Open Thread #4 (Updated)

Have a nice weekend everyone! I’m off to a wedding in a couple of hours myself, then buying a couple of books on the Korean media to try and begin to place the censorship of recent years – invariably quite arbitrary, hypocritical, and inconsistent – into some sort of context, most likely that of the corporate interests of the various ministries and companies involved themselves.

Note that I’m talking largely about censorship of sexually-related material though, obviously influenced by but not directly related to the general curtailing of media freedoms under the Lee Myung-bak Administration. And why yes, after thinking deeply about and rejecting several other possibilities over the last two weeks, something along those lines is indeed what I’m going to settle on for a 50,000 word MA thesis topic, finally getting the application process started by perhaps the end of next month. How did you guess?

Seriously though, I’d be very happy and very grateful to bounce ideas off readers this weekend before I present something to my supervisor, but of course I’d also be happy to chat about anything else Korea and/or sociology-related readers are interested in. And perhaps that discussion about censorship should wait until Monday really, when I’ll have finished my post about what has effectively been censorship of a recent sexually-themed webtoon of Girls’ Generation. Yes, that one, and I forbid discussion of it until then!^^

Update: That post will be slightly delayed sorry, caused by my eldest daughter having a high fever all day Sunday, with the most violent shivering from her I’ve ever seen. Fortunately it doesn’t appear to be meningitis, but to make sure my wife and I will have to keep a vigil overnight in case her temperature goes up too much.


18 thoughts on “Open Thread #4 (Updated)

  1. Lol @ the image, James! Buying books on Korean media – smart play indeed.

    I’m happy to hear you that you’ve started on your MA thesis, which is to say finally! Because your website itself is already a pretty great reader.

    And I can’t wait what you have to say about the SNSD cartoonist! All I’m going to say for now is ridicuuuulous.


    1. Ahem…it does indeed look cool, but actually this (update: and this) is why I posted the image! Despite what I first thought though, it appears to be meaningless Konglish really…or at least, the text seems to have little relationship to the content of the series of commercials it’s in.

      I did indeed go to the bookstore and find the book I planned to buy, but it didn’t really have anything about censorship in it, and given my current financial condition I couldn’t really splurge 30,000 won on something I’d merely find interesting instead (somehow I still managed to buy a *cough* 36,000won bottle of Absolut Mandarin last weekend though). Same for a cool history of Korean comics for 25,000won, and although a 24,000won book on a semiological analysis of certain aspects of the Korean media did sound useful (if a little dry) most of the actual research in it was done in the 1990s.

      Finally, I did find Korean Cinema : from Origins to Renaissance (2007), and it seemed to provide a good overall introduction to the topic, which I still very much need, but only a chapter or so on censorship meant it wasn’t really worth the US$65 asking price. So in the end I left with nothing (albeit primarily because of my kids: one falling asleep, and the other pulling all the books off the shelves like she loves doing at home), but which is good, because now I have to think more about what I need exactly. And once I actually looked – I couldn’t remember the title of the above book, so had to find out! – there’s many more English books about Korean cinema than I first thought. No way should I just confine myself to what’s available at Busan bookstores…

      Hmmm…what were you talking about again?^^ Anyway, as I’ll explain I think that the cartoon itself was pretty lame, but I don’t think SM’s Entertainment’s threats to sue the cartoonist Yoon In-seo were at all justified.


  2. James,

    I tend to think of it the other way – although there is blowback against “too much” sexualization, in fact sexualization has been allowed to propagate (oooh!) and expand. We’ve talked before about the kissing on TV thing and I see similar trends across the board. When someone goes too far too quickly, there is a reaction, but is there any evidence that the censorship is increasing in the sense of moving the fight backward as opposed to trying to control how fast things move.

    The Korean gov’t, after all, has a history of using sex to distract its citizens. I could argue this on the social level they certainly do – the twin barber pole joints keep the lid on a populace that might otherwise explode; the infantilization of men in their parents’ homes and then the army keeps them under control until they are ready to pass into the larger system (including the whopping double standard and the barber poles), etc..

    Then there’s the historical example of the 5th Republic and its 3S policy, which was an explicit “circus” (from bread and circus) approach, including sexuality, to keep people’s attention elsewhere. What better way to do that, then to have some brawls on the edge of sexuality (someday I will post about how my students misuse that word). You get double points for that, in terms of distraction – the sexuality and the ensuing brawl.

    Normally I would say that is too much of a conspiracy theory, but as I noted, the 5th Republic did this very thing, and very consciously. Could it be a model for the current regime?


    1. Oh I quite agree, and if it’s there in the text somewhere (to tired to look at it closely sorry, both literally and figuratively!) then it’s a mistake on my part, as I definitely didn’t mean to imply there was an overall trend towards increased censorship of sexually-related material: quite the opposite.

      Instead, the whole point about it’s arbitrariness, hypocritical and inconsistent nature (BTW, I forgot to add “usually completely ineffective” too) was the fact that so many different organizations seem to be involved, the Constitutional Court for instance allowing the screening of the extremely explicit movie Shortbus here last January for instance, but on the other hand the Youth Protection Committee of the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs banning music group TVXQ’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin from TV and radio at the same time (see #1 here for more info about both of those). When I spoke of corporate interests, I was primarily thinking of both that Ministry and also the Ministry of Gender Equality, the latter in particularly almost abolished by Lee Myung-bak and still very low on the totem pole, and the Ministry for Health (etc) still in a bit of a turf war with it over the “Family Affairs” remit, by definition rather difficult for a Ministry of Gender Equality to divorce itself from (pun intended).

      And that mess just involves two ministries, the tip of iceberg really. And like I’m sure you’ve said in comments here before, there’s a plethora of different media and different definitions of sexually-themed cultural products to consider also!

      Anyway, I also remember reading about the circus policy (well put!) of racy films during the 5th republic of 1979-1987, which – however facetious it sounds – is going to be interesting to study! I’ll have get back to you about it providing a model for the current regime though…


  3. Although not directly an example of media, but rather an incident reported through the media, I read across this bit giving an idea of the repression of sexual expression in Cumings’ Korea’s Place in the Sun:

    “These days many Korean women … dress as they please, but many more maintain a chaste public appearance. (In the summer of 1994 a widely reported incident occurred in Seoul in which an old man slapped a young woman for going around with a bare midriff; the woman was arrested.)” [P.62]

    Could be something to look into, if you haven’t already.


    1. I don’t have that book actually: once you’ve bought one general history of Korea (Breen’s, in my case), then I wasn’t really tempted to buy another. Even more surprisingly perhaps, I don’t have any of Cumings’ books. I was impressed with “War and Television” when I was an undergraduate student (and have had that sitting in my mother’s spare room in NZ for the last 9 years come to think of it), but his History of the Korean War series is pretty expensive, and not really what I’m into these days either. A political studies professor friend of mine has also assured me that however good he was 15 or 20 years ago, he’s virtually ignored all the material on North Korea coming out of the former Soviet Union, so he’s not as highly regarded in academia as he once was.

      Anyway…so no, I hadn’t heard of that incident, and I would indeed like to follow it up thanks (she was arrested?? There must be more to the story surely?). It does remind me of what my female students in Jinju in 2000 used to complain about though, who weren’t ever arrested but were scolded on the streets by old women for showing…(wait for it)…bare arms. How things changed just two years later…!


      1. Oh man, don’t compare Michael Breen’s “work” to authors like Don Oberdorfer or Bruce Cumings, please. Michael Breen is right up there with Jon Huer – Jaded expats who can’t get their head around “The Inscrutable Asian”. The Koreans was an absolutely terrible read. My brain turned to pancake batter reading about Koreans through the eyes of Breen.

        Anyway, although not Cumings’ area of study, he briefly discusses the changing landscape of sexual power in historical Korea in the first chapter of the above mentioned book. He mentions the importance of matrilineal descent in Koryeo Korea, which contrasts the system we’re still familiar with today. He references Martina Deuchler’s The Confucian Transformation of Korea: A Study of Society and Ideology for the information.


        1. Oh don’t get me wrong: Cumings of course is far more thorough and academic, and if I’d bought Korea’s Place in the Sun instead of Breen’s The Koreans I’d sure I’d be singing its praises now. But to my surprise, in a cursory 5 min read in Kyobo I did quickly empathize with some things I read in the latter (I think after a couple of years in Korea), otherwise I wouldn’t have bought it. And his columns in the Korea Times are always either interesting or amusing, and usually both.

          I admit that I have higher standards now than in 2001 though, when it was simply wonderful to read something by someone who seemed to have had many of the same experiences as me and could help me make sense of them. Indeed, some of his observations still hold true for me today, so I think it’s a bit excessive to compare him with Jon Huer.

          I’m not a big fan of don Oberdofer though: I was given a copy of The Two Koreas as a Christmas gift, and found it to be rather dry. Like Troubled Tiger by Mark Clifford, it only gives a top-down history, and while I used to be really into that sort of thing, since about 2005 onwards I’ve been much more interested in the human side of the equation. Indeed, many of the books on Korean sociology and gender issues and so on that I’ve looked at and discussed on this blog, I actually bought many years ago and originally hated them, only to read them again and really like them 5 years later.

          I admit that as a good Marxian structuralist though, I’m glad I read (and studied at university all of those top-down things before getting onto the superstructure so to speak, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to make sense of them. And it’s not like I wouldn’t buy up all of Cuming’s books in a flash if I had the money, especially after what you pointed out what’s in them thanks.


  4. This is actually with your previous post in mind, but perhaps you can use it for your thesis as well, as anecdotal material, but something interesting nonetheless.

    Maybe you can you just sit and watch people at a certain point of interest. For example, I had nothing to do one day and I was standing in front of the turn stiles at Seoul subway station. I simply stood there and watched people come and go, and I witnessed several people go through the gates without paying. They climbed under or jumped over the gate that blocked the stiles. They were mostly middle-aged men (presumably homeless men), although one or two middle-class looking people used the entrance for wheelchairs (obviously using their own healthy legs).

    I have always thought of Koreans as fairly honest (at least compared to some Americans back home), but I only had to stand there for about 15 minutes to see 7 or 8 people do that.

    So maybe if you need some ideas for your blog, your thesis, or whatever, just sit and watch people. I know you’re busy, but maybe you can sit at the station in front of a Levi’s advertisement and watch people’s reactions. Or observe the customers that frequent the local bars or motels.

    Or maybe you do this already? I don’t read often enough to notice. Silly me :)

    Once I have some free time, I plan to do this myself.


    1. Oh, I’d love to: it reminds me of the simple assignments in some of my first Sociology classes, one choice being to observe all the socialites in “The Quad,” with the result that a couple of days before the assignment was due you’d end up having more freshman Sociology students observing the Quaddites from the overlooking balconies then Qauddites themselves. They’d have had rather more fun observing the floor above them though, which back then (we’re talking *cough* 15 years ago) was well known as the place to buy and sell marijuana in Auckland. Did I mention that there was a law forbidding police officers on campus?

      But where was I? I would like to do things like that, especially in Korea, but I simply don’t have the time unfortunately. And – no offense – but I don’t need to sit in front of a Levi’s advertisement to know that the outrage at it reported by the Korea Times for instance (can’t find the report sorry), didn’t actually exist until the Korea Times chose to report on it.

      Not that there aren’t still lots of things that can only be found out or confirmed by direct observation though. Perhaps when my kids are a little older…sigh…


  5. Hello James! I accidentally stumbled across your blog when I was Googling demographics of *cough* how many people have sex in Korea, because of its now alarming low birth rate which is now even lower than Japan’s, and apparently, your blog had a post comparing sex in Korea and Japan, or something along those lines. Your entry certainly helped my curiosity! If this rate continues, then Korea will surely end up in the current crisis Japan is in, with the elderly being practically everywhere and the younger generation burdened to care for them.

    I am a 16 year old Korean-American, and although I am of course more in touch with my “American side” more than my “Korean” one since I currently live in the U.S.A., I believe that I understand my home country’s culture as well, since my parents try to teach me the regular Korean customs that children in Korea go through and such. I also returned to Seoul, where I was actually born in (but immigrated to California when I was just 1 year old) to visit my relatives and stayed there for about 3 months. Although I thought I was pretty well taught about my motherland, I still got a culture shock from the trip, due to the inevitable influence of America and its moral values. It was still a very good experience though, which I am greatly thankful for.

    Due to my culture shock visiting Seoul, I try to study up on Korea as much as possible, by reading whatever I can about Korea’s culture and trying to embrace myself as a native Korean more. Although I can’t say that if I suddenly move back to Korea and try to live there, I’d totally turn into a true native again, I’m pretty sure that I have a good grasp on its customs and values.

    But even though I was raised in America, as a Korean, I have to say that I agree with most of your points and theories on your blog here, James! This is the first blog that I’ve discovered that discusses many social issues in Korea and acknowledges and thoroughly tries to analyze and pinpoint them instead of merely accepting them due to “cultural differences”, especially by a non-Korean blogger! You have a very excellent understanding/grasp of Korea’s rather hypocritical culture!

    If I may, may I voice out an opinion here? Although Western and Eastern cultures crash greatly probably due to Puritan values vs. Confucian values, I feel that Korea, out of all the Asian countries, is the one most lost in its identity, whether it stubbornly wants to stick to the “old traditional ways” or “follow the West”. I think that it’s trying to blend both together, but I also think that it isn’t really working out. Korea, like many other countries with ancient histories, needs to accept a new pace of mind and more fresh ideas that will benefit them, instead of stubbornly sticking to “what our ancestors approved of thousands of years ago”. I believe that Korea severely needs change to grow even more to expand its horizons, and not trap itself, leading to burying itself in a grave.

    Whether anyone agrees or disagrees with me, I would like to talk about something that may be related to your censorship of sexually-related material in Korea topic! I see that you follow K-Pop, even if just a little, right? Well, it’d be practically impossible to avoid K-Pop, since it has such a LARGE influence on Korea. But have you noticed the trend of raunchy, sexualized MVs these days? I don’t believe that all started with Brown Eyed Girl’s “Abracadabra” MV, but I believe that “Abracadabra” did set off a trend that encourages “the raunchier, the better” these days. Even before “Abracadabra”, being sexy was regarded as “cool”, but it seems that after “Abracadabra”, there seemed to be a trigger that exploded, leading others to think that “Abracadabra”‘s sudden boom to popularity and mainstream-ness (I know that that’s not a word, but oh well, it is now >:D) should be a formula that others should follow in order to gain quick fame as well.

    Which leads to the creation of the rather new girl group T-ara’s recently released MV, “Bo Peep”, which I believe is the current rage, or popular song in Korea nowadays, due to it following the formula to musical success in Korea, which is being extremely catchy and having addicting repeating lyrics and a simple, easy-to-follow melody along with beat. Like “Abracadabra”, there are 2 versions of the MV, a “rated 19+” one and a “rated 15+” one. Here are links to the 2 MVs if you’ve never seen them before: (Rated 19+ version) (Rated 15+ version)

    …the 2 MV differences are laugh-worthy, in my opinion. In the first version, you have a T-ara member erotically simulating sex with another man and implying that she is like a “sex kitten” or “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” seducing the man, but in the other version, you have a MV that is focused on the group’s choreography, which is… Mostly booty shaking and chest thrusts to the air, most likely showing off the girls’ breasts. Kinda ironic, isn’t it? It doesn’t help that to the Western audience, both of the MVs make the girls sound like they’re singing “F*ck me”, while if you try to sing “Bo Peep” out loud a million times, it sounds no where as close to the vulgar expression.

    Even more laughable is the live version of Bo Peep. It’s completely innocent-looking to the K-Pop audience (mostly made up of middle school/high schoolers), since all the booty shaking is covered up by the girls’ cute cat costumes, which in the West, would probably be regarded as “kittens lookin’ out for some sex”. It even has won 1st place in various music shows! Take a good look of how “pure and innocent and fun” it is! (Bo Peep live version on Inkigayo)

    I’m not sure how other Asian countries would react to “Bo Peep”, since in Korea, “sexy” is regarded as simply “cute” now… But due to American and Puritan influences, I think it is an outrage how “Bo Peep” is popular in Korea, making the younger audience think that it is simply a fun and cute song and that there are absolutely no sexual or erotic references in it, while the older audience think that it is fun and cute as well, firmly insisting that all the booty shaking is simply a part of their “cute choreography”. I even asked my mom if she thought that the girls’ dancing was a bit strange, but all she replied was with, “What? It’s just a part of their dance.”

    I’m sure that you’ve encountered the same problem with the students you’re teaching, as I read another post of how you tried to explain the Western viewpoint of sexuality to them, while they simply thought that you were a pervert or something along those lines. But isn’t “Bo Peep” and “Abracadabra” along with SNSD and all the other girl groups just subtly satisfying Korea’s craving for sexuality when they have no actual time to go out and do “the real thing”? Or maybe the point of all of the sudden 1,000 girl groups that have popped up is to try to encourage the male population in Korea to go out and make some more babies/encourage the female population to seduce their fellow males into trying to have more one-night stands. Those are my current theories about the sudden trend in “sexy” and popularity in girl groups in Korea.

    My parents didn’t even feel uncomfortable watching 4Minute’s HyunA’s solo performance rather ironically named “Change” on Inkigayo, which made my skin crawl. (Warning: Do not watch either of these videos if there’s others who will question if you’re a pervert around!) (HyunA (4Minute) ft. Yong Joon Hyung (BEAST) – Change live on Inkigayo)

    Looking up the MV on Youtube, it’s pretty worse than the live version… (HyunA (4Minute) ft. Yong Joon Hyung (BEAST) – Change MV)

    Notice all of the comments below the videos. Apparently, HyunA’s performance is simply “cool” and “hot”, and if you think that it’s rather slutty, then apparently, you’re screwed up in the head. But how can you think that it’s simply “cool” from all of those pelvic thrusts and “subtle” hand movements “stroking” the crotch? I’d like to see a female audience member do that in public and be regarded as “not garnering attention for boys”. I mean, Korea already loves Lee Hyori bouncing around in a bikini in her “U-Go-Girl” MV and other performances, but seriously? Hyori is well-loved and respected in Korea, while if she were to come over and do that in the States, she would be simply compared to Britney Spears or Madonna or Beyonce and looked down upon for being “so slutty”. Sure, she’d gain an audience in America, but for the previously mentioned American artists, we all know that their fans are mostly stereotyped as “horny and perverted” ones.

    It may sound racist and imply that I follow America’s old Manifest Destiny belief, which is completely untrue, but I think that Korea should really stop trying to follow America’s music scene and try to break out of its current bubblegum pop/autotone fascination. It’s been going on for years and is still the key to Korea’s current music industry success, but to me, it’s just “the Asian America of the ’90’s”. Forever stuck in a period that America moved on from, perhaps Korea will remain that way for several more decades, along with its recently accepted opinion that “sexy” is “cute/cool/hot”.

    But what I’m also worried about is the non-Korean fans that insist K-Pop is unique and different from its American counterpart, when really, compare DBSK to NSYNC. Not really much of a difference, other than what the members look like. Non-Korean fans insist to me that K-Pop appeals to them not because of the good-looking Asian singers, but simply because of the “good music”. But really, how can I believe that, when Korea focuses so much on physical looks and plastic surgery? Label companies want pretty faces along with voices that are okay to debut with; an outstanding voice along with face is considered a rare gem in the industry.

    Even if a non-Korean fan admits that they do listen to K-Pop because of all the pretty singers, they still insist that K-Pop is much more better and unique than American pop, or any other country’s pop music, and that I have no right to judge their tastes. Although yes, I do have no right to judge their tastes, it really disappoints me when someone tells me that they like K-Pop, since K-Pop is just pure marketing to the young Korean audience; I don’t think that any other country focuses on looks rather than talent as much as Korea does. You may argue that America may do that, but I don’t think that they follow the same cookie-cutter formula that Korea does, nor spend as much time as Korea in training rookies to debut. Because in Korea, since the music industry is so small, once you’ve signed up to a famous label company such as JYP, SM, or YG these days… You’re literally set for instant fame. It is almost impossible to not become big under those top-dog labels.

    This may be just my bias against K-Pop speaking out and me being rather different from the usual teenage girl growing up in Korea rather than in America, but I just want to know if anyone has ever felt the same way as me, regardless if you’re Korean or not. I mean, what’s the fun in scripted variety shows and singers having little to no power in what they truly want to do? To me, if you sign up to a K-Pop label, then you’re literally selling your soul. Plus, when I see all those ajummas cheering at a random popular boy group’s concert such as Super Junior, I just feel so embarrassed… I don’t mean for them to just listen to “old people’s music” such as trot all day, but really, to still have interest in new boy groups? I wonder how the groups feel. If I were a member, I’d feel a bit awkward.

    This is what I worry over the most about Korea! I also feel worried for your daughters, James! Being influenced by K-Pop will be inevitable to them, so if I were you, I’d be prepared to pay for popular groups’ merchandise in advance and to listen to squealing over their favorite groups/members all day… Along with them thinking that “sexy” is “cute/cool/hot” too. Unless you somehow manage to make that impossible for them. I give props to you if you have indeed accomplished that rather difficult task and will ask how you exactly did it, other than moving to the countryside and living in one of those colonial era-time houses/banning them from watching TV or going on the Internet.

    I apologize for my extremely long comment; I tend to rant when I start talking about K-Pop! I guess what I’m really doing is also asking for your opinion/standpoint on K-Pop. But a reply would be nice, whether it’s just “I see, thanks for your comment” or any replies by other readers. If you read this all, then you’re a legend! XD; Although I’m currently at a young age where I’m easily looked down upon, I still feel privileged to voice my opinion! First Amendment ‘n’ all. :P

    Cheers! Thanks for making such an excellent blog! And good luck with that 50,000 word MA thesis topic! ^^

    P.S. : About your curiosity of the age of consent in Korea… I asked my dad, who is 50 years old, and he said that it is 18; any age younger than that would be considered as a sexual offense, unless laws have suddenly recently changed in Korea. I hope that helped! ^^;;


    1. Toaster, I’d say that in much of the world there seems to be a rush to make their music (and often movies and TV as well) “more American”. In many ways I guess this is a reflection of the US’s massive cultural influence (soft power), so that striving to be more American is “cool” and desirable. I find it both strange and sad when it seems like the music industry in many countries seems to increasingly churn out rappers and hip hop artists, especially since I hate both forms of so called music. To me, people rapping in Chinese or Korean or whatever seems more like a slavish and pale imitation of the original (which wasn’t good to begin with). It sounds essentially the same – just in a different language, which doesn’t exactly make it “new” or “unique”. I find it sad when people in other countries imitate US music and think that automatically makes them “cool” or “new”. Their cultures are unique, and they have much to be proud about, so why the need to Americanise their culture? As a general rule, the world doesn’t need more Britneys, which are sadly what is being mass produced…

      The entertainment industry in Asia (or at least the parts I pay vague attention to – HK, China, Japan and SK), to me, seems silly – like the entertainment industry worldwide I guess. In SK and Japan I agree, it seems like the big labels literally manufacture new groups, with a very high premium on looks and whatever is “in” at the time. Seems like bands don’t “hit the big time” after years in obscurity before catching the attention of a label, unlike the ‘West’. The bands are artificially formed (after appropriate ‘training’) with certain characteristics/looks/themes/target markets in mind by a bunch of marketers and culture trendies who look at statistics and trends and “plan” the new groups accordingly. So are these artists going to be able to do something different, or even create what they want to? Err, probably not, since big companies like the “safe” (ie boring, and what everyone else is doing) option – in SK currently, sexy/cute dance music by groups of hot young women or girls in scanty clothing. Once the company has assembled the group, the artists are then forced to sign massively exploitative contracts which have them working so much that they frequently collapse due to exhaustion (happens a lot with actors too). Thus the steady stream of “artist X collapsed and was rushed to hospital suffering from exhaustion” stories. And it seems like the industry doesn’t care, since it keeps happening. Perhaps they think that they can always manufacture a new replacement artist if the current one breaks down.

      Oh well, that’s enough rambling, I am not sure what point there was if any. Not surprisingly, most of what I listen to is instrumental, and there is nearly a complete lack of “dance”, rap or hip hop or other loud and annoying music from anywhere.

      I do recall James saying that he and his wife have agreed that they will leave SK once the kids are older (before HS?), which I think is an excellent idea. There is no way I’d raise any of my kids in such a culture. And having a strange furriner (with strange non Korean ideas) as a father must influence their thinking too.

      And James, I hope your daughter is ok. My little little bro had to go to hospital a few times when his temperature got too high, poor kid. Make sure you know how to get to the nearest hospital just in case.


      1. Although I have sort of a bias against rappers too (I prefer hip hop, but hard rock all the way for me :P), Asian countries that churn out them are not the same to American rappers to me. With so many rappers in the market already, I think that American rappers at least try to bring something new to the table, such as Lil Wayne releasing a rock-rap album, and Big Bang sounding like… Every other Korean rap song that I’ve heard out there, from the embarrassingly small selection of songs I’ve heard from them, but I believe that I have a good grasp on their rather generic music. Plus I can’t really stand to listen to that much Big Bang/other mainstream artists for too long. I do like less popular Korean rappers though, like Outsider and MC Sniper. Those two not exactly catering to the public makes me smile. :)

        I wholly agree with you that Asia still believes that following America is the “cool” thing to do these days, and it makes me sad to see that my home country is not embracing its own culture. Although Korea still insists on nationalism and all, it immediately takes back its nationalist points at times, while screaming them at the top of the lungs at others (fangirls at concerts, backlash from netizens, soccer tournaments, militarism, etc). It is constantly fluctuating its opinion on what is “truly Korean”. By claiming others’ ideas and calling it “truly Korean”, it seems that Korea is trying to cover up the dirty fact that they are really taking ideas from several countries. It swells up when kimchi or popular dramas are mentioned, but turns a blind eye to ideas that are stolen. (G-Dragon’s recent plagiarism for his solo songs, anyone?) Korea needs to stop being so hypocritical and really, TRULY love and accept who they really are. If they rose to its current power due to help from America and Japan, whether they like it or not, they need to admit and acknowledge that, instead of puffing up and insisting that Korea has risen on its on to becoming a “tiger of the East”.

        …Exactly. That’s what I most hate about the Korean music industry. You don’t start out from obscure groups struggling to make it big anymore (not including those indie bands in clubs because rock is not big of a genre as it is for other countries). You have groups that are now pampered from the start, with a pillow placed under them for anytime they will fall. And even worse, others to replace them with, once the group has fallen on the pillow. I think its a terrible fate to be an idol, for once you have aged… You’re done for. It saddens me to see all the former legends in K-Pop such as H.O.T. and Shinwha reduced to mere variety and dating shows. And the terrible cycle will just go on.

        I also do not like how in Korea, you pretty much have to start out in a group to make it big, and if you want to actually try new ideas/things that you actually want to do on your own, you have to pretty much have to go solo after spending some time in the group. It’s a painful process, and usually people will still go, “Oh, they’re from that group XX!” instead of acknowledging their solo career. It is probably no wonder why there are so many groups in Korea, instead of solo artists, which America currently prefers. Going solo in America and in other Western countries shows that the artist is capable of independence and has a strong image, while in the East, the more popular “better safe than sorry” expression is still preferred, so groups will sadly most likely will have to stay for a while. I mean, if you try to start up a pop group in America again, you will be mocked for trying to bring the Spice Girls back to life! Remember different member personalities, anyone? The sweetie, the bad boy, the crybaby, etc? Still the rage in Korea. Especially with all that “maknae” member nonsense… *Rolls eyes*

        But I forgot to mention how in T-ara’s Bo Peep MVs, it is ridiculous how the “Rated 19+” label was slapped on the more erotic video, when the “Rated 15+” version still provokes feelings of… I guess, lust when viewers watch it, especially male ones. Apparently, the people running the Korean media now think that suggestive dance moves are cute as well, warning its viewers that the MVs might be a little too much for younger viewers, while having little to no comments on the live versions of those sultry songs. They may stop the airing of those group’s song performances after controversy mounts up, but by then, it is usually too late, and the song is already a hit and popular among the young audience.

        Another ridiculous thing I have to also mention is that some non-Korean fans always say to me, “But [insert American artist’s name here]’s video is so much worse than this video! They’re practically asking for sex!” …really, how can one say that? Does the difference in MVs really come all down to race? It makes me want to cry every time I see a “[Insert American artist’s name here]’s video is so much worse than X video!” comment. You can probably say that I can avoid those comments easily, but those are people who are my age. If I socialize with someone on the topic of music, K-Pop is usually somehow brought up into the conversation, and the praises about how great and unique K-Pop is commence, while I experience shock at how they got to know about K-Pop along with such ignorance of the Korean media marketing system.

        I do have to bring up a ranty point here now since I’m getting worked up again. One time, I tried arguing with a non-Korean fan about the same age as me about the “brainwashing” technique the K-Pop industry utilizes, while they merely scoffed and said, “How can you think that I am so ignorant? I’ve done my research on the K-Pop industry, and I don’t care if I’m being a ‘victim’. Victim or not, I also don’t care if I’m listening to ‘corporate crap’. It’s just music like any other music out there, and the artists performing it do have some talent as well. I listen to K-Pop because I like it, and yes, I do admit that I like the good-looking members, but really, who doesn’t listen to K-Pop because of them? That’s just the way it is, and that’s not going to stop me from listening to it because I simply enjoy it. But who are you to think that you can judge me? Is it because you’re Korean, and I’m not? Oh please, go on, since you’re Korean and you must know it all.”

        I admit that the person I was arguing with has a good point and all, but it seems that I’m trying to take away what she enjoys, and probably, trying to teach her of something only non-Koreans do not know, when that is not my intention at all. I just do not like to see others around my age not caring of what they listen to, as long as it appeals to them. Like food for your lifestyle, I believe that music listened to everyone should be chosen carefully. Does anyone else think that I should just give up and accept that others will just continue to listen to K-Pop without caring at all for what they put to their ears?

        To me, if you listen to K-Pop, you are merely just supporting the big labels that create the music, instead of the composers and choreographers that lurk in the shadows, silently commanding the group members of every move they make. But really, I am just talking about the mainstream artists from the top dog labels. As long as the top dogs are worshipped, the smaller ones have no room in the market. This leads to a stagnant market, which is the K-Pop one of today. I try to spread the word of lesser known indie artists out there competing against the top dogs, but really, that is like shooting a pea at a large brick wall. The large, solid wall will probably remain solid for a good long time, but I really hope that the wall of “mainstream” will crumble someday. This is most likely due to Korea having such a small music market, but Korea really needs to learn to open up more. I’d rather have people my age in Korea listen to Super Junior and Black Eyed Peas together, instead of merely just Super Junior and rabidly supporting them in fanclubs!

        What Korea needs is a re-introduction to more difficult to follow melodies instead of simple beats, which will largely remain unknown unless some new artist as good as Seo Taiji pops up in the future and blows them away, which is ironic, since if you compare what blows away America and what blows away Korea, America still yawns at Korean music, while Korea is still largely impressed by boy groups doing a cappella, as if they’ve never seen such a feat accomplished before.

        Ah, really now? Well James, if you want a piece of still-budding advice, I suggest that you move somewhere else before your kids hit middle school. Elementary school in America is nothing, but middle school is the place where kids really find their identities and learn to adapt to their new environments. Trust me, we’ve all been there! ;P If you enter another country before your daughters are in high school, nostalgia will still remain with Korea, and your daughters will most likely refuse to try to adapt to their new environment while sticking to speaking Korean only, making friends with only other Koreans, etc. Hey, it happens in front of me everyday with transfer students coming in to my high school! I would really not want that to happen to your daughters. They need a chance to experience more cultures, since that is one of the most enlightening things a person can ever do in their short lifetime. It may be harder for your wife to adapt, but I believe that she can do it. If my parents and thousands of other Korean immigrants did, then she can surely do it as well. :)

        I apologize for rambling yet again (I have a special talent for writing volume-long papers), and hoped that my comment was of any use or interest to anyone out there! ^^ And no matter how harsh I sound towards my home country, I really am proud to be a Korean. If you think I sound hypocritical… Well, Korea is a hypocritical country itself, so that just further proves that I am 100% Korean. ;)

        대한민국 파이팅!


        1. I have a strong bias against rap and hip hop, since they seem like they promote thuggish behaviour, stupid posturing, and the “gangsta” lifestyle, which equates to violent ignorant posers. It is just all pathetic to me, celebrating stupidity, violence and abominable behaviour to women.

          I think that Korea, being caught between two much larger countries (China and Japan), is definitely somewhat of a hybrid, culturally, of its neighbours. Its history of being invaded/bullied/interfered with by its larger and more powerful neighbours has meant that it is sometimes wary of “outside” influences, emphasising its independence and uniqueness. But the undeniable similarities in culture with its neighbours means that the cultural differences are often small. Blind nationalism, being unthinking, is quite happy to celebrate what they consider their success, but doesn’t want to really think about what made that success possible, because the truth is inconvenient for them. Critical thinking seems a little lacking a times.

          I do remember some SK entertainment industry person saying that unless the music industry stopped cloning generic dance groups, and Kdramas stopped being rewrites of rewrites, the ‘Korean Wave’ that the country is so proud of would come to a sudden halt. When that happens perhaps that will force some changes? From the big companies’s perspective, everything is going well, both domestically and overseas, so why rock the boat? Far easier to stay the course.

          Well, people listen to what they do for a complex set of reasons. Some people like SK and Japanese culture because it isn’t, well, American. They may see US culture are being “all garbage” (the mainstream I’d tend to agree), while SK and Japan are “cool”, and so must be good, despite the general mediocrity and cloning and manufacturing of groups.

          In some ways the mentality of the SK entertainment industry sounds like the situation with the internet in SK. The metropolitician has blogged about this, though the post is long.

          You can love your home country and still have issues with parts of it, though zombie nationalists might disagree. Australia, for all its many great points, still has areas of concern, but I love it anyway.

          Enough of a ramble.


          1. While I do agree with your points about the mainly mainstream rap and hip hop artists promoting that kind of a low lifestyle, you can’t deny that not all of them do it. There is some good hip hop out there, but they’re just a little hard to find. I hope you’ll find a good hip hop/R&B song that appeals to you someday! (Also, I tend to like Japanese hip hop artists over American ones, how about I introduce you to them? It’s like a whole different new world; this guy has to be my favorite hip hop artist, Nujabes, please listen to this song, it has absolutely no lyrics in it, just a relaxing beat: Some other artists that I like are Home Made Kazoku, Rip Slyme, M-Flo, Bennie K, etc. Most of the artists that I like embrace the “old-school” hip hop sound, and not the mainstream one most Americans know of today. Please, try them out!)

            Exactly. Korea always cries out how Japan/other countries have invaded them in the past and ruined their ancient history, but it cannot be pitied over anymore. It has established a strong, thriving economy now, and it seems to be a bit lost in itself. I really hope that Korea finds its true identity soon. Korea is on that road right now, but as for the entertainment industry… I can’t really say.

            That prediction would most likely come true. Along with the “oh, since we’re sailing so smoothly, why should we change our course?” mindset that is currently set in Korea’s music and entertainment industry. It seems that Korea is afraid with experimenting more with itself. If only it’d try to step out more, truly make an effort to branch out to overseas markets, let budding indies artists have a change instead of trying to produce endless clones, etc., then only then can I stop lamenting about the broken system and complaining… But alas, I am also criticized for my “radical” views about the corporate industry and for wishing for an ill change to happen to the status quo. But like with Japan’s annexation of Korea, it was an ill change, but one that probably benefited it for the better if you look at it in the big picture. Not that I think that Japan made a good move in annexing Korea, but if you think about it, what would’ve happened to Korea as it progressed on in the future without Japan’s invasion? It’s a little frightening to think about, and another one of those big “what if” events such as America losing its fight for independence against Great Britain or the Confederacy winning against the Union during the Civil War.

            Yeah, I’m just frustrated with people ignoring the dark side of the entertainment business, even when they’re fully aware of it. Why support it? Because it just makes you happy? There are other ways to achieve that same happiness… Why confine yourself to just that sort of music/buy K-Pop CDs? My opinion is that you should try to branch out and listen to a bunch of more genres of music before FINALLY coming to the conclusion that K-Pop or whatever is the right music for you. I say that rock is the right music for me, but by listening to different genres of music and expanding out my horizons, I’ve come to realize that you can’t just rely on simple melodies and catchy lyrics. Hard to follow or “digest” music is just as beautiful too. That is also why I say that not all hip hop is bad.

            To me, if you like K-Pop… That means you like snazzy marketing, not the music. K-Pop is not all about the music. What you’re listening to is careful preparation by the company and deals with the composer to sell the song to them, not blood, sweat, and tears for truly creating the song from scratch. Sure, the singers toil to sing the song, but then to lipsync to that song during live performances? It all seems to be a huge waste to me. When fans of K-Pop tell me that the groups do have talent for singing/dancing to their songs, all I hear is “K-Pop artists have true talent for giving up their personal objections and just following the orders of their company”. Yes, they are entertainers, and are here to entertain you, but not just only you… It’s all a huge trial to see if they can please their company and rake in the largest profits. All I guess I’m asking is, do I really have a good point for disliking K-Pop and its fans? Or is it because I have a bias against it? It sounds like I’m merely just whining and asking, “Am I right? Am I right?!”, but yeah, that’s what I really am doing. I’m just asking if I do have a point or that my words are just pointless pieces of text. Confirmation or rejection would be nice.

            Ah, thanks for the link to the article. Indeed, it does sound like that, and makes me ache for the largely unknown indies and underground artists that are struggling to make it big in Korea but immediately get crushed by the more popular ones. The “best newcomer” awards in Korea are basically “best market promotions” awards, unlike in some other countries, where actual newcomers are awarded for their effort to try to become more widely known. New artists that are not taken care of by label companies have almost no hope of becoming truly big in Korea since they are not pampered and promoted. They have to do everything on their own, and trying to do that in Korea won’t get you very far in the music industry.

            I agree with that, and I think that people who truly love their home countries are the ones who are trying to reform the bad sides to them. You cannot simply ignore the problems and turn a blind eye to them; you have to try to fix them, no matter how far you’ll get. You cannot be like the parent who denies that their child is a bad kid; you have to acknowledge their problems. Every country has their issues, but if you deny that they happen? What are you contributing to your country? Everything will just remain the same if you just shrug your shoulders and let things pass by. Even if you cannot do anything about it, I think it’s better to at least acknowledge the problems instead of remaining hopeless. Why be silent when a crime happens in front of you? I’d rather face the consequences. But it’s a tragedy that the majority of Koreans are too afraid to challenge the status quo and not bring any harm to their images.

            I’m sorry if I’m carrying this conversation too far… It’s just that I really do feel strongly about this subject. Some people, especially other Koreans, cannot understand my point of view, but I am trying hard to be understood. I am not a “rebel” or a “traitor to my country”; I just am merely expressing my opinions and personal views.


  6. I must admit that I basically avoid any kind of rap or hip hop. I am sure that there is some which I might agree is “good”, but I have no desire to find it. I had no idea that there was actually hip hop which was purely instrumental. That wasn’t bad. Everything I’ve listened to has not impressed me.

    Yeah, it is important that people do not forget what has happened in the past, but it is ultimately a problem if all they learn is “___ are all evil and did bad things to us”, in perpetuity. While useful as a nationalist catch cry and as a tool to improve national solidarity (and coincidentally improve government support), it leaves your people brainwashed and incapable of rational thought about the whole mess. The Japanese and Chinese (and the North Koreans ever worse) have similar issues. And everyone else thinks you are silly.

    The sad thing is that until the big entertainment businesses are forced by fast falling profits to change… and who knows what they will do when that happens. I understand that as a big fan you will find being eventually vindicated both a great and terrible experience. Oh well, see what happens. It is normal that those who are fans of the dominant popular culture will often see those who disagree as “radical”, as they can’t see the merit of anything that is different. Can’t be helped generally.

    People are very good at ignoring whatever they find inconvenient, so they will rationalise that their support is good for the artists and the industry. If you like kpop that doesn’t necessarily mean that you like the current system. You may not like the system but enjoy the music. But of course, if you like the music there is a good chance that you like the system that produced it. You have your own views about the system and the music it produces. They have theirs. Depending on your point of view, either may be the “wrong” one, but life is rarely so clear cut. If you dislike the system, and have obviously thought about it, that is your view. I can’t see that you could dispassionately think about the issue and come up to the conclusion that either is “wrong”. Both sides have their points. You may find it frustrating, but it’s not something you can definitively “prove”. I agree with you that the current system is exploitative and produces unimaginative clones, but some people like it, dodgy practises and all.

    I don’t follow the bewildering variety of different awards of any kind, so can’t comment except to say that there are so many that you’d have to be pretty crap if you failed to win one at some stage.

    Well, like with parents, it can be difficult for those in the country to acknowledge or really think about the less savoury aspects. Everyone else may think your kid is a feral little sh1te, but the parents (and grandparents etc) are often the last to see/acknowledge that. It certainly isn’t just a uniquely Korean problem, but it may be a bit more prevalent there.

    Some people have difficulty thinking about things and the simplest ‘answer’ is to throw around silly insults and phrases. Certainly living in the US you must have plenty of examples of that!

    For a youngster (showing my age here!) you seem sensible and thoughtful. This is a good thing, at least to an oldie like me. Keep up the good work, and keep asking questions.


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