Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea, Part 2: Six Year-Old Does KARA’s “Butt Dance” (엉덩이 춤) on “Shabekuri 007″

(Source)

(Update: as YouTube flags me for copyright violations if I post the video there, then please see here or here instead)

Thank you to everyone who’s emailed me about Japanese child star Ashida Mana dancing to KARA’s Mister on a Japanese talk show. For anyone interested in some context, issues raised, and why I think it’s problematic, then please first read Part 2, all of which was written in response to my one of my own daughters doing something similar at her kindergarten. Frankly, it was eerie how much Ashia reminded me of her.

Meanwhile, here’s the “Butt Dance” (엉덩이 춤) being referred to, with handy English subtitles:

Next, assuming that you’re read that earlier post, then consider these additional observations from Meenakshi Durham’s The Lolita Effect, which seem particularly apt here:

…Increasingly, adult sexual motifs are overlapping with childhood — specifically girlhood, shaping an environment in which young girls are increasingly seen as valid participants in a public culture of sex.

In some ways, this is not a new idea: in the 1932 short film “Polly Tix in Washington”, a four year-old Shirley Temple played a pint-sized prostitute. Sashaying around in lacy lingerie and ropes of pearls, she announced “Boss Flint Eye sent me over to entertain you…but I’m expensive!”. Critics have commented on the overt lewdness of this and other films the toddler was case in as part of the “Baby Burlesks” series, which were designed for adult viewers and included frequent scenes of little girls in diapers aping the sexual behaviors and attitudes of much older women. In latter films too, Temple projected an “oddly precocious” sensuality, as the film historian Marianne Sinclair has observed — in fact, the acclaimed novelist Graham Greene was sued for commenting on it a film review. (pp. 115-116)

Indeed, Temple herself later described the series as a cynical exploitation of her childish innocence. Appearing from 3:16 below, you’ll soon see why:

But why is it deeply disturbing when 4 year-old Shirley Temple assumes sexual poses and all but blurts out that she’s interested in having sex with the “men”, whereas it’s supposedly as kawaii as hell for 6 year-old Ashida Mana to do, well, almost exactly the same thing? Granted, some actual kissing is involved in the former, but then I’d argue that the majority of viewers would still find the film at least a little concerning without it. In contrast, I’d wager most of us have much more mixed feelings about Ashida Mana, and I’m curious as to why.

With me, I think it’s through seeing my daughter Alice in Ashida, and knowing that she’s completely unaware of the implications of what she’s saying, instead simply having fun and/or fulfilling her natural urge to mimic the behavior of adults. But which is not quite the same as saying it would have been okay for her dance to the much more sexual Mister rather than Lupin at her kindergarten however, let alone for any child do it on national television simply for our titillation.

But other than that, I’ve pretty much said all I can myself in that earlier 3400(!) word post, so I’d really appreciate hearing your own thoughts!^^

The “Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea” series:

9 thoughts on “Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea, Part 2: Six Year-Old Does KARA’s “Butt Dance” (엉덩이 춤) on “Shabekuri 007″

  1. A quick note–her name is not Ashia, but Ashida (surname 芦田 Ashida, personal name 愛菜 Mana).

    And I’d forgotten how weird some of those Shirley Temple films were.

  2. My first impulse is to say that a major difference is that there’s very little *physical* interaction between Aishida and the adult men, while Temple and her costar are very physically engaged. Also, by having adults in the scene, it emphasizes the childishness and play acting aspects of Aishida’s performance – it looks more like how my parents used to interact with my siblings and I when we ran around imagining we were in the Jurassic period or World War I flying aces. Also, because the men are acting silly and childish themselves, it makes it all look more like adults engaging in child’s play rather than a child engaging in a sexualized adult dance. In effect, by treating the dance as something childish, I think the dance ends up contextually de-sexualised. On the other hand, having no contrasting adults in the Temple picture actually emphasizes how sexualized and adult the performances are, even when coming from cute little kids who have very little idea of what they’re really portraying.

    In a way, this dance by Aishida seems to me much less sexualized than some of the other child performances I’ve seen, partially because the lack of costume change and Aishida’s very un-practiced way of dancing really does look like a kid who just picked up a fun dance by watching TV. The children who show up having obviously been coached in how to move and perform in a much more professionalized way, including dance lessons, costumes, etc. are much, much more creepy because adults have obviously assisted them in the process – and while I wouldn’t really expect a child to know all the very adult ways in which many of the moves are interpreted by audiences, I do expect an adult to know and not teach them. Perhaps some of the difference is just between a kid acting out what they’ve seen (which includes a range of behaviors, many of which are not sexualized by society, like pretending your a flying ace or a dinosaur) and ones where adults have assisted in the learning and performance process?

    • I have to agree with you here. I think that part of the reason that these kids-acting-as-adults videos are thought to be so funny is specifically BECAUSE the kids have no idea what they’re doing. The problem comes when the adults also pretend that they don’t know what they’re doing; when we actively try to ignore these signals that we know are overtyl sexual, then we have no way to deal with the consequences. After all, how can you worry about the effects of something that, as far as society is concerned, doesn’t exist in the first place? Think of the Prohibition in America–because society was supposed to pretend that no one drank, everyone drank all the more, and there was no means with which to deal with this problem because as far as anyone was concerned, it didn’t exist.

      In order for this problem to be resolved, I think I’d honestly say that women have to sexualize men the same way men do women. That way everyone is totally conscious of the situation and we can all have a good laugh at how over-sexualized global pop culture has become in general. Maybe the fact that such female gaze-designed pop culture items (Brown Eyed Girls’ Abracadabra spring to mind) are so discouraged and suppressed shows that I’m on to something here. I don’t know. Really, I think it would be akin to a major cultural revolution around sex that would totally change the oh-so-structured way men and women interact in Korea.

      • Good points as always Gomushin Girl, and now I realize that I found Ashida Mana’s performance so eerily similar to my eldest daughter’s dancing precisely because it was so unscripted. Having said that, it wouldn’t have been very difficult to find a tamer song that she would just as happily danced to, as I do still think it’s problematic to have a child dancing and singing to a song that is all about sex (for reasons explained in Part 2), and that it only encourages coached, professional performances in the future, either by her or by other children (not that I think you’d disagree of course!).

        Thanks also Paul, although I’m not sure that women sexualizing and/or objectifying men in the media as much as vice-versa is really the solution (or even realistic, considering that men give more importance to looks than women do when choosing a mate): after all, the whole thrust behind the “Lolita Effect” of the past few decades, explained more in Part 2, is that those in the cosmetic and clothing industries etc. want consumers to worry about their appearance and looking sexually attractive at as early an age as possible, all the better to sell them products to help them achieve that. But yes, certainly a major cultural/sexual revolution is needed to counter that very reductionist notion of sexual attractiveness.

        • I was being somewhat sarcastic, but I think that the trick would be to actually have men realize first of all that they naturally view women in this way, see how it’s damaging when they do it in an uncontrolled manner, and finally have it done to them to see how it feels. And while acknowledging that it’s unrealistic (although a look at American and some European pop culture says it’s happening here anyway), I’m not sure how else to solve this problem.

          After all, I know that it’s sort of against what I perceive to be one of the main points of this blog, the idea that having the male gaze be the way in which things in consumerist cultures are bought and sold is harmful in just about every way that you can think of, but if we say that the male gaze is something that men do by their nature, then we can’t stop it by social means, even if we can use social means to reduce the impact the male gaze has on women. If we’re saying that men and women are different in at least this aspect (which I don’t disagree with), then we have to accept that men, because they value women’s appearance more highly than women do men’s, naturally are going to objectify women, and the most we can hope to do is limit that tendency and the damage done.

          I was always under the impression that the aim of this blog was to raise awareness of gender inequality, not simply minimize its effects. Even though I think that this would be an admirable goal, and would likely have the byproduct of reducing the sexualization of kids in the media, it still seems like something of a half-fix, doesn’t it?

          • Sorry, I didn’t realize you were being sarcastic. It’s still an argument often quite seriously made though, so good to have my thoughts on that up for the sake of reference I guess.

            Meanwhile, naturally I agree that appealing to the male gaze for the sake of selling things is ultimately bad for both gender’s body images of women and notions of sexuality, but I should also mention that I don’t have any problems with appealing to the male gaze per se, for the reasons we’ve both identified. Rather, the problem is that 9/10s of the time, woman in the media are not dressing and/or performing to the male gaze because they want to, but rather because their managers and/or the photographers etc. demand it. Also, the media (and the advertising industry in particular) overwhelming relies on it too, in the process reducing the entirety of female (hetero)sexuality to simply showing as much skin as possible and/or getting into various sexual positions. Granted, things like a woman being sexy because you think she’ll make a great mother take a little more inventiveness than mere objectification of body parts, but then by no means do women need to show skin to be sexy. Here’s 3 rare examples from ads (discussed here and here respectively):

            Finally, frankly I really don’t understand why you say you thought “that the aim of this blog was to raise awareness of gender inequality, not simply minimize its effects”, as I can’t see how what I’ve written in this post or the comments privilege the latter over the former (not that they’re mutually exclusive). Could you please elaborate?

  3. Really appreciate the ongoing work you’re doing on this glossed-over subject. It is all over the place here in Korea and few people are addressing it. The K-pop idol groups have fueled it (I wrote one piece about that here: http://thethreewisemonkeys.com/2011/01/24/how-young-is-too-young-kpops-newest-9-year-old-kid-idol-girls/ ) and the entertainment shows encourage it like the example above with the creepy older men egging the girl on (here they have the female stars out there too).

    The recent story out of the U.S. about these padded bras for 7- and 8-yr-olds reminded me that this is a commercial push. http://abcnews.go.com/US/abercrombie-fitch-padded-bikini-top-year-olds-parents/story?id=13236904 Meanwhile the role models are set here: the idols show what makes people popular. The members of the new Girl Story group are mini idols or “kid idols” who’ll be dressing like Shirley soon. The “scouts” for JYP et al. are on the hunt for “budding” talent and what sells is skin and salaciousness.

    Then you drop in a law that says it’s okay for a 13-yr-old to consent and things get all the freakier. Add to that the ever-increasing rate of sex crimes and we have what would appear to be a situation that needs some serious social attention.

    I’ve only had time to skim through your part 2 and will get back after perusing it. I can’t imagine having a daughter in this environment…

    • Thanks very much for the link: I had read it, but completely forgot it. To compensate, let me pass on one in turn about those Abercrombie push-up bras, with about a dozen links at the end to examples of similar sorts of things.

      This sort of thing bad enough anywhere, I hear you about things being much worse with the age of consent being 13 here. Last year’s perceived spate of child sex crimes though, does at least seem to have created a backlash and a greater awareness of this sort of thing, and some genuine money thrown and government attention devoted to it.

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