appearances, it was probably a tough sell. Would you invest 8000 won (US$7.24) in a magazine for just 7 revealing pictures of a celebrity, out of 255 pages? Even if there are no high-definition versions available on the internet?

Maybe. I did, but as you’ll see, I was looking for an interview of her. You can make jokes about my real motivations later.

I suspect then, that the photoshoot’s main purpose may not have been to sell more copies of that particular edition per se. Rather, it was looking to enhance Dazed and Confused’s brand through the ensuing publicity, thereby selling more magazines and being able to charge more for advertisements in the long-term. If so, then the massive attention the pictures have been getting in the media can be considered a success, in the process Eun-hye literally – if only fleetingly – embodying the Wikipedia definition of a pin-up girl as “a model whose mass-produced pictures see wide appeal as popular culture”. Even, in a hyperreal sense, in the absence of the physical pictures themselves.

Next, consider them in the context of a retro fad that has been sweeping movies and K-pop (or at least the female half of it) since at least Lee Hyori’s (이효리) U Go Girl of 2008. Again, while strict censorship and sexual conservatism likely confined any physical Korean pin-ups to seedy bars until the 1990s (I’ll consider “soju girls” separately shortly), pin-up girl chic is certainly becoming a recognizable part of Korean popular culture. It was no great surprise to see models copying them (source, right) on Korean television last year for instance, and I refuse to believe that it’s a mere coincidence that now there’s even an online clothes store with the pin-up name.

Vivent les femmes?

Well, that’s certainly a possibility, which I’ve very much underplayed in the last five years I’ve been writing about Korean gender issues. And not that I wasn’t correct to do so: knowing that baring breasts in magazines was one notable form of resistance to censorship in Francoist Spain in the 1970s, naively I projected that onto what were increasingly risqué Korea soju ads starting from about 2006, likewise equating more T&A in them with, well, sexual and political liberation (see here for a modern Arab equivalent). Thankfully, many readers soon disabused me of that notion, and I’ve been at pains to point out that the latter doesn’t automatically signify the former ever since.

But then I read Maria Buszek’s Pin-Up Grrrls.

A brilliant book, alas it is also 444 pages long, but fortunately a roughly 20 times shorter version(!) is available online here, which I strongly encourage you to read in full. Here’s just a taste of why it was so eye-opening:

In the same way that women surely saw their own reflection in the illustrated recruitment pin-ups of WWII, it seems that many similarly saw the Varga Girl not as an unattainable fantasy of the heterosexual male imagination, but an ideal they could both associate with and aspire toward. Contrary to contemporary assumptions that the Varga Girl (and Esquire magazine) were enjoyed by an exclusively male audience, we find her presence in such contexts where she would not only have been highly visible to women, but there as the result of what one can assume was her already existing popularity with a female audience. By the start of the war, women were certainly familiar with her; in the very same issue as the first Varga Girl, an Esquire reader-poll appeared that indicated nearly three-quarters of the “gentlemen’s magazine” subscriptions were in fact read by women, for whom the magazine’s illustrations were the number one attraction…. In fact, if one reads the magazine’s letters section, “The Sound and the Fury,” throughout the ‘40s, women’s letters were frequently published–many written solely to remind the male editors and readers that the magazine had a broad audience that included women, whose presence they should consider in features, cartoons, and advertisements.

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Next, consider the following from pages 169 and 170 of Whang Zheng’s chapter “Gender, employment, and women’s resistance” in Chinese Society: Change, Conflict, and Resistance (2nd Edition), 2003:

Replacing the “iron rice bowl” of job security in urban China in the 1990s is the craze of creating the “rice bowl of youth”. Everywhere attractive young women have been sought to represent the shining image of “modernity”. Booming service, commercial, and entertainment industries post numerous age-, gender-, and, often, height-specific advertisements seeking women under the age of 25 and above 165 centimeters in height. Stylish, elegant, or sexy, young “Misses” are displayed in remodeled or newly built “modern” hotels, restaurants, department stores, travel services, night clubs, dance halls, and so on. As older state industries lay off women workers over 35, these modern young Misses, many with no particular education or technical skills, are entering the rising industries (mostly in the private sector, some with foreign investment) where their youth and beauty provide a ticket to incomes several times higher than those of their older sisters.

And in particular:

The creation of the rice bowl of youth is a “joint venture” of consumerism and capitalism that commodifies and objectifies women. Its contradictory aspects should not, however, be overlooked. Many a Miss Public Relations, Miss Shopping-guide and Miss Travel-guide is far from being a passively constructed “decorative” object for the fulfillment of her bosses’ utility needs and their male clients’ sexual fantasies. Rather, many are active players in the melodrama of modernity, who consciously manage their “profits” by a range of strategies, including frequent job changes to advance their position, and investing in various adult education programs to acquire new qualifications and skills [James - a surprising absence here is mention of cosmetic surgery]. Seizing the rice bowl of youth, many young women catapult themselves into lasting careers. The inherent modern values in this position, such as assertiveness and competitiveness, have been expressed prominently in young Misses’ pursuit of career development in a competitive job market. This gendered employment pattern with its inherent contradictions, in short, provides opportunities for young women’s social and economic advancement, even if it blocks employment access of older laid-off workers, and reinforces gender [James - and sexual] stereotypes.

For an alternative, much more critical view of that development in the Korean context, please read this post of Michael Hurt’s at Scribblings of the Metropolitician, and indeed I do think Whang slightly overstates her case. But the points have been made: dressing and posing sexily in commercial photographs isn’t necessarily exclusively for men, nor does a woman deserve scorn if she does so simply in order to advance her career. Also, that these are not mutually exclusive.

But as something to celebrate in a Feminist sense? That all sounds somewhat hollow, let alone just basic common-sense. Whereas last week I promised you a useful, refreshing perspective with this post.

Enter the pin-up grrrl, who exalts in her sex appeal to both men and women, whether as sexual object, subject, role model, or all three. And above all, she never strays out of character.

By these criteria, merely being featured in Korean pin-up girl chic isn’t quite enough. Just like www.pinupgirl.co.kr doesn’t actually sell anything even remotely pin-up girl themed, simply appropriating the risqué clothing, poses, and terminology of an earlier, quite literally foreign era is meaningless if the same women are infantilizing themselves in their next commercial, talkshow appearance, and/or photoshoot (update: or their Japanese promotions). Yet this is the norm in Korea, where so many female icons loudly touted as confident and independent are actually under the firm control of their management agencies (not even being able to use the internet or have cellphones, let alone go on dates), and where the fact that almost 3 out of 4 commercials feature celebrities means that the same women can be found endorsing just about anything (even competing brands).

Examples abound. At the same time that KARA (카라) were making waves for their “butt dance” (엉덩이 춤) choreography for Mister (미스터)  below for instance (and which is a problematic song in itself, placing — for all its supposed female bravado — all romantic initiative in the hands of said “Mister”)…

…you were just as if not more likely to see them on Korean TV doing their childish commercials for Pepero (빼빼로):

More recently, Girls’ Generation’s (소녀시대) purported shift to a more mature, sexual, and empowering image with the release of their latest album The Boys is undermined by familiar narratives of passivity in the lyrics to the Korean version of the song (but which are tellingly absent from the English one). In particular, while one member (Sunny) did claim that (hat tip to askbask):

“The lyrics’ [meaning] are up to the interpretation [of the listeners']. Rather than just the simple meaning of girls giving boys support, it can be interpreted in many ways. The girls could be telling the boys that we’ll take the lead, giving off a more tough image. It could also be interpreted as girls telling the boys to get their act together and cheer up. (laughs) The song also aims to give courage to people, whether they’re girls or guys, who are tired out [by life].”

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Nevertheless, as someone not just contracted to SM Entertainment, but also the niece of its founder, she is hardly in a position (or have the inclination) to claim otherwise. Moreover, even if for the sake of argument I allow that the lyrics are indeed open to interpretation, most likely the very next thing I’ll see Girls’ Generation in will still be an advertisement for one of the numerous brands they’ve endorsed above, piling on the cutesy aegyo. And even if I further concede that that’s because surely many of those endorsement contracts precede the release of The Boys, and will continue to apply for some time after it, you’d a) assume that if that was a genuine concern, then SM Entertainment could have scheduled things better so as not to undermine Girls’ Generations’ new image, and b) be hard-pressed not to recall that actually they were already supposed to have become “bad girls” with Run Devil Run nearly two years ago.

Forgive me for being a little cynical.

(Sources: left, right)

So again, it’s promoting and maintaining a pin-up grrrl image that is crucial. By which token we can also dismiss most soju girls too, even if they are indeed technically a kind of Korean pin-up. Because with very rare exceptions, such as Kim Yoon-ah’s (김윤아) example discussed here (the singer, not the skater), not only are soju ad formats usually extremely restrictive, but, for all their sexing-up in recent years, the models therein remain firmly ensconced within a virgin/vixen dichotomy, well illustrated by Jeong Ryeo-won (정려원) and Ha Ji-won (하지원) above (only three years apart btw; they changed really quickly!).

And yet again, despite the latter having – ahem – a special place in my heart because of: a) first learning of her through ads for the Platinum Dance 7 CDs that played on Korean TV for much of 2002, in which she simply stood there looking stunning; b) singing in Wax’s (왁스) music videos, my favorite Korean artist; c) later learning of her connection to my hometown;  and d) literally being kick-ass in the drama Secret Garden (시크릿 가든) and more recently the movie Sector 7 (7광구)…she undermines all that by, amongst other things, looking decidedly pale, unnatural, and delicate in her advertisements for skin care products. And so on.

Which brings me back to Eun-hye’s pictures, which surprised me because I remember that she endorsed the Korean lingerie brand Vivian (비비안) back in 2008, yet somehow without actually wearing the lingerie at all (as you could see earlier in the post {source}; see here and here for the politics of Korean lingerie modelling behind that). So, I bought the magazine itself assuming that they would include an interview of her, in which, however lame, unreliable, and/or perfunctory, she explained her reasons for the sudden change. Not only was there no interview inside though, but to my chagrin (no, really) I soon discovered that actually she’s been talking her clothes off in public for years now (“have you seen this” indeed!). Which possibly explains why I can’t find any mention of why she did the photoshoot on the internet whatsoever, despite the ubiquity of “news” articles about it as mentioned (source, right).

So, the jury’s still out on Eun-hye at least (although I admit that I’ve yet to look for interviews about her earlier photoshoots), and I acknowledge that my relative lack of knowledge about Korean female celebrities means I may be unfairly and/or prematurely dismissing them, something I’m sure has also gone through many readers’ minds.

So, as you can see below, I’ve been trying to rectify this, looking for reliable interview sources of interviews of Korean singers. But this is harder than you may think, as Korea seems to lack any definitive music magazines. AstaTV, for instance, is literally just 105 pictures of mostly boy-bands for 11,800 won (US$10.44), a magazine format I’ve very surprised to still see around in 2011, while Junior is, well, very much for juniors. Alternatively, the very cheap – but thick – weekly Movieweek and Cine21 magazines are good sources for singers that have also acted, but naturally I’m frustrated not to find something much more music focused.

So, I would very much appreciate recommendations from readers, or if in future you could pass on any decent interviews and articles available on the internet (whether of men or women), in which they elaborate on the themes discussed in this post (I’ve included my translation of one I did find at the end of this post). Indeed, probably in just five minutes some of you will find something about Eun-hye’s Dazed and Confused photoshoot in that I couldn’t in two weeks.But even if so, you’d think that someone earnestly looking would surely have a much easier time of it?

And with that thought, I suddenly realized that I’ve been going about this all the wrong way, and in fact had been quite hypocritical. Because the onus is not on me to find pin-up grrrls by sifting through what, by this stage, looks like an increasingly homogenized, clone-like mass of female celebrities, but rather to highlight those ones who are already doing their darnedest to stand out themselves.

Can any old-timers guess whom I’m thinking of?

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Who else but Nancy Lang (낸시 랭)?

Yes, her eccentricities have put me off in the past too. No, I haven’t heard anything about her in at least a year either. But, just like that picture in that last link demonstrates (well, just about any picture of her really), you’d be hard-pressed to think of a well-known Korean woman quite so brazen (Update – Oops: actually she’s Korean-American, in which case Margaret Cho also instantly comes to mind. But she’s not quite so well-known in Korea itself).

If you personally have never heard of her though, then here is a quick biography of her below. Normally I’d be reluctant to copy and paste an entire article like this, but unfortunately there is increasingly less information about her available in English, and so this (originally from KBS somewhere) needs to be preserved before it’s lost when the long since defunct Pretty Korean Girls blog disappears (hey, beggars can’t be choosers!):

Since her performance of ‘Lost Dream’ in her underwear at the 2003 Venice Biennale, Nancy Lang was introduced to Korea, and she quickly appeared in magazines, on TV and on the Internet. Her showbiz philosophy that she would make money with art shouting “Cutie! Sexy! Kitty!” and “I Love Dollars” has raised controversy among art circles as well as the public.

Unconventional performance

Lang played the violin in the middle of a street wearing Victoria Secret lingerie and red high heels with kabuki style makeup. Her childhood dream was to become a violinist. And she realized the dream through art. Once, at the San Marco Piazza in Venice, she was held by the police for four hours, after which she became popular. Her performances thereafter continued to stand out. The New York born ethnic Korean is a US citizen. She only attended an international high school in Manila but her mannerisms and accent bear the hallmarks of a third generation Korean-American. Her Korean name is Park Hye-ryeong. But eyeing the world as her stage, she strategically changed her last name through help from a lawyer. “Lang” was the final choice among several names as it visually looked nice in typographic terms. Born into a well-to-do family, Lang however went through difficult times when her father died during her college years and her mother fell sick. At times, she couldn’t pay her tuition. But through the trials, she developed a clear sense of life and living.

The evolving Taboo Yogini

Multi-talented Lang’s unconventional character and provocative performances have grabbed the attention of the art, fashion and entertainment circles alike. In her trademark series ‘Taboo Yogini,’ characters such as a woman with a huge courtesan wig or a figure with a body of a robot and a head of a girl, rooster or dog appear. And invariably held in their hand is a powerful gun or a Louis Vuitton bag. In the backdrop is a car, a Chanel lipstick and other luxury brand logos. “Yogini” means an angel or a devil in the dictionary. Taboo Yogini, representing both good and bad, is a ceaselessly resurrecting spiritual being due to its persistent power and life energy. It is the symbol of Lang herself, her dreams, her wounds and her fight. The self-proclaimed ‘walking pop art’ doesn’t hide her love for brand name and elite goods. Last year at the Seoul Arts Center, the bikini clad Lang asked audience members to put oil on her body before going on to sing ‘Purple Scent’ to the tune of a karaoke machine. She pulled off another eccentric performance “Nancy Lang’s autograph session” during which she autographed her posterior as the inaugural artist of the Gwangju Biennale. The Taboo Yogini series is expected to evolve even more. In pursuit of breaking apart and assembling robots, Lang has only yet gathered the parts, and during the process she can let go of past regrets. Her work these days in fact show glimpses of her severing chains with the past and moving toward a fantastic future, portrayed by a wounded yogini and a guardian angel robot. If yogini was Peter Pan to Lang, the robot would be her Tinker Bell. It may be that she is inviting someone she can rely on in the future into her world filled with luxury goods.

Dreaming of Korea’s Takashi Murakami

Her work and lifestyle and her brutally candid and daring speech and actions invite criticism at times. But she doesn’t care. She confidently argues that, like a racehorse, she only runs toward a clear goal. She has firmly established herself as an artist reaching out to the public. Few others see art as showbiz as much as she does. But approaching show business with new ideas and works is a whole different realm. Her role model is Takashi Murakami, who successfully turned his character creations into art based on the animation, comics and games culture. Most of her works sell well and her name once topped the top online search word list. She knows what she wants, “I will become a world renowned artist who can influence the general public, and based on that foundation, I want to gain wealth and fame.” We wonder what she will show us next, as she brings along issues and controversies wherever she goes with her art.

Next, in the unlikely event that you’re not already convinced of her worthiness of the title of pin-up grrrl, then surely Psychedelic Kimchi’s interview of her in 2006 will be sufficient, which I was very glad to still find five years after first reading it (and apologies for stealing that above image from it!). Especially as, unfortunately, that seems to be the sum total of the only substantive English sources remaining on her, although there is still her (pretty active) official Facebook page (albeit not accepting new Friend requests, or at least not mine; sniff), her (less active) Twitter account, and finally her personal website (but curiously blocked because of phishing attempts the day after I first found it!). And of course I would again be very grateful if readers could pass on anything else, as I would for any suggestions of any other candidates for Korean pin-up grrrls.

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But one final thing before I do thank you though, is to draw attention to the origins of the term “grrrl” itself, lest people more familiar with it than I feel that I’m using it too liberally. In short, it comes from the Riot Grrrl underground Feminist Punk movement in the Pacific Northwest in the early-1990s, about which the New York Times wrote the following on the twentieth anniversary of its founding earlier this year:

Ms. Marcus, the author of “Girls to the Front,” agreed that it was part of a 20-year nostalgia cycle. But she added that “people are flocking to these reminiscences because there remains a tremendous hunger” for the kind of liberated, don’t give-a-damn femaleness “that was in full flower in the ’90s,” with nothing quite as potent since.

The fashion pendulum may have inevitably swung back to the ’90s, but riot grrrl, with its snarky cut-and-paste zines and carefully built micro-communities, prefigures a lot of youth culture today: targeted communication and social networking (although they did it with letters and flyers, not e-mails and Facebook messages); the lure of the handmade and the local — the craft marketplace Etsy could have been born in a riot grrrl meeting; and an attitude, evident in blogs like Jezebel and the Hairpin, that feminism can be fun.

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And in particular, the original Riot Grrrl Manifesto included the following, in what was I’m sure a deliberate choice of double entendre:

BECAUSE we must take over the means of production in order to create our own moanings.

Why this is important is because of how in her book proper, Maria Buzek contrasts Andre Dworkin’s Beauty Hurts (1974; see it here) and Annie Sprinkle’s Anatomy of a Pin-up Photo (1991) above, then in her conclusion (pages 362-3) discusses Ann Magnuson’s Revenge of the Vargas Girl (1992) below, about which she says:

In “Revenge”, the artist poses in the guise of an elegant World War 2 Varga Girl but turns the artist’s airbrush gun – the medium through which Vargas created his fantasy women – back onto the world. Magnuson has associated her appropriation of the pin-up with the same bait-and-switch subversion as the riot grrrl movement, saying: “Women’s sexuality has been shunned; there’s no shame attached to being sexual. But then, why should frat boys be the only ones who get to appreciate a curvy figure? When the pin-up is allowed to speak (and has something to say), it changes the landscape”. But Mangnuson’s assertion that the tools of the pin-up’s male creator, in the hands of its dangerous spawn, can be easily turned against its creator’s or viewer’s potentially oppressive motives also serves as a metaphor for all of the Feminist pin-up imagery we’ve seen here. In this way, the pin-up’s ultimate “revenge” lies in the fact that, although it may have been created as a tantalizing but unreal object for the delectation of heterosexual men, the pin-up would also find ways to reject this role to reflect and encourage the erotic self-awareness and self-expression of real women.

I’ll leave it up to the reader to determine how and where Nancy Lang fits into that. Or, indeed, how Korean women who wear extremely revealing clothes on the red carpet do, as discussed in the following article from the Sports Chosun, found via Charles Tilly at the Marmot’s Hole. Normally, I’d reject such a tabloidish and vacuous source, but then you recall the difficulty of finding more “serious” sources, and besides which I’ve often pointed out how tabloidish even the mainstream Korean media is. Indeed, considering that such pictures are the newspaper’s unofficial focus, then it might actually be the best source on them(!), and to my surprise its choice of accompanying pictures is not only quite conservative (as Tilly also points out; in particular, it makes no mention of Kim So-yeon’s [김소연] notorious dress below, worn at the opening of the 2007 Busan International Film Festival), but to its credit it also extols the virtues of confident “older” women, usually at best considered completely asexual by most of the Korean media:

(Source)

[WHY] 여배우들의 레드카펫 과다 노출, 왜 끊이지 않나 / Why is there no end to actresses’ excessive exposure on the red carpet?

김표향 기자 suzak@sportschosun.com / Reporter: Kim Pyo-hyang

이처럼 수위가 높은 ‘파격 노출’은 지금껏 없었다. 뜨거운 ‘노출 논란’의 주인공은 바로 신인배우 오인혜. 6일 부산국제영화제 개막식 레드카펫에 그녀가 등장하자 사람들은 충격으로 벌어진 입을 다물지 못했다. 겨우 가슴의 일부만을 아슬아슬하게 가렸을 뿐, 상반신의 대부분은 훤하게 드러냈다. 곧바로 그녀의 이름 앞에는 ‘노출 종결자’ ‘노출 폭격’이라는 단어가 붙었고, 인터넷과 SNS는 관련 내용으로 도배됐다. 전세계인의 애도 물결 속에 하루종일 검색어 1위였던 스티브 잡스도 이번만큼은 자리를 내줄 수밖에 없었다.

Never has there been exposure like this. In this “exposure controversy”, the leading figure is new actress Oh In-hye. As soon as she stepped out on to the red carpet at the opening ceremony of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) on the 6th, everyone was so shocked they couldn’t close their mouths. With a dress that only barely covered just part of her breasts, she was displaying almost her entire upper body. Immediately, prefixes like “Exposure Terminator [Killer/Best]” and “Exposure Bombshell” were attached to her name, and social network services inundated with them. While all day previously the world was in a wave of grief over Steve Job’s death, [in Korea at least?] his position as the most searched item couldn’t help but be replaced by Oh In-hye.

(Source)

Image caption left – 제16회 부산국제영화제 개막식이 6일 부산 영화의전당에서 열렸다. 개막식에 앞서 거행된 레드카펫 행사에서 배우 오인혜가 등장하고 있다. 최문영 기자 deer@sportschosun.com / The opening ceremony of the 16th BIFF on the 6th at the [new] Busan Cinema Center. Actress Oh In-hye arriving at the red carpet event prior to the ceremony. Photographer: Choi Mun-yeong.

Image caption right – 조선명탐정: 각시투구꽃의 비밀’ 제작발표회에 나선 한지민. 스포츠조선DB / Han Ji-min at the Chosun Dynasty: Detective K production announcement (SportsChosunDB)

(Sources: unknown)

Image caption left – 백상예술대상 시상식을 찾은 민효린 (스포츠조선DB) / Min Hyo-rin at the Paeksang Arts Award Ceremony (SportsChosunDB)

Image caption right – 지난 해 열린 골든디스크 시상식을 찾은 남규리 (스포츠조선DB) / Nam Gyu-ri at the GoldenDisks Award Ceremony last year (SportsChosunDB)

여배우들의 파격 노출, 끊이지 않는 이유는? / What is the reason actresses keep exposing themselves so?

오인혜가 부산의 레드카펫을 휩쓸고 간 후, 개막식 자리에 참석했던 한 중견감독은 이런 말을 했다. “무명일수록 노출이 심하더라.” 여배우들이 레드카펫 노출을 선택하는 이유가 이 말 속에 들어 있다. 화제와 논란을 일으키며 사람들 입에 오르내리는 것. 그러면서 자연스럽게 인지도가 올라가기를 기대하는 것이다. 무명에 가까웠던 오인혜도 강렬한 첫 등장과 함께 사람들 머리에 그녀의 이름을 깊숙이 새겼다. 신인들에게 레드카펫 노출은 자신을 PR하는 가장 효과적인 전략인 셈이다.

After Oh In-hye overwhelmed the red carpet in Busan, an important producer attending the opening ceremony said the following: “The less famous, the more extreme the exposure”. Herein lies the reason so many actresses choose to wear such revealing costumes on the red carpet. As the controversy surrounding them grows, the more they will be on everyone’s lips. At the same time, you can naturally expect them to get a lot of name recognition. [Indeed] Oh In-hye was a virtual unknown, but with her intense first entrance has carved a deep impression on people’s minds. To new actresses, exposing themselves on the red carpet is definitely the most effective PR strategy.

반면에 신인이 아닌 배우들은 이미지 변신과 연기 활동을 위해 과감한 노출을 선택한다. 한지민과 민효린, 남규리는 공식석상에서 선보인 섹시한 드레스로 ‘첫사랑 소녀’ 같은 이미지에서 벗어날 수 있었다. ‘반전 몸매’ ‘베이글녀’라는 수식어와 함께 여성스럽고 고혹적인 매력이 보태졌고, 남성들은 물론 여성들에게도 호감도가 상승했다. 작품 선택의 폭이 넓어졌음은 물론이다.

On the other hand, for established actresses a bold, revealing dress statement can be used to change an image or [assist in some new] acting activity [like a comeback?]. By wearing sexy dresses, Han Ji-min, Min Hyo-rin, and Lam Gyu-ri could get rid of their “First Love” images. Now with the words “electrifying body” or “bagel girl” [James - I disagree: that latter is invariably a term applied by the media rather than deliberately sought, and indeed many women labelled with it actually reject it] they have a charming, feminine attractiveness added to their names, of course increasing their popularity among men and widening the acting roles available to them.

(Source)

Image caption left – 2008년 청룡영화상 시상식의 김혜수 (스포츠조선DB) / Kim Hye-su at the 2008 Blue Dragon Awards (SportsChosunDB)

Image caption middle – 제16회 부산국제영화제 개막식이 6일 부산 영화의전당에서 열렸다. 개막식에 앞서 거행된 레드카펫 행사에서 배우 송선미가 등장하고 있다. 최문영 기자 deer@sportschosun.com / The opening ceremony of the 16th BIFF on the 6th at the [new] Busan Cinema Center. Actress Song Sun-mi arriving at the red carpet event prior to the ceremony. Photographer: Choi Mun-yeong

Image caption right – 2007년 대종상 시상식에 참석한 김수미 (스포츠조선DB) / Kim Su-mi at the 2007 Daejeong Film Awards (SportsChosunDB)

노출의 고수들은 뭐가 다른가? / What makes the experts different?

레 드카펫을 노리는 여배우들의 ‘워너비’는 단연 김혜수다. 관록과 여유, 고급스러움이 느껴지는 김혜수의 레드카펫 드레스는 여배우들에게 교과서나 다름 없다. ‘김혜수’ 하면 자연스럽게 파격적인 드레스가 떠오를 만큼 노출에 능하지만, 과감한 드레스를 입고 움츠러들거나 옷을 추스리느라 바쁜 여느 여배우들과 달리, 김혜수는 고개 숙여 인사할 때도 좀처럼 손으로 가슴을 가리지 않는다. 그 당당함과 자신감이 김혜수를 지난 10년간 ‘레드카펫의 여왕’으로 만들었다. 매번 베스트드레서로 뽑혀도 드레스 자체보다 김혜수가 더 빛나는 이유이기도 하다.

Of course, the model for red-carpet actresses is Kim Hye-su. She [not only] gives off an aura of dignity, composure, and refinement, [but in] the case of red-carpet outfits, is like a textbook for other actresses. She is very skilled in making her name synonymous with daring fashion statements, [for instance] unlike other actresses wearing revealing clothes, not only not shrugging, laughing, adjusting, and/or rearranging her clothes when she has to lean forward to greet someone [in order to not expose themselves further], but not even covering her chest up with her hand [James - as is the Korean custom]. [Indeed], it is not so much her outfits that have made her the “Red Carpet Queen” for the last 10 years, or why her dresses have been selected as the best at the award shows so many times, but rather it’s the way that she wears them.

올 해 부산국제영화제를 찾은 송선미도 지적인 이미지에 맞는 ‘지능적인’ 노출로 눈길을 끌었다. 가슴 부위가 세로로 깊게 파인 블랙 홀터넥 드레스로 우아함을 잃지 않으면서도 파격 노출에 성공했다. 세련된 포즈와 여유로운 표정도 단연 압도적이었다.

This year at the Busan International Film Festival, Song Sun-mi gave off an eye-catching “intellectual exposure” that suited her intellectual image. Over her breasts was a deep vertical cut in her black halterneck dress, which successfully showed off her body without detracting from her elegance. Of course, the combination of her sophisticated pose and composed expression was overwhelming.

중견배우 김수미도 공식석상에서 노출을 즐겨온 대표적인 여배우다. 김수미는 글래머러 스한 몸매를 강조한 과감한 드레스를 종종 선보였다. 그리고 근래에는 드라마에서 호피무늬 비키니까지 소화했다. 올해 제천국제음악영화제를 찾은 김부선도 상반신과 하반신이 분리된 독특한 드레스로 화제의 중심에 올랐다. 다소 난해한 컨셉트였지만, 사람들을 의식하지 않고 축제의 열기와 팬들의 환호를 마음껏 즐기는 그녀의 모습은 당당하고 아름다웠다. 나이를 무색하게 만드는 두 사람의 노출은 여배우의 자존심이 무엇인지를 몸으로 증명했다.

Kim Su-mi is a middle-aged actress who also enjoys showing off her glamorous [James - busty] body, often wearing daring dresses that emphasize it. In a recent drama for instance, she even wore a tigerskin pattern bikini, and what’s more it fitted her well too.

Also, at this year’s Jecheon International Film and Music Festival , Kim Bu-seon wore a unique dress that separated her upper and lower body into two halves, and which was on everyone’s lips. While its concept was a little difficult to understand, she was unconcerned, and was beautiful and confident reveling in fans’ passion and cheering for her [James - see above; source].

Both actresses showing of their bodies like this is testament to the fact that age is just a number!

(Source. Call me indulgent, but that dress really does have to be seen to be believed!)

때론 노출이 발목을 잡기도 / But sometimes exposure backfires

‘노출’에는 반드시 치밀한 전략과 계산이 필요하다. 자칫 무리수를 둘 경우, 배우 생활에 치명타를 입을 수도 있기 때문이다. 오인혜가 등장하기 전까지 파격 노출의 대명사처럼 인식됐던 한 배우는 그 덕분에 인지도는 올라갔지만 작품 활동에 있어서 보이지 않는 제약이 생겼다. 매번 비슷한 역할만 제안이 들어오고, 노출에 가려져 상대적으로 연기력까지 저평가 받고 있다. 털털하고 액티브한 이미지로 호감도가 높았던 한 배우 또한 레드카펫에서 선보인 파격 드레스가 화제가 되면서 오히려 원래의 건강한 이미지를 잃어버리고 말았다.

“Exposure” requires elaborate strategy and calculation. Even if it just barely excessive, it can permanently affect an actress’s career. Before Oh In-hye appeared on the red carpet for instance, there was one actress who became well-known for her own exposure but found the roles available to her severely restricted from then on – indeed, not only was she offered the same kind of ones again and again, but her exposure detracted from people’s evaluation of her acting ability in them. And in another case, an actress was well-liked for her free and easy and active image, but she lost her original healthy image when she wore a revealing dress on the red carpet.

James – I’m surprised the author doesn’t mention who, as she is so ready to directly comment on everyone else (albeit positively). Also, I’m afraid I don’t know what “healthy” means in this context either!

신 인일 경우, 이같은 노출은 더욱 조심해야 한다. 이미지가 생명과도 같은 연예계에서 ‘노출 전문’이라는 꼬리표가 평생 따라다닐 수도 있기 때문이다. 한 영화 관계자는 “레드카펫은 여배우들을 위한 것이라 해도 과언이 아닐 만큼, 여배우의 아름다움과 숨겨진 매력을 최고치로 보여줄 수 있는 자리다. 그만큼 사람들의 시선도 더 강하게 끌어당기고 이미지를 선명하게 새길 수 있다. 하지만 그것 때문에 오히려 역효과가 날 수도 있다”며 “노출로 논란을 일으킨 배우의 경우, 그 이미지가 워낙 강해서 전혀 새로운 역할에 캐스팅하기는 현실적으로 쉽지 않다”고 조언했다.

Meanwhile, new actresses have to be much more careful about this type of exposure, as they may be labelled an “exposure expert” and be unable to shake it off later, which would be disastrous in an industry where image is everything. Like someone in says, ” the red carpet is mainly for female actresses, and it is the best chance for them to show off their beauty and hidden charm. It’s also a good chance to get people’s attention, and to emphasize their image. However, that can have side effects. If an actress arouses too much controversy because of her exposure, then the reality is that she will be typecast in that corresponding role from then on”. (end)

(Source)

A possible starting point for discussion: is Lee Hyori (이효리) also a pin-up grrrl, whom I’m sure many of you expected me to mention instead of Nancy Lang? That is, if any of you still have the energy to talk by this stage!^^

Update 1: Or how about the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운아이드걸스) instead? While I was pretty disappointed with them for endorsing “Juvis Diet” back in 2009 (see here and here for why), this recent post on them by Dana in Soko has definitely persuaded me to reconsider.

Update 2: The link to Dana in Soko has been fixed. Sorry!

Update 3: It’s not really worth translating, but for what it’s worth, Oh In-hye doesn’t regret her choice of dress! (Via: The Marmot’s Hole).

Pin-up Girls as Role Models?

(Sources: left, right)

The first fruits of my lecture last weekend!

Of the two, Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs (2005) is by far the easier to read, taking just the trip home to finish. Feeling much more like a expanded version of the New Yorker article it was based on than a real in-depth examination of the subject though, unfortunately it has little that wasn’t much more thoroughly covered later in The Lolita Effect (2008) and Guyland (2008), and is not readily applicable to Korea. However, it will still be – ahem – a goldmine for pithy quotes, and for 16,500 won (US$15.19) a good choice for those who’ve never read a feminist text before.

In contrast, Maria Buszek’s Pin-Up Grrrls (2006) is a daunting 444 page tome, which in hindsight I am not surprised to have found second-hand for a mere 15,500 won (US$14.27): the cover and frequent photographs belie its rigorous academic approach. Moreover, as Korea lacks a tradition of pin-up girls (although perhaps it does still have a “pin-up culture” nonetheless?), then you’d think that it would be even less helpful than Levy’s book for gaining insights into Korean gender issues and popular culture.

(Source)

But, reading the introduction in the bookstore,  I was already intrigued as soon as page 4:

Contrary to the popular belief – held by many within, outside of, and even against the movement – that a “feminist pin-up” is an oxymoron, it is no more so than “feminist painting” of “feminist sculpture,” or “feminist porn” for that matter” these are all media and genres historically used and appreciated primarily by men, about which nothing is inherently sexist, but which have all been both kept from women and used to create images that inscribe, normalize, or bolster notion of women as inferior to men. While this fact has been recognized by many feminist thinkers – indeed, many such media and genres have been avoided by certain feminist artists for these very reasons – few would deny that the same have been and may be strategically used by women to subvert the sexism with which they have historically been associated. Yet the pin-up – because of its simultaneous ubiquity and invisibility, prurient appeal and prudery, artistry and commercialism – has not been so readily granted a feminist interpretation. The genre is a slippery one: it doesn’t represent sex so much as suggest it, and these politely suggestive qualities have as a result always lent it to a commercial culture of which feminists have justifiably been wary for its need to cultivate the kind of desire and dissatisfaction that leads to consumption.

And on my way to the checkout by page 6:

Freuh has articulated this desire succinctly in her writing on the relevance of sexuality to the feminist movement: “As long as I am an erotic subject, I am not averse to being an erotic object.” The problem with this conflation of subject/object is in constructing and representing a feminist identity that is both subversive and alluring….As Bell Hooks puts this conundrum: “It is has been a simply task for women to describe and criticize negative aspects of sexuality as it has been socially constructed in sexist society; to expose male objectification and dehumanization of women; to denounce rape, pornography, sexualized violence, incest etc. It has been a far more difficult task for women to envision new sexual paradigms to change the norms of sexuality.”

(Source)

While acknowledging that it may indeed be a false dichotomy, nevertheless I too have long maintained that women being sexual objects in the media doesn’t necessarily preclude the models concerned from also being sexual subjects. But still, I simply had no idea how subversive pin-ups could be, or how, often used by the models for their own ends, they could indeed include flaunting their own sexuality.

In that vein, as Korean society continues to grapple with the issue of the increasing sexualization of young women and especially teenage girls in the media, it’s going to be very helpful to have examples of genuinely sexually-empowering images of women to inform critiques of that trend, or at least the intellectual tools to help better understand what constitutes such. Because frankly, for me personally it’s high time to move beyond simply repeatedly pointing out that what is often touted as female empowerment is in fact frequently forced upon unwilling participants, but without ever actually elaborating on what would be a positive alternative.

Meanwhile, has anybody already read either book, or any others by the same authors? Or do you already have some of your own ideas for images of women you’d like to see more of in the Korean media? For a quick introduction to my own thoughts, please see from slide #97 onwards in the lecture!

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