Via 10 Confessions, here is a short but quite rare “expo on the focus of the mass media and internet news sites on superficial looks of the entertainers in the industry, and how this trend needs to change.” Sorry that it’s all in Korean, but 10 Confessions provides a good (English) description of it, and it’s the least I can do to pass on the videos themselves (especially after spending half an hour looking for them!).
To see the segment, jump ahead to 2:30 in the first video. It lasts until 4:10 in the second.
Whenever I give lectures about Korean advertising, I always try to stress how quickly it’s changing. As both a reflection and driver of changes in Korean society itself, it’s one of the reasons why studying it is so interesting.
But this is a familiar topic to most readers, and I do apologize for the repetition. It’s just that, today, it was reported that Core Contents Media (CCM) had turned down a lucrative lingerie-modelling contract for soon to debut girl-group Gangkiz (갱키즈), as such advertisements “wouldn’t fit [their] musical color and image” (“제안은 감사하지만 갱키즈 음악적 색깔, 이미지와 맞지 않다고 판단한 결정이었다”). Ironically though, most of the reports were accompanied by pictures from a recent bedroom photoshoot of theirs, including one which has one member’s shirt nearly falling off, slightly exposing her bra; one with another member lying expectantly on a bed, her shirt only just held together by a single, strategically-chosen button; and then of course the opening picture with Lee Hae-in (이해인) above.
One seriously had to wonder what image CCM felt needed to be protected exactly.
On the other hand, while it’s certainly possible that CCM was just seeking attention for Gangliz, that attention could easily prove counterproductive once CCM’s hypocrisy was exposed. So perhaps they they did genuinely have concerns about the effects of “official” lingerie modelling on Gangkiz’s reputation.In which case, just what is the difference between that and exposing lingerie while modelling something else, and/or as part of a random photoshoot? Do Korean models and consumers really make such artificial distinctions?
I decided to refer back to the original article about pornography actors giving lingerie modelling a stigma to get a clearer picture. Partially because it’s been a couple of years since I last read it, and partially because, frankly, I had concerns that I misunderstood it the first time back in 2008, and have been misinforming readers ever since. In particular, there was the distinct possibility that the main reason there were so few Korean lingerie models was simply because it was just too “sexy” for them, and indeed that is still potentially — nay, probably — a very big influence here (they’re not mutually exclusive).
To my relief though, I hadn’t misunderstood anything, although it did turn out to be nude models rather than pornographic actors. But — with no offense to the translator, who probably normally makes far fewer mistakes than I do — I did notice a big mistranslation of the following paragraph (from this original Korean article):
홈쇼핑 속옷 모델의 원조는 누드 모델이었다. 90년대 말 S씨 등 스타 누드모델 10여명이 속옷 모델로 나와 방송을 타면서 화제를 모았다. 하지만 그녀들은 “얼굴을 가려달라”고 요구하는 등 몸을 사리는 일이 많았다. 그래서 점점 출연 횟수가 줄었고, 2000년 이후 케이블 TV에서는 국내 속옷 모델이 거의 자취를 감췄다.
Which was translated as:
Home shopping underwear models started as nude models. At the end of the 1990s [Miss] S and over 10 other star nude models caused a stir by moving into underwear modelling on home shopping programs. But they were able to get a lot of work when their attractive faces and bodies came into demand. So more and more of them started showing up, and after 2000 almost all underwear models on cable TV were Korean.
But unfortunately the last two sentences, were, well, completely wrong. Here’s my version:
…programs. However, they [not only] demanded that their faces be covered while were on the air, [but] they were also shy and reluctant to show off their bodies. So, gradually they started appearing less and less, until by 2000 there virtually no Korean women modelling home-shopping on cable TV.
In the translator’s defense, the original Korean article was badly written and confusing (e.g., were those 10 nude models the only Korean lingerie models?), and didn’t respond to the obvious question raised of why on Earth the nude models became shy about lingerie modelling, which I speculate was because of the controversy and fame their presence on TV created. Nor does it mention the fact that there have actually been plenty of Korean women on lingerie homeshopping shows since 2000, albeit fully-clothed and holding the lingerie on coat-hangers while their foreign counterparts alongside them wore it (which is really quite surreal to watch).
But still: hiding their faces? That does explain a lot about how, over a decade later, there are online lingerie stores on which not a single Korean model shows her face, or lingerie fashion shows in which the Korean women (but not the Korean men or foreign women) hide themselves under hats and sunglasses (see #3 here). In hindsight, it’s amazing that this still occurs as late as 2012, and especially that celebrity models haven’t had more of an impact on the industry yet, despite what I recently wrote about their surprisingly strong influence in Korea. I guess that the stigma is stronger than I expected then, and hence some of these women much braver than I gave them credit for.
For more on related issues raised by the ensuing disproportionate number of Caucasian models in Korea, see this recent post at Seoulbeats, which also discusses their growing numbers in K-pop music videos. As for me though, it’s back to updating my Powerpoint! :)
Apologies for the continued slow posting everyone, but I still have many good excuses, not least of which is my upstairs neighbor’s bathroom virtually exploding last night, suddenly sending torrents of water down the wall next to my computer as I typed on it (seriously, I was lucky I wasn’t electrocuted). On the plus side though, I’m happy to report that one of the guest lectures I’m doing is open to the public for a change, albeit at a terrible time, and that everyone is more than welcome. Please see above for the details, and here (click on “Visiting Us”) for a map of how to get to the building. It’ll last for about an hour, with fifteen minutes for questions.
See you there? I promise to buy you a coffee if you tell me in advance! :)
Whenever someone strips for the sake of drawing attention to some cause, usually my instant, gut reaction is to dismiss it as a crass stunt. Unless it’s for Slutwalk or FEMEN, then I’m just too suspicious of their real motives, especially if they’re not already famous.
That’s why I didn’t cover this woman back in January, who wrote a message of support for jailed Naneum Ggomsuda (나는 꼼수다) podcaster Chung Bong-ju (정봉주) across her breasts; as while she was anonymous herself (ish), other men and women that followed her example certainly weren’t. Although, in hindsight, only a handful of pictures would actually be sent in, despite an audience of millions, and I overlooked that one of the men was already semi-famous as Chung Bong-ju’s photographer, at the time the podcasters’ call for more bikini shots just seemed like an invitation for a repeat of 2006 and 2010, when women vied with each other to become famous by wearing the most revealing Red Devil costumes.
But then NancyLang (낸시 랭) paraded aroundSeoulin a bikini two days before the April elections, which made me sit very uncomfortably in my seat. Because after lauding her as a “pin-up grrrl” back in November, I couldn’t be quite so dismissive this time, even though her street performance was surely just as crass, and its connection to its ostensible cause — encouraging people to vote — tenous at best. Yet other than a long history of doing similar such performances, how was she really any different from those Naneun Ggomsuda supporters that wrote messages on themselves back in January, and for whom she’d even expressed her support? How about all the other similarly-themed protests and/or pledges over the past few months too, including Kwak Hyun-hwa’s (곽현화) above?
So, wanting to learn more about the efficacy of such protests, and particularly how useful — or possiblycounterproductive — they are in a feminist sense, I realized that “Bikini Girl” deserved a second look. Or, more specifically, what her breasts ultimately raised. For as many of you will already be well aware, the reactions of the podcasters to them, and especially their encouragement of more such pictures, was soon critiqued by many on both the Left and the Right…which in turn led to counter-critiques of those critiques, then the Right chastising the Left for not critiquing the podcasters more, and so on — it was all very confusing. What was necessary was a chronology of events, which indeed I provide below.
But think about it: when breasts become not so much a mere body part as a titillating device for political parties and media allies to score points against each other, then to put it mildly you can’t trust just any one source’s interpretation and depiction of events, and especially not just rely on those that happen to be in English. Which is just common sense, but it deserves reiterating (and for another good illustration of partisan reporting, make sure to see the Korean media’sreaction to netizen attacks on newly-elected Philippine-born Jasmine Lee). So, the other posts in what must inevitably become this series will be translations of some Korean ones, starting with this, then this, this, this, this, and/or any more I can find (and/or readers recommend).
Still further complicating matters however, events have coincided with a potential emerging “~녀/girl” meme, in which a series of incidents involving (mostly) young women have left a host of misogynistic netizen reactions in their wake. In particular, for me personally it was this recent incident on a bus, in which a woman in her twenties — out of many angry passengers — was unfairly singled out for criticism, that signaled that something farmoreperniciousthan simple netizen ranting was afoot, and that thebacklash against changing gender-relations in Korea that led to the disparaging “beanpaste girl” (dwenjang nyeo; 된장녀) term in the mid-2000s was still very much around.
Even if, ultimately, there are no real connections, it would be strange to analyze bikini and nude protests — some of which arguably very much challenged prevailing conceptions of “appropriate” displays of sexuality and expressions of sexual subjectivity — without also considering that a potential backlash against changing gender-relations is also occurring. Hence expect moretranslations about the latter also.
On top of that, as if to taunt me, over the last 2 weeks Uniqlo Korea happened to have a “Women’s Freedom Event“, used to sell their “BraTop”. By this stage thoroughly sick of breasts (okay, not really; but I’m sure you can appreciate the sentiment), this choice of language instantly raised some alarm bells, as it reminded me of the following:
…some advertisers, aware of the objections of the feminist movement to traditional images of women in ads, have incorporated the criticism into their ads, many of which now present an alternative stereotype of the cool, professional, liberated women…Some agencies trying to accommodate new attitudes in their campaigns, often miss the point and equate ‘liberation’ with a type of aggressive sexuality and very unliberated coy sexiness (G. Dyer, Advertising as Communication, 1982, pp. 185-86; quoted in D. Strinati, An Introduction of Theories of Popular Culture, 1995, pp. 187-88)
Or indeed “freedom” rather than “liberation”. And, technically speaking, Uniqlo is simply appropriating the word in order to simply sell more clothes. But even if I have always had a fondness for the company, it did interview somegenuinelycoolwomen as part of its campaign, and, recalling the line of inquiry that started this 3-week(!) post, provides a healthy reminder to myself to: a) reconsider some of my prejudices and gut reactions to things; and b) not read too much into things.
And on that note, let me apologize for how convoluted and wooly some of my own understanding and explanations of pin-up grrrls have been in the past, and very briefly give some clarifications and further observations on those before presenting the chronology. Not because they’re the final word by any means, but more because, hopefully, they’re good things to bear in mind as you consider the events of the past few months:
• Being a sex object doesn’t necessarily preclude one from also being a sexual subject. They are not mutually exclusive.
• However, expressions of sexual subjectivity remain a big taboo in Korea. Or in other words, we can have a 25 year-old’s S-line quite literally highlighted for a heterosexual male gaze, but heaven forbid she admit to having sexual feelings and experience herself. Certainly, this does apply to male celebrities too, but I’d argue to a much lesser extent. In turn, while this double-standard is present in other countries, it’s not difficult to think of female celebrities that thrive on challenging such taboos, whereas admissions like Lee Hyori’s seem to be few and far between among their Korean counterparts (although I’d be very happy to be proven wrong).
• Nobody deserves criticism for financially benefiting from their sexual attractiveness. It is basichumannature, and applies equally whether one is a public or private figure. Moreover, while I can certainly respect those ballsy celebrities who are honest about doing so, nobody ever needs my approval for what they wear, and can give any reason they like — or indeed no reason — for their choices.
• Having said that, using self-sexualization to advance a cause is a double-edged sword, and can easily end up more distracting the intended audience than anything else. Which sounds facetious; but as we’ll see, Bikini Girl proves to be a good case in point.
• Nevertheless, it is hypocritical to criticize politically-motivated sexualization without also criticizing commercially-motivated sexualization, and betrays a political agenda. Indeed, given the pervasiveness of the latter, using skin to get attention is an obvious tool, so it’s strange that we don’t see people stripping for a cause more often in Korea.
Finally, the chronology. Sorry that the Bikini Girl protest is actually the only one that I cover in it, albeit interspersed with all the “~녀” incidents, but another purpose in all the coming translations is getting on top of all the (far less well-documented) other ones, and I’ll either update this chronology or produce a new separate one once I do:
“I’ve written a novel to call for heavier punishments for child molesters in the Republic of Korea, which is a world of male chauvinism. This is a country where those sexually assaulting a female schoolmate are released with suspended jail terms because they were drunk, the girl was insufficiently dressed, or she was deemed a slut. This is a country where 70 percent of men have bought sex, so it is natural that people’s perspective on women’s bodies is political,” she said.
— See the Korea Herald (here and here) and Modern Korean Literature in Translation for a discussion of this reaction. In the latter, author Charles Montgomery argues that “immediately [going] to ‘child molestation’ and ‘assault’ in her argument against what is essentially a bikini shot” is too much of a jump, and that with her blanket statement of opposition to them, “Gong is doing a different version of what the GNP has tried to do to her – shutting down a clever method of getting publicity.”
— “Nude Male Campaign Appears After Bikini Girl Protest Criticized” (Daum; translation viaKorea Bang):
Nude male photos in support of the imprisoned ex-MP Jung Bong-ju from the campaigning group ‘Jung Bong-ju and Future Power’ appeared on the web today. This was in response to accusations against the bikini protest as female sexual harassment.
Choi Young-min, a professional photographer who worked closely with the ex-MP was equally famous among his followers.
Painting the message ‘I’m dead serious’ and ‘Give back my model’ on his body was to remind the viewer of his support for the ex-MP.
In his interview with Money Today, Choi argued that “the female bikini campaign to publicize Jung’s case was seen as trivializing the campaign by ‘using’ the female body. I wanted to counter those criticisms by using male nudity.”
— Naneun Ggomsudua podcasters refuse to apologize, head host Kim Ou-joon (김어준) arguing “that their comments were not sexual harassment, nor were they intended to be” (Korea Times):
Kim said that in order for the comments to be sexually harassing, inequality of power must exist.
“The woman who uploaded the picture must feel like she would be disadvantaged if she said she was sexually humiliated. However, the woman did not feel that way and we don’t have the power to suppress her from saying it. Therefore, sexual harassment did not take place,” he said.
Kim made it clear that they would not retract or regret the comments. “The right to express a political opinion using one’s body should be recognized,” he said.
— But note that The Korea Joongang Daily provides a slightly different, more positive translation of the above (surprisingly, considering it is a conservative newspaper):
“We didn’t have any intention of sexual harassment and she [the female protestor in bikini] didn’t feel in that way,” Kim said. “She has the right to express political issues and her rights should be respected. No one can limit that right because he or she feels uncomfortable.
“It’s true that I was impressed by the biological perfection [of the woman] at first, but at the same time, I was also impressed as a political comrade by this new kind of protest,” Kim said.
— See Korea Law Today for an analysis, where author Nathan McMurray (quite presciently) noted:
I know the whole modus operandi of the creeps is to be irreverent and provocative. But irreverence is only useful when it furthers, rather than hinders, the show’s goals. I am curious if these recent events will have any impact on the upcoming presidential election, where the conservative candidate will likely be a woman (Park Kun-hye, the daughter of Park Chung-hee, who I briefly mentioned here). Plus, this stuff is just not funny. If you insist on “working blue,” please make me laugh.
— Indeed, with the benefit of hindsight, at best the controversy created distracted people from more important issues, whereas at worst it presaged deep divisions in the Left’s support for them, well before years-old misogynistic comments of one of them, Kim Yong-min (김용민) emerged in April.
— On the other hand, it’s important not to judge Kim Ou-joon’s above defense in light of those comments either, or the efficacy of Bikini Girl’s and other protests. That would just be an ad-hominem attack and guilt by association respectively.
— Three “of the nation’s liberal online communities – Ssanghwa Tea Cocoa, Souldresser, and Hwajangbal – issued a joint statement on Monday evening that they were disappointed by the reckless remarks of the liberal hosts regarding women (Korea Joongang Daily; see the full [Korean] statement here):
“Their remark related to nosebleeds means they see women with typical male-centric views, considering women as mere tools for sexual entertainment to cheer up men’s political activities,” the joint statement said. “They also fueled controversies once again saying ‘impressed by biological perfection,’ implying that its natural to view women as sexual objects.”
“The show’s hosts should realize their show is no longer a B-level alternative broadcast and has grown into a political representative if they want to become real liberals,” the statement said.
The Web site for Chung’s fan club, called Chung Bong-ju and Future Powers, was filled with posts criticizing the joint statement…
— “Swearing Woman” slapping man on Seoul subway video goes viral (Korea Bang)
— “Hot Soup Lady” proves not to be at fault (Korea Bang).
I’ve also noticed the trend of collective, public humiliation of Korean Girls Behaving Badly. That’s not to say that the women involved are innocent or that men are let off scot-free. But you definitely don’t see the same reaction when Korean men “act out of line.” There might be public criticism, to be sure, but nothing like the witch-hunts and publicity we’ve seen in the case of women….
— New subway swearing “Cigarette Lady” video goes viral (Korea Bang)
— “Beer Girl” smokes on subway, pours beer on pensioner (Korea Bang)
— “Soju Girl” debuts, same girl as “Beer Girl”? (Korea Bang)
— Kim Yong-min, by this stage a candidate for the main opposition Democratic United Party candidate in the northern Seoul constituency of Nowon-A, was revealed to have made vulgar and misogynistic comments when he appeared on an Internet broadcast in 2004 and 2005 (The Korea Herald):
Some of his recently revealed remarks include: “If all escalators and elevators at the City Hall metro station are dismantled, (conservative) old men and women will not be able to gather around the City Hall to hold demonstrations” and “If we take all U.S. soldiers in Korea hostage and run an armored vehicle over them one by one, Bush cannot help but step down”; and “Let’s release (serial killer) Yu Yeong-cheol and rape and kill (Condoleezza) Rice and kill Rumsfeld and Bush.
The ruling Saenuri Party, women’s rights groups and even liberal figures have piled pressure on the DUP leadership to withdraw his candidacy…
— As readers will be well aware, the DUP decided to keep him, and indeed his popularity before news of these comments emerged should not be underestimated. But with the benefit of hindsight however, this decision is widely considered to have cost the DUP the election (The Korea Herald; see this [small] poll at Korea Law Today also):
…The opposition party should have withdrawn his nomination for damage control, but it did not.
The failure to act decisively against the podcaster turned moderates and swing voters against the opposition party, undoubtedly making it possible for the ruling party to win in many closely contested districts.
If it had not been for the podcaster’s nomination, the main opposition party could have won a majority of electoral districts, if not alone, in alliance with the small United Progressive Party. Instead, the DUP won 127 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, and the United Progressive Party took 13. On the other hand, the ruling Saenuri won 152 under the leadership of Rep. Park Geun-hye.
— “Girl in bikini uses pussy to encourage voters” (Korea Bang)
— “Bus Girl” demands driver apologize on knees” (Korea Bang; also source, right):
As the photo went viral, other articles surfaced explaining the what presumably really happened. One such article stated that with passengers getting frustrated and the driver showing insincerity towards the situation, he was asked to get down on his knees. Another blog post claims that as the bus finally arrived at the bus terminal, the ground staff showed indifference to the passengers’ inconvenience, to which they suggested the staff get down on their knees. Refusing, the bus driver did instead. The latest “Ladygate” incident shows how just one photo can be subject to open interpretation, and how netizen opinions in Korea, no matter how far-fetched and ridiculous they may seem, are not taken lightly by news outlets – having the power to change entire news stories or even make new ones.
— “Woman Crushes High School Girl Between Two Cars, Does Nothing” (Daum; translation via Korea Bang). The blog post translates (generally) disparaging comments from Daum of the stereotypical female driver described below, echoed by (English-speaking) commenters on the post itself:
Note: Mrs. Kim is a name frequently given to women drivers who hog the road and don’t know how to drive. perceived as a rich house wife who does nothing. Kind of like a trophy wife (but not necessarily pretty). The driver in the video is most likely NOT actually named Mrs. Kim.