Korean Photoshop Disaster #6: I like it hot, strong, and black! (Updated)

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Do men pay more attention to men’s chests than women?

As a gym addict 10-15 years ago, I read somewhere in a newspaper that they do. And with my self-confidence back then wholly tied to how much I buffed up, it certainly matched my own experience.

Unfortunately for the sake of objectivity though, it’s been difficult not to remember that every time I’ve seen a topless man ever since. One look at Changmim of 2AM half-naked and holding his crotch in a coffee ad then, and all I could think about was the large, firm package that used to be the weekend edition of the New Zealand Herald.

Naturally enough, most commenters at allkpop and Omona! They Didn’t focused on the one that Changmin was allegedly holding in his left hand instead, and I’m going to take a wild guess that most of those were heterosexual women. Perhaps that explains why so few noticed the appalling photoshop job on his chest?^^

Yet despite men’s greater interest in those in a competitive sense, in reality not only is bilateral symmetry a good indicator of genetic health for both sexes, and hence a heavily favored trait in mates, but even women’s own breasts become more symmetrical during the most fertile period of their menstrual cycle too. So it’s a strange oversight.

And of course for the photoshopper too, who presumably originally aimed to create some sort of languid, fluid-like effect, and I expect the mistake will be corrected before the full ad campaign for Maeil’s “Cafe Latte Americano Dutch” is launched on the 13th (source, above). But regardless, and on a more serious note now, it still has to be the first of the recent spate of Korean advertisements to objectify men that I’ve positively disliked, rather than be merely nonplussed or amused by.

For it is just as lame as it is provocative.

Putting aside how problematic the slogan “Find Your Black” is to English speakers, as described at allkpop the campaign’s basic concept is that various members of 2AM represent “Chic Black”, “Luxury Black”, “Tough Black”, and Changmin as “Sexy Black,” and the first major problem with the ad is also the most obvious: what does a topless idol grabbing his genitalia has to with coffee exactly?

Or indeed, with being “sexy”, and it that sense it also reduces to and perpetuates the notion that sexiness is only a matter of skin exposure, whether for men or for women. A problem which is hardly unique to the Korea media of course, but it is exaggerated here, and so unfortunately I’m wasn’t all that surprised that that was the best that the creative team could come up with.

And yet, would the same ad have actually been possible with a woman? Specifically, one with her hand placed on her crotch, a pretty blatant gesture of intent in anyone’s language?

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But why so specific? Well, if there’s one consistent theme to emerge out of writing about Korean advertisements for 3 years, that would be being witness to a long line of firsts: the first erect nipples; the first portrayal of Korean female – foreign male relationships; the first kiss; the first spoof of objectification within ads(!); the first soju ad to portray a woman as, well, really rather slutty, as opposed to decades of portraying them as virgins; and so on. And no matter how difficult it may be to believe for recent visitors to the country, in fact some of those emerged just within the last 3 weeks, let alone the last 3 years.

So, it’s natural to write as if I have almost a perverted fixation on things like crotches sometimes! And indeed, if there’s one thing to take away from Changmin’s ad, it’s the realization that however permissible grabbing one’s crotch is in passing in brief dances on talk shows and in music videos and so on in Korea, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a print advertisement. On women or on men, and hence netizens’ intense interest in Changmin’s ad.

But of course I may be wrong, and so as always, please pass on any earlier ads that you are aware of. But for various reasons, I really do think that an equivalent ad with a woman would have aroused far more controversy.

How about you? Let me finish by providing two related examples to help get you thinking.

First, the the above one with Kim Ah-joong (김아중) from 2006, which at first glance is sexually-assertive enough. But as commenter “huncamunca” pointed out to me 2 years ago (in a post I ironically deleted yesterday!), it is definitely not an example of the sexually aggressive “cowboy stance” that I first interpreted it as:

…I agree that the “cowboy” thumbs in the belt loops make the picture sexual, but other elements of the stance make it sexual AND DEMURE, not aggressive. Usually, in the cowboy stance, the shoulders are relaxed and legs are slightly apart, with weight more on one foot than the other (see for example the picture of the woman on page 240 of the Pease book) [on body language]. However, Kim Ah-jung’s shoulders are raised, as if she is shrugging slightly in a demure way. Her elbows are straight and held close to her body to take up as little space as possible, which is not typical of the relaxed cowboy stance. Her legs are also tightly closed to take up as little space as possible, and they don’t look like they are about to take her toward what she wants. Her head is tilted down so she can look up demurely at the viewer. The combination of raised shoulders and lowered head is similar to the “Head Duck” in the Pease book (p. 235), which shows submissiveness. Also the wind effect makes it look as though whatever she is looking at (presumably a male viewer) is powerful enough to nearly blow her away while she marvels at him and waits for his approach. She doesn’t look like she intends to act, but rather like she hopes to be acted upon–sexual but still submissive.

Not that Changmin looks all that sexually aggressive either of course: indeed, he appears to be protecting himself more than anything else, but either way the ambiguity again points to a lack of thought behind the campaign.

Finally, a female equivalent of gratuitous objectification and/or nudity in a coffee ad provided by Italian coffee company Lavazza, also in 2006:

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Notorious for ads involving sex and/or the excessive objectification of women since at least 2005, this one was ultimately judged as discriminating against women by the Swedish Trade Ethical Council against Sexism in Advertising (ERK), and presumably forced to be withdrawn:

Sweden’s Ethical Council has a lower tolerance for the use of scantily clad women to advertise products than comparable regulatory bodies in other countries…

…ERK judged “that the woman is used as an eye catcher without any connection to the advertised products, and that it is insulting towards women”.In its defence Lavazza wrote that the 2006 calendar from which the images were taken used humour and irony to recreate a 1950s feel. The company claimed that the images depicted glamour, style and a lust for life and were in no way discriminatory.

[ERK Secretary] Jan Fager disagrees. In his opinion it is not acceptable for an advertisement for coffee to be sexy in the same way as, for example, an underwear ad. He noted that while H&M has come in for much criticism from the general public the company’s Christmas campaigns have never been found in breach of ethical standards…

…In its written judgment the ERK maintained that Lavazza had not lived up to the principle “that advertising should be formed with due regard for social responsibility”

Good for ERK, and yes, I rather like that acronym too!^^ But one wonders what they would make of Changmin?

Update – Unfortunately my English copy is in New Zealand, but see below for more on the cowboy stance, and how intimately sexual and physical aggression can be linked. From pages 236 and 237 of the Korean edition of The Definitive Book of Body Language by Alan and Barbara Pease (2006), it’s easily one of the most helpful book purchases you’ll ever make, although I did much prefer the realistic line drawings in the 1989(?) edition to the cartoon-like ones and photos of famous people in the new one:

And for comparison’s sake, here’s a less disastrously photoshopped image of Changmin:

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(For more posts in the Korean Photoshop Disasters series, see here)

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