Open Thread #16


As this post goes up, I’ll be at Gimhae Airport picking up my father, then taking him and the rest of the family to the Daegu 2011 IAAF World Championships this weekend and next. We’d like to stay there for the entire nine days (he will!), but unfortunately next week we have to move apartments on Wednesday, and then I start teaching again the next day. Needless to say, I’ll be too busy to write again until he leaves on the 7th of September.

Until then, please feel free to raise and discuss anything sociological, gender, advertising, K-pop, and/or athletics-related here, and sorry for not being able to complete any song translations this month. But I do have five that I’ve been working on, which I’ll put up as soon as I’m back!

Update, September 7th: I won’t bore you with the details, but I’m afraid my “comeback” with have to be pushed back to Monday the 12th. Sorry!


Korean Gender Reader


1) The difference between “sexuality” and “sexualization”

Angry K-pop Fan and I both love a recent post at Sociological Images for so succinctly explaining that:

I’m no prude.  I think that children are – and have a right to be – sexual beings.  However, there is a difference between sexuality (feeling sexual) and sexualization (being seen as sexy). I (and many other like-minded feminists) believe that girls should be sexual; but, sexualization (and its concomitant focus on appearance instead of desire) is bad because it denies girls’ sexual subjectivity in favor of sexual objectification.

2) International AIDS conference in Busan this weekend

See Busan Haps or the conference website for more details. Unfortunately though, it’s not really aimed at the public (it’s much too late to register, and was prohibitively expensive anyway).

Meanwhile, to any foreign readers that may be under the understandable but false impression that the Korean public doesn’t believe that AIDS exists here, let me point you to this eye-opening experience I had about that back in 2005 (scroll down to just before the “Lesbos” picture).

3) More babies!

– Congratulations to Roboseyo and Wifeoseyo, who are having a Miniseyo in October.

– Congratulations again to Shotgun Korea, who had Desmond William Wolfie Kim on August 18.

– And finally belated congratulations to Going Places, having a baby in November.

Dragon Korea, having a boy next March February (see last week’s post), ponders how to give a kid solid White-Western and Korean identities. And her husband designer diaper bags!

– Over at Busan Haps, Roy Early ponders how to keep strangers from constantly touching his children. I can’t say that I’ve had that problem myself, but we are both tired of our children constantly being given candy, which non-parents may be amazed to learn just how many Koreans seem to always have on their person.

(Source. It is just me, or does A-ran’s {아란} face on the far left seem very badly photoshopped?)

4) Please objectify us! Pleeease……

Hey, I’ve always maintained that it’s largely the current glut of girl-groups that is driving their increasing sexualization. So, to play Devil’s Advocate, Swing Girls (스윙걸즈) differentiating themselves on the basis of all members having D-cup breasts(!) are really just being explicit about something that other girl-groups have already been doing for years.

And boy-bands too of course. Two weeks ago for instance, Lee Joon (이준) of MBLAQ (엠블랙) helpfully reminded us of what’s really needed for a guy to succeed in K-pop these days:


Update: Angry K-pop Fan provides a more comprehensive analysis of the Swing Girl’s branding plans here.

5) Does Jung Ryo-won (정려원) have anorexia, or are netizens overreacting?

I’d be one of those netizens I guess, mentioning those anorexia speculations back in March and May 2009 (see #3 here), and adding that I wasn’t personally convinced by her explanation that she lost the weight for a movie role. While I do sympathize with her frustration with netizens though, I’m afraid that 2 years later I’m similarly unconvinced by her new explanation that she’s one of those voracious eaters that never seems to put on weight, especially as I used to be one myself (albeit 20 years ago!).

6) Singles eclipse nuclear families in Seoul

It’s a slightly inaccurate headline – two parents and any number of children constitutes a nuclear family, not just two – but it’s certainly true that more and more people are living alone: 24.4% in Seoul according to the JoongAng Daily, and 23.9% nationally according to Real Time Korea. These are only slightly below rates for Western developed countries, as this graph from 2006 indicates (I have more detailed statistics in my bookcase, but most are over a decade old sorry!).

See here for more background, and here for more on the industries that were already springing up to cater to the increasing numbers of singles way back in 2009. (The latter also happened to have that handy graph on the right)

7) Korean students with make-up

Under fear of being sued by parents, at least one teacher is no longer enforcing school rules that require them to wash it off (via: Yahae!)

For some context, see here.

8) Taiwanese woman sexually assaulted in Hahoe Folk Village

See the details at Asian Correspondent here. Also in Taiwan-related news, Gender Across Borders reports that a mass same-sex wedding is planned there later this month.


9) Korea not ready for a group like Chocolat (쇼콜라)?

An interesting angle on them from Gord Sellar:

…Whereas the media hypersexualization of children is pretty much accepted — if not admitted — in Korean society, and the media hypersexualization of white women is all but de rigeur now, I think the idea that the media sexualization of biracially white/Korean children might not turn out to be as profitable an enterprise in Korea.

The band seems to be getting a pretty negative reception online, and it’s not hard to see why: the particular anxieties regarding race in Korea that the group’s promoters are trying to exploit — ambiguities of race, and the permissible exoticism of the non-Korean female — take on a life of their own when there is not a Korean male in the picture to “own” her (and, likewise, to “pwn” her)…

See here for the full post, and here (and possibly here) for my own on the issues Gord alludes to with that last sentence. Also, Angry K-pop Fan makes some interesting comparisons between Chocolat and pan-Asian band Blush.

10) 16 year-old Suzy (수지) of Miss A (미쓰에이) endorses French Lolita Lempicka perfume


A friend of mine, a close watcher of K-pop, believes that manager JYP has tended to make Suzy wear more conservative costumes and do slightly less risque dances than her adult co-members of Miss A, nor made her the focus of the group, all quite unlike what he did for So-hee of the Wondergirls when she was a minor (a practice replicated by other entertainment companies, such as: SM Entertainment with Sulli of f(x); Cube Entertainment with HyunA of 4Minute; and indeed Paramount Music of {at least} Tia of Chocolat in #8 above). With this loaded endorsement however, that may all be about to change, as indeed a similar one (“Lolita Sexy”) early last year arguably symbolized a great deal about his past and future marketing of the Wondergirls.


The Future of Manufactured Idols: Update


I like to think that if I’d seen AKB48’s newest member Aimi Eguchi (江口 愛実) when she debuted, that I’d immediately have been able to tell that she was actually computer-generated. But I’m not so sure: whereas it’s pretty obvious in most of the shots here and here, I would never have noticed anything unusual about that ad above (all the members look quite fake!), nor that this and this picture weren’t of a real person.

It’s a little more obvious in the commercial itself though:

Thanks very much to @Septemberlena for letting me know about her. Unlike Hatsune Miku (初音ミク) that I wrote about two weeks ago, who very much resembles an anime character despite the impressive technology behind her, unfortunately such photorealistic idols clearly have a huge potential to insidiously affect teens’ body images. Especially when coming from a group as popular as ABK48.


What did Depraved Oppas Do to Girls’ Generation? Part 5 (Final)


This translation of part of this Korean article follows directly from Parts One, Two, Three, and Four. If you haven’t already, please read those first, as the author didn’t intend for any section to be a stand-alone post:

려한 조명과 환호 속의 착취 / Exploitation inside the bright lights and cheering

아이돌 시스템을 ‘착취’로 보는 데 모든 이가 동의하지는 않을 것이다. 이렇게 물을 사람도 있을 것이다. 고되고 불확실한 과정이라지만, 누가 강요한 것도 아니고 스스로 원해서 하는 일 아니냐고.

That the idol system is exploitative might not be a view that not everyone shares.  There might also be people who ask this kind of question: though it is a difficult and uncertain process, isn’t it something they’re not forced to do and that they’re doing because they want to?

그렇다면 가혹한 입시제도도, 살인적 등록금도, 젊은이의 미래를 절망스럽게 만드는 비정규직도 별 문제가 아니다. 누가 대학 가라고, 누가 비정규직으로 일하라고 강요하던가. 선택이 제한된 사회에서 ‘자발적 선택’이란 얼마나 허망한 말인가. <한겨레신문>에 실린 한 아이돌 지망생의 말을 들어보자. 이 고등학생은 어렵사리 쌍꺼풀 수술을 한 후, 이제 코 성형을 목표로 편의점, 패스트푸드점, 주유소에서 아르바이트를 하고 있었다.

If so, then the rigorous university entrance exam system, murderous tuition fee, and the irregular work that fills a young person with despair aren’t really problems.   Who forces them to go to university or do irregular work?  In a society that has limited choices, how unreliable the expression ‘voluntary choice’ is!  Let’s hear what one idol hopeful said, as reported in the Hankyoreh [newspaper].  After getting a double-eyelid surgery with [financial] difficulty, this high school student is now working part time at a convenience store, a fast food restaurant, and a gas station with the goal of getting nose surgery.


“어린 나이에 그토록 힘든 일을 감내해가며 연예인이 되고 싶은 이유가 뭐냐고, 이른바 ‘불공정 계약서’를 쓰고 젊음과 재능을 착취당하는 아이돌 얘기 못 들어봤느냐고 겁주는 소리를 했더니 그 친구가 말했다. ‘기자 언니, 솔직히 말해보세요. 나처럼 돈 없고 ‘빽’ 없고 성적도 그저 그런 애가 그럭저럭 대학 가면 그다음엔 뭐 있어요? 지금은 좀 힘들어도, 기획사에만 들어가면 나한테는 진짜 ‘기회’가 오는 거잖아요.” (<한겨레신문> “빽 없는 연예지망생 ‘성공시대’ 저무나” 2011. 6. 17)

“After I asked her scary things like what’s her reason for wanting to become a celebrity while enduring such difficulties at a young age, and hasn’t she heard of idols whose youth and talent were exploited after they signed so-called ‘unfair contracts,’ she answered me.  ‘Reporter Onni, be honest.  If a person like me, without money or connections, and whose grades are so-so, somehow goes to university, what is there after that?  Even though it’s a little difficult now, you know that if I just get an agency, that is a real opportunity to me.'” (Hankyoreh, “End of the ‘Era of Success’ for would-be celebrities with no connections” June 17, 2011)

James – See “Teen Angst and the K-pop Machine” at SeoulBeats for more on the appeal of joining a talent agency

지난해 여성가족부는 청소년 연예인(지망생 포함)을 대상으로 설문조사를 했다. 그 결과를 보면, 미성년자 연예인들의 ‘자발적 선택’이 어떤 것인지 알 수 있다. 응답자의 36%가 하루 8시간 이상 초과근무를 하고, 41%가 야간과 휴일에도 일하고 있었다. 미성년자인 이들 중 10%가 신체 노출을 경험했다고 말했고, 그중 60%가 강요에 의해서라고 답했다.

Last year, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family surveyed adolescent celebrities (including hopefuls). By looking at the results, we can see what kind of thing underage celebrities’ “voluntary choice” is.  36% of respondents worked more than 8 hours a day and 41% even worked on nights and weekends.  Of these minors, 10% said they had experienced wearing revealing clothing, and of that group 60% answered that they did so under coercion.

앞의 <한겨레신문> 기사를 더 읽어 보면 이런 기회조차 평등하게 주어지지 않음을 알게 된다. “돈 없고 빽 없는” 아이들에게도 기회를 주는 듯했던 연예기획사들이 이제 돈과 배경을 갖춘 지망생을 선호하는 것이다.


If you read more of the Hankoryeh article mentioned above, you’ll learn that even this kind of opportunity is not given equally. Entertainment management agencies, which had seemed to give chances to children “without money or connections,” now choose hopefuls that combine money and background.

“‘형편이 어려운 아이들은 헝그리 정신 덕분에 빨리 성장하긴 하는데, 성공한 뒤에는 집안의 실질적 가장 노릇을 하기 때문에 계약서 관련 소송을 일으킬 확률이 높다’는 논리라고 한다. ‘반면 있는 집 아이들은 돈 문제에 민감하지 않고 ‘강남 키드’, ‘엄친아’ 이미지에 힘입어 광고계에서도 각광받는다’고 했다.”

“‘Though children in difficult circumstances develop quickly thanks to their hungry mentality, after succeeding, the chances of contract-related court cases arising is high, because they are effectively the heads of their household,’ is the reason a broadcast PD [Marilyn – I checked] gave. ‘On the other hand, children from homes that have money don’t care about money problems, and with their image as a “Kangnam kid” or “Mom’s friend’s son” [a perfect kid, to whom your mother is always unfavorably comparing you] they are in the spotlight in advertising too.’”

일부 아이돌 지망생이 일반인들은 상상하기 어려운 부를 얻는 것은 사실이다. 그렇다고 해서 아이돌 시스템이 정당화되는 것은 아니다. 이 체계는 피라미드 하층부 다수의 희생에 기초를 두고 있기 때문이다. 한국의 입시교육이 소수에게 혜택을 준다고 해서 절대 다수를 ‘들러리’로 희생시키는 행위가 정당화될 수 없듯 말이다.

It’s true that some idol-hopefuls make money that average people have difficulty imagining.  That doesn’t mean that the idol system is justified.  This is because it based on the sacrifices of the majority at the bottom of the pyramid. It is like how even though the Korean university entrance exam education benefits a minority, sacrificing the majority in supporting roles can never be justified.

당신이 아이돌의 팬이든 아니든 상관없다. 그들이 좇는 꿈이 칭찬할 만하다고 생각하면, 그 꿈이 행복한 결실을 맺도록 보살필 일이다. 만일 그 꿈이 철부지들의 몽상이라고 생각한다면, 입시와 오디션을 거치지 않아도 기쁘게 살 길을 마련해 주자. 그게 진정 ‘오빠’와 ‘누나’가 할 일이다.

It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of idols or not. If you think the dream that they are pursuing is worthy of praise, it is a matter of taking care of them so their dream has happy results.  If you think that dream is a just a children’s fantasy, lets provide a way for them live joyfully even if they don’t pass the university entrance exam or audition. That is the duty of real “oppas” and “noonas.”


Image Caption 7: 아이돌 기획사는 창의적 재능을 갖춘 지망생을 원하지 않는다. 이상적인 후보는 정해 준 동작을 그대로 익혀 따르는 기계적 완벽성이다. 사진은 소녀시대의 ‘오!’ 뮤직비디오의 한 장면.

Image caption 7: Idol agencies don’t want hopefuls who possess creative talent.  The ideal candidate is mechanical perfection at learning and copying the moves as they are given. In the picture, a scene from Girls Generation’s music video “Oh!”

(Thanks very much to Marilyn for translating Parts 4 and 5)

Update – See The Korea Herald for more on exploitation of minors in the Korean music industry.

Update 2The Marmot’s Hole reports that “apparently there are hundreds of students from elementary to high school who are skipping class in favor of auditions in hopes of becoming a celebrity. National Assembly members are calling for measures that would ensure that these students receive the mandatory education like other students.”

What Did Depraved Oppas do to Girls’ Generation? Part 4


This translation of part of this Korean article follows directly from Parts One, Two, and Three. If you haven’t already, please read those first, as the author didn’t intend for any section to be a stand-alone post:

아이돌: 꿈의 비정규직? Idols: the irregularity [instability] of the dream?

오디션은 누구에게나 열린 평등한 기회가 아니다. 가장 중요한 것은 육체다. 기획된 노출 용도에 적합한, ‘규격’에 맞는 몸을 가져야 한다. 기획사는 창의적 재능을 갖춘 사람을 원하지 않는다. 가장 이상적인 자질은 기획사가 정한 동작을 완벽히, 기계적으로 따라하는 ‘길들이기 쉬운’ 신체다.

Auditions are not an equal opportunity open to everyone.  The most important thing is [one’s] body.  One must have a body that is suitable for the planned purpose of exposure and meets “the standard.”  Agencies don’t want people who have creative abilities.  The most ideal qualification is an “easy to tame” body that perfectly, mechanically copies the moves that the agency determines.

아이돌 지망생들은 1000대 1 가까운 경쟁을 뚫고 오디션을 통과해야 겨우 연습생 자격을 얻는다. 물론 다수가 교습소에서 춤과 동작을 배우고, 다이어트와 성형을 거치는 등 ‘선행 훈련’을 쌓는다. 그리고 이렇게 선발된 연습생 가운데 2~3%만이 그룹으로 활동할 기회를 얻는다.


Idol hopefuls have to beat nearly 1000-to-1 odds to pass the audition and just qualify as trainees.  Of course, the majority study dance and movement at a [training] school, and pile up “prior training” like going through diets and surgery.  Also, among trainees selected in this way, only 2-3% get the chance to be part of a [girl or boy] group.

연습생들이 고된 훈련과 불투명한 미래를 견디는 이유는 하나다. ‘내게도 기회가 올 수 있다’는 막연한 희망이 있기 때문이다. 그러나 이 ‘희망’은 대단히 잔인한 훈육 체계다. 연습생들에게 보상이 불확실한 노동을 지속하게 하고, 데뷔한 그룹에게는 ‘너를 대신할 사람은 널렸다’는 위협이 되기 때문이다. 아래 글은 이 점을 잘 지적하고 있다.

There is one reason that trainees endure intense training and an uncertain future.  It is the vague hope that “I too can get an opportunity.”  However, this “hope” brings with it a very cruel system of discipline.  This is because trainees are made to continue to do work for which reward is uncertain, and they become a threat to groups that have made their debut, [who are told] “There are many people who can do this instead of you.”   The excerpt below illustrates this.

“그룹을 꾸려 데뷔를 준비하는 것도 마음과 취향이 맞는 연습생끼리 어울려 이루는 것이 아니다. 소속사가 기획하는 그림에 따라 멤버가 추려지고, 그룹 안에서 맡아야 할 역할에 따라 지시된 이미지대로 움직여야 한다. 여기서 밉보이거나 엇나가면 이들을 자산으로 관리하는 기획사는 본보기로 멤버 가운데 하나를 탈락시킨다. 이런 으름장은 신인 연예인을 다스리는 효과적인 전략이다.” (이안, ‘원더걸스 선미 탈퇴로 비춰본 아이돌에 대한 허상’, <미디어오늘> 2010. 1. 26)

“The making and debut preparation of a group is also not something formed between like-minded trainees of similar tastes.  Members are selected according to the image that the record company is planning. They must behave according to the image assigned to them as the role each must play in the group.  If they anger [the agency] or go astray here, the agency that manages them like they are property can make an example of one of the members by eliminating him or her.  This kind of threat is an effective strategy for controlling new celebrities.”  (Lee Ahn, “Illusions about idols revealed by [Marilyn- in light of?] Wondergirls’ Sun-mi’s departure”, <Media Ohneul> 2010. 1. 26)

과거의 아이돌 그룹은 각 구성원이 뚜렷한 개성을 지니고 있었고, 서로 구분되는 역할을 했다. 그로 인해 한 명이라도 빠지게 되면 그룹 전체가 타격을 받곤 했다. 한 멤버의 탈퇴로 그룹이 해체되는 경우도 흔했다. 그러나 2000년대 후반에 나타난 아이돌 그룹은 비슷한 키에 비슷한 몸매를 갖고 있고, 그룹 내의 역할도 차별성을 갖지 않는다. 이제 구성원은 언제라도 대체될 수 있는 ‘규격부품’이 된 것이다.

In idol groups of the past, each member had a marked individuality and played a distinct role. As a result, if even one member left, the whole group was damaged.  Groups often also broke up because of the withdrawal of one member.  However, idol groups that appeared in the latter half of the 2000s have similar heights and figures, and their roles in the group are not distinct.  Now, a member is a “standard part” that can be replaced at any time.

원더걸스의 경우, 현아와 선미가 탈퇴한 자리는 곧 다른 멤버로 채워졌고 아무 문제 없이 그룹이 운영되고 있다. 걸스데이 기획사 역시 지선과 지인의 탈퇴 발표 후 나흘 만에 새 멤버를 영입했다. 남성 아이돌 그룹 유키스 또한 기범과 알렉산더가 남긴 빈자리를 신인으로 보충해서 활동을 계속하고 있다. 결국 아이돌 시스템은 노동을 손쉽게 대체하기 위한 ‘연예계의 노동유연화’ 또는 ‘비정규직화’인 셈이다.

In the Wondergirls’ case, the openings left by HyunA’s and Sunmi’s departures were soon filled by other [new] members, and the group is operating with no problems.  Girl’s Day’s agency also recruited new members within four days of the announcement of Ji Sun and Ji In’s departure.  Male idol group U-KISS also filled open seats left by Kibum and Alexander with new faces and is continuing to work.  Ultimately, the idol system is about “the flexibilization* of entertainment labor” or “irregularization” for the sake of easily replacing labor.


Caption: 아이돌 그룹의 특성은 몰개성과 획일화다. 표준화된 이미지와 역할분산은 멤버들을 ‘부품화’함으로써 언제라도 대체할 수 있게 만들어 준다. 원더걸스의 경우 다섯 명 가운데 두 명이 교체되었지만, 큰 타격 없이 활동을 계속하고 있다.

Caption: The standardization and lack of individuality of idol groups’ characteristics.  Through componentization [making each member into a “part” that is responsible for a small aspect of the whole], a standardized image and the division of roles make members replaceable at anytime.  In the Wondergirls’ case, two out of five members have been replaced, but the group is continuing to work without much damage. (end)

*Apologies for the long delay since Part Three, and thanks very much to Marilyn for helping me to catch up by translating this one. About some of the odd words in it, she adds that she:

…found a definition of “flexibilization” as leading to “a core group with unlimited full employment, and an increasingly larger group of short-term limited and or part-time employees who face severe employment risks, ultimately resulting in stress” and “componentization” is “not limited to software; through the use of subcontracting and outsourcing, it can also apply to business organizations and processes.”, but “irregularization” seems to not be a real word.

(See here for Part 5)

Looking for K-pop Remixes?

(Sources: left, right, top-right)

Blame Greek DJ Areia’s trance remixes for my falling in love with K-pop last year, and indeed I’m still a big fan of his. But I’ve noticed that while there seem to be plenty of other good remixers out there, it can be really difficult to find them if you don’t already know who they are. Add that now I know where the quality K-pop is too, then frankly I’ve given up looking.

Enter Christine of Pop88, who actually regularly showcases remixers’ work all together in one convenient short podcast. Make sure to check out her latest episode here, and also her deeper K-pop and sociological commentary at 8Asians!^^