#MeToo to meat: no more soju calendars with nearly nude women in South Korea

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes. Photo by Tan Danh from Pexels.

No, not normal soju posters and calendars, but these ones (NSFW) and these ones by Hite-Jinro and Oriental Brewing respectively. I’m not surprised seeing them in restaurants (NSFW) made so many people uncomfortable (seriously, where would you look?), and wasn’t exaggerating when I was quoted in Crystal Tai’s article that “assuming that pictures of nude women [is] all that is required to [get people to change soju brands] is just patronising and insulting.” Perhaps that’s why my tweet about them below, a simple link to a news article, gained such traction:

Please read Crystal’s article for more information on what all the fuss is about. And, for even more information, here are some of my original email interview questions and answers:

Q) When did you first notice soju posters of women and such calendars around you? Do you remember the first time you saw one?

I noticed them immediately after I arrived in Korea in 2000, because they were ubiquitous; the level of alcohol advertising in New Zealand couldn’t begin to compare. I didn’t pay them much attention until about six years later however, because all of a sudden many soju companies started depicting women in revealing clothing and more sexualized poses in their posters, which was a big shift from the virginal depictions of the previous two decades. Soon after, this trend was further accelerated by the liberal use of K-pop stars as endorsement models, as gaining notoriety through revealing campaigns was and remains a win-win for both their entertainment companies and the soju companies.

That said, soju posters are just another means to “consume” a celebrity by fans, who generally must assume the same persona whether they’re in a talkshow, MV, or a soju commercial.* So, despite the trend, by no means are all soju models sexualized today: “innocent” IU, Son Na-eun of Apink, and especially Suzy (of the former Miss A) all tend to be depicted virginally in their own campaigns, the latter despite her having been in several high-profile relationships.

(*Hat-tip to to friend and SNU Associate Professor Olga Fedorenko, whose book chapter I was channeling just a little too directly there!)

Q) What do you think such images mean to Korean men? Why do you think they are often surrounded by such images at bars, pubs, gogijibs (meat restaurants) etc?

It’s unlikely they hold any special meaning that they wouldn’t hold for men of any other nationality. As for their being surrounded by such images however, this is likely because Korea is in many ways a very homosocial society, with many unspoken but strongly-defined separate spaces for men and women. Note that most middle and high-schools were single-sex two decades ago, that almost all Korean men do approximately two years of military service, and that Korean women still struggle to retain their jobs after childbirth, those that succeed often having to leave mandatory after-work drinking gatherings early to look after their children while their male colleagues continue drinking elsewhere. Consequently, while coffee shops are strongly associated with women, and feature in many complaints and negative stereotypes about them, the atmosphere in bars and restaurants that sell a lot of soju can sometimes feel very off-putting for anyone that isn’t a middle-aged Korean man.

(Image: This interpretation in this video analysis is maybe too much. Yet I can never pass Na-eun’s poster below without thinking about that bottleneck on the left!)

Do you think that the Me-too movement and recent feminist movements really play a big role in Hite-Jinro’s decision to discontinue such calendars?

Given the recent news that “racequeens” are going to be phased out of the racing industry,* as well as calls to do the same with cheerleaders at sporting events, then the timing can hardly be a coincidence. But it may also be a convenient excuse for decisions already made. Unless revealing soju posters are also part of a creative and memorable campaign—which these calendars definitely are not—then it’s extremely debatable whether they ever have any real influence on Korean men’s consumption choices. In my own experience, their tastes in soju tend to be very regional, and they tend to stick to the same brands throughout their lives. Assuming that pictures of nude women are all that is required to change their minds is just patronizing and insulting, so I’m both glad and not particularly surprised that alternative strategies are now being attempted.

(*My mistake: they’re being phased out in Formula 1, but I don’t know enough about the industry to judge what—if any—impact that will have on racing events in Korea. See here for an article about the impact in Japan.)

Do you think other alcohol companies will follow suit as well? And do you think this means the provocative celebrity posters and campaigns will change as well?

No. The calendars by Hite-Jinro were the only ones to feature nudity, and the “sporty” ones by Oriental Brewery were also much more revealing than average. But most soju posters aren’t particularly any more sexually-objectifying of women than Korean advertising in general, because that is already pervasive in the industry as a whole. To wit: in a 2015 study, women were 5.9 times more likely than men to not be fully dressed in Hong Kong television ads, 22.89 times more likely in Japanese ads, and 56.83 times more likely in South Korean ads. By no means, can soju ads be the only culprit in the Korean case!

And if that’s still not enough, here’s a small sample of related posts I’ve written over the years:

Meanwhile, I hope everyone had a happy new year, and sorry my posting has been so erratic. But I have big writing plans for 2019!

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

Update

Source: Burst@Pexels; CC0

Just a quick update to apologize for the ongoing lack of posts, and to explain.

Basically, I’ve been too busy. The same week my wife’s father died, she started a new job as an interpreter and translator at a rapidly-expanding medical technology company. Every other week since then, she’s been jet-setting to places like Andorra, India, the US, and Indonesia. Also, when she is in Korea, her workplace is across town, meaning she has to leave home at 7:30am, and doesn’t come back until 8pm, after which she’s straight back on her computer. It’s all very glamorous and exciting from my perspective (only glamorous and exciting-sounding, she insists), and I’m very proud of her, but practically-speaking I’ve been a single parent for the last two months. It’s been tough!

Every cloud has a silver-lining though, and it’s been a real eye-opener being forced by the lack of free-time to break down how I’ve been spending my days, and trying to eliminate time-wasting habits. I’m still very, very far from becoming a paragon of discipline of course, but one important change I have made recently is going to bed at 10pm and getting up at 6am, to get in that fabled hour of writing every day. True, so far those hours have more been spent only thinking about writing, while luxuriating in a second cup of coffee and watching the sunrise over the ocean (still totally worth it, IMHO), but the actual writing will surely come soon.

See you next week? ;)

Update

writing coffee pexels(Source: Pexels)

Just a quick note to say sorry for the unplanned blogging break everyone, and to let you know that it’s almost over. Mainly, it was just because I had a journal article to complete, which turned out to be much more work than expected. Truthfully though, I’ve also been feeling surprisingly angsty about turning 40 next week, not helped by a good friend just leaving Korea, and by a close colleague of mine suddenly dying over the vacation (she sat next to me actually—it’s been painful thinking about her empty desk). So, it’s been difficult to get in the mood for blogging.

But it felt good to make a fresh start with the new semester today. And the combination of splurging on a trip to Seoul to get drunk with said friend last weekend, and seeing my daughters being just plain adorable enjoying the unexpected blizzard, was already more than enough to break me out of my melancholy. Plus, OMG DID I MENTION ALL THE BOOKS I BOUGHT? SQUEEE~ #BOOKGASM #BESTSEOULTRIPEVER

Books, 27.02.16But seriously: I’m back, it feels great, and I’ll have some posts for you next week! :)

Screening Tomorrow: Our Nation: A Korean Punk Rock Community (2002) and Us & Them: Korean Indie Rock in a K-pop World (2014)

us and them korean indie rock in a k-pop worldVia the event’s Facebook page:

Please join our screening on Saturday 17th October. We will be showing two short documentaries about the Korean indie and punk rock music scene. Producer Stephen Epstein will be there to introduce the documentaries and take part in a Question and Answer session after the screening. This is your chance to hear all about the vibrant Korean indie rock and punk scene. FREE ENTRY & ENGLISH SUBTITLES.

서울필름소사이어티의 10월 17일 토요일 영화상영회에 초대합니다. 이날 상영드릴 영화는 한국의 인디 음악과 펑크락 음악을 주제로 한 두 편의 다큐멘터리입니다. 상영을 마친 후에는 본 다큐멘터리를 감독하신 스테판 엡스타인 감독을 직접 모셔 다큐멘터리에 대한 설명을 듣고 관중들과 함께 질의응답을 하는 시간을 가질 것입니다. 한국의 다채로운 인디 음악과 펑크 음악의 현주소를 알아볼 수 있는 좋은 기회입니다. 입장은 무료이며 영화는 영어자막과 함께 상영됩니다.

Stephen Epstein, you may recall, wrote most of was my coauthor for our chapter in The Korean Popular Culture Reader, and I’ve linked to many of his articles over the years; suffice to say, I’ve no hesitation in recommending literally anything he’s produced. See the link for more information about his and Timothy Tangherlini’s documentaries screening tomorrow, and for further details about the event schedule and location.

Meanwhile, apologies for the late notice, and for the lack of blog posts. Both are because, sadly, my wife’s grandmother had a stroke over Chuseok, and while she’s recovering (relatively) well from that, she’s also been diagnosed with cervical cancer, which little can be done about at her advanced age of 86. Specifically, Korean patient-care being what it is, my wife has been spending much of her time in her hometown taking care of her, leaving me to look after our daughters. That can’t be helped of course, and I’m managing, but it does mean it’ll be a few more weeks before I’m able to start writing again sorry.

Until then though, sorry for the downer, and you still keep up with the news via my Twitter and/or the blog’s Facebook page :)

On Grandly Narrating…Korean Dramas?

Misaeng(Source: The Huffington Post Korea)

Sorry for the slow blogging everyone. Not just for the last few weeks, but for the last few months. Many of you have noticed and have been wondering, so I thought I should offer a quick explanation.

Long story short, I’ve got much less time than I had in 2014.

I’m doing a Master’s again. I’m teaching more classes this semester. I’m working on my first academic journal article. My daughters have started a (lovely) alternative school for multiracial children, which is a long commute away; it’s nice spending the extra time with them, but that’s another 10 hours a week that I used to spend on other things. And so on.

Still, I could and did work on the blog a little. But then I caught an on-off, debilitating flu for over a month. As you can imagine, now I’m behind on just about everything.

All that said, after 8 years of blogging, I am in a bit of a rut with regards to topics and style, and am looking for new ideas to motivate myself—and hopefully to interest and entertain you too. One possibility might be an episode by episode discussion of the recent(ish) drama Misaeng, which I’ve heard was a very realistic portrayal of Korean corporate life, and especially of the position of women therein. I’ve already watched the first episode, and, although it wasn’t earth-shattering, it was refreshingly free of K-Drama cliches, especially the childish female roles. If, like me, you’ve been disappointed with “progressive” Korean dramas before, this might finally be one worth getting stuck into.

If you’re interested in following along with me, at the pace of one episode per week say, please let me know in the comments. And/or, about anything else you’d like to see more of on the blog. Thanks!

Update (July): Thanks for the comments everyone, and sorry for the false starts in June. I’ll start sometime this month.

p.s. Three Cheers for Halcion, the only way I managed to finally get a good night’s sleep last night!

From The Archives: October

Kirin Neo-Confucian Hierarchy(Source; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Apropos of this quick look back at over 7 years of blogging, here’s a picture of an old ad close to my home that I must have passed hundreds of times in the last few years, which often gets me thinking. I hope some of these posts can still do the same for you too.

Meanwhile, please feel free to use the picture for your own post or presentation on gender, hierarchy, and (Neo-)Confucianism(!). From my perspective, it’s a pity it’s Japanese and not Korean, but that does raise the interesting question of how similar Japanese society is (or not) in those regards. Continuing today’s theme, please see here for some investigating of that I did back in 2008.

Thoughts?

Taking a Short Break…

how could you(Source)

Sorry everyone, but with some offline deadlines looming, final tests beginning for my students, and this new hobby of getting over 6 hours of sleep a night I’ve started (very decadent of me, I know), I’m going to have to take a short break from blogging. But I’ll still be very much around, tweeting and posting interesting links to the blog’s FB page as per usual, and I’ll be blogging again sometime after December the 16th. See you then!