Korean Sociological Image #22: Fresh, Young Meat

Kara Cob Chicken Advertisment Male Objectification

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

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

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

Korean Butt Dance

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

Kara Cob Chicken Advertisment Objectification

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

Kara Cob Chicken Advertisment(Source: Cob Chicken)

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

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

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

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


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

19 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #22: Fresh, Young Meat

  1. Hmm…I’ve always had the exact opposite reaction whenever I see food associated with body parts of either gender. My immediate reaction is “total lack of hygiene” and, in all seriousness, “cannibalism.” Very uncool. Or I just have a sick mind. Anyway, interesting post.


      1. Watching some girls chomp away is quite disgusting…especially Koreans at time because the etiquette of eating with your mouth closed, smacking lips and slurping are all thrown out the door. Couple that with my pet peeves for all of them and it’s an on edge dinner with my Korean friends.


  2. I’d think it’s also quite original in how forward the Kara girls are in being forward. Although they mildly objectify themselves by saying “look at me”, and more so with the dance, they are also the ones being aggressive in trying to seduce mister “mister.”

    But really, 젊으니까 맛있잖아… who on Earth thought up that line?! It’s ridiculously bad, and doesn’t even have any proper meaning.


    1. Thanks for mentioning the song: I hadn’t known how forward the lyrics are, and will have to look at it more thoroughly sometime.

      I don’t agree about the last line of the commercial you mention though: it’s in keeping with the overall theme of both this particular commercial, as shown by the male torso and then the line about the chicken (which all of my students found hilarious by the way), and also of the marketing as a whole, as revealed by the the print advertisements. And I don’t understand what you mean by it not having any “proper meaning” either sorry, as it’s grammatically correct. Could you please elaborate?


      1. Yup, I can do elaborating. What I really meant was – but didn’t convey it very well – does it mean the chicken tastes good because it’s young chicken? Or is it good because the people eating it are young? The second one is sort of understandable because the audience they’re marketing it to is young women, but still… it tastes good because we’re young…? I also thought it was quite a reasonable advert – quite humorous like you said, but when I heard that line, I forgot the rest, and just thought: who on earth do they expect to buy into that idea? They could have just thought of a line that made sense… like if you’re a young woman and like men, eat our grilled chicken…

        Maybe I won’t go into advertising…


        1. Ah. Thanks for replying, but I still have to disagree sorry: personally, I think it’s pretty clear that the commercial is indeed saying that the chicken tastes good because it’s young, and the young bodies of the female singers and the fat-free “meat” of the male torso are visual puns based on that theme, like I explained in the text.

          I’d also have to disagree that it’s being marketed to young women. At least, not exclusively that is: the male torso is probably there for women, but without that then I would have said that it was being marketed exclusively to men actually!

          But it’s no big deal of course, and we can agree to disagree.


    1. Hmmm. I think it depends on the food myself. Some foods would be a turn-off for me also, but hell, even without all the visual cues of this commercial, biting into a nice chunk of meat already frequently reminds me of (lovingly) biting certain body parts of the opposite sex!


  3. Male objectification is becoming very popular in Korean pop culture, there are ab shots everywhere and as Gusts of Popular Feeling said, they’re even called chocolate abs.
    Although, this seems to me a step backward, and that chicken ad was very disturbing.


    1. I chose my words unwisely: when I said “comparatively rare,” (Update: Since removed) I simply meant that women are objectified a great deal more than men. And while that’s true everywhere of course, I think it’s particularly the case in Korea (and Japan) with its ubiquitous female doumi (or “helpers”) and “narrator models”.

      I’ve never heard of the term “chocolate abs” myself though, and if you have time to pass on a link to where Matt discusses them I’d appreciate it. But even more so if you could explain why you think this commercial is “a step backward” please(?), seeing as I’ve argued the exact opposite!^^


  4. Mmm, the ad makes me wanna eat the chicken. Are you a K-Pop fan James? It’s like you know all the latest songs and variety shows K-pop artists appear on, or is it because your discipline requires you to be more involved with them. Great post sir!


    1. Thanks, and yes and no to being a K-pop fan. I do follow most of the K-pop blogs – part of the job, like you said – and if I see something groundbreaking in some respect then I’ll probably blog about it (I used to do so much more often when I still had time to write a “Korean Gender Reader” post every week), but otherwise I find most of it very samey unfortunately. There’s still good stuff out there of course, but it’s not usually mainstream.

      By the way, I can’t think of more of a niche topic than wet-shine-detailing to blog about. Congratulations! :)


  5. Humans are unable to depict life or sexuality. You are arguing about the things that do not exist. It’s a piece of paper or canvas or web page with colors. It is not objectification. Objectification is when you treat a living thing as an object. Photographs are not living things.


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