Korean Sociological Image #90: Watch Out For Those Italian Men…

Two back-to-back YouTube commercials for SK Telecom’s “T Roaming” Service, which have a blatant double standard:

In the first, actor Son Ho-jun freaks out when his girlfriend tells him she’s going on an overseas trip with her old college friends. First, he asks if any men are coming with her, but relaxes when she reminds him that she went to a women’s college. Only to freak out again when he learns she’s going to Italy:

T Roaming Italian MenWhatever your gender or sexuality, if your partner can’t trust you not to bang your friends or the natives when you’re more than a few days away from each other, then in my book that’s your excuse to move on and do precisely that.

But I’ll grant that it’s just a commercial, and that Son Ho-jun’s reactions are exaggerated for comedic effect. Also, provided you’re not too clingy, there’s nothing wrong at all with staying in touch while your partner’s away.

The double-standard lies in the huge contrast with the second commercial, which shows what Ho-jun needs the roaming service for when he’s overseas: access to a translation app, without which he doesn’t realize the local women are throwing themselves at him.

T Roaming French WomanOr, once he does realize that “With T Roaming, [he] can translate, take pictures, and do anything [he likes]”, that he can set up his own harem:

Foreign Women T RoamingAgain, it’s innocuous in itself, and I’m all for taking advantage of technology to make sure people don’t miss out on any potential liaisons. Given the selling point of the first commercial though, it’s a bizarre choice of follow-up.

Instead, I would have plumped for a more provocative, much more memorable version with his girlfriend and foreign men, showing Ho-jun exactly what she thinks of insecure boyfriends who want to keep electronic tabs on her.

Or, if that was indeed deemed too provocative, then simply two more commercials with the sexes reversed. As the only extra costs would have been the additional male actors and the extra shooting time, then you really have to wonder why not.

Because without those versions, these ones not only seem entirely aimed at men, but it’s very difficult not to contrast his Korean girlfriend’s childishness in the first—and lack of an angry response to his question about her male friends—with the boldness and confidence of the foreign women in the second. It’s also difficult not to place the commercials in the Korean media’s long history of depicting foreign women as sexual conquests, but foreign men as something to defend Korean women against. (Although this has been improving in recent years.)

What do you think?

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

20 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #90: Watch Out For Those Italian Men…

  1. Would I be right in thinking they filmed the commercials in Korea with a bunch of expat models? The “American” woman sounds British, and the “French” woman doesn’t sound as if she can even speak French.

    • What makes you say it was well-received?

      I’m not disagreeing necessarily, it’s just that, frankly, I didn’t have the time to see if there’d been any Korean-language commentary on it sorry (see my next comment!), and I rarely bother with going over Youtube comments. Did you check them out though, or see something interesting about it elsewhere?

  2. It’s only indirectly related to the main post, but while I was preparing this post yesterday I got sidetracked by this comment at Netizen Buzz about a sex columnist who talked about getting hit on by Italian men:

    First of all, what the taxi driver said sounds so wrong in English but it is actually considered a praise coming from an old Korean man. There’s no sarcasm in it. (Yes the assumption that pretty girls don’t work is bothersome, but it was sorta a praise back in the day.)

    Second of all, NB yet again didn’t give you guys the whole story, just to portray Korea the most sexist country in the world.

    This sex columnist appeared on the show called “witch hunt” and made numerous stupid remarks.

    That’s why Knetz (even female Knetz) are being salty here.

    She bragged how Italian men kept hitting on her in Italy (So if handsome white men do the same thing, it doesn’t bother her? Only smelly old Korean men disgust her? Hmm…)

    And she said to a popular Korean male singer that she met for the first time
    “You make me wonder how good you’re in bed.”

    Honestly, given the history, this woman is one of those hypocritical “feminists”

    The commenter’s stereotypes about feminists aside, by coincidence that comment came at about the same time that these commercials came out, so I was curious if Korean stereotypes of Italian men were as strong as they are in (most?) Western countries, because if so the advertisers were likely playing to those. Three hours of searching later though, I was unable to find which episode of Witch Hunt Kwak Jong-eun allegedly laughed about Italian men hitting on her though, if indeed it was on Witch Hunt at all…sigh…

    If anyone does know, pleeeeaase tell me! :O

    (p.s. It was easy to find the scene with her comment to the male singer though; sorry that I forgot to bookmark it, but I can find it again if anyone’s curious.)

  3. I’m so glad you addressed this commercial. It really annoys me every time it pops up.

    Interestingly, a friend of mine had a reverse situation recently when he was planning a trip abroad to Thailand with one of his close male friends who happens to be a B-boy. They were going to site-see and he was going to see his friend perform with Thai B-boys, but in the end had to back out and let his friend go alone because his girlfriend got into a paranoid rage about him going on holiday somewhere famous for its sex tourism.

    He complained about the situation, but he had already capitulated to his girlfriend’s ridiculous demands and even if she changed her mind, he lost out on the cheap tickets that were available at the time.

    I personally find this quite interesting because a fair number of Korean men I met who were studying abroad seemed to have the mind set of ‘Korea is Korea, abroad it abroad’ in relation to their girlfriends. Even though they had clearly stated to me that they had girlfriends in Korea and shown me their couple photos and wore their couple rings, they still found it acceptable to go out to clubs and pick up girls because as long as their girlfriends had no way of knowing, no wrong was being committed. (I know this isn’t all Korean men, but I was surprised at the 20% or so with whom I was acquainted who did behave as such)

    Has anyone heard of Korean women behaving similarly when abroad? Or is this commercial just gender-biased nonsense?

    • Oh, it was one of those automatic commercials? I assumed so (I found out about it via a FB friend), but for some reason it’s never played for me–I just keep getting those damn Cass ones instead.

      I haven’t traveled enough to comment on the attitudes of the 20%-ish of the overseas Korean men you met sorry, or on the extent to which Korean women share them, and would be very interested to hear more about those from others too. As for your friend and his girlfriend though…I guess I’ve already mentioned how I feel about that in the post. So I just hope she was worth it!

  4. When I first saw these ads on TV I assumed that in between the first and the second the girlfriend actually does dump her boyfriend after meeting a much hotter, less clingy Italian man and that he goes overseas to find himself a new, foreign girlfriend but is too much of an idiot to realize that all these girls are hitting on him (which I think is a bit of a stretch…. maybe it’s a “Taken” situation where these girls just work for a trafficking ring that specializes in East-Asian pretty boys).

      • I think so?? I doubt I would have had the patience to not skip the ads if it was before a YouTube video. It may have been a long ad the beginning of something we purchased on our Olleh TV.

        • Thanks for explaining. I was confused because for a long time Korean commercials have typically come in 15-second versions for TV, and 30-second ones for online viewing. Korean advertising has been changing a lot in recent years though, with revenues from mobile advertising now overtaking that of print for instance, so I was wondering if this longer format meant a shake-up was going on with the formats and so on for TV commercials too.

          As I type this, I realize that these commercials were probably played in Korean cinemas too. I’ve been noticing more and more of these long commercials before the movies recently.

  5. What a load of bullshit. Find me a single group of men that doesn’t “defend against foreigners.”

    It’s so funny how Asian women are so anti-Asian man, until your own sons are born coming out looking totally Asian, then you suddenly start becoming champions of everything Asian.

    Liars.

  6. On top of that nothing worse than being a Eurasian boy who knew his mother had white fever but I still look very Asian.

    You’d be an idiot to think your own kids won’t catch a whiff of this.

  7. Even if Korea is known for being charmed by western habits and high end products while being at the same time closed when it comes to integration, I don’t think it’s so different from most places in the world. The same commercial could be aired everywhere with minor modifications. E.G. for a european girl going to the USA, they could have kept the cop and added a surfer, a lumberjack or a Hollywood star. No modifications needed for the male version, all you need are confident and pretty girls to tempt our righteous guy.

    As an italian citizen, I have no problems with this CF, at least italian men are not stereotyped as sicilian landholders from the previous century (like in D&G commercials) or like loud and gesticulating people.

    I would say that jealousy is only marginally affected by the nationality of the hypothetical challenger. The only difference is that a foreigner has the advantage of a exotic halo (and location, maybe) that your fellow citizens don’t have. And you know that you can hardly fight it.

    At the end of the day, I think the best approach is blind trust, no investigation and the hope that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”. If not, well, it can’t be helped. ^^

    • Thanks for your comment, and it was good to hear an Italian’s perspective on the first CF.

      I’m not sure I agree that “jealousy is only marginally affected by the nationality of the hypothetical challenger” though, because that jealousy both feeds into and is amplified by social and media narratives of protecting “our” women, making rejected men’s feelings much stronger than against native challengers. All societies have those narratives to a greater or lesser extent of course, but the Korean media especially can be quite explicit in its demonizing of foreign men, and of the women that have relationships with them. (Although things have improved in recent years, as I noted in the post).

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