Korean Sociological Image #87: Normalizing Interracial Relationships

(Update: Sorry for the lack of English subtitles. Since writing this post, one of the show participants/actors in the commercial left Korea in disgrace due to a sex-scandal, and the original video was made private. You can still find a good English translation and explanation here though).

An extended commercial for Yoplait ‘Yopa’ yogurt, featuring five quick, humorous stories of foreign men in relationships with Korean women.

It’s unremarkable in itself, and frankly not all that funny, although I did love hearing the “Do you want to eat noodles at my place and go?” line again at 1:10. But that’s precisely the point: by making no big deal of the men’s ethnicities, and showing Korean women dating, living with, and even—heaven forbid—explicitly wanting to have sex with them, the commercial helps to normalize such relationships among the Korean public. Whereas just last year, one Korean television station effectively portrayed entering into a relationship with a foreign man as a sex crime—adding to the Korean media’s long history of depicting them as sexual deviants and rapists, from whom weak and gullible Korean women need protecting.

Starring five men from the Abnormal Summit show, who form part of “a panel of eleven non-Korean men, living in Korea, who debate [in Korean] on various topics and Korean culture, through the eyes of a foreigner,” this marks just the third commercial in the last ten years that has positively presented such relationships (that I’m aware of; see Korean Sociological Image #47 and #65 for the other two). In contrast, there have been numerous ones with positive depictions of Korean men in relationships with foreign women, especially during and after the Misuda show of 2006-2010 (in many ways a female equivalent of Abnormal Summit), although there’s also been a strong tendency to portray the women as sexual conquests (especially in K-pop).

Do any readers know of any more examples, whatever the sexes? Do you think we’ll have to wait another four years for another commercial like this one?

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image Series, see here)

15 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #87: Normalizing Interracial Relationships

  1. Thanks for such an insightful article! I hope Koreans become more open and comfortable about interracial relationships. As an Indian-born American, sometimes have received bad and strange looks and even rude comments when I was out with a korean female friend (or even my now ex- girlfriend).

    • I’m sorry to hear that Martin, but am honestly not surprised. Some South-Asian students at my university have reported many bad experiences with local shopkeepers and so on, and that was just by themselves. I can’t imagine the reactions if they’d had Korean partners.

      It’s good that the show has some People of Color, but Western countries and Caucasians are very overrepresented. I can understand just having one Chinese panelist I guess, even if Chinese immigrants do form the vast majority of “foreigners” here, but having no South-Asian panelists at all is a big oversight.

      • Yeah, i have had more positive experiences overall and maintain a fairly positive impression of Koreans. I lived in Andong, which is a very conservative city, and that was where i would get those few bad looks. I live in Goyang now and am met with normally positive (or neutral) reactions.

  2. A user on the OneHallyu forums wrote a pretend translation of a commercial for “Cinderella Plastic Surgery Dental Clinic” fronted by everyone’s favourite mixed-but-looks-Korean idol, Tia from Chocolat.

    “Hello this is Chocolat’s Tia!
    I’m here to endorse Cinderella Plastic Surgery Clinic, a place where you poor peasants can go if you want to look pretty like me.
    Thanks to my flawless mixed genes I was born with perfect skin, double eyelids, cute dimples and the ideal Korean beauty. But don’t be sad, if you go to Cinderella you might one day become a poor imitation of me.

    Yes it’s a joke, but I do think that having the right kind of western style Korean look is part of why Tia has a a career while the other members have disappeared.

    • Chocolat? Who? ;)

      I completely agree about “having the right kind of western style Korean look,” and good way to put it. Is Chocolat effectively dead though? (Notably, she does mention the group in the video.) Or do they have a comeback in the works?

      As another aside, it’s interesting having to see a girl-group member endorsing a cosmetic surgery clinic, which you’d think would happen much more often (although if Chocolat are indeed kaput, Tia’s entertainment company probably can’t be very picky about her CFs). The only other one I can think of off the top of my head (although I’m sure there must have been more) is Hwang Kwang-hee from ZE:A:

      Frankly, I find the CF nauseating, and am less likely to get cosmetic surgery after watching it. But I guess I’m probably not the target demographic!

  3. Enes: so Korean! Julian: talks too much Robin: cute and clueless Tyler: Intellectual nerd… I don’t speak much Korean at all, but I got the gist of these guys. What was Sam’s message supposed to be though?

    • I’ve suddenly remembered one more from I think one year (or at most two years?) ago, which featured a Korean wife helping her Caucasian husband who was struggling with his bumbling Korean to understand the cable service(?) being advertised. It wasn’t exactly positive of course, but there was nothing wrong with it in itself, so long as it didn’t perpetuate a stereotype (although it’s much better to be thought of as a bumbling idiot than a rapist!). That’s why I like this ad so much: not because the foreign men are presented as sexy and desirable per se, but mainly for widening the variety of images of foreigners presented.

      Another (side) benefit of the ad is that people are less likely to freak out (etc.) when I speak Korean to them (something I could rant about for days!), although of course it’s mainly Abnormal Summit and Real Men that are helping with that.

  4. As an aside, it’s great to see more (positive) foreigners on TV…but I can’t help but notice the underlying messages. For example, no South East Asians, and only one person of color. Furthermore, there’s lots and lots of jokes and easy-breezy soft-ball topics that are discussed, but nothing related to any real difficulties or problems. (Not that the rest of Korean TV is much better/different.) Whenever there’s a comment that approaches criticism of Korea the topic–suddenly–changes. Furthermore, I’ve noticed that the Korean hosts are happy to invite guests…as long as its a Korean male, and the Korean male is choosing the topics. Finally, call me cynical, but I’ve noticed that whenever a foreigner on the show is sharing something from “back home” everyone laughs about how funny it looks, or sounds, etc. I feel like this is a backhanded way of saying “see this difference? It’s no big deal, just laugh it off. That’s how we deal with cultural differences.” It would be a great sentiment if Koreans were more tolerant, or seeking to address problems, but instead it seems to me an attempt to deflect/deflate the issues.

    • Maybe that intolerance is what allows countries like Korea and Japan to survive. Perhaps the west has overdosed on political correctness. Cultural suicide through being overly reasonable and accommodating. How does that sound?

  5. Pingback: 외국 남자들 (foreign men) as boyfriends? | The Marmot's Hole

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