Why Does Korea Have so Many of Those Damn Smutty Ads?

Government inaction on Korea’s ubiquitous, sexually-explicit internet advertising undermines claims that its citizens need protecting from pornography, and has helped shape the Korean #Metoo movement.

Estimated reading time: 17 minutes. Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels. One NSFW image later.

When even the ad industry itself is calling for greater government regulation of sexual imagery in ads, you know Korea’s got a problem.

The main issue is that there’s just no escaping them. In the most recent survey of 155 major web portals, social media services, and online news sites conducted by the Korea Internet Advertising Foundation (KIAF) in 2016, 94.5 percent of the middle and high school students surveyed were found to have been exposed to sexualized ads. Frustratingly, the 69-page report (PDF, Korean) doesn’t also mention what proportion those ads were of the total ads examined. But, maybe the authors simply felt that was unnecessary, as everyone already knows that their numbers are just insane:

See the thread for many more examples. Or like Raphael says, almost any Korean news website. Even alongside the cutesy, assumed safe webtoons my preteen daughters read too, I recently learned, sometimes there’s invitations to meet horny divorcees in our area.

But Korea’s smutty ads problem goes much deeper than just their scale, or their astonishing inappropriateness. For the KIAF surveyors also found that one in four of the offending ads promoted sex work, and/or even showed sex acts. Which is heinous not because either are unethical, but because such ads exist so openly in a society where sex work and pornography are both illegal, and which would never see the light of day if they were placed in traditional media.

Which begs the question: just how did Korea’s internet ad problem get so bad?

In the first instance, it’s simply down to advertisers’ algorithms, combined with the inattention and unconcern of site owners. This was ironically and hilariously revealed by the reporting of a similar survey by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) in June 2012, when many news sites displaying precisely the kinds of ads the Ministry was railing against alongside the articles about the survey. Even more spectacularly, a few weeks previously many news site editors curiously chose to pixelate the bikini tops and bras of women who had written political messages across their breasts (as in only their clothing, not the messages or exposed skin), while those in the accompanying ads were left untouched:Fast forward to April 2018, when representatives from major Korean shopping portal sites were queried by The PR News reporter An Seon-hye as to why their Facebook ads for products such as headphones and men’s shoes tended to show women with exposed cleavage and/or in their underwear first. They simply blamed the algorithms, implying that somehow those absolved their companies of any responsibility:

페이스북에서 남성 이용자들에게 노출된 쿠팡 광고 이미지 “Coupang advertisement aimed at male users of Facebook.” Image source: The PR News.
티몬(왼쪽) 및 gs샵이 sns에서 남성들에게 집행한 광고 이미지. “Images of Timon(L) and GS Shop advertisements aimed at men.” The woman on the right is Ai Shinozaki, a Japanese gravure model. Image source: The PR News.

…하지만 해당 업체들은 결코 고의성이 없다는 점을 강조했다. 티몬 관계자는 “저희 같은 경우 19금 용품 광고는 아예 노출이 안 되도록 막는 등 선정성 측면에서 신경을 쓰고 있다”며 “자동 로직으로 광고 집행이 이뤄지기에 임의로 자극적 이미지를 사용한 게 아니다”고 해명했다.

“…However, industry representatives stressed that, in the end, there is never any deliberate intention to use sexualized imagery. A representative from Timon said, ‘In our case, from the outset we do work to ensure that no adults-only products are selected to be advertised [on Facebook],’ and that ‘the provocative images that do appear are not random, but are chosen automatically by the algorithm.'”

기본적으로 특정 시간대에 특정 연령 타깃군이 어떤 상품을 많이 봤다는 데이터가 쌓이면 이를 해당 타깃에게 동일하게 추천하는 방식으로 로직이 짜여 있다는 설명이다. 이번 노출도 이같은 설정 때문에 벌어진 현상일 수는 있지만, 의도한 건 아니라는 설명이다.

“Basically, when collected data on a site suggests that a certain time is the most heavily frequented by a targeted demographic, the algorithm automatically recommends products that demographic is likely to be interested in. The same logic applies to the revealing images accompanying them, but has never been the deliberate intention [of our company.]”

쿠팡 관계자 역시 “쿠팡이 고의적으로 선정적인 광고를 남성에게 보이도록 조작하지는 않았다”며 “활용되는 이미지 역시 판매자가 올린 것을 활용한 것”이라고 밝혔다.

“A representative from Coupang also claimed that their company ‘did not deliberately manipulate ads to target men with sexualized imagery,’ explaining that ‘the images of products [available from our site] are simply taken from available sellers.’ (end)

By all means, gratuitous T&A does sometimes work, especially when those objects belong to popular K-pop girl-group members. Yet it infuriates me when some, more radical feminists—especially anti-pornography activists—start from the position that such narrow portrayals of women are an accurate reflection of most—or even a significant minority of—cishet men’s tastes; examples like these demonstrate just how disingenuous and utterly unfair that assumption is. It’s also very patronizing for companies to advertise this way, says Sejong University Professor Kim Ji-heon elsewhere in the above article, and has the potential to put men off offending brands. Accordingly, evidence of sexualization’s effectiveness on Korean consumers is mixed, one 2017 study by Yonsei University researchers (PDF, Korean) for example, discovering that young Korean men actually preferred cute to sexy female models in game advertisements (which may be problematic for other reasons, but that’s a story for another post). Also, lest we forget, not all consumers are young men, with another study from 2012 (PDF, Korean) by Sungkyunkwan University researchers demonstrating that despite soju companies specifically targeting female consumers at the time, somehow women just weren’t responding to the ensuing “sexy” advertisements.

I can’t imagine why:

Screenshots from this summer 2009 commercial for ‘Cool Soju 168’; the logic was that “168” referred to a low 16.8% alcohol content, which supposedly helped women maintain their figure vis-a-vis stronger brands. One NSFW image follows shortly.

Nevertheless, Coupang’s algorithms at least, have hardly been tweaked since The PR News report came out, as any male Facebook user in Korea can confirm. Take this advertisement I was blessed with on the subway a few weeks ago for instance:

Facebook has given me 24 hour bans for far less.

Of course, in reality, no algorithms are value-neutral, so can’t be used as an excuse. Yet, to reluctantly play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, perhaps one reason Korea’s algorithms have the settings they do is that advertisers generally lean more heavily on sex-sells tropes during recessions, and one indication of how bad Korea’s is at the moment would be its highest youth unemployment rate in two decades. Another explanation of why they tend to be sooo eye-catching is that Hangul, the writing system, lacks capitals. This, which has factored into Korean webdesign from the get-go, is why Korean websites tend to be so GIF-heavy and cluttered to Western eyes, but is familiar to and preferred by Koreans. (Japanese websites are very similar, due to similar issues with kanji and kana.) Ingrained media culture and consumer habits go some way toward explaining why Japanese and Korean advertisers over-rely on celebrities to get your attention too.

But all of these contributing factors are decades old. I first noted the alleged link to the economy ten years ago, and the numbers of smutty ads have only increased since. Korean websites have overwhelmed me with GIFs since I first started having to navigate them in internet cafes here nineteen years ago. And the over-reliance on celebrities dates back to the early-1980s, when fifteen seconds became the standard length for TV commercials.

If so many features of Korean advertising are products of ingrained culture and long-term habit then, surely this over-reliance on sexualization could be as well? So too, that it just so happens to be a very stereotypically male-gazey version of it at that?

Noteworthy in this regard is men’s domination of multiple sectors of the Korean media:

However, the Korean advertising industry is absent from that Twitter thread, and I’m personally unaware of its male-female make-up as I type this (sorry). So, let me defer to someone with inside experience: Seoul National University Associate Professor Olga Fedorenko, who conducted fieldwork in winter 2009-2010 at the agency responsible for the delightful Cool Soju 168 commercial from summer 2009 above. And in fact, in that agency at least, women made up roughly half of the employees. But it was indeed male-dominated, as no women there were above level five of the eight ranks within its internal hierarchy, “with truly managerial responsibilities [only] beginning at level six.” Also, the ensuing work-culture there could certainly be described as male-dominated too:

To assert that “sex sells”—the axiom that no one doubts in advertising and perhaps few do in society at large—was the usual way to deflect my criticisms of sexualized portrayals of women in much of Korean advertising, and women repeated that adage as eagerly as men.

Still, despite their professional embrace of the “sex code,” women showed a certain distance towards its centrality to advertising. They occasionally mocked male managers who favored sex-appeal strategies by default, “just because they like to look at pretty women,” as Chin’a put it, as she vented about wasting an afternoon the day before because her team’s Creative Director asked her to accompany him to help pick a female model for a commercial. “He said he wanted a woman’s opinion but in reality he just picked the model who he personally liked and who was flirty with him,” she said rolling her eyes in front of me and four other women as we were having lunch. Chin’a thought that the selected model was not the best choice, but the Creative Director never asked Chin’a’s opinion and even went as far as to re-schedule the shoot around the model, without consulting the convenience of other team members. Chin’a wished she had spent that afternoon working on their team’s other accounts.

Technically however, Fedorenko does not state if the same agency was responsible for the Cool soju commercial I criticized; I should have only said it “probably” was, because it was responsible for a new campaign for same product during Fedorenko’s time there a few months later. Ironically, a largely women-created and targeted, sexually-progressive, feminist, and therefore controversial one:

Which would seem to contradict the points made about work culture above. So too, that they’re from a snapshot of just one agency, and a decade old.

However, it’s also telling that there’s been almost nothing quite like that campaign in Korean advertising since, by any agency. Despite my fetish for Korean ads showing actual grown women with sexual desire and experience, I’m only aware of less than a handful produced in the last decade. Meanwhile, compared to men, women are almost 60 times more likely to be wearing revealing clothing in Korean TV commercials, a figure that is over twice as high and nearly ten times as high as their Japanese and Hong Kong counterparts respectively.

And yet, despite everything, I’m reluctant to attribute all that simply to the likely dominance of men in the industry.

Yes, we can all bet good money that the coders behind offensive internet algorithms are indeed sexist pricks. Or their bosses. Or at best, that they’re unoriginal and conservative.

But to claim that Korean ads are the way they are because men dominate the industry, is to make the assumption that most of the men within are also sexist pricks.

Hey, I’m not dismissing the possibility. In fact, I’d bet good money on that too. Given what we know about Korean ads, and that Korea has the biggest gender gap in the OECD, and comes 121st out of 193 countries in the ratio of female legislators to males, then there’s absolutely no reason to suppose that Korea’s toxic, patriarchal work culture hasn’t also infected the Korean ad industry.

But where does that accusation get us? If we want to persuade industry insiders to embrace change, what good would simply calling them sexist pricks actually achieve?

And cishet men’s sexuality, I can’t stress often enough, is so much richer and broader than its blokey, infantile stereotypes suggest. There are men of other sexualities in the ad industry too, not to mention (probably) equal numbers of women. I refuse to believe that all the admen, by definition among the most creative and artistic men in Korean society, all chose their careers based on no more than a shared dream of putting more boobs on phone screens, and that every man and woman who doesn’t share that grand vision is simply forced to acquiesce.

The issues raised in this post may even be well-recognized problems within the industry already too, but are intractable due to the influence of Korea’s patriarchal work culture as alluded to earlier, one big influence being the rigid hierarchy and visions of women and male-female relations learned before entering the industry from that vast socialization experience known as universal male conscription.

Or not: my apologies again, for lacking the money and time to translate dense Korean advertising tomes to find out. But either way, suggesting practical, actionable steps that the industry may already be receptive to does sound much more helpful than simply rolling our eyes at THE MENZ.

I think this is where we came in.

Recall that we started with the industry itself calling for more regulation. Specifically, the KIAF, responsible for the 2016 survey:

“Although there are guidelines for the level of sexuality permitted in online advertising, they lack effectiveness since they tend to be too generic and ambiguous,” said the KIAF official. “Regulations that manage such advertisements are scattered across government departments, and they need to be revamped.

A state of affairs which sounds suspiciously similar to the messy censorship of K-pop in the early-2010s:

The recent guidelines by the Fair Trade Commission are demonstrably inadequate, and laws are required instead. But considering that any limits on such a vague concept as sexualization are by definition arbitrary, then it is crucial that 1) the ensuing legislation process is transparent; 2) that implementation of the laws is consistent; and 3) that only one, preferably independent, organization has the power of censorship. Currently, that last is divided between a plethora of competing media and government organizations, and the ensuing unpredictable and often bizarre decisions ― including banning a music video for the singers driving without wearing seat belts, or allowing exposed navels on men but not on women ― have thoroughly undermined the credibility of attempts to curb the sexualization of teens in K-pop. A fresh start is urgently needed.

“Restrictions Imposed on 18+ Controversial ‘Wide Leg Spread Dance’”, April 2011. Source.

This segue into K-pop is no mere confirmation bias from a trusted source: for the body with the most responsibility for censoring K-pop then was MOGEF, which it did with a relish. As Lee Yoo-eun at Global Voices explained in 2014 (links added by me):

The censors of the ministry are notorious for accusing several thousand songs of being “hazardous” whenever they notice references to liquor, cigarettes or sex in the lyrics. Once a song is labeled as “inappropriate for youth under the age 19″ it can only be broadcast after 10:00 PM, and children are forbidden from buying it as well as from listening on the internet. Many young people get around this by using the IDs of their parents to login to Korean portal websites or watch on YouTube.

Music industry people…say it is troubling that the censorship is applied only to some randomly selected albums after they have hit the market, and not universally to every album. Many people see this as part of a new reality where the South Korean government is tightening control over citizens and free speech.

And this zealousness was in stark contrast to the complete inaction by MOGEF over smutty advertisements, despite raising the alarm in 2012 about their surging numbers as discussed. Indeed, it wanted the industry to do its own work for it instead:

여성가족부는 작년과 비교해 유해 광고는 늘었지만 법 위반 언론사들이 대폭 감소한 것을 감안해, 언론사에는 우선 자율 규제를 촉구하겠다는 입장이다. 청소년매체환경과 관계자는 “작년에 34개 언론사가 법을 위반했는데 올해에는 다 시정됐다”며 “언론사들을 직접 규제하기 보다는 인터넷신문협회 등에 자율규제기구인 인터넷신문광고심의위원회의 설치를 촉구하겠다”고 밝혔다.

“Although MOGEF points out that the numbers of harmful advertisements have increased since last year, the fact that there are actually less media companies breaking the law also needs to be taken into consideration, so first MOGEF is going ask media companies to regulate themselves. The official in the Division of Youth Media Environment continued: ‘The 34 media companies that broke the the Information and Communications Network Law last year have all since rectified their mistakes,’ and so ‘a self-regulatory system is preferable to direct regulation, and we demand that the Korean Internet Newspaper Association and so on establish an internet newspaper advertisement consideration committee.'” (end)

Further inaction still is evident from how, in the 2010-2016 period, MOGEF’s Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education (KIGEPE) was given the task of monitoring mass media for cases of sexual discrimination, sexual prejudice, and sexual insults, but was given extremely limited resources to do so, and didn’t even cover the internet; ultimately only four cases were ever acted upon in those entire seven years. A subsequent study in 2016 found an undisclosed number of issues, of which the KIGEPE said “the results from their monitoring [had] resulted in 19 cases of corrective action [as of March 2017], insisting more education and appropriate measures need to be provided for TV show makers to achieve gender equality in the TV industry.” (More recently, this January the Korea Communications Standards Commission {KOSC} noted problems remained in variety shows specifically, without suggesting any measures to combat them.)

Yet that’s just MOGEF, which—without absolving it for its inaction—admittedly had very low resources and was in a precarious political position under previous conservative governments. If we look at the Korean media and its various overseers as a whole however, inaction over misogyny and problematic content is endemic, Korean dramas in particular being notorious for depicting dating violence as romance, but which the KOSC has washed their hands of. And don’t get me started on the media’s constant framing of the sexualization of minors in K-pop as good, clean, harmless family fun.

Source: Netizenbuzz.

In that wider context, inaction on smutty ads emerges as less the exception than the rule in the Korean media, and underpins a pervasive culture of indifference and desensitization towards degrading images and videos of (overwhemingly) women. That culture is evident in the decade-long foot-dragging in the shutting-down of Soranet, a hugely popular pornography site notorious for the sharing of hidden camera videos, as well as in the Korean #MeToo movement’s unique emphasis on punishing the purveyors of such videos, a central component in the current Burning Sun scandal. I can’t help but ultimately see links to the culture of indifference and desensitization towards sexual abuse by teachers in Korean schools too, with over 40 percent of perpetrators in the January 2013 to September 2018 period still teaching, and again only, finally, being aggressively challenged due to the Korean #MeToo movement.

Nextshark: “The School of Performing Arts Seoul, the alma mater of numerous well-known K-drama and K-pop stars, is facing co‌ntrov‌ers‌y after its former students a‌‌c‌‌cu‌‌s‌e‌‌‌d the school of c‌o‌rrup‌tio‌n and se‌x‌u‌al ‌ex‌‌pl‌oita‌‌tion of minors [through a music video].”

But perhaps it’s a too much of leap from boobs on my smartphone to tolerating “asking students for ‘sexiness’ and ‘inappropriate touches’ during school performances”?

Or not. Either way, if the government started to enforce the same standards for internet ads as it does for all other forms of pop culture, that would surely be the perfect way to find out.

Related Posts:

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

Boobs, Butts, and Biceps are Beautiful. Don’t Let Knights Tell You Any Different!

Smiling faces, and the consent implied therein, are crucial for determining a person’s beauty. But that doesn’t mean body parts can’t still be beautiful in their absence.

Estimated reading time: 14 Minutes. Photo by PixaBay on Unsplash. NSFW art nudes following.

Can body parts, in isolation, be beautiful?

Feminist bugbear Camille Paglia would say so. In a speech at MIT in 1991, she rejected having to apologize for reveling in beauty, as well as the notion that ordinary-looking women only ever lamented their own appearance in reaction to attractive people. In her words, she wanted to bring back to feminism the right to say what they were really thinking: “What a beautiful person, what a beautiful man, what a beautiful woman, what beautiful hair, what beautiful boobs!”

My own answer too, is such an immediate, adamant yes, that it seems absurd to ask. Yet to openly revel in, say, beautiful boobs? Newly-woke male feminists quickly learn to restrain such temptations. Not only because it would simply be boring for most women, but also because it feels disingenuous considering women’s daily, pervasive objectification and body-shaming. Complicit even, when so many are suffering from Korea’s spycam epidemic, and when even male artists are abandoning female nudes in the wake of #MeToo.

Yet whatever our sex or sexuality, we’re all casting admiring glances on our commutes nonetheless—even asexuals. Complimenting their owners may always be a bit much, let alone leering and catcalls. But we don’t have to put up with being shamed for our internal monologues too.

So, when I was going through Sir Roger Scruton’s Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (2011), and read that body parts are “obscene” when they’re considered in isolation?

Recall the queasy feeling that ensues, when—for whatever reason—you suddenly see a body part where, until that moment, an embodied person had been standing. It is as though the body has, in that instant, become opaque. The free being has disappeared behind his own flesh, which is no longer the person himself but an object, an instrument. When this eclipse of the person by his body is deliberately produced, we talk of obscenity. The obscene gesture is one that puts the body on display as pure body, so destroying the experience of embodiment. We are disgusted by obscenity for the same reason that Plato was disgusted by physical lust: it involves, so to speak, the eclipse of the soul by the body. (pp. 40-41.)

I snapped. Already sick and tired of being belittled and patronized most times I read about my male gaze, Scruton seemed to go one further in implying my liking of boobs was immoral as well.

But outrage and exasperation do not an objective response make. Nor does quoting authors without sufficient context, when it’s not so much their arguments as the assumptions they’re based on that are unsound.

So first: note that only two of the book’s nine chapters are about human beauty. Really, it’s more of an introduction to aesthetics, with beauty only as a framing device, and reads like light philosophy. I’m ill-disposed towards and ill-equipped to deal with books like that, frankly, so that’s why I focus on only those two chapters here instead of giving a full review. Much more important than my unlearned personal tastes though, is that this philosophical approach grounds Scruton’s contrarian approach to beauty too. Because whereas in my experience, most commenters take the approach that beauty can be quantified and measured in terms of how closely one’s body parts, features, lengths, and ratios reach various ideals, Scruton believes such an approach is fundamentally flawed (p. 41):

Those [above] thoughts suggest something important about physical beauty. The distinctive beauty of the human body derives from its nature as an embodiment. Its beauty is not the beauty of a doll, and is something more than a matter of shape and proportion. When we find human beauty represented in a statue, such as the Apollo Belvedere or the Daphne of Bernini, what is represented is the beauty of a person—flesh animated by the individual soul, and expressing individuality in all its parts.

This has enormous significance, as I shall later show, in the discussion of erotic art [in the second chapter on human beauty, “Art and erōs”]. But it already points us towards an important observation. Whether it attracts contemplation or prompts desire, human beauty is seen in personal terms. It resides especially in those features—the face, the eyes, the lips, the hands—which attract our gaze in the course of personal relations, and through which we relate to each other I to I. Although there may be fashions in human beauty, and although different cultures may embellish the body in different ways, the eyes, mouth and hands have a universal appeal. For they are the features from which the soul of another shines on us, and makes itself known.

For all my (over)concern with what he says about people’s other bits in his book however, actually I heartily agree with the relative importance he attaches to faces here. The comparison he makes with his descriptions of the following paintings later, for instance, really brings to life the profundity of the differences the models’ gazes make between them—and the crucial distinction that consent makes.

First, of Titian’s Venus of Urbino (p. 125):

Source: Wikipedia.

“As pointed out, in [Kenneth Clark’s] celebrated study of the nude, the reclining Venus marks a break with antiquity, when the goddess was never shown in a horizontal position. The reclining nude shows the body not as a statue to be worshipped but as a woman to be loved. Even in the Venus of Urbino—the most provocative of Titian’s female nudes—the lady draws our eyes to her face, which tells us that this body is on offer only in the way that the woman herself is on offer, to the lover who can honestly meet her gaze. To all others the body is out of bounds, being the intimate property of the gaze that looks out from it. The face individualizes the body, possesses it in the name of freedom, and condemns all covetous glances as a violation. The Titian nude neither provokes nor excites, but retains a detached serenity—the serenity of a person, whose thoughts and desires are not ours but hers.”

Next, contrast the issues Scruton raises with the model in François Boucher’s The Blonde Odalisque, all of which ring true for anyone who’s ever been dissatisfied with most pornography (i.e., everyone) because of the unrealistic, wholly impractical, often painful-looking, yet somehow supposedly “sexy” positions women are usually presented in. Indeed, Marie-Louise O’Murphy seems so divorced from proceedings here, and so divorced from her own body, that she looks like she’s much more interested in watching Netflix than in whatever the viewer is about to do with her round the back. Or, rather, to her (pp. 134-135):

Does it make any difference that this painting was (possibly) intended only for Louis XV? Or that Marie-Louise, one of his “lesser mistresses,” was only 13 at the time? Source: Wikipedia.

“Turn now to Boucher’s Odalisque, and you will see how very different is the artistic intention. This woman has adopted a pose that she could never adopt when dressed. It is a pose which has little or no place in ordinary life outside the sexual act, and it draws attention to itself, since the woman is looking vacantly away and seems to have no other interest. But there is another way in which Boucher’s painting touches against the bounds of decency, and this is in the complete absence of any reason for the Odalisque’s pose within the picture. She is alone in the picture, looking at nothing in particular, engaged in no other act than the one we see. The place of the lover is absent and waiting to be filled: and you are invited to fill it.”

Yet for all their eloquence, he’s preaching to the converted with those particular passages. They may even buy the book on their basis alone, having secluded themselves in a quiet corner of the bookstore and skipped ahead to those pictures.

The problem is that well before a genuine reader gets to that stage of the book, Scruton’s mere say-so on numerous issues is less than persuasive. By the time you reach its end, you’re not so much unconvinced as infuriated that he wouldn’t make more effort with its readers.

Examples of his arrogant certainty abound. For starters, his opening descriptions of our supposed differences with animals, the science of human desire, and evolutionary-psychology, are trite and shaky at best, and often just plain wrong. There is absolutely no basis to his argument that “Perhaps no sexual experience differentiates human beings from animals more clearly than the experience of jealously,” for instance (p.44). Nor, to his assertion that “Human beings are alone among the animals in revealing their individuality in their faces” (p. 124), which is easily proven false with just 5 minutes of googling. While to his credit, that he discusses science at all is because he acknowledges “it is surely reasonable to believe that there is some connection between beauty and sex” (pp. 32-33), his blithe, continual assertions presented as facts here soon start collapsing under their own weight.

In particular, take his description of kissing (p. 40):

To kiss [the mouth of another person] is not to place one body part against another, but to touch the other person in his very self. Hence the kiss is compromising—it is a move from one self towards another, and a summoning of the other into the surface of his being.

Or, indeed, of sex itself (p. 38):

In the sexual act, there is no single goal that is being sought and achieved, and no satisfaction that completes the process: all goals are provisional, temporary, and leave things fundamentally unchanged. And lovers are always struck by the mismatch between the desire and its fulfilment, which is not a fulfilment at all, but a brief lull in an ever-renewable process.

Both of which, miffed at his disdain at my daily rejoicing at the existence of boobs, originally I looked forward to presenting as eye-rolling demonstrations of his academic, ivory tower absurdness. Which for sure, is a turn-off with Scruton. His overuse of “he” and “his” throughout too, isn’t merely an out of date convention either, but are characteristic of the chapters on “human” beauty that are so overwhelmingly—almost exclusively—focused on female beauty that they read like they’re exclusively, deliberately aimed at cishet men. (The Beautiful Boy this ain’t.)

On a sober second reading though, I had to concede that both passages are fully consistent in the context of the arguments that preceded it, and that they can sound almost sweet too. However reluctantly, I was loath to misrepresent him.

And yet, they bear sooo little resemblance to any of my own experiences, that the very first thing they reminded me of was of this virginal android’s idealized notion of sex (from 1:30):

Hey, I may be a parent in a small apartment who literally has to schedule these things, but it’s not that I can’t appreciate such sentiments, nor that I haven’t even felt them keenly myself on occasion. Scruton’s descriptions do not represent the totality of my kissing and sexual experiences however, nor—and I’d wager good money on this—would they represent Scruton’s either. For him to pretend otherwise is simply disingenuous, and can’t be explained away as a stylistic choice due to space restraints. Rather, he chose to do so because it is his firm belief that beauty is akin to a transcendental, Platonic ideal, and, that if beauty is related to sexual attraction as previously noted, then sex has to be elevated into some transcendental, Platonic ideal too. Hence the absurd descriptions of—lest we forget—fucking, and the setting himself up for the completely unconvincing distinctions between beauty and body parts that got me started on this rant.

Did I mention that he never actually defines “obscenity”?

It was a surprise to learn after finishing the book then, that Scruton’s earlier book on the philosophy of sex, Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation (1986), is actually well-respected, and considered by many a classic in the field. Because in that too, I read, he maintains his duplicitous insistence on eloquent theory trumping sweaty, sticky, lustful practice. And, because in Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, it’s that wilful dogmatism that ineviably, inexorably leads him to shaming anyone associated with pornography and sex work.

Let me confine myself to just one final example, which follows directly on from the quote about Boucher’s Odalisque, and in my view utterly taints it (p. 135, emphasis mine):

Of course there are differences between the Odalisque and the tits and bums on page three of The Sun….The second difference is connected, namely, that we need know nothing of Boucher’s Odalisque in order to appreciate its intended effect, save what the picture tells us. There was a model who posed for this canvas; but we understand the canvas neither as a portrait of her nor as a painting about her. The bum on page three has a name and address. Very often the accompanying text tells you a lot about the girl herself, helps you forward with the fantasy of sexual contact. For many people, with reason I think, this makes a decisive moral difference between the page three image and a painting like Boucher’s. The woman on page three is being packaged in her sexual attributes, and placed in the fantasies of a thousand strangers. She may not mind this—presumably she doesn’t. But in not minding she shows how much she has already lost. No-one is degraded by Boucher’s painting, since no-one real occurs in it. This woman—even though the model who sat for her has a name and address (she was Louise O’Murphy, kept for the King’s pleasure at the Parc aux Cerfs)—is presented as a figment, in no sense identical with any real human being, despite being painted from life.

I wonder too, to close this post with the question that prompted it, what exactly Scruton thinks you have lost when you admire the body parts of other commuters. Whether your focus happens to rest on breasts, butts, biceps, legs, broad shoulders, luscious long hair, or whatever.

Indeed, if you’re on the same crowded subway line as I am, you know that sometimes they’re literally the only part of the owners you can see.

I refuse to believe that those body parts can’t be simply magnificent though, and that I’m immoral for thinking so, merely because their owners may get off my carriage and transfer to another line before I ever get to see their faces.

Nor does—heaven forbid—deliberately seeking out erotic art and pornography, rather than accidentally stumbling upon objects of your affection on your commute, somehow mean the same standards don’t apply to the people in those too. Because whether seen on a Busan subway, or in a video shot in a moodily-lit San Fernando studio? Somehow, inexplicably, I never seem to lose my respect for the owners of those simply magnificent body parts either, nor does admiring their objects mean I ever think or treat them as objects.

I don’t think it’s just me. In fact, I assume the same of everyone else until proven otherwise.

If you do think lesser of them though, and my assumption is proven naive, then please let let me know. Or, if you think many others negatively objectify people, despite you and I respecting them? Then pray, please tell who those “others” are exactly, and please give myself and other readers some actual evidence that they’re really so different. Especially that which comes from actually talking to them, instead of only from what other people with agendas, like Scruton, have written about that heinous group.

No, I didn’t say those others were most cishet men—you thought it! Something to think deeply about on tomorrow’s commute perhaps, if you don’t want to let your eyes wander? ;)

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

Related Posts:

Korean Media Misogyny: Not worth monitoring?

korean-media-misogyny(Source, edited: tiffany terry; CC BY 2.0)

You know the media plays some role in perpetuating misogyny—let’s just take that as a given.

Let’s also take it as a given that the first step in dealing with a problem is determining how big it is. For a government that wants to show it’s serious about misogyny, that means setting up an organization tasked with monitoring it in the media, rather than simply relying on the public and NGOs. It means actually acting on what that organization finds too, challenging instances as they occur.

In Korea, the Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education (KIGEPE) is given those responsibilities, under the auspices of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s Mass Media Sexual Equality Monitoring Project. And, judging by social media these days, its hands must be full:

korean-media-violence-misogyny(Source: IZE Magazine)

Unfortunately however, today’s story below is not so much about the heroic KIGEPE doing a sterling job under difficult circumstances, as about it not being given enough resources to do its job whatsoever. In short, the government just seems to be going through the motions, rather than really grappling with some of the underlying causes of misogyny.

Perhaps that same attitude also explains why there has been a rise in sex crimes and gender inequality under the Park Geun-hye administration, as well as its repeated attacks on women’s reproductive rights?

여성가족부, 대중매체 성차별 표현 개선요청 6년 간 단 21건

Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Monitors Sexual Discrimination in Mass Media for 6 Years, But Makes Only 21 Requests to Challenge Cases in That Time

공감신문, 04.11.2016, 김송현 기자 By Kim Song-hyeon, GoKorea.

지난 2일 박주민 국회의원(더불어민주당/서울 은평갑)이 여성가족부로부터 제출받은 자료에 따르면 여가부는 2010년부터 “대중매체 양성평등 모니터링 사업”을 실시한 이후 6년 간 진행한 개선요청이 21건에 불과하다고 밝혔다. 이 가운데 권고 등 시정조치가 이루어진 경우는 4건에 그쳤다.

This November 2, Congressperson Park Ju-min (Seoul Unpyeong District, Democratic Party of Korea), claimed that, according to materials provided by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, its Mass Media Sexual Equality Monitoring Project has only made 21 requests to remove or adapt offending segments in over 6 years of operation. Out of these requests, only 4 resulted in action actually being taken.

한국양성평등교육진흥원은 여가부로부터 예산 지원을 받아 2010년부터 대중매체를 모니터링해 성차별·편견·비하를 드러낸 내용에 대해 개선을 요청하는 사업을 진행해왔다. 그러나 모니터링 기간은 짧았고 그 대상범위도 협소하였다.

The Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education is responsible for the monitoring, under the auspices of the Ministry. From 2010 onwards, the institute has been monitoring mass media for cases of sexual discrimination, sexual prejudice, and sexual insults. But the actual monitoring period each year is very short.

지난해 대중매체 양성평등 모니터링은 방송의 경우 단 1-2주의 기간 동안 10개 방송사에 대해서 이루어졌으며, 인터넷 포털사이트 내의 언론기사의 경우 35개 매체에 대해 단 1주일만 모니터링이 이루어졌다. 신문의 경우 월마다 신문사를 지정하여 6개월 간 6개의 신문을 모니터링했다.

Last year, the institute’s monitoring period of the 10 main television channels was only 1-2 weeks long, and 1 week for 35 news portal websites. For newspapers, 1 newspaper is chosen to be examined per month, up to a total of 6 newspapers in 6 months.

2016년 9월 기준으로 언론중재법에 따라 등록된 언론사의 수는 지상파 48개, 종합유선(위성)방송 31개, 방송채널 241개, 신문 등 간행물 16,520개에 이르고 있다. 최근 인터넷을 통한 개인방송이 늘어나는 실정까지 감안하면 여성가족부의 사업 규모가 지나치게 작다는 지적이 나오는 이유이다.

However, as of September the number of mass media-related outlets includes 48 main TV channels, 31 satellite channels, 241 cable channels, and 16,520 print publications. Considering the recent rapid growth of personal broadcasting on the internet also, the institute’s monitoring of the media is clearly inadequate.

여가부는 모니터링 사업에 지난 2014년부터 매년 3,600만원의 예산을 지원해왔다. 최근 온라인상 각종 혐오 문제가 대두되면서 이 사업의 확대실시와 내실화를 위해 예산을 늘려야한다는 목소리가 정치권에서 제기되었음에도, 여성가족부는 2017년 예산안으로 전년도와 동일한 3,600만원을 편성하였다.

From 2014, each year the Ministry has provided 36 million won in funds to the institute. [James: To get a sense of how much that is, that’s the annual salary of a completely hypothetical lowly assistant professor.] This amount has continued at this level despite the increasing problems of misogyny in Korea society however, and the growing calls to expand the monitoring project and funds made available.

박주민 의원은 “대중매체에 실린 혐오 표현은 부지불식간에 확산되기 쉽기 때문에 성평등한 문화 조성을 방해하는 심각한 요인으로 작용할 수 있다”고 지적했다. 또한 “갈수록 늘어나는 온라인 매체를 고려하면 예산을 증액하여 사업을 내실화할 필요가 있다”이라고 지적했다.

Congressperson Park Ju-min pointed out that “Expressions of misogyny in the mass media can easily spread and negatively impact on efforts to achieve sexual equality.” Also, “Considering the increasing growth of the online mass media, a reorganization of the project and more funds are urgently needed.” (End.)

kang-yong-suk-international-marriage(Source: MLBPark)

Another article gives a few more details about those 4 cases that were acted upon:

지난해 한 예능 프로그램에서 방송인 강용석 씨가 “외국신부를 데리고 와서 결혼하는 바람에 사회적인 문제로 번질 가능성이 굉장히 높다”는 내용의 발언을 하는 장면에 대해 방통심의위원회가 권고 조치를 내고, 한 음악 프로그램에서는 그룹가수 출신 위너 송민호가 “딸내미 저격 산부인과처럼 다 벌려”라는 가사로 랩을 해 방심위가 과징금을 부과했다.

Last year, on one entertainment program [above], the [controversial] panel-member Gang yong-seok said “The more marriages there are to foreign women, the more social problems Korea will have.” However, The Korea Communications Standards Commission simply let him off with a warning. Next, the singer Song Min-ho was fined for rapping, “I’m targeting your daughters; [they’ll] spread their legs like they’re at a gyno’s'” on a music program.

또 한 신문사는 특정 외국배우의 신체부위를 필요 이상으로 세밀하게 표현하고 선정적인 사진을 게시해 한국신문윤리위원회로부터 ‘주의’ 조치를 받았다.

한 드라마에서는 여성에게 술잔을 던지며 폭력을 행사하는 장면에 대해 방심위가 의견을 제시하는 등 2건의 조치가 이루어졌다.

Also, one newspaper received a warning for posting unnecessarily revealing pictures of a foreign actress. And finally, in one drama, they suggested alternatives to a scene in which a male character attacked a female one by throwing a glass of alcohol at her. (End.)

I’ve been unable to find out which newspaper and which drama sorry; if you do, please let me know thanks, and I’ll consider translating this (frankly) much more interesting related article, which provides some positive examples of combating sexual inequality and stereotypes too.

Update: Korea Bizwire reported back in September that the “The Korea Communications Standards Commission announced…[it] will be revising its regulations on broadcasting deliberation in an effort to promote gender equality on television programs and for online video content.” Given that it already said something similar in April however, as did the Ministry in January, then you can understand Park Ju-min for raising a fuss.

Related Reading:

“Fucking is Fun!”: Sexual Innuendos in Vintage Korean Advertising

Lee Hyori Vita500 따먹는 재미가 있다(Source: Loading… 100%)

Once upon a time, decent, honest Koreans wouldn’t stand for sex and nudity in their media. Gratuitous bikini models sparked outrage. Women had to appear demure and virginal in soju posters. There were no such things as “chocolate abs” to show off, so young male celebrities could make money without ripping their shirts off. The Korean internet wasn’t inundated with ads for male enhancement pills. Only slutty Caucasians were prepared to be lingerie models. And so on.

Instead, advertisers had to rely on sexual innuendo to manufacture outrage. Mirroring Korean entertainment management companies today, who regularly claim shock and surprise that pelvic thrusts could be considered anything but wholesome family entertainment, PR representatives would feign ignorance of double entendres that every high school student already knew full well.

Then along came “sexy concepts,” advertisers relying on cheap, “sex sells” gimmicks during the financial crisis, and the relaxation of censorship in the Korean movie industry. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Eun Ji Won Worries That There Are Too Many Sexy Concept Girl Groups(“Eun Ji-won Worries That There Are Too Many Sexy Concept Girl Groups.” Source: Soompi)

Or is it? That’s certainly a convenient narrative, and probably has a grain of truth too. As I begin to examine the impact of K-pop on Korean advertising over the last eight years or so, I fully expect to confirm what everybody already knows: that there’s more sexual themes over time, and that K-pop stars, especially women, wear a lot less clothes than other celebrity endorsers.

But does that necessarily mean that sexual innuendo used to be much more common in Korean ads, when standards were stricter? It isn’t mutually exclusive with wearing revealing clothing, and you could easily argue that more liberal attitudes would actually lead to using it more often. Indeed, now it could make an otherwise boring and routine “sexy” ad stand out, as could the strategic use of Konglish too (source, below: The PR News).

Just something to bear in mind as you enjoy the following examples from 2006 and earlier, which caused quite a stir as people began to notice more and more ads like them. Some are so obvious that anyone can get the message; others, you’d Feel the Climax Ocean Worldneed to be very familiar with Korean slang to notice them at all…which makes me wonder what examples may be right under my nose today. By all means, please let me know of any, and/or of some more older ones to add to this collection.

First then, the opening one by Lee Hyori for the vitamin C drink, Vita500 (as an aside, one of the few Korean vitamin C drinks which didn’t—doesn’t?—contain carcinogenic benzene; this being Korea, only foreign news outlets would name which ones were safe). As I explained when I first wrote about it, perhaps five years ago:

…notice the “따먹는 재미가 있다” line next to her face. Simply put, the first word (not to be confused with “다먹다,” or “eat all”) is a combination of “따다, ” which has many meanings but in this case “open; uncork” would be the most appropriate, and “먹다,” which is to eat; then the next word is “재미” meaning “fun, interest,” and a “가” which must attach to it because of the final word “있다,” or “to have.” So literally:

“The act of opening and eating [this] fun has”

Eating often means eating and drinking in Korean. Naturally, a better English translation would be:

“Opening and drinking [this] is fun.”

Still a little awkward, yes? But the point is, “따먹다” has another, entirely different meaning. For instance, a Lee Hyori Vita500 2006guy might say to his friends:

“그여자 봐? 난 따먹었어요”

Which means:

” You see that woman? I opened and ate her.”

“Eating” someone doesn’t have the same connotations in Korean, but you’re on the right track:  “I fucked her” would be the most accurate translation, and so apparently Lee Hyori is saying “Fucking is fun” in the ad (End. Source, right: Kwang-Dong Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd).

Back when I first wrote about the ad, I could see nothing but the humor in it. Now though, I have mixed feelings: I appreciate that that phrase is (was?) usually used in a conquest-like, objectifying way, which is why so many women felt insulted:

“Too Lewd!” Lee Hyori’s Subway Advertisement is Surprisingly Suggestive

Kukinews, 15.03.2006

인기가수 이효리가 모델로 등장한 한 식음료 제품 광고의 문구가 지나치게 선정적이라는 지적이 일고 있다.

A food product advertisement with popular singer Lee Hyori has been getting a great deal of attention for the use of a certain phrase in it.

이 광고는 K제약이 지하철 주요노선과 지면에 사용하고 있는 광고다. 네티즌들은 이효리가 등장한 광고 속에 ‘따먹는 재미가 있다’는 문구가 불쾌Lee Hyori Vita500 shop window하다는 지적을 하고 있다. 해당 광고는 K제약이 지난 15일부터 병뚜껑을 따서 속을 확인하는 경품 행사를 홍보하기 위해 제작됐다 (source, left: dongA).

This advertisement by a medicine manufacturer* has been used on a major subway line in Seoul since the the 15th of March. Netizens have been indicating their displeasure with the phrase used by Lee Hyori in it to promote a competition that gives prizes to those who find marked bottletops.

(*Because of Korea’s draconian libel laws, the real name isn’t given, even though it’s blatantly obvious. This is standard practice for the Korean media.)

네 티즌 ‘구구콘’은 “난감한 지하철 광고”라는 제목으로 문제의 광고 사진을 한 인터넷 커뮤니티에 올렸다. 이에 네티즌 ‘sevenstarcider’는 “여자로서 정말 화가 나는 광고”라며 “광고 목적을 모르는 것은 아니지만 도가 지나쳤다”고 지적했다. 네티즌 ‘피부미인’도 “건강음료라는 생각보다 음란한 음료라는 생각이 먼저 든다”고 꼬집었다.

A netizen by the name of ‘Cuckoo-corn’ uploaded the above photo under the title “Strange, puzzling subway ad” to a community site about problem advertisements, and there ‘Sevenstarcider’ under the post title “An Ad That Really Makes Women Angry” wrote “it’s not that I don’t know the purpose of this ad, but that is just too much.” Also, netizen ‘Skinbeauty’ cynically wrote “my first thought is not that this is a health drink, but some kind of aphrodisiac instead.”

K 제약측은 이에 대해 “섹스 어필할 의도는 전혀 없었다”고 해명했다. 홍보팀의 한 관계자는 “광고대행사가 경품행사의 성격을 반영해 제안한 문구였다”며 “(성적으로) 이상하게 유추하는 사람들이 있지만 이효리씨의 건강미에 초점을 맞춘 것 뿐”이라고 설명했다.

About this advertisement, a representative of the PR company behind it explained that “there was absolutely no intention to use sex appeal in it,” that “the text is a simple reflection of advice about the promotion being advertised,” and finally that “while there are people who infer something sexual to it, Lee Hyori’s focus is only on the health and beauty benefits of the product.”

그동안 성적 연상효과를 노린 광고 문구들이 적지 않았던 탓에 ‘야한’ 광고가 다시 도마에 올랐다.

As there have been lot of advertisements with sexual innuendos in their text so far, this subject is again becoming controversial.

지 난해 배두나와 신하균이 모델로 나선 한 무선인터넷 광고는 “어,끈이 없네”, “밖에서 하니까 흥분되지” 등과 같은 대사로 시청자들의 비난을 샀다. 1990년대 모 아이스크림 광고에서는 여성 교관이 남성 훈련병에게 “줘도 못먹나”라고 말해 세간의 입방아에 오르내렸다. 90년대 후반에는 영화 ‘원초적 본능’의 여배우 샤론 스톤이 등장한 국내 정유회사 광고가 논란에 휩싸였다. 빨간 스포츠카에 올라탄 샤론 스톤이 “강한 걸로 넣어주세요”라고 말했기 때문.

For example, last year [2005], Bae Doo-na and Shin Ha-kyun appeared in an advertisement for a wireless Sharon Stone Korean Ad 1995internet company which included the line “Because [we] do [it] outside, [it’s] much more exciting!,” which generated a lot of complaints. Also, in the early 1990s, an advertisement for an ice cream company featured a female drill instructor saying to a new male recruit “I gave [it] to you to eat, but you can’t eat it [well]!,” and finally in the late-1990s a gasoline advertisement featuring Sharon Stone climbing into a red sports car had her saying  “only put strong [things] inside.” (James: See below for the latter two).

광고주들은 섹스어필 의도성을 강하게 부인해왔다. 그러나 한 광고업계 종사자는 “광고 문구를 지을 때 섹스어필한 표현을 찾기 마련”이라고 귀띔했다 (source, right: *cough* Ilbe).

While in public advertising companies strongly deny that they use sexual innuendos in advertisements, an industry insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that of course they do in reality.

K제약 측은 올해 이효리가 출연하는 3편의 광고를 더 제작할 계획이다. 이효리는 지난 1월 K제약과 1년동안 계약금 8억원에 광고모델 출연계약을 맺었다.

In January, the medicine manufacturer signed a contract with Lee Hyori to appear in three more advertisements for the company over the next year, for the fee of 800 million won (End).

Now for some more examples, found via a list compiled by this blogger. Predating Youtube though, and with very little information given, sorry that I was only able to find half of them. Also, sorry that I’m struggling to see anything even remotely sexual in some of them, let alone funny; again, they defy shoehorning into some narrative about Korean media liberalization, which is why I haven’t placed this post into my “Korean Sociological Image” series. Hopefully though, the tuna fish commercial alone will more than compensate…

“벗겨도 벗겨도 변함없고, 먹어도 먹어도 깊은 그 맛…”

“Even if you take it off, it’s the same. Even you eat and eat, that deep taste…”

“줘도 못 먹나?”

“I’m offering it. How come you can’t eat it?”

Via The Paris Match, a related eclair ad that had my wife ROTFL at the repeated references to how long and sweet it was, with all its creamy goodness.

“따 먹고 합시다!!!”

Just in case you miss the symbolism of the shellfish for the women’s tuna, and the peppers for the men’s, at the end they all say “Let’s open [it] and eat [it] and do it!”.

“난, 샤론 스톤, 본능적으로 강한 게 좋아요. 강한 걸로 넣어주세요”

“I’m Sharon Stone, I instinctively like something strong. Please put something strong in.”

“오늘도 촉촉하게 젖었습니다.”

“Today too I am wet”

“사람들이 저보고 너구리래요.  너구리가 뭐가 어때? 통통하고 맛만 좋은데…”

“People call me ‘Raccoon.’ What’s wrong with being a raccoon? It’s chubby and tasty…”

No innuendo here: the blogger just notes that Song Yun-ah has her legs open as the car approaches. Even I thought that this was reading a bit much into it though (she’s hardly spread-eagled, and the car is approaching from the wrong direction!), even if it does have an exploding fire-hydrant straight after the shot of her.

(남자 엉덩이를 때리면서) “줄 때 받자….”

(While hitting men’s bottoms): “Receive it when I give it to you…”.

Not to detract from the very real sexual harassment which women face every day, or that its victims are overwhelmingly women. But still: it’s difficult to see anyone accepting this commercial if the sexes were reversed.

Finally, see here and here for some more examples from 2009, and probably many readers will find this list inadequate without the following, supposedly banned ads. I’m not sure that either actually went to air though:

Thoughts?

Do “Sexy Concepts” Actually Work?

Korean Girl-Groups Sexy Concepts(Source)

What? There’s been a spate of sexy concepts by girl-groups recently? Really?

Yawn. It’s been three years since I first noted that the financial imperatives of the K-pop industry meant that attention was everything, in which case “courting controversy with ever more provocative performances is a no-brainer” for management companies. And really, how are these latest examples any different to those of last summer, or those of late-2012? How is Stellar’s recent comeback with Marionette, say, any more shocking than RaNia’s debut with Dr Feel Good in 2011? How has the logic of manufactured outrage changed since 4Minute’s comeback with Mirror Mirror, if at all?

Beats me. So, not to imply anyone else hasn’t made any original observations, but I’ve had nothing to add to this latest storm in a K-pop teacup. Blogging, after all, is all about the delicate art of knowing when to shut up.

(“Restrictions Imposed on 18+ Controversial ‘Wide Leg Spread Dance'”, April 2011. Source)

Still, there’s always Korean commentaries that deserve much more exposure among English readers. One of which is this article by a team at News Jelly, who not only took the time to analyze the stats surrounding sexy concepts, but provided a handy interactive graphic too, with accompanying download links that just beg for the data to be spread much more widely. After all their hard work, passing it on here is the least I could do.

Here’s the first graph, of the numbers of girl-groups with sexy concepts (pink) vs. those without (orange):

Girl-groups with sexy concepts vs. those without -- numbersThe numbers of fan club members:

Numbers of Girl-group fanclub membersThe cumulative number of Youtube visitors after MVs’ releases, up to February 2014:

Numbers of Youtube Visitors until Feb. 2014The number of number 1 rankings on music shows:

Number of No. 1 Rankings on Music ShowsThe numbers of news reports about groups, up to one month after releasing a sexy concept:

The numbers of news reports about groups, up to one month after releasing a sexy conceptFinally, digital download numbers, within 2 weeks after being released:

Digital Download numbersOf course, much more information about the statistics would still be useful though, such as how sexy concepts were defined (although which songs have them and which don’t is provided in some Excel files). And it would be good to have additional graphs of girl-groups’ commercial endorsements signed, television show invites received, and concert tickets sold, which I’d argue are much more useful barometers of their success than absurdly cheap (legal) downloads.

That said, the verdict is in: sexy concepts produce little more than hype, and management companies would be well advised to avoid them for the remainder of 2014.*

But we all know they won’t. Until the next controversy then, here’s my translation of the accompanying article:

(*Update: In hindsight, I was little too enthused about finding actual data — and tired from all the translating — to realize that its flaws meant there wasn’t enough to support that conclusion. For more discussion of those, see Asian Junkie or Reddit.)

여자가수의 꼬리표? 어디까지 벗을 것인가 This is Female Singers’ Label? How Much More Will They Take off?

News Jelly, 3 March 2014, by Jo Gwang-hyeon (조광현)

2014년도 역시 걸그룹 선정성 논란은 잠잠해질 기미가 보이지 않는다. 속옷 같은 의상을 입고 엉덩이를 흔들거나 가슴을 쓸어 내리는 안무, 바닥에 엎드려 옷을 젖히고 노골적으로 처다 보는 눈빛을 보고 있으면 더 이상 그들의 음악은 들리지 않는다. 걸그룹 선정성 논란은 여전히 뉴스의 중심에 있다. 과연 그들은 무엇을 얻기 위해 그토록 선정적일까?

In 2014, the sexual controversies surrounding girl-groups show no signs of abating. With costumes that resemble underwear, dance moves involving shaking buttocks, stroking breasts, and flinging open clothes while staring into viewers’ eyes, it’s difficult to notice the music anymore.

Girl-groups are still at the center of the news. But what do they hope to achieve with such hyper-sexualized performances?

걸그룹 선정성 논란, 살 길은 섹시뿐? Girl-groups’ Sexuality Controversy: Is sexiness the only way for them to survive?

지난 2월, 걸그룹 스텔라는 사상 초유의 섹시 컨셉을 들고 컴백했다. 2011년 데뷔 이후 깜찍하고 발랄한 이미지였던 이들은 작정이나 한 듯 섹시를 들고 나왔다. 이후 스텔라는 각종 포털사이트의 실시간 검색어 1위를 차지했고 관련 기사는 쏟아졌다. 자극적인 안무와 뮤직비디오뿐만 아니라 음란물을 연상케 하는 사진과 영상은 폭발적인 관심을 불러일으킨 동시에 비난도 받고 있다.

실제 무명의 걸그룹이 단숨에 화제에 올라 가요차트 상위권에 오르는 모습을 자주 볼 수 있다. 섹시 컨셉은 음악성이나 뛰어난 외모가 아니면 주목받기 힘든 요즘 연예계에서 일약 스타덤에 오르기 위해 공공연한 전략으로 자리잡았다.

In February, Stellar made a comeback with a [for them] unprecedented sexy concept. But when they debuted in 2011, they had a cute and fresh one, so this change seems like a deliberate decision to sex up. Afterwards, they dominated the searches in portal sites, with a host of related articles spewing out. This wasn’t just due to the stimulating choreography and music video, but more to the pictures and videos that resembled pornography, which brought both great interest and a lot of criticism.

In reality though, you can frequently see middling girl-groups rise up the music charts almost overnight. Using a sexy concept is a well-known strategy for doing so in the entertainment world if your music’s quality isn’t high, and/or if you’re not exceptionally attractive.

뉴스젤리 소셜키워드 분석 결과 걸그룹과 관련 있는 소셜 키워드로 “티저, 섹시, 자극적, 노출, 공개하다” ‘와 같은 자극적이고 노출, 선정성과 관련된 단어들과 관련 있다. 여자가수이 음악으로 어필하는 것이 아닌 섹슈얼 이미지로 승부하는 모습이 기정사실화 되어 가고 있다.

News Jelly did an analysis of girl-groups and related keywords such as “teaser”, “sexy”, “stimulating/arousing”, “exposure”, “opening”, and others related to arousing exposure and sexuality. The results demonstrated beyond a doubt that the appeal of female singers is due to their sexual image rather than their music.

Sexy Concepts(Source)

그렇다면 과연 여자가수들의 섹시 컨셉은 정말 효과가 있는 것일까? So, sexy concepts are really effective for female singers?

2011년부터 2014년 2월 현재까지 음원을 발표한 2~5년차 여자가수들의 섹시 컨셉 여부에 따른 음반 판매량과 언론 노출 정도를 측정해보았다*.

(*가온차트 디지털 음원지수, 유튜브 공식영상 조회수, 뉴스 노출수 자체조사)

에이핑크, 2NE1, f(x)와 같이 독특한 컨셉으로 이미지 메이킹에 성공한 걸그룹을 제외하고 음원을 발표한 모든 걸그룹이 섹시컨셉을 내세우고 있었다.

Our analysis looked at female singers who had been in the industry between 2-5 years, and examined downloadable music releases from [January?] 2011 to February 2014 to determine if there was a relationship between sales figures and sexy concepts or not.*

(*For data, The Gaon Digital Downloads Chart, official Youtube visitor numbers, and numbers of news stories about the respective groups were used.)

With the exceptions of Apink, 2NE1, and f(x), which have their own unique concepts, all [the] girl-groups [examined?] used sexy concepts.

2012 Girl-groups Sexy ConceptsCaption: This chart compares girl-groups with and without sexy concepts in 2012, examining [James — In order: Numbers of fan club members; Youtube visitors; Number of #1 rankings on TV music shows; Numbers of online news reports about the group, within one month after a song’s release; and number of downloads, within 2 weeks after a song’s release]. It shows that songs by girl-groups with sexy concepts were downloaded 7 million more times than songs by girl-groups without.

2013 Girl-groups Sexy ConceptsCaption: Looking at the results for 2013 though, only exceptionally revealing works have gotten the public’s attention; indeed, as time goes on the public seems tired of the excessive exposure war of the girl-groups. Whereas once it seemed a necessity or mission, now it seems to have overshadowed their music, and had a negative reaction.

Compared to the year before, there were close to twice as many girl-groups with sexy concepts. However, the results were different. Compared to girl-groups without them, [the differences are not that great], and in fact the number of downloads was less!

걸그룹이 섹시 컨셉을 내세워야만 살아남을 수 있는 것인가에 대해 일각에서는 가요 소비문화와 걸그룹 제작 환경에 비판의 목소리를 제기하고 있다.

기 획사 대표 A씨는 지난 2월 14일 CBS라디오 ‘김현정의 뉴스쇼’와의 전화 인터뷰에서 “요즘 가수의 주 수입원은 음원 판매와 방송을 통해 얻은 유명세로 이뤄지는 행사인데, 유명세를 타게 되면 행사 섭외도 많아지고 몸값이 올라가다 보니까 노출 경쟁이 더 치열해질 수밖에 없다”고 지적했다.

대중문화의 전반적인 흐름이 다양성을 즐기는 것이 아니라 더 강하고 자극적인 소비로 가고 있으며 가요 제작자나 가수들은 눈길을 끌기 위해 경쟁적으로 더 강한 섹시 컨셉을 카드로 제시한 것이다. 게다가 아이돌 그룹 한 팀을 데뷔시키려면 적게는 2~3억 원, 많게는 5~7억 원 정도가 들며 그렇게 만들어진 수백 팀 중에 한두 팀만 살아남는 ‘전쟁터’에서 두각을 나타내기 위해서는 “‘남들보다 더 특별한 것을 보여줘야 한다’는 강박증이 생길 수 밖에 없는 현실이다*. (2월 14일 CBS 김현정의 뉴스쇼 인터뷰 요약)

There are many critics of girl-groups that can only survive in the music industry through using sexy concepts.

On February 14th, “Mr. A,” an anonymous management company representative on the Kim Hyeon-jeong’s News Show on CBS Radio, stated in a phone interview that “These days, singers’ main source of income is through downloads of songs and appearances at events, but invites to those events only come once a group is already famous. This can’t but help increase the ferocity of the exposure wars between girl-groups.” [James — A translation of the interview is available on Reddit here.]

The mass media these days is not about providing variety but getting consumers’ attention through products’ shock value. In this ever more competitive environment, using sexy concepts is a card girl-groups must play. In addition, as each idol group costs in a range between 200 to 700 million won to bring to debut, and so few of them ultimately survive, Mr. A continued, “To survive groups must show ever more unique or shocking things.”

섹시 컨셉을 바라보는 대중의 이중적 태도에도 문제가 있다. 수많은 미디어가 섹시코드를 질타하면서도 반면 걸그룹의 선정성 논란을 더 부추기는 자극적인 기사내용과 사진, 제목으로 경쟁을 과열시키고 있다. 즉, 소속사와 걸그룹은 자신의 인지도를 높이기 위해 ‘섹시 경쟁’에 뛰어들고, 인터넷 언론은 그 ‘섹시 코드’로 방문자 숫자를 늘리고, 방송은 그 ‘섹시 코드’로 시청률을 높이며, 대중은 언론과 방송을 통해 섹시 컨셉을 비난하면서 소비하고 있다. .

물론 ‘퍼포먼스도 음악에 중요한 요소다. 하지만 그렇다고 맹목적인 여자가수들의 섹시 컨셉은 성공을 100% 보장하는 마법의 열쇠가 아니다. 연예인은 자신이 갖고 있는 이미지와 콘텐츠로 소비되는 만큼 무조건적인 섹시 컨셉과 자극적인 노이즈 마케팅은 자신의 정체성을 만들어 가고 롱런 하는데 큰 걸림돌이 되지않을까?

There is also a problem of the media’s double-standards. Many media sources criticize girl-groups’ sexy concepts on the one hand, but on the other stir-up sexual controversy with suggestive photos and article titles. Management companies take part in the “sexy wars” to increase girl-groups’ popularity; internet media use the “sexy code” to increase visitor numbers and hits, television broadcaster also use the code to increase viewer ratings; and and he public consumes the sexy concept at the same time as it criticizes them.

Of course, music and performances are still important factors. But adopting a sexy concept is not a magical key to a 100% success rate. Entertainers are consumed for their image and contents, so in the long run unconditionally using a sexy concept, noise-making strategy for their identity will surely be detrimental. (End)

Korean Sociological Image #83: Vintage Contraceptive Pill Commercials

Spending the weekend looking for 8 year-old contraceptive pill commercials, as one does, I ended up finding some adorable 38 year-old ones instead:

Take the title dates with a grain of salt: this brief post says that they actually come from 1982, 1976, and 1976 respectively, and the second at least is corroborated by very similar print advertisements appearing in 1976 newspapers. The writer gains further credibility by noting the names of the actors in the first (An So-yeong/안소영) and third ones (Yeon Gyu-jin/연규진 and Yeom Bok-soon/염복순), and by pointing out that the 1970s ones would have appeared in cinemas rather than on television—although as TV bans on contraceptive commercials weren’t actually lifted until 2006, then presumably the same goes for the 1982 one too.

Here’s what Yeon Gyu-jin (love his expression!) and Yeom Bok-soon ‘say’ in the last one, although I confess I’m a little confused by the end caption that says it’s a “contraceptive pill that you don’t take” (먹지않는 피임야):

M: 이봐, 이봐, 첫 아기는 아들이야. / The first one has to be a son.

W: 어휴, 어휴 아들 좋아하네. 누구맘대로. 딸이 좋단 말이예요. / Tsk. You like boys, but it won’t happen. I like girls.

M: 글쎄 아들이라니까. / Well, I said I like boys.

W: 어휴, 어휴 딸이란 말이예요. / Well, I said I like girls.

M: 당신같은 딸 낳아 누굴 또 속 썩일려구. 어휴…. / If we get a girl like you, she’ll be a handful…

W: 그럼 자기 나 닮은 아들, 딸 어때요? Then, how about a boy and a girl that look like me?

M: 에이,,에이.. 그게 당신맘대로 할 수 있어? Is that something you can happen just because you want it to?

W: 그건 저한테 맡겨 주세요. 제가 자신있으니까요.  You leave that up to me. I’m confident!

Korea Contraceptive PillCelebrating 50 years of the pill in — where else? — a nightclub :) Source.

However charming the commercials may appear now though, any nostalgia for simpler times would be misplaced, as in reality Korea’s population polices were every bit as systematic and draconian as China’s back then. What’s more, the state tended to view the pill as a temporary or supplemental contraceptive at best, much preferring one-shot and permanent methods. In the 1960s, that would be the “patriotic” and “ideal” IUD; by the 1980s, sterilization.

In light of that, these pill commercials become all the more exceptional(?) and intriguing. I’d appreciate any additional information readers can provide about them.

Likewise, it’ll be interesting to see what contraceptive commercials appear — or rather don’t appear — on Korean screens in the future as the Park Geun-hye administration grapples with Korea’s ironic world-low birthrate. Because on the one hand, it is regrettable that the former Lee Myung-bak administration saw no need to defend women’s access to the pill, and it is preposterous that his (re)criminalization of abortion — which simply puts women’s lives at risk — is likewise viewed by his successor as a viable method of baby-making. But on the other, because of course Korea is now a democracy, and finally aired its first condom commercials on television in July last year, and with a firm sex-is-fun message at that (in contrast to the PSAs that were briefly allowed in October 2004). Here’s hoping there’ll be a lot more coming this year too! ;D

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

The Pornification of K-pop?

K-pop Porn

Pornography is art, sometimes harmonious, sometimes dissonant. Its glut and glitter are a Babylonian excess. Modern middle-class women cannot bear the thought that their hard-won professional achievements can be outweighed in an instant by a young hussy flashing a little tits and ass. But the gods have given her power, and we must welcome it. Pornography forces a radical reassessment of sexual value, nature’s bequest of our tarnished treasure.

Camille Paglia, Vamps & Tramps, 1994.

For reasons of space and propriety, an opening quote that didn’t make it to my latest article for Busan Haps. But, without denying for a moment that there’s been a lot of gratuitous T&A in K-pop this summer, with many more examples in just the few weeks since this article was written, I think Paglia’s quote brings a healthy dose of realism to the discussion, and frames the one on Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show in the conclusion nicely. Please click on the image to see what I mean.

For much more on the concept of sexual objectification, why it can sometimes be positive, and why consent is so important for determining that, please see here. Also, a must-read is Peter Robinson’s “Naked women in pop videos: art, misogyny or downright cynical?” in The Guardian from last week, which raises many of the same issues (and is a reminder that the “pornification” of K-pop still has quite a long way to go).