Korean Sociological Image #23: Male Objectification

Acutely aware of the role my heterosexual male gaze can play in my choice of subjects and images for this blog sometimes, ironically I spend more time looking for those involving men these days, hoping to find something of note with which to achieve a balance.

In itself, this new commercial with boy-band 2PM hardly qualifies. But not only is male objectification an increasingly common theme in Korean advertising in recent months (see here and here for two examples featuring Lee Byung-hun {이병헌} and JYP {박진영} respectively), this would easily be one of the most audacious examples I’m aware of.

And coming so soon after this one for Cob Chicken (Cob 구어조은닭) too, then perhaps, like kissing, male objectification will be yet another advertising taboo discarded in 2009?

Granted, this may sound like exaggeration to readers based outside of Korea: all of the above examples are rather tame compared to their Western counterparts (NSFW) for instance, and the frequency of male objectification in the Korean media is easily paled by that of women, whom are also subject to excessive objectification and commodification in daily life here.

Nichkhun's Abs Real Brownie CommercialBut that media imbalance is hardly confined to Korea, and the speed of change is particularly remarkable. After all, however unbelievable it may sound today, recall that social norms prohibited Korean women from publicly admiring men’s bodies until as recently as 2002!

Meanwhile, apologies for not providing a translation for the commercial, but given the product’s name then I think you’ll quickly get the idea!^^ And I would very much appreciate it if readers could tell me of any more examples like it that I may have missed.

(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)

11 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #23: Male Objectification

  1. What do Korean guys think of boy bands like these? My male Korean friends tend to hate them in much the same manner that males in the U.S. dislike the Backstreet Boys or any other group. I am assuming a mostly female following for these groups? Obviously that’s who is being targeted in the ad.


    1. I’ve never asked them to be honest, but I think that that’s a pretty safe assumption. My male 20-something students talk about girl groups like Girls’ Generation all the time (although being in my college 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, who can blame them?).

      Having said that, as per usual any dislike and/or disinterest is soon dropped if the person is successful overseas. Back when Rain/비 was making his debut in the US, I did notice that many male students couldn’t shut up about him. Sigh.


    2. Actually this is one of the boy bands that has the most male fans (according to a daum poll). 2PM is a band known because they are considered “beasty idols”. They aroused big interests of women(in their 20’s), and replaced Dong-Bang-Shin-Ki and Big Bang in K-pop world.

      ALL the members are funny and they have attracted a lot of attention in the many variety shows and commercials they have participated. They had their own reality show called “Wild Bunny” which is really funny and good. They are probably the most manly group in kpop and one of the most approachable ones so many people love them.

      Their leader (Jaebom Park) was part of a huge internet scandal because he said “Korea is gay” on his myspace back in 2005 when he was still a trainee frustrated because he could barely speak korean. He resigned and went back to Seattle and 2PM fans ( “hottest”) have been boycotting, protests, donations to charities, doing flash mobs ALL OVER THE WORLD, etc.

      Their comeback is one of the hottests news in the KPOP world.


    3. My male students (granted these are 12-15 year old boys) when I asked them what their favorite music said SS501 and Big Bang. I was very surprised. In the US boys their age would not listen to boy bands. One of them also said “I like Westlife too, they are from Europe. They are not very handsome as SS501, but they have a good voice.”


  2. Girl 1: Oh! Its 2PM
    Girl 2: They are so hot!~
    Girl 1: They got the perfect chocolate abs
    Girl 2: It’s just a composite photo made by computer
    Girl 1: No, they’re real
    Girl 2: No, they aren’t

    NichKhun: It’s real

    Believe it or not, real is real
    Pureness of real chocolate as it is, Real Brownie

    NichKhun: Real Brownie
    2PM: Pure snack Market O

    Eng Translation: Kirstyn @ http://2pm-online.com


  3. “Acutely aware of the role my heterosexual male gaze can play in my choice of subjects “

    I’m going to have to dig up that link to an advertising website that published a study on eye-tracking of viewers looking at webpages. When viewing photos, men’s eyes were more likely than women’s to linger at the groins of men or male animals. I think latent homophobia keeps you from working penile references into your posts.


    1. I beg to differ: references to phallic imagery in advertising have been literally springing up all over my blog in recent months. Just quickly off the top of my head:

      Korean Sociological Image #20: Sex Sells

      Gender and The Unwritten Rules of Korean Alcohol Advertisements

      And not strictly related sorry, but still deserving special mention:

      What a Lovely Big Shiny Purple One My Man Has!

      And I’m sure there’s a lot more where those came from. Regardless though, if the opportunities present themselves then I’ll make sure to work penile references into the front and center of my blog from now on, ramming my points home in rapid succession to make sure they get across. After all, I would be surprised if readers weren’t always open to my approaching gender issues from new angles.

      Ahem…more seriously though, I can readily believe the result of that study. When I was a rabid gym-goer myself, I read with interest a newspaper article that said that men look at the chests of other men more than women do, as I’d already personally noticed myself looking more often for the sake of comparison and competitiveness. I probably still do really (alas, sans glorious pecs myself now), but unfortunately I can’t really be objective now as I rarely see another man’s chest without thinking of that study a second later!


  4. Sometimes when I’m about to get mad at Korea for its images of women as nothing more than cutesy male-pleasing machines, I remember boy bands ( particularly this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWfq29KZ6mo ), and feel a little better. It may not be right, but at least it’s not completely lopsided.
    Also, is it just me or do Nick Khun’s abs actually not look the same in the wall ad as they do at the end of the commercial? Eesh, if you’re going to photoshop something you gotta follow through on it.


    1. Aah you’re right. Anyone remembers the movie “300” and those painted on eight pack sometimes… Although in Nick Khun’s defense, he is rather skinny and I doubt his real abs are very far from this.
      About the ad itself, I find it rather sober (is that the right expression?) compared to the myriad of ads (CFs or printed) depicting women/girls posing and dancing very provocatively. I guess flexing some muscles, doing saltos and poor beatboxing is enough for a brownie commercial. Maybe what might give the fangirls a seizure is that the young lady actually touches Nick Khun’s belly area. I don’t think there’s that many ads with female singers or models where a male actor touches a specific part of her body (I don’t talk about holding in his arms) like say the legs.
      But I don’t watch Korean tv that much to speak … I’ve only noticed that some of those boybands members are actually modelling for clothes brands and doing runway shows as an occupation of its own (like Super Junior member 최시원). The way I see it is that in this case 2PM is famous for having not just your basic female fanbase but they’re also very popular amongst the gay community. They’re just in tune with the way their management is trying to get them perceived (does my sentence makes sense?). I guess if I’m trying to sell brownies I’ll go for the “celebrities” with a wider audience (since not only teenage girls eat brownie).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s