ZOOM TALK: “Working Women and Young Industrial Warriors: Daily Life and Daily Work in 1940s Pusan,” Fri 7 October 7pm (EST)/Sat 8 October 1am (KST)

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes. Source: Institute for Korean Studies at Indiana University @Facebook.

(Please see the Institute for Korean Studies for further information, contact details, and registration link.)

From now on, I’ll be posting information here about every upcoming Zoom talk I’ll be attending personally. And this particular one, how could I not shout from the rooftops about it, despite its horrible hour? Not only is it a rare one for focusing on Busan, my home for two decades, but it also covers wartime Korea. Which in hindsight, is a period I’ve severely neglected, sandwiched as it were between the Modern Girls and New Women of the 1920s and 1930s and the birth of Modern Korea.

Meanwhile, for information about any further upcoming Korea and East Asia-related public Zoom talks, I have to commend Pusan National University professor CedarBough Saeji, who makes a real effort to inform everyone about as many as she can through her Twitter account. To make sure you don’t miss out, please follow her there @TheKpopProf.

Related Posts:

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

[My Vignettes]—If You Understand Korean, Please Don’t Miss Out: After Me Too (애프터 미투, 2021) is Screening October 6-9!

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes.

The clincher:

가장 도발적인 작품은 소람 감독의 ‘그레이 섹스’다. 흑백으로 구분할 수 없는 회색지대처럼 성폭력은 아니지만 그렇다고 즐거운 섹스도 아닌 성 경험을 말한다. 여성의 성적 욕망 자체에 조명을 비추는 작품이기도 하다. 내가 무엇을 원하는지 정확히 알아야, 피해 아니면 가해라는 이분법의 언어를 벗어나 자신이 느끼는 혼란과 모호함의 정체를 붙들 수 있다고 말하는 듯 하다. ‘미투’ 운동에 대한 다큐멘터리라기보단 말 그대로 ‘미투 그 이후’, 새로운 장으로 넘어가기 위한 고민이다. 네 작품 중 가장 마지막으로 배치됐지만, 매끈한 결론 대신 오히려 생각할 거리를 안고 극장을 나서게 한다.

“The most provocative [of the four mini-documentaries] is director Soram’s Grey Sex. It refers to sexual experiences that can be considered to be in a grey area—not outright sexual assault, but not exactly pleasurable, enjoyable sex either. It is also a work that shines on a light on the nature of women’s sexual desire itself. It seems to be saying that if you know exactly what you want, you can break free of the binary, dichotomous language of victim and aggressor, thereby taking control of and overcoming any confusion and ambiguity you may feel. Rather than a documentary about the ‘Me Too’ movement per se [like the previous mini-documentaries], it’s literally ‘After #MeToo,’ illuminating a path on how to move on to a new chapter. By being placed last of the four, rather than providing a smooth conclusion to the documentary as a whole, it give viewers something to think about as they leave the theater.”

See here for more information about this documentary as a whole, or these two trailers:

Not going to lie, I’m expecting a few curious looks when I attend myself later this week. Will I be the only non-Korean person in the theater? The only man?*

What if that curiosity leads to—horror of horrors—someone actually striking up a conversation afterwards, forcing me to brush off my rusty spoken Korean skills as I explain why I came?

The peculiarities of my glorious visage aside, it would seem odd I was there. After all, my job is actually almost entirely devoid of office politics, because of reasons. True, there’s interacting with my young Korean students, which I admit will indeed always be overshadowed by my privilege of being a middle-aged cishet white man,** not to mention the power over them which comes with conferring grades. Yet if you really knew anything my utterly lowly job, you’d simply laugh at the notion that such power was sufficient to seriously consider abusing it.

**(Update—In hindsight, I realize this privilege may have clouded my judgement about the lack of office politics. Sigh.)

Then there’s dating (etc.), which I’ve recently become painfully aware I haven’t pursued in nearly 22 years. Those few genuine offers I’ve received in all that time, that I like to pretend weren’t entirely just wishful thinking on my part (but do know I always turned down with nothing but grace and respect), don’t provide much of a foundation to navigate the choppy sexual politics of dating in the 2020s.

Gaining one then, is one good enough reason alone to watch this documentary. As is learning about the subject in general. There’s also simply showing financial (and moral) support for a worthy cause, which not everyone so inclined has the privilege to bestow. And finally, there’s reading that paragraph at the start of this post, through which I discovered that one of four mini-documentaries contained within speaks so profoundly to what I’ve read recently about #Metoo in the two excellent books, which I’ll be discussing at a later date:

I completely share your frustrations though, that in Busan at least, Korea’s second-biggest city, in CGV cinemas it will only play for a total of 12 times over 4 days, As in, literally only a single theater, let alone having no subtitles available. Still, for those of you with the Korean ability and time, I do hope you consider supporting it by attending.

Who knows, maybe I’ll see you in Seomyeon? ;)

*(To my surprise, as I type this there’s only a 56%-44% women to men split among people who’ve pre-purchased tickets at CGV; finally, this feature of Korean cinema websites actually proved interesting!)

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

Announcing a New Series: My Vignettes 

Wherein I stumble upon a surprisingly effective method of overcoming writer’s block

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes. Photo by Marga Santoso on Unsplash.

So, I’m getting divorced.

Don’t worry—I’ll spare you the details.

I find myself only mentioning my private life at all, because I wanted to explain my sporadic writing as of late. Only once I got started, I just couldn’t bring myself to roll out the same old platitudes about the stress of the new semester, or simply being too busy.

Actually, the start of the new semester was very stressful. I have been busy. But the truth is, neither compare to the hell I’ve been going through these last few years, especially this past summer. Or how it’s just been so exhausting pretending everything’s okay.

Sorry to be so dramatic, and so cryptic. But simply making it “official” is helping me to move on, by forcing me to write about it. For these few lines alone, knowing thousands of strangers are going to be reading them, reflect many hours of grappling with my demons. Let alone the thousands more I’ve only written to myself.

It’s in the same spirit of candor, and of writing as a process, of both informing and learning, that I want to apologize for being unable to produce the long, well-researched posts—à la The Grand Narrative—which I know most of you prefer. My head just hasn’t been in the right place, and now you know why.

But now, I realize know how desperately I need to write anyway.

So what to do?

Just write of course. But that’s easier said than done, when writing is both the solution and the problem.

Well, for the time being, avoid those long posts. Just write whatever brings you joy instead. Whether that is: informing people of an interesting-looking Korean documentary on #Metoo that you’re going to make an effort to see, despite the lack of subtitles; sharing a paragraph on the gender politics of Japanese fitness clubs that made you buy the book on the spot; waxing lyrical over a sculptor’s unique skills, even if you did only find out about their two week-long exhibition half an hour after it had ended; gushing over how good it feels to be reading and understanding a Korean language book about feminism and the Korean entertainment industry, whilst also ruing how its contents seem so resistant to being shoehorned into any post here; venting your frustrations about how almost all the novels you’ve recently been reading on the promise they would deeply explore the female gaze and sexual desire, just haven’t hit the spot, and asking readers for recommendations; letting everyone know about an upcoming Zoom lecture on the 1940as wartime mobilization of Busan women into factories,* which sounds interesting enough to stay up all night for; or admitting your concerns about how many of your posts—and likely your views—on various aspects of Korean sexuality are likely very outdated, and how you’ll go about addressing those.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not an expert on many of these topics, or even know barely anything at all about them. Sharing and talking about them with smart people like your learned selves, is how we all become more knowledgeable.

So, all of those posts will all go up in the next few weeks. They also represent just the tip of the iceberg, which I’m glad to have finally given myself permission to reveal, and excited and anxious to begin breaking apart.

On which note, on Monday I’ll bring you the first of what I’m calling My Vignettes. And all, like their namesake, very much still belonging to the same Grand Narrative.

*(The lecture is at 1am, Saturday October 8 Korean time, 12pm Friday October 7 Eastern Standard Time. So if you’re also interested, please don’t wait for my post about it to register!)

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

October Book Club Meetings: “Broken Summer” by J. M. Lee, Thursday 13 October; and “Concerning My Daughter” by Kim Hye-jin, Thursday 27 October (Both at 8pm!)

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes.

Sorry for the lack of posts everyone—I’ve just been exceptionally busy and frantic this start of the new semester. On top of all that, my order for Broken Summer seemingly vanished into the aether after processing(!), meaning I finally only received a copy today. That’s much too late for a September book club meeting unfortunately, so instead that one will now be on Thursday October 13, followed by the next one for Concerning My Daughter on Thursday October 27 (both at 8pm).

If you are interested in attending either, please contact me via email, or leave a comment below (only I will be able to see your email address). I will contact you to confirm, and then include you in the club reminder email with the Zoom link a few days before the event.

Once I’ve read it myself, below will be a SPOILER FILLED list of suggested discussion topics and questions for Broken Summer which we’ll use to loosely structure the meeting (I’ll write a separate post and list for Concerning my Daughter next month). But they will be suggestions only, as I stress that the meetings are very small and informal really. And also, to help ensure that they remain as safe a space as possible, that there’s a limit of 12 participants including myself. So please get in touch early to ensure your place (and give you time to read the books!).

In the meantime then, please enjoy the books, and watch this space for an update with the list of discussion topics. And I’ll look forward to seeing you on Zoom! :)

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

Making Sense of the NewJeans “Cookie” Controversy

A reading list for everything you ever wanted to know about the sexualization of minors in K-pop

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes.

The best thing you can read to make sense of it, actually, is Haley Yang’s article in Tuesday’s Korea JoongAng Daily, which is an excellent primer—and a model example of how to convey a great deal of information in just a few hundred words.

Also highly recommended is Choi Yoon-ah’s short article in the Hankyoreh, about the sexual exploitation of minors in the industry.

If you do have the luxury of time however, and a feeling that all of this sounds very familiar, then please allow me present some of my own longform posts (and book chapter) on the same topics, going back all the way to 2010:

Source: YouTube.

But why stop there? For even more reading, I’d also like to mention Meenakshi Gigi Durham’s The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It, the 2008 book that inspired the above series. And which, tragically, is clearly more relevant than ever.

Next, for some context on the farce that is ADOR’s denial of any sexual overtones to Cookie whatsoever, check out the collective mania surrounding 4Minutes’ “leg spread dance” in Mirror Mirror when it was released in 2011.

Source: RedandRosy
Finally, my apologies that these links are so old; K-pop no longer being to my taste from about 10 years ago, I could no longer sustain the motivation and hard work required to speak with any sort of authority on it—and have a huge amount of respect and admiration for those that still do. For the same reason, I’m very much behind on my own reading. So, I plan to rectify that, starting with From Factory Girls to K-Pop Idol Girls: Cultural Politics of Developmentalism, Patriarchy, and Neoliberalism in South Korea’s Popular Music Industry by Gooyong Kim (2018). Anyone already read it? What did you think? Any other recommendations? Please let me know in the comments!

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

«Coeur Kamikaze 心與海» by The Rodeo with Huan Huan 緩緩—Playing in Seoul This Friday-Tuesday

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes. Source: The Rodeo @Facebook.

I was intrigued by the title alone, frankly. But the song itself proved mesmerizing:

With “elements of indie and psych rock,” Coeur Kamikaze “is a song about loneliness, about missing someone deeply during the challenging times of the Covid pandemic,” by French-Vietnamese singer-musician “The Rodeo” (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Homepage) in collaboration with Taiwanese band “Huan Huan 緩緩” (Facebook, Youtube), and something I was really looking forward to seeing performed by the artist herself in Busan next week.

Unfortunately, that performance has since been cancelled, but Seoulites, who get all the luck, can still see her this Friday to Tuesday.

Meanwhile, to any fellow confused Gen-Xers out there—the song you’re probably thinking of, or at least the one which Coeur Kamikaze instantly reminded me of, is the ATB remix of It’s a Fine Day from the late-1990s:

Which today I learned was based on a 1992 cover by Opus III of the 1983 original written by Edward Barton. Enjoy!

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)