Korean Photoshop Disaster #6: I like it hot, strong, and black! (Updated)

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Do men pay more attention to men’s chests than women?

As a gym addict 10-15 years ago, I read somewhere in a newspaper that they do. And with my self-confidence back then wholly tied to how much I buffed up, it certainly matched my own experience.

Unfortunately for the sake of objectivity though, it’s been difficult not to remember that every time I’ve seen a topless man ever since. One look at Changmim of 2AM half-naked and holding his crotch in a coffee ad then, and all I could think about was the large, firm package that used to be the weekend edition of the New Zealand Herald.

Naturally enough, most commenters at allkpop and Omona! They Didn’t focused on the one that Changmin was allegedly holding in his left hand instead, and I’m going to take a wild guess that most of those were heterosexual women. Perhaps that explains why so few noticed the appalling photoshop job on his chest?^^

Yet despite men’s greater interest in those in a competitive sense, in reality not only is bilateral symmetry a good indicator of genetic health for both sexes, and hence a heavily favored trait in mates, but even women’s own breasts become more symmetrical during the most fertile period of their menstrual cycle too. So it’s a strange oversight.

And of course for the photoshopper too, who presumably originally aimed to create some sort of languid, fluid-like effect, and I expect the mistake will be corrected before the full ad campaign for Maeil’s “Cafe Latte Americano Dutch” is launched on the 13th (source, above). But regardless, and on a more serious note now, it still has to be the first of the recent spate of Korean advertisements to objectify men that I’ve positively disliked, rather than be merely nonplussed or amused by.

For it is just as lame as it is provocative.

Putting aside how problematic the slogan “Find Your Black” is to English speakers, as described at allkpop the campaign’s basic concept is that various members of 2AM represent “Chic Black”, “Luxury Black”, “Tough Black”, and Changmin as “Sexy Black,” and the first major problem with the ad is also the most obvious: what does a topless idol grabbing his genitalia has to with coffee exactly?

Or indeed, with being “sexy”, and it that sense it also reduces to and perpetuates the notion that sexiness is only a matter of skin exposure, whether for men or for women. A problem which is hardly unique to the Korea media of course, but it is exaggerated here, and so unfortunately I’m wasn’t all that surprised that that was the best that the creative team could come up with.

And yet, would the same ad have actually been possible with a woman? Specifically, one with her hand placed on her crotch, a pretty blatant gesture of intent in anyone’s language?

( Source: unknown )

But why so specific? Well, if there’s one consistent theme to emerge out of writing about Korean advertisements for 3 years, that would be being witness to a long line of firsts: the first erect nipples; the first portrayal of Korean female – foreign male relationships; the first kiss; the first spoof of objectification within ads(!); the first soju ad to portray a woman as, well, really rather slutty, as opposed to decades of portraying them as virgins; and so on. And no matter how difficult it may be to believe for recent visitors to the country, in fact some of those emerged just within the last 3 weeks, let alone the last 3 years.

So, it’s natural to write as if I have almost a perverted fixation on things like crotches sometimes! And indeed, if there’s one thing to take away from Changmin’s ad, it’s the realization that however permissible grabbing one’s crotch is in passing in brief dances on talk shows and in music videos and so on in Korea, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a print advertisement. On women or on men, and hence netizens’ intense interest in Changmin’s ad.

But of course I may be wrong, and so as always, please pass on any earlier ads that you are aware of. But for various reasons, I really do think that an equivalent ad with a woman would have aroused far more controversy.

How about you? Let me finish by providing two related examples to help get you thinking.

First, the the above one with Kim Ah-joong (김아중) from 2006, which at first glance is sexually-assertive enough. But as commenter “huncamunca” pointed out to me 2 years ago (in a post I ironically deleted yesterday!), it is definitely not an example of the sexually aggressive “cowboy stance” that I first interpreted it as:

…I agree that the “cowboy” thumbs in the belt loops make the picture sexual, but other elements of the stance make it sexual AND DEMURE, not aggressive. Usually, in the cowboy stance, the shoulders are relaxed and legs are slightly apart, with weight more on one foot than the other (see for example the picture of the woman on page 240 of the Pease book) [on body language]. However, Kim Ah-jung’s shoulders are raised, as if she is shrugging slightly in a demure way. Her elbows are straight and held close to her body to take up as little space as possible, which is not typical of the relaxed cowboy stance. Her legs are also tightly closed to take up as little space as possible, and they don’t look like they are about to take her toward what she wants. Her head is tilted down so she can look up demurely at the viewer. The combination of raised shoulders and lowered head is similar to the “Head Duck” in the Pease book (p. 235), which shows submissiveness. Also the wind effect makes it look as though whatever she is looking at (presumably a male viewer) is powerful enough to nearly blow her away while she marvels at him and waits for his approach. She doesn’t look like she intends to act, but rather like she hopes to be acted upon–sexual but still submissive.

Not that Changmin looks all that sexually aggressive either of course: indeed, he appears to be protecting himself more than anything else, but either way the ambiguity again points to a lack of thought behind the campaign.

Finally, a female equivalent of gratuitous objectification and/or nudity in a coffee ad provided by Italian coffee company Lavazza, also in 2006:

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Notorious for ads involving sex and/or the excessive objectification of women since at least 2005, this one was ultimately judged as discriminating against women by the Swedish Trade Ethical Council against Sexism in Advertising (ERK), and presumably forced to be withdrawn:

Sweden’s Ethical Council has a lower tolerance for the use of scantily clad women to advertise products than comparable regulatory bodies in other countries…

…ERK judged “that the woman is used as an eye catcher without any connection to the advertised products, and that it is insulting towards women”.In its defence Lavazza wrote that the 2006 calendar from which the images were taken used humour and irony to recreate a 1950s feel. The company claimed that the images depicted glamour, style and a lust for life and were in no way discriminatory.

[ERK Secretary] Jan Fager disagrees. In his opinion it is not acceptable for an advertisement for coffee to be sexy in the same way as, for example, an underwear ad. He noted that while H&M has come in for much criticism from the general public the company’s Christmas campaigns have never been found in breach of ethical standards…

…In its written judgment the ERK maintained that Lavazza had not lived up to the principle “that advertising should be formed with due regard for social responsibility”

Good for ERK, and yes, I rather like that acronym too!^^ But one wonders what they would make of Changmin?

Update – Unfortunately my English copy is in New Zealand, but see below for more on the cowboy stance, and how intimately sexual and physical aggression can be linked. From pages 236 and 237 of the Korean edition of The Definitive Book of Body Language by Alan and Barbara Pease (2006), it’s easily one of the most helpful book purchases you’ll ever make, although I did much prefer the realistic line drawings in the 1989(?) edition to the cartoon-like ones and photos of famous people in the new one:

And for comparison’s sake, here’s a less disastrously photoshopped image of Changmin:

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(For more posts in the Korean Photoshop Disasters series, see here)


22 thoughts on “Korean Photoshop Disaster #6: I like it hot, strong, and black! (Updated)

  1. I agree with you that grabbing the crotch is pretty excessive (I can’t believe this was authorized, because it’s pretty evident it should be at least revised). However, the fact that the media allows such level of sexual portrayal of men may mean that now Koreans are more open to overtly sexual images of men (like, a photo grabbing the crotch), even when compared to Europe and the U.S (on the assumption that there are no European/U.S advertisements using photos of men grabbing their crotch). And also I think the phenomenon is really ironic because the Korean society itself is highly conservative towards both men and women, but in media, they are VERY permissive towards overtly sexual images.


    1. You may have a point about Koreans being more open to overtly sexual images of men: my 10 minute google search is hardly the definite word of course, but I was surprised not to find any Western ads involving either sex grabbing their own crotches. Just like in Korea, doing so while dancing was a different matter though, especially for men.

      By the way, and this is all the fault of my writing sorry, I don’t actually regard the ad as excessive, offensive, or shocking or anything like that (provocative yes, but that’s not necessarily bad). I just think it’s a very lame ad concept, but also interesting in how it exposes (pun intended) both the one-track mind of the Korean advertising industry especially and the double-standards contained therein.


    1. At the beginning of the year I had about 350 posts up, and now in August I have…349!

      Unlike other 34 year-old aspiring writers, unfortunately I don’t have 2 decades of so of constant practice behind me, so much of what I wrote in 2007 and 2008, well, completely sucked (not having any specific purpose with the blog then didn’t help), and even the odd one from 2009 that I was really proud of at the time now I think is virtually unintelligible. I go back and tweak some sometimes then, but most I wisely elect to burn them and then bury the ashes.

      I’ll try to finish that pruning process by the end of August, but naturally I try to spend more time on writing new posts instead!


  2. Kim Ah-joong’s thumbs through the belt loops have nothing to do with cowboy ruggedness. That pose is intended to draw attention to the abdomen exposed by wearing low riders. It’s a very common pose for female models wearing that style of jeans.


    1. Thanks for adding that, although I think you’ve misinterpreted why I highlighted it sorry: “the cowboy stance” has nothing to do with cowboys really, and everything to do with sexual assertiveness and/or physical aggression. In a moment, I’ll add some relevant scans from my book on body language to the post so that you can see what I mean (expecting them to me in the “When men and women meet” section, I missed them last night!


  3. I have to agree with the commenter’s assessment of the 김아중 ad. I tend to strike that pose when I’m nervous, such as when I’m meeting someone for the first time. (I’m a somewhat timid person.) I can’t recall striking that pose any time I haven’t felt a bit anxious, so that’s what I associate it with.

    The coffee ad is quite brazen and as hypocritical as I am, as a feminist, to say this – it’s quite delicious to look at, and I stared at it for an unusually long time before reading your post! I can’t recall seeing any comparable ad ever in which a person was so obviously grabbing their own crotch. I usually only give advertisements a passing glance, but the above one succeeds where most others fail – it caught my attention long enough for me to see what was being advertised. Sure, Shirtless Crotch-Grabbing Hot Guy has nothing to do with coffee (!), but I would certainly notice him among the sea of advertisements which flood my life on a daily basis… so, looks like the marketing campaign won this battle. Dang them.


    1. I’m surprised you tend to strike that pose when you’re nervous, because most people subconsciously set up some form of barrier with their arms and books or bags or something, or alternatively clasp their hands behind their back, which sort of puffs their chests up lion-style and ultimately increases their confidence.

      As a teenager going to many different high schools in many different countries, being shy I would want to fold my arms defensively, but also wanted to be open and friendly (which requires opening your arms), so in the end I would make a compromise exactly like you can see on the woman here. Of course, I was completely unaware of it at the time, so was blown away when I saw it in a book when I was 14!

      On the ad itself though, all quite agreed, and thanks for being honest!


      1. Thanks for such a thoughtful reply – I’m intrigued now and want to look up more information on body language! But yeah, I definitely strike the aforementioned pose when nervous. I have a rather clear memory of standing this way after a concert, talking to an attractive man. As the ‘awkward pauses’ began to add up (I’m good at many things, but maintaining a casual conversation is not one of them) I became aware that I was repeatedly standing in this manner. And the more panicky I felt about not being witty or interesting enough to hold the guy’s attention, the longer I would hold this pose. I felt ridiculous. Anyway, sorry for babbling. But at least you taught me something today, and I’ll start learning more now :-)

        Oh, and sorry to hear about your elbow. And eye. Poor thing.


        1. Both are fine now thanks, and no need to apologize for “babbling”: I can hardly talk! And actually, I’m curious now as to how that sexual attraction element affects our body language when we’re nervous, as that was never an issue when I was being dragged to yet another school as a teen!

          As for the body language book, personally the section on lying has probably been the most helpful for me, albeit in suddenly realizing what typical lying gestures I was doing while lying myself, and I make sure to photocopy the section on personal zones for any of my students going to live in a less cramped Western country: it goes a long way to explaining why, to their amazement, East Asian women often get hit on by Western guys there when they were just trying to be friendly for instance, and also why some interrcultural friendships can flounder for unfathomable reasons.

          In particular, I’ll always remember how at my last high school, an otherwise perfectly friendly Taiwanese classmate always made me feel uncomfortable for some reason, and eventually I realized because of the book that it was simply because he always stood so damn close to me! If I hadn’t realized that though, then I’d probably just have chalked it up to there being something about Asians that made it difficult to really mix well and relax with them instead, and so would probably have been disinclined to ever try and make any Asian friends, let alone ultimately come to Asia to live and marry one of them!


          1. I don’t suppose you happen to have a scan of the personal zones section do you? I’d just be very curious to see it – Korean or English version – if you do happen to have it. I spend a lot of time with Korean students who have come to study in the UK, and it sounds like it could be very useful to pass on!


          2. Yes, unfortunately I am :( I might be able to come up with an address you could mail it to, but I’m going away from a few days, so it’ll have to wait until then to be sure. Thanks anyway!


  4. I think this was set off by the idol group 2PM with the ‘beastly’ idol craze. I haven’t been observing Kpop or Kculture for long (so anyone can correct me if I’m wrong), but they’re the one group I think explicity objectifies their bodies agressively to their female audience. The sexually agressive male in the idol world is pretty new to me. Male idols are usually just as conservative as the female idols. The recent popularity of the ‘beastly’ or the agressive male with korean girls and women is what I think these ads are trying to capitalize on. It’s like everyone just realized that sexual images can appeal just as greatly to women, as they can to men. They’re probably trying to attract a greater amount of girls and women to their product. If this sort of image hadn’t become so popular within the last year or so, the company probably wouldn’t have taken the risk of alienating customers or receiving criticism with these ads. Some new and even current male idol groups are trying to emulate this sexually aggressive attitude, while others are playing it safe with the usual flower boy. This reminds me of the sexy dances that female idols perform; it’s an awkward performance of sexy than actually being sexy. I can understand your shock and amazment with this image, seeing as how sexual aggression and availability is usually advertised with foreigners (white people).

    Also, because he is a man performing a sexually assertive/aggressive role, I don’t think it’s seen as a negative trait for a man to have. But I do think it goes against how sexually conservative korean society is and the idea that only foreigners are explicitly sexual in the media. That image is male sexual objectification. What does being semi-shirtless and grabbing your crotch have to do with coffee (not to mention the completely unneccessary and god awful photoshop). The italian coffee company uses the same kind of image except with a woman. I just think it’s a new trend in South Korea that companies think that they can make some money on, definately with men not women. An over the top sexually aggressive woman is unnatural and immoral (sarcasm).


    1. 2PM may be “beastly” looking, but when I went to their concert recently they spent one song shirtless doing a sexy dance and a bunch of other songs dancing like girls in angel wings or parodying Orange Caramel in dresses. I’m pretty sure the girls in the audience were screaming more for the feminine behavior and the members pretending to kiss than they were when they were acting aggressively sexual.


  5. Keep in mind, I saw on allkpop.com another related article called “2AM’s Changmin Get His Nails Done.” So, really, I think its safe to gauge how “masculine” Mr. Chagnmin is.

    Being a man and masculine is a good trait to have…but grabbing your groin doesn’t really prove that you are a sexy man. It just proves he knows where his crotch is. Or maybe drinking the coffee makes you want to grab your donglings? The problem with this kind of advertising is how TOO effective it is because of the icon power as its foundation, aka Changmin. Like, let’s show inappropriate poses to Koreans and foreigners to sell coffee, but hey, its Changmin from 2AM, so he can do whatever the heck he wants! Right? That’s the message that’s being brought here, using a concept of sexuality, which belongs to the bedroom, to the open eye, and it just leaves people confused, perplexed, and what the heck? syndrome attacks everyone.

    It still befuddles me how much the new trends are coming in without much blowback from the conservative party.

    Being a former ESL teacher, I would always think a good barometer would be to show this kind of ad to my high school students, and see what they think. Hmmm…


  6. Little to add to the discussion except that I find it interesting that Changmin more than the other members is overtly masculinely sexualized — I personally feel that’s at least partially related to the fact that he is one of the only (possibly the only?) young idols in a current band who has already completed his military service, and thus he is more “manly” than other might be?


  7. No – no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should have sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful… I had no idea.


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