Something that manages to combine both the best and the worst of the Korean media.
Go to the Korean portal site Nate at the moment, and you’ll see a small advertisement with an old VW Beetle on it with the words “흔들리는 자동차 안에선 무슨일이?” or “What is happening inside the shaking car?”. And if you’re using Internet Explorer – this is Korea after all – then it will invite you to move your cursor over it. If you do, then the screen above will pop up, with the following commercial:
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The good point about the commercial is the joke about having sex in a car…and just a few days after I wrote that you never see that sort of thing in the Korean media too; hopefully, this shows how much attitudes are changing. Not that there wasn’t already a great deal of sexual innuendo and increasing amounts of skin in the Korean media of course, but the latter especially is by no means a reflection of open and healthy attitudes to sex per se.
If any readers can think of any similar references to sex in the media before it though, then I’d be happy to be proved wrong. And if you do, then I’d wager that you too first found them on a mainstream Korean portal site. Unlike their English-language counterparts, you have roughly a 50% chance of opening Naver, Daum, Nate, Yahoo!Korea and kr.msn.com to be greeted with headlines and thumbnail pictures about sex scandals, accidental exposures (no-chool;노출) of female celebrities, and/or crazed nude Westerners. Which brings me to the commercial’s bad point.
I first saw this advertisement on a work computer during a break this afternoon, already thinking of writing about it here as soon as I saw the shaking car (and as a side-benefit, it meant I could put off the translation for the post I originally planned!). But when I saw who the occupants were I was simply floored. For in a supreme irony, just two minutes earlier I had been doing a free-talking activity with my students about national stereotypes.
Don’t believe me? Sure, I admit I’m not averse to embellishing details for a good story on occasion. But I really had been doing page 22-23 of my edition of Taboos and Issues with them (which I highly recommend by the way, and I was surprised that my students shared many of my stereotypes about European nationalities). And regardless, I would still have been sat there thinking why, oh why, did the second couple have to be Westerners?
Now, I’ve already written a great deal about how many Koreans have stereotypes of Westerners as being much more sexually liberal and promiscuous than Koreans (especially women), so I won’t rehash that here. And of course there’s a certain element of truth in that (most Koreans live with their parents remember), and it’s not meant entirely negatively and/or without a sense of envy either, although I have heard from some Western female friends that it can lead to some Korean men expecting guaranteed sex on a first date, and so on. Examples like this commercial though, demonstrate why that stereotype is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
Against that, I grant that it appears to have been filmed in a Western city, and that if you watch the video to its conclusion, then you see the Korean couple deciding to get wholeheartedly into the “Love Shake”™ too. But to which I reply a) Why not a Korean city? and b) wouldn’t the Korean couple have appeared more confident and prouder of their nationality if, instead of the Westerners, it had been them in the shaking car, with the Westerners later copying them?
Seriously, how to explain not having either without some serious Occidentalism going on, of which artificial sexual dichotomies have always been a core component? I’m open to suggestions.
Update: On a side note, I know little about the actors Seo Woo (서우) and Im Joo-hwan (임주환) sorry (see Dramabeans for more information on both), but I can confirm that this innocent(ish) looking image of Seo Woo is consistent with her role in both Tamna the Island (탐나는도다), ironically groundbreaking in that it featured a romance between a Korean woman and a foreign male (I think – I only watched the first few episodes sorry), and also Paju (파주; see #7 here)…or at least consistent with the way it was advertised. I just mention that because many Korean celebrities appear in so many commercials that their brand easily gets diluted so to speak, so I couldn’t help but notice that she doesn’t appear to be making the same mistake.
(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)