Sorry for taking so long to return to regular posting everyone, but I have many good excuses. One is that I’m going to be a guest on Busan e-FM’s Let’s Talk Busan tomorrow, talking about Korean gender issues with Ricky Lee, the organizer of the recent V-Men event here in Busan, and Dr. Noriko Sato, an anthropology lecturer from Pukyeong University.
The show starts at 7pm. You can listen to it on the radio at 90.5, or online here (update: it’s available in the archives now). Please note that you’ll have to download Windows Media Player 10 first though, which I’ve just learned won’t work with Windows XP (update: alas, only on my computer sorry!).
Sorry everyone, but I’m just flat out this week, and need to catch up on sleep before I can work properly on new posts. Rest assured that I’ll be back next week soon though, and that I’ll make sure the next post is worth the wait.
Oh, the pictures? Well, I had to post something, so I thought I’d indulge myself. On the left is Ministry of Disasters by Julian Pacaud, who appears to be a pop-art version of René Magritte, and on the right is of course Ha Ji-won (하지원), taken on the set of The King 2 Hearts (더킹2Hearts). I think they complement each other really well, as the skyscrapers, plane, and office workers in Pacaud’s work hint much more of (Japanese) development and modernity than anything disaster-related, and, when combined with Ha Ji-won’s army fatigues and Korean background, invite the viewer to ponder the profound connections between militarism and modernity in Northeast Asia as a whole.
Especially when said viewer is on his third Black Russian, in a desperate attempt to get some sound sleep.
And on that note, now I’ll wisely try and do just that. But whether you’re also drunk, sleep-deprived, or otherwise, let me also highly recommend the Tumblr blog Neuromaencer that I found Pacaud’s work on, which I guarantee will get your creative juices flowing!
A light and colorful image to counter the shocking and depressing news of the past week.
First, that of the Suwon rape and murder case, which I’ve given just about all of the news and blog links on it I can find below (but please let me know of any more that you think should be added). As you read through them though, please bear in mind that despite the public stereotypes, despite the abject incompetence of the Suwon police, and despite their outdated attitudes to rape and domestic violence, in fact the Korean police as a whole have dramatically improved in the last 5 years, particularly with the latter. As I wrote back in 2009:
…while Korea certainly does have a great deal of work to do in combating domestic violence – and criminalizing spousal rape would be an essential first step (see #2 here; for a 2011 update, see #5 here) – it’s also true that police and legal attitudes towards it have considerably hardened in recent years, both cause and effect of a law change in 2007 that requires police to forward all cases of domestic violence to a prosecutor (the previous 1998 law just left it up to their own discretion). In addition, Korean women are now more likely than ever to divorce on the basis of verbal or physical abuse, rather than suffering silently as in past decades.
Unfortunately, I have yet to see this mentioned in the English-language media:
See Busan Haps for the full article. It was prompted by Yoo In-na (유인나) and then Kim Sa-rang (김사랑; left) endorsing Gillette razors last year, when suddenly a lot of celebrities seemed to be endorsing products not normally associated with their sex.
Granted, women have been used to sell things to men for as long as advertisements have existed. And as for using Hyun Bin (현빈; right) to advertise a tea-drink that supposedly gives you a “V-line”, that’s just common sense: not only will he appeal to women, but so too might some men be encouraged to think about their own, hitherto exclusively feminine V-lines, thereby creating a whole new market.
But still: I’d wager that there has indeed been a great deal of gender-bending in the Korean advertising industry in the last couple of years. For instance, I’ve definitely never heard of a guy advertising bras before, no matter how dishy I’m assured this one (So Ji-sub; 소지섭) happens to be:
Was he chosen just because he’s a pretty face? Or was the reasoning much more subtle than that? I can’t say in this case. But I do know that celebrities have a much greater effect on our consumption choices than we all like to think. Please read the article for more on how and why…
For some hints, here is the interview with Fame Junkies author Jake Halpern that I refer to in it. If for some reason that the video below doesn’t immediately take you to it though (it’s at 34:30), then please click here instead:
Finally, if you’ve read this far, then I heartily recommend watching Starsuckers in its entirety. For me, it was especially what the narrator says at 45:45 that sold me on it, and which I encourage you all to refer to the next time someone accuses you of reading too much into anything you see in the media:
p.s. Sorry for sounding so mercenary, but please let me remind everyone that any donations for my writing, however small, are very much appreciated. Unfortunately though, I haven’t actually received any since January 21(!), and I don’t get paid for my Busan Haps articles!^^
Do Korean censors disproportionately target female singers?
No, not just those shameless hussies that sing about what they’d actually like to do with their love-interests I mean, and/or dance and show some skin to that effect. Because despite someobviousexceptions, I’d wager that Korean censors are generally equal-opportunity prudes.
Rather, I also mean those female singers that promote such harmful ideas as, say, that romance involves more than just sitting around looking pretty, waiting for a guy to notice you. Or that when you’re angry with your partner, you should say so. As whatever the actual rationales given for the banning of their work, be they indirect advertising, mention of alcohol, not wearing seatbelts while driving, or alleged double entendres in completely innocuous English phrases, somehow it seems to happen to women’s songs much more than it does to guys’.
Or maybe I just get that impression because I only ever pay attention to the women’s songs.
So, starting today, and hopefully finishing over the summer break, I’m going to painstakingly go over every banned song and music video from January 1 2011, noting the whos, hows, and whys, then moving on to the next…all the way until December 31. As I finish each month, I’ll write up the results and my analysis here.
I guess the next songs I’ll be looking at will be G-Dragon (지-드래곤) and T.O.P.’s (탑) Knockout and Don’t Go Home then, banned on the 4th and 5th of January respectively (with the latter banned a second time on the 12th!). But before I do, let’s jump ahead to July, when the Youth Protection Commission (청소년보호위원회) of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF; 여성가족부) banned After School’s (애프터수쿨) Funky Man (펑키맨) for its “sexually suggestive” lyrics.
Not just because I’m a big After School fan, or because the recent news that it’s been unbanned is what finally inspired me to do this little project. But also because the muddled way the banned lyrics are being reported on Soompi (and just about everywhere else) clouds the slight girl-power theme of the song as a whole, and in turn possible — but I stress, only possible — alternate reasons for its banning.
Originally, I copied and pasted the lyrics from Naverhere, which still requires ID despite the unbanning. Realizing I was struggling with the translation because of the essentially arbitrary choice of line breaks made in that though, I decided to reformat them all, to better fit how they’re actually sung. And once I did, then in particular the question of who wants to have whom in line 8 — 갖고 싶다면 — suddenly made sense: if he wants to have her, the singer, then he has to ring ring ring her bell.
Also, if that “ring ring ring my bell” is just not the random, unrelated Konglish that it first appears, but actually an integral part of the song, then that opens the possibility that some of the other Konglish may be important too. Bearing that in mind, then the “slogan” in the last line for instance, isn’t so much lame as a handy rhyming device for the “건/geon” at the end of the line that precedes it.
But in that case, what exactly does the the “try to seduce me, keep it as you want so that I will fall for you” of line 4 mean? Does it mean that, very very literally, being shamelessly dominated is what is going to ring ring ring her bell, my surprising ultimate reading of the first verse?
You can imagine that it was with some trepidation then, that I turned my attention to the chorus…
Great — that was the very opposite message in fact, and one which is continued in the the rest of the song too. But first, consider the way the banned lyrics are being described on Soompi:
The controversy was caused over the following lyrics from “Funky Man”:
“Oooh Ooh, a little deeper / shake me around / try and seduce me / for my chest that is pumping / OK make me tingle like that oh oh oh”
What do you think? Are the lyrics explicit?
Now that we’ve covered all of those particular lyrics, then you can see that they’re actually cobbled together from verse 1 and the chorus, whereas Soompi makes them look like a direct quotation of just two lines*. Why this difference is important, is because already they’re clearly not the only “sexually suggestive” lyrics throughout the song, which raises the question of why only those ones above were singled out by MOGEF. Let alone why this song was banned when others with equally or even more explicit lyrics weren’t.
Could the censors at MOGEF, perchance, have had different, unspoken motivations? Were they, in fact, just annoyed at how “You are just a dancing puppet for me” belittled men, and so banned it using the sexually suggestive lyrics as an excuse? Or alternatively, were they perhaps a little unsettled by what turns out to be a song not about a woman who wants to be dominated, but rather one very much on top?
Alas, all that is mere speculation at this stage, and arguably reading far too much into it — indeed, there’s been at least one occasion when MOGEF was actually quite explicit about banning a song for belittling men. Also, how much of an alpha girl does the woman in this song really come across as? Not just because of that first verse, but also because, whatever the song, being assertive and confident doesn’t necessarily mean that the woman demands that the guy come to her. Rather, shouldn’t she really be going after him herself?
*I translated “OK 짜릿짜릿하게” as “Ok, thrillingly”, rather than “OK make me tingle like that”, as quoted at Soompi. But I can’t tell if it’s an adverb or a causative, so either is possible.
What I do take away from the song though, is a lack of substance and logic to the official reasons for its banning, which at least opens the possibility that the official reasons are not the real ones. And while mere possibilities are not evidence of course, if the biggest gaps between official denunciations of songs and their reality consistently occur in those about assertive females (sexually or otherwise), then, well, maybe that’s something.
Yes, I realize that that’s a little subjective, so I welcome alternative suggestions for judging this sort of thing. But either way, there’ll be far too many songs to cover to do much analysis. Instead, my aim is that all of the evidence I’ll present over the next few months will enable you to decide for yourselves.
Honestly though, as I type this I’m no longer so sure that the double-standards are quite as big as many people assume, not least myself. What do you think?