Most notably and depressingly of all however, the Busan Human Rights Center only makes recommendations to offending companies and institutions, not prosecuting them or assisting you in doing so. In fairness, I stress I only know of the Center through its website; prosecution may never have been its intended purpose, which other institutions and services may exist to fulfill, and doesn’t diminish its potential role in education, awareness, and/or the value of gentle pressure and public shaming it can bring to bear on offenders. Still, it also instantly brings to mind the well-known National Human Rights Commission of Korea, launched to much fanfare 10 years ago but rendered toothless since.
My translation, starting from the top:
구직, 채용, 면접, 시험에서 받은 If these ever happen to you while looking for a job, being recruited, during an interview, or while in an exam or test…
인권침해 Human Rights Violations
사소한 것이라도 부산광역시 인권센터에 알려주십시오 No matter how trivial or small it seems, please inform the Busan Human Rights Center
Row by row:
업무와 상관없는 특정종교 선발 Choosing candidates based on religion, with no relation to the job
과도한 사적정보 요구 (아빠직업, 엄마 직업, 할아버지 재산, 이모부 고향) Excessive demands for personal information (e.g., parents’ jobs, size of grandfather’s estate, uncle’s hometown)
장애 (장애인 출입이 불가능한 채용시험장) Disability (Recruitment Test Center has no disabled access)
동성애자 아니죠? You’re gay, aren’t you?
채용여부 묵묵부답 Left hanging about your recruitment status
시험 주에 화장실 가려면 시험포기 각서 쓰라 Having to sign an agreement that you fail a test if you need to leave for a bathroom break
노동조합이 생기면 가입할 겁니까? If there was a union, would you join it?
업무와 상관없는 나이제한 Age restrictions that have nothing to do with the job
그 나라 출신은 안 됩니다 You’re not from X country…
서류반납 거절 Refusal to return documents
압박면접을 빙자한 막말 Unnecessary blunt remarks and rudeness for the sake of a pressure interview
업무와 상관없는 학력차별 Choosing candidates based on educational background, with no relation to the job
이번 선거에서 누굴 지지합니까? Who are you voting for in the election?
출산 후에도 회사 다닐 거예요? Are you going to continue working after giving birth?
외모에 대한 노골적 평가 (모델선발하나?) Blatantly evaluating you based on your appearance (Are you choosing a model?)
취업과정에서 다양한 인권침해가 발생하고 있습니다. 그러나, 구직자들은 부당한 질문들과 불법한 차별에 대해 제대로 대응하자 못하고 있는 현실이기도 합니다. 부산광역시 인권센터는 구직과정의 인권침해 사례들을 수집하고 개선방안을 관련 기관에 권고할 예정입니다.
Various human rights violations [can] occur in the employment process. However, the reality is that job seekers are not always well equipped to properly respond to unfair questions and cases of illegal discrimination. The Busan Human Rights Center will collect such cases and recommend improvement measures to related organizations. (End.)
Have you or anyone you know experienced any of these yourself in Korea? Please let me know in the comments.
A Facebook friend asked for clarification about what exactly my issue with the Busan Human Rights Center was, given that even the National Human Rights Commission of Korea can only make recommendations, as is the case with most national human rights institutes worldwide. Here’s my response:
My issue is that if I was a victim of discrimination in New Zealand say, and encountered a poster for a similar institution, I would fully expect its stress to be on my potential to prosecute, that the center would be geared around my doing so (even if all it could really do was offer lawyers’ contact details), and that possibly even the center itself would be able to advocate for me if I was financially disadvantaged.
That said, I admit have no knowledge or experience of the legal system there, or in Korea. Possibly, my assumptions about rights centers in Western countries are hopelessly naive. But either way, whatever the country, if the best I could hope for from working with one was a sternly worded email to my former employer, then I’m not sure I would bother.
I do still mention in the post the valuable roles such centers can have, even if they don’t/can’t prosecute offenders themselves. But whether human rights centers in Korea can’t help with prosecuting because that was never their purpose, and/or whether it’s because many forms of discrimination aren’t even illegal, then either way the poster served to highlight the latter to me, and why I post it for others. I assume too, that if a comprehensive anti-discrimination *was* passed, then human rights centers would be given the remit and resources to take bolder measures against infractions when notified by the public.
Watch how an innocuous video on vacations in history segues into admonitions against overspending:
To be precise, the 1971 video from 0:57 to 1:20:
2016 anchor: “In the 1970s the word ‘vacation’ was a buzzword, and many social issues associated with disorder, excessive prices, and overconsumption at vacationing spots occurred.”
Look past the black and white, and many scenes from that segment look surprisingly modern. That’s what makes the original anchor’s warning so jarring. Who the hell buys so many beach balls, I wondered, that they get into debt?
In 1971, I’m sure Korean viewers were thinking the exact same thing. So, what on Earth had been the government’s motivation in producing that?
The segment we’re interested in is “To the Extent You Can Afford It” (분수에 맞는 피서를), originally shown on Daehan News (대한늬우스) on 16 August, 1971; see here for the full version, with much better picture quality.
Here’s a transcript:
무더운 여름철 물놀이가 한창입니다. 도심의 백화점이나 시장에서는 필요이상의 피서용구들을 경쟁이나 하듯 사들이는 이가 많은데 이 가운데에는 빚을 내어가면서까지 분에 맞지 않는 놀이를 즐기는 분도 있다고 합니다. 하기야 애써 번 돈을 무더울 때 분에 맞게 쓴다고 해서 탓할바는 못되지만은 그렇다고 지나치게 낭비를 하거나 빚까지 얻어 쓴다는 것은 삼가해야 할 일이 아니겠습니까? 물놀이는 형편과 분수에 맞게 그리고 가족과 함께 즐기는 것이 좋겠습니다. 또 수영장이나 피서지에서는 공중도덕과 질서를 지킵시다. 술에 취해서 큰 소리로 떠들어 대거나 눈에 거슬리는 짓은 삼가해야겠습니다. 우리는 분수에 맞는 피서로써 무리가 없고 명랑한 여름철을 보내야겠습니다.
“This hot summer, people are in the middle of having fun in the water. At city department stores and markets, many people are buying more leisure items than they need, as if they were competing with each other. Among them, some are enjoying themselves beyond their means, even getting into debt. Of course, people can’t be blamed for spending their own money which they earned themselves. Yet even so, isn’t overspending and getting loans something we should refrain from? It’ll be nice to enjoy the holiday with your family to the extent that you can afford. Let’s obey public rules and morals at swimming pools and leisure places. We should avoid speaking loudly while drunk, and behaving inappropriately. We should enjoy a bright summer to the extent we can each afford (end).”
Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any more information about the video online. But probably, that’s only because the first thing to take away from it is how normal it was for its time.
That’s partially because under President Park Chung-hee, accusations of personal enrichment could be used as a device to bring down political opponents and errant factory owners; as Mark Clifford explains in Troubled Tiger: Businessmen, Bureaucrats, and Generals in South Korea (1998), when “the system was at its heart corrupt, virtually everyone was vulnerable to punishment.” But primarily it was because, regardless of what one thinks of his means, Park wasat hearta developmentalist, who firmly believed in the necessity of short-term sacrifice and capital accumulation for the sake of longer-term goals—and who regularly reminded the public of that in his speeches.
Writing in Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea (2000), Laura Nelson stresses how important it is “to recognize how widespread and pervasive the censure of the pursuit of enrichment was” back then. In particular:
“During South Korea’s lean years in Park’s early tenure, quotidian frugality was ideologically transformed into an act of popular patriotism….Park placed the burden of responsibility for the success of national development strategies on the shoulders of individuals in all their daily economic decisions.”
(p. 113; emphasis added)
Nonetheless, in May 1970 the Health and Social Affairs Ministry issued a report arguing that income inequality was creating serious social problems. Yet more troublesome still, according to Joungwon Kim, author of Divided Korea: The Politics of Development, 1945-1972 (1976), was the simultaneous “conspicuous consumption of the new elite, who began building luxurious homes and riding through Seoul in expensive imported Cadillacs and Mercedes Benz.”
And I want to offer yet more fruits from my hitting the books, to convey just how dire I learned the domestic economic and international geopolitical situation was for South Korea then, how tenuous the support for the government was, and just how vulnerable it felt politically. Because it’s reasonable to suppose that it only meant such admonitions became ever more fervent and extreme.
We were talking about a warning about buying too many beach balls, after all.
That would require thousands of words though, and probably most readers are already quite familiar with the circumstances leading up to the authoritarian Yushin Constitution of October 1972.
Instead, the promised insight of the title is how to make those feel more real and convincing.
Doing so is especially meaningful to me, because when I first learned about them as a student in the mid-1990s, it was before the Asian Financial Crisis. Tales of hardship in Korean history back then sounded somewhat abstract, or even hyperbole. Even when I learned much later that, in 1973, the Minister of Education praised prostitutes for securing much needed foreign exchange from USFK soldiers, Korea’s poverty failed to really sink in.“Hardship” isn’t what comes to mind when watching that video either, nor with that much–shared image of women’s fashions in 1971 that I opened this post with. Nor with this personal favorite too:
(“Seoul 서울 1968-08-07 – 68D08-0723”, by Pal Meir; used with permission)
I mean, that pink dress, right? And that sweet smile? Could you look her in the eye, and tell her she couldn’t buy a second beach ball?
Ahem. But whatever the reasons such videos and images may or may not do it for you, the temptation to project a familiar, nostalgic Western image of the abundance of the ’60s onto Korea can be quite a powerful one. Perhaps even for Korean readers too, as it may be sufficiently distant that Korean popular culture now glamorizes that era.
That’s probably why it took cold, hard statistics to break the spell for me. Because at the time of that video, which looks so modern, and despite a miraculous-sounding average GDP growth rate of 10% between 1963-1970, still less than 1 in 10 Koreans had washing machines, refrigerators, phones, or televisions:
But let’s reserve answering those questions for the comments, and/or anything else raised here. Let me conclude instead with another quote from Laura Nelson, as she gives a much better sense than I could of how important the era is for understanding the negative, consumption-based stereotypes of Korean women that would come later. For remember those individuals, whose shoulders “the burden of responsibility for the success of national development strategies” would be placed upon? Ultimately, most of them would prove to be women:
…the image of the housewife as the archetypal consumer…begins to equate women as consumers and women as housewives, and is also part of the process by whereby men’s consumer practices become invisible. Moreover, the kind of consumption that women conduct as “housewives”…is a special case of consumption: women-as-housewives-as-consumers assume a responsibility for a collective interest….The dominance of the image of women-housewives-consumers foregrounds, for women consumers in particular, a moral distinction between responsible consumption and personal indulgence.
This leads to a consideration of the second gendered aspect of consumption: the danger…
Not realizing that appointments like theirs actually had a long precedent as I’ll explain, my first thought was to compare their recruitment posters to some of their (Allied) World War Two equivalents. I expected that most that featured women would present sexual access to them as a motivation for fighting (PDF download) and/or the denial of that access to the rapacious enemy. But to my surprise, most of the posters with women were actually for women, with the purpose of recruiting them for ancillary organizations and factory work. Borrowing “the seductiveness, sass, and self-assurance” of pin-up girls, Maria Elena Buszek explains in Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture(2006), they reminded women of their choices among active, formerly “masculine” paths in the public sphere, “in what must have felt like an abundance of subversive opportunities.” And the contrast with Apink’s roles in the MMA’s campaign for men was striking.
Not because I’m a grouch who thinks aegyo should only be enjoyed in moderation. But because the Apink members themselves, by then almost all grown women, increasingly complained about literally not being allowed to mature. Also, because it was disingenuous, those personas being very much at odds with the sexualized manner in which girl-groups are (naturally) viewed by conscripts, and are presented to them in practice. But most of all, because dig past the many, many layers of bullshit that can and probably will be used to disguise and/or justify this instance of Korea’s pervasive “lolita nationalism” (a.k.a., samcheon fandom for a cause), then what you’re left with is one damned patronizing, infantilizing vision of female gender roles and sexuality deliberately being promoted to the 250,000 young Korean men conscripted every year.
Also, there is the elephant in the room that is the historical role of prostitutesaround US bases, originally with official approval. That’s a far cry from K-pop performances of course. But, if nothing else, it’s indicative of the Korean state’s long-standing, very collusive, and very objectifying view of women vis-à-vis the military.
Here’s Apink performing on a base themselves, shortly after they debuted in 2011:
(Watching the conscripts, no-one can blame them for their over-the-top reactions to, well, female humans. But it all comes across as a little creepy when you realize they’re professing their love for middle-school girls, and begs the question of what such a young group was doing there.)
2) Just a cursory examination reveals a host of regular, albeit usually temporary “honorary ambassadorships” by girl-groups and female performers for a range of organizations. Examples include the Ministry of National Defense appointing 4Minute as ambassadors for its Korea Armed Forces’ 29 Seconds Film Festival; the appointment of Hello Venus to make the music video/dance/song Soldier for the recent 6th CISM Military World Games;
…and the appointment and later promotion of IU as an honorary police officer by the national police agency. Indeed, that was over a year before the appointment of Apink by the MMA, which makes me wonder how far back using women to advertise and promote still overwhelmingly male organizations goes?
I’m thinking probably quite far, given what I’ve just been learning about regular girl-group performances for the police. Which gives me a chance to totally stan this amazing 2NE1 video by way of example:
One memorable example is the National Election Commission’s choice of The Wondergirls to encourage voting in local elections in April 2008, which was somehow best achieved by outfitting them in faux, tight-fitting school uniforms, and despite—notice a trend here?—two members still being of middle-school age (15):
At Korea’s 2010 national election, the most famous girl idol group, Girls’ Generation was recruited for the campaign to promote citizens’ participation in the vote. Girls’ Generation released a single, album and music video of the campaign song titled ‘LaLaLa’. Girls’ Generation also appeared on TV campaigns in which each girl member was visualized as a Tinkerbell-like mini-sized icon, while the citizen voters were represented by male citizens. Girl idols are equally utilized for important international events; for instance, Girls’ Generation were appointed as Customs Promotion Ambassadors in preparation for the G20 Summit Conference in 2010 in Seoul. The girl idols are, at least in appearance, presented as agents who have the power of motivating, seducing or interpellating citizens to become involved in the project of global nation building.
Also, to get yet another elephant in the room out of the way early on. (With K-pop, they tend to come in herds.) Yes, a lot of the things described in this post were modeled on Japan:
“Here’s a cheerleader telling you everything you need to know about Japan’s population trend: Old people up, young people down.” Source: Fusion.
5) The Korean military currently has one hell of a PR problem. In short, because it is still very much stuck in the 1970s. Let me explain.
Seventy-five percent of Korean soldiers are conscripts, who are paid minimal wages, and have to endure “abysmal living conditions.” Essentially, they’re a huge, convenient slave labor force, who not only “have to pave roads in the mountains or dig up snow” for the government, but have to do even the most menial of tasks too—”such as cleaning the pool of the general’s house.” This discourages expensive mechanization and modernization, as well illustrated by the following anecdote given by Ask a Korean!:
…the Korean has a friend who spent his military years in the eastern mountain range in Korea. One day, the general decided that he would have fresh sashimi for his guest. The Korean’s friend and his squad mate drove in a truck for two hours to the shore, and managed to acquire fresh, live fish. But how to bring them home fresh and alive?
A normal person’s answer would be, “Rent a truck with equipped with a tank and an air compressor, the kind that would deliver live fish to sushi restaurants.” But remember, this is the Korean military. It does not have the money to rent such a truck, but it does have the manpower of two soldiers.
So what did the Korean’s friend do? He sat in the back of the truck, churning the water in the tub so that air would go in and the fish would be kept alive. (His squad mate got to drive the truck because he joined the military a few months ahead of the Korean’s friend, therefore outranking him.) This was in the middle of winter, and the truck bed was exposed to the freezing wind as the truck drove into the mountains. The Korean’s friend nearly froze to death, but the fish were alive until they were served on a plate that evening.
Stories of this type, coming out of Korean military, are dime a dozen.
What’s more, this unprecedented media scrutiny comes at a moment when it’s increasingly struggling to maintain its numbers, as Korea’s low birth rate begins to make its impact felt. Probably then, the military is now very concerned about softening its image.
The male is called “Podori,” the female “Ponsuni.” Yes, that’s really Podori in his riot gear on the right. Source, left: Chuing. Right: unknown.
Did I say I was surprised to see a girl-group in camo? I didn’t say that, someone else must have. Because anyone up to speed on K-pop and the Korean media could have seen the time was ripe for a girl-group to represent the MMA. The cutesier, the better.
To many of you reading, who are already aware of Apink’s reputation, probably I’ve already answered that question. However, you could argue that Apink was chosen simply because of their popularity at the time. You’d be wrong, but I admit it’s a plausible first explanation. For instance:
Technically though, all of those were after their appointment in March (although they’re still indicative). Possibly more influential then, was their winning the military charts in January, which apparently are a thing. Here’s a video about that and some screenshots of their reactions to the news, which give strong hints of the sorts of roles they’d be performing for the MMA campaign two months later:
Jung Eun-ji: We are like [the soldiers’] little sisters next door…
…We will try to sing a lot to help keep your spirits up…
…Cheer up! We love you!
Further adding to the notion that Apink was chosen simply for their popularity, in the year and a half since their appointment the MMA has been happy to have a range of girl-groups pass on cutesie messages or songs to cheer the troops up. Regardless of where their reputations fell on the virginal-cutesie-aegyo to slutty-sexy-concepts scale:
For example, from 9Muses this September:
From two members of SISTAR (I can’t identify the male rapper sorry):
From EXID in July:
From Hyeri of Girl’s Day:
Indeed, check out the video history of the MMA Youtube channel, and barely a month goes by without some girl-group making an appearance. Here’s 4Minute in September 2014:
And here’s Ladies’ Code in a video uploaded in December 2014. Somewhat strangely and tactlessly, that was actually two months after two members (2nd and 4th from the left) had died in a traffic accident:
Add that Apink’s popularity rapidly moved on to othergroups, the implication of these examples is that any girl-group would have done really, and may well have been chosen if they’d been more popular at the time. And sure, why not? After all, despite the constant bullshit about girl-power from the Korean media, the Korean government, and Korean entertainment companies, most supposedly “sexy” and “mature” girl-groups seem to combine their revealing costumes and erotic dances with off-stage personas that are just as saccharine as their “cute,” “innocent” counterparts.
As one might expect with, usually, everyone but the women themselves telling us how grown-up and independent they are.
But with sexy groups, there is always the danger that their provocative costumes and choreography will overstep the limits of favorable netizen and public opinion. Also, and in particular, at about the same time Apink were appointed, many K-pop groups were beginning to suffer from dating “scandals”—that is, being revealed to be in relationships at all—with the women receiving the brunt of fans’ anger (from female fans for dating “their” male idol, from male fans for not “waiting” for them instead). Without condoning the double-standards behind that backlash, and indeed deploring those fans whose liking of a celebrity is contingent on his or her sexual history, I can appreciate why relationships are a sensitive subject for conscripts, many of whom either split up with their girlfriend before enlisting, or constantly fear that she’s cheating on him while he’s serving. (See the 2008 movie Crazy Waiting for an exploration of this.)
(That being said, the girlfriends have equal cause for concern, as it’s not uncommon for conscripts to visit sex workers.)
So if a cute, innocent, non-dating girl-group was required, why not select the group with the strongest reputation as such, and the least likely to radically change?
Indeed, one so strong as to be blatantly contrived for ajosshi/samhcheon fans? For instance:
While promoting their third mini-album in July 2013, Apink told an interviewer that Cube Entertainment suggested that they transition to more mature concepts, but they wanted to maintain an innocent one. They also pointed that several members were underage, preventing the group from doing those sexy concepts. (Although only one—Oh Ha-young—still was as of March 2014, and she turned 18 that July.)
In April 2014, it was revealed that 20 year-old So Na-eun had never dated. Yes, technically after they’d been hired by the MMA, but again it’s indicative (I’m sure I could dig up earlier examples).
That was because they described it as “a pop dance song about a first kiss shared with a loved one, featuring Apink’s bolder but still shy way of confessing love.” But not so bold though, as to further stress the sensibilities of delicate fans, who had been concerned about a possible concept change ever since they saw the members wearing—wait for it—red lipstick on the album cover.
That is to say, the Korean media made that last claim, which is never shy of putting the concerns of ajosshi/samcheon fans front and center; click on the GIF above to see what (generally quite knowledgeable) Omona! They Didn’t! commenters thought of all that, and for more examples of the Lolitaesque subtext to Apink’s repeated claims of innocence. I’ll return to those in later posts, as I will the third elephant of the herd: that, all that time, the Apink members may have just been parroting the lines provided to them by Cube Entertainment, as indeed they may have been later when they started expressing their frustrations with their continued infantilization—an issue at the heart of how we judge K-pop, yet something that we usually just don’t know.
But we do know that, whether speaking for themselves and/or their employers, the change in tone is significant, and, having just made a deal with the MMA, not exactly in the latter’s interests. We also know that, even just judging by the campaign alone, that a cute, innocent group was indeed required for it, and obviously so:
The MMA’s tweet reads (the poster is about the same thing):
If you write a letter, you will receive a mobile voucher [you can spend at coffee shops etc.] #MMA So let’s write a letter to the soldiers! #Apink #Nam-ju wrote a letter too!
And Kim Nam-ju’s own “letter” reads (see here, here, here, here, and here for similarly-themed messages in the series from other members):
Hello, this is Nam-ju from Apink! You are having a hard time, right? Aww…But I want you to always cheer up and find strength. Hee-hee. While listening to our songs, always cheer up and eat well and plentifully…I hope you get stronger. Ha ha ha…since friends the same age as me (in our 20s) are also doing their military service I worry more and more (cry cry). Always cheer up! If you laugh, you’ll be happy! Smile! I love you Korean soldiers! (Salute!)
Rest assured, there’s much more where that came from.
But why didn’t I just lead with all these examples? Why have I so labored the point that Apink was so well suited to the cutesie MMA campaign, when probably nobody, not even the most dedicated of Apink fans, needed convincing in the first place?
The main reason is that to critique the MMA campaign, and specifically to demonstrate that it was disingenuous, you need to show the disconnect between the intent and the reality. But I can’t definitively claim that Apink wasn’t just chosen for their popularity in early-2014 of course. Or, for that matter, that they weren’t just chosen because of some special financial arrangements between the MMA and Cube Entertainment, that simply weren’t offered to and/or possible with other entertainment companies for their own groups. Again, we just don’t know.
What we can say though, is that entertainment companies and the military are joined at the hip. That away from the performances on bases that get most of the media’s attention, girl-groups of all stripes are constantly presenting the same sorts of cutesie messages to conscripts, and acting like children in front of them. That, even if Apink wasn’t necessarily the only group able to fulfill that role on a permanent basis, that it was the most reliable choice to do so. And, lest we forget, that the companies or institutions doing the hiring of K-pop groups that call the shots, and that entertainment companies are only too willing to compromise their groups’ brand images or concepts for the sake of the hard income their advertising campaigns provide. A lesson I personally learned from DSP Media, who quite literally presented a new, very womanly side to KARA through the choreography to Mister back in the winter of 2009, only then to have them acting like my children in a commercial for Pepero by the following spring:
Ergo, the MMA wanted a cutesie, virginal girl-group, and that’s what they got. But how about the conscripts themselves?
I’m sure you can guess. But it’s always best to get first-person accounts, so I’ll providetwo in a later post (update: in Part 3). Then, because not all of you may share my instinctive distrust of all things aegyo, in another I’ll consider an interesting perspective on Apink’s from May 2012, which—dare I say it?—demonstrates it can have some positives when done willinglyby and for teenage girls…but which makes the negatives of young women performing it unwillingly for men in 2015 all the clearer. Finally, I’ll discuss the alternative gender roles the MMA could have presented in their campaign, as suggested by those World War Two recruitment posters.
I really don’t like making the split, as frankly this post has been a real labor of love for the past *cough* three months, which I feel works best at a whole. But at a combined total of over 10,000 words, it’s a necessary, reluctant concession to reality. Please help me make the best of it then, by adding your own thoughts in the comments, which I’ll consider and maybe incorporate as I finalize the remaining post(s). Thanks!
(Update) This post and the intended follow-ups ultimately became an ongoing series:
I don’t recommend them: at 8cm in diameter, they’re much too small to write in, whatever language you use. Much more interesting than my frustrations with my pudgy fingers though, is that example daily plan provided. It reads:
11:30pm to 6am: Sleep
7-9: Prepare for Conference
9-12pm: Attend Conference
1-3:30: Attend Exhibition
3:30-6: Attend Hagwon (Institute)
6-7:30: Skip 300 times
7:30-9: Memorize English Vocabulary
9-11:30: Watch Online Lectures
Did the copywriters consider that a typical worker’s daily plan? Or more as one the ambitious professional should aspire to, starting with the strategic investment of 1500 won for a pack of 30?
Either way, it’s an interesting example of how Korea’s study-hard, work-hard, sleep-when-you’re-dead norm gets manifested and perpetuated in daily life, and one that would probably be little changed for consumers in other (developed) East Asian countries. In contrast, US adults, for instance, may also get less than seven hours daily sleep in practice, but the eight-hours ideal is an enduringmyth. And very, very few aren’t achieving that ideal due to attending hagwons.
Another manifestation of Koreans’ attitudes to sleep comes from a high school teacher friend of mine, who says a common saying students there goes something like “Four hours sleep, go to a SKY university; five hours sleep, you fail.” I was recently reminded of it by the second “dark circle” on the right, which you can read more about at the Hankyroreh.
In both cases, frankly I’m surprised that the sleeping time is so high…
Toz, a business that rents meeting rooms, conducted a survey on 1,800 high school seniors who used their study center. Results showed that 31 percent of the respondents slept five to six hours a night, and 30 percent answered that they slept four to five hours.
In other words, six out of 10 high school seniors were only getting five hours of sleep every night. Those who slept more than seven hours represented only five percent of the respondents.
(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image Series, see here)
“And now we go to our leader’s house, where earlier today, a spontaneous demonstration took place.”
“A grateful duck has written a new song for our beloved leader, and she is here joined by the chorus of the Animal Guard!”
No? I assure you, it’s much funnier in the officious, slightly hungover voice of the pig making the announcement. But the fact remains: promotions like Lotte’s are like theaters of the absurd. Because really: what was the point of the models exactly?
Was it because otherwise disinterested heterosexual men and lesbians feel more patriotic if they see attractive women? Was it because they inspire people to learn more about Korea’s history, and to be more concerned about Korea’s image abroad? Was it because other less objectifying, less patronizing methods have been tried and failed?
No? Then why are young female models so routinely used to promote nationalist causes in Korea?
As if Lotte Group was posing the questions to news outlets itself, perhaps half ofall theillustrated newsarticles on its tower flag I quickly surveyed didn’t even mention the models at all. So too the first English article I encountered, which instead offered a borderline advertorial on its deep numerical symbolism.
It’s almost as if wrapping themselves up in the national flag and posing in front of highly symbolic, highly controversial chaebol mega-projects is just something young women spontaneously like to do.
“Lotte Group’s solution to weaken public opposition to its power: patriotic marketing + sexual objectification = a tall building with the flag and thin models wearing flags. In Korea, patriotism is used like this. Oh, how bold!”
“Who are these women? Don’t use yourselves as tools of sexual objectification. Especially on a meaningful day like today. How come you can use our national flag like that, which was used to support and give courage to the Korean independence movement?”
Which was in reaction to:
핫팬츠 입은 여성들이 태극기를 치마처럼 두르고.유사시 한국의 공군기 작전수행에 문제를 일으킬수있다는 의혹을 사는 급조된 자사의 초고층 빌딩앞에서.이제와 대한민국 외치는 롯데그룹이다.홍보전략마저도 왜색적.얍삽하다 http://t.co/emcRWlbW3v
“[Here’s some] women in hot pants wearing the Korean flag like a skirt, in front of the Lotte Tower, which has been accused of causing problems with the the air force’s flight paths and [consequently] implementation of strategy during wartime. How wily: even Lotte Group’s promotion strategy is Japanese-orientated.” [James — Eh? Because Japan would be the enemy in the event of a war? And surely he means the building location, rather than the promotion?]
Sigh. Of course, I don’t pretend for a moment that a twitter wordsearch represents everything being spoken about a subject. So I’m sure that, somewhere, people are asking such questions as:
Why is it almost always only young female models are ever chosen for promotions like these?
Why only models with a very narrow range of body types?
What kind of gender and sexual roles are they promoting, when women are mere decorations for a cause?
As always, I’d be grateful for any pointers to where people are doing so. But, if it turns out people aren’t really talking about such a widespread phenomenon or belief though, then that’s precisely why we should look more closely at it. Because, as Amy Wharton explains in her book The Sociology of Gender: An Introduction to Theory and Research (2005):
…understanding gender requires us to go beyond the obvious and to reconsider issues we may think are self-evident and already well understood. Challenging the taken-for-granted is one essential component of the sociological perspective. In fact, sociologists argue that what people view as unproblematic and accept as “the way things are” may be most in need of close, systematic scrutiny.
@ASAnews Why I #lovesociology: because thinking critically has ruined approximately 90% of my daily small talk.
So to encourage further conversation along those lines, and to highlight the issues raised by this example, next month I’ll examine another highly symbolic instance of Korean “patriotic marketing [through] sexual objectification” then demonstrating why it’s more problematic than it may at first appear (apologies for the split, but it’s necessary for 5000 words). Until then, I appreciate hearing your thoughts on the flag-wearing promotions, and any other questions they raise.
With the decriminalization of adultery in February, Koreans seem more open about sex than ever before. But advertisers are slow to challenge traditional gender roles.
That Korean youth would include my two daughters, just off-camera in these pictures I took at a local bus stop. And the shameless hussy would be cheerleader Park Ki-ryang (a.k.a. “The Baseball Goddess”), intent on hooking-up with SNL writer and comedian Yoo Byung-jae in their ads for 여기어때 (Yogi-oddae, “How about here”), a motel-finding app. For someone whose first Korean girlfriend had a 10pm curfew, and who arrived in Korea the same year singer Baek Ji-young was disgraced for unknowingly being taped whilehaving sex, it was remarkable to see something so brazen.
Ironically though, they were gone from Busan bus stops the next day; I wondered if they had indeed been too much for the Korean public. But I couldn’t find any news about any complaints or controversy, and found another ad in my local university district the day after that:
19일 관련업계에 따르면 인터넷서비스업체 위드웹이 운영하는 여기어때가 방송작가 겸 방송인으로 활동 중인 유병재를 앞세운 광고를 ‘tvN’ 등 케이블 채널을 통해 이날부터 방송하기 시작했다. 유병재는 최근 대형 연예기획사인 YG엔터테인먼트와 전속계약을 체결하며 주목받고 있다.
유병재의 광고 파트너로는 ‘야구여신’으로 불리는 롯데자이언츠 인기 치어리더 박기량이 낙점됐다. 유병재와 박기량이 등장하는 광고는 ‘불타는 청춘을 위하여’라는 주제로 숙박업종에 걸맞게 ’19금’ 위주로 내용이 구성된다. 관련 광고방송은 이날부터 유튜브 등 동영상사이트를 통해 검색이 가능하다.
위드웹 관계자는 “지난 4월 개그맨 유상무가 등장하는 첫번째 광고를 내보낸데 이어 이번이 방송광고 2탄”이라며 “광고는 숙박앱을 주로 이용하는 20대와 30대 젊은층의 공감대를 이끌어내고 웃음을 제공하는 내용으로 구성됐다”고 말했다.
According to an industry spokesperson, Yogi-oddae, run by the internet service company Withweb, started airing the commercials with Yoo Byung-jae…on cable TV channels such as tvN from the 19th of June. [He] is getting a lot of attention recently, due to signing with YG Entertainment. [The same entertainment company that has signed the likes of 2NE1 and Big Bang—James].
His partner in the commercials is Park Ki-ryang…the theme is “For The Burning Youth,” and, appropriately for the motel industry, have adult content. They can also be found on YouTube.
A spokesperson from Weedweb explained that, “This is the second series of commercials for this accommodation app; the first series with gagman Yoo Sang-moo aired in April. They are designed to get the attention of 20 and 30-somethings, and make them laugh.”
(A few hours before finishing this post, all of the bus stop ads were back up. Clearly, someone at Yogi-oddae is just winding me up.)
(For non-Korean speakers: in the first, she needs somewhere to wash up; then, she had a nightmare about ghosts, and doesn’t want to be alone; they’re watching (presumably) a sex scene in the movie, and she asks “Is that possible?”; she says it’s late and the taxi is on a more expensive rate, which means the ride would cost 50,000 won, comparable to a night at a cheap to mid-range motel; and finally, her favorite male perfume is his own smell. For Korean speakers, here’sboth discussing the making of the commercials.)
That said, my wife, very much in the target demographic, actually found them quite funny. I warmed to them too, the more I watched, as every guy can relate to that feeling of sudden realization that he’s getting some that evening. But therein lies the problem: not only do the commercials celebrate traditional dating roles, but they’re all done entirely from Yoo Byung-jae’s perspective.
This emphasis on male consumers was indirectly confirmed by Etoday:
지난 19일 공개한 TV CF 5편의 에피소드 중 ‘응원 편’과 ‘꿍꼬또 편’이 박기량의 섹시함을 익살스럽게 표현해냈다는 평가다. 20~30대 남성팬들에게 큰 호응을 얻고 있으며 CF 영상은 여기어때 유튜브 채널을 통해 빠르게 확산되고 있다.
People say that out of the 5 commercials released on the 19th, Park Ki-ryang’s sexiness is humorously expressed and well shown in the cheerleader and ghost dream versions especially. This has had a big effect on male 20 and 30-something fans in particular, who have been rapidly spreading the commercials via YouTube.
Yogi-oddae is in stiff competitionwith Ya-nolja, a similar, much older company that has also recently launched its own app, and its previous advertisements were much tamer. So, however much I want to read into the campaign, it’s difficult not to conclude that Yogi-oddae was just exploiting the hype surrounding the decriminalization of adulteryin February. Nothing wrong with jumping on that bandwagon of course, but it does frustrate with not delivering on its promise of a shameless hussy. (Not unlike Ashely Madison, which turns out to be a rather unreliable source for would-be Korean adulterers.)
I do concede that they’re just commercials though, and that I’ve got nothing but praise for the advertisements. It’s just that it would be nice to see a Korean advertiser place challenging gender stereotypes at the core of a campaign again. Not in a haphazard, conflicting fashion like in this one, or, like Durex Korea, by occasionally copying positive foreign examples, but quickly returning to its normal, very laddish themes thereafter. I’m also confused by the bizarre lack of attention to female consumers in the commercials, which seems to be an increasingly common trend.
This change in attitudes can be seen no more clearly than in this advert. A few years ago even the hint at the idea of a woman having the agency to initiate a sexual encounter with a stranger would have been scandalous. But this is not just a woman, it’s a married woman and it’s not just a hint, it’s a full-on kiss scene which takes up a third of the commercial’s one minute long run.
Clearly the ad is an example of a massive shift in attitudes surrounding women’s relationship with sexuality that has occurred in recent years in Korea. We’ve seen that lately on shows like Witch Hunt where even female idols have been hinting at the fact they may actually have a sex life.
(James: That’s Girls’ Generation on the right, shortly before some of their members—and seemingly every other K-pop idol—either started publicly dating, or admitted that they’d been doing it all along. Source: unknown.)
But even so, condoning adultery is still a bit of an iffy move on Benefit’s part and I’m not entirely sure how this is supposed to entice female viewers. Perhaps this is supposed to make women feel empowered to make their own sexual decisions but I can’t help but feel it serves mostly just to reinforce the idea that women are liars.
Alternatively, it could be Benefit trying to show how in touch they are with the social issues in South Korea. Or maybe it’s just intended as a clever gimmick to show how long-lasting and non-smudging the tint is.
Intentions good or otherwise, the cynic in me sees this as nothing more than a half-hearted attempt at female ‘sexual empowerment’ in order to sell more lipstick.
Which, by coincidence, was also mentioned by journalist and author Daniel Tudor, in an interview for The Hankyoreh that appeared as I was finalizing this week-long post:
The New Politics Alliance for Democracy is basically just the shadow of the Saenuri Party. [In most democracies] if you’re progressive, you care about social minorities, weak people, poor people in society. You care about women’s equality, maybe gay rights, you care about things like that. But I don’t see much of that [in Korea]. These two parties are dominating the Korean political scene.
Addendum: Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed the name Yoo Sang-moo being mentioned as launching Yogi-oddae’s campaign back in April, not Park Ki-ryang and Yoo Byung-jae. For the sake of completeness, he was indeed hired, along with freelance model Bae Da-bin (a.k.a. Lisa Bae), and their own versions of the commercials were talked about in the media in the same heady terms as those by their replacements a month later, with no indication that their endorsements would only be temporary. I suspect they were just quickly and quietly let go then, because:
a) Yang Sang-moo looked just a little too goofy in his commercials;
b) At nearly 35, he was towards the upper limits of the target market, and had too much of an age gap with 21 year-old Bae Da-bin (whereas Park Ki-ryang and Yoo Byung-jae are 23 and 28 respectively);
And finally c), because the popularity of Yoo Byung-jae and especially Park Ki-ryang was just too great to pass up.
Which again points to the campaign being very haphazard, rather than a concerted attempt to smash the patriarchy :(
Addendum2: Just for readers’ interest, here’s two fun videos about using the Ya-nolja app, found in passing while researching this post. Have any readers also used it, or Yogi-oddae?
(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image Series, see here)