(Update: as YouTube flags me for copyright violations if I post the video there, then please see here or here instead)
Thank you to everyone who’s emailed me about Japanese child star Ashida Mana dancing to KARA’sMister on a Japanese talk show. For anyone interested in some context, issues raised, and why I think it’s problematic, then please first read Part 2, all of which was written in response to my one of my own daughters doing something similar at her kindergarten. Frankly, it was eerie how much Ashia reminded me of her.
Meanwhile, here’s the “Butt Dance” (엉덩이 춤) being referred to, with handy English subtitles:
Next, assuming that you’re read that earlier post, then consider these additional observations from Meenakshi Durham’s The Lolita Effect, which seem particularly apt here:
…Increasingly, adult sexual motifs are overlapping with childhood — specifically girlhood, shaping an environment in which young girls are increasingly seen as valid participants in a public culture of sex.
In some ways, this is not a new idea: in the 1932 short film “Polly Tix in Washington”, a four year-old Shirley Temple played a pint-sized prostitute. Sashaying around in lacy lingerie and ropes of pearls, she announced “Boss Flint Eye sent me over to entertain you…but I’m expensive!”. Critics have commented on the overt lewdness of this and other films the toddler was case in as part of the “Baby Burlesks” series, which were designed for adult viewers and included frequent scenes of little girls in diapers aping the sexual behaviors and attitudes of much older women. In latter films too, Temple projected an “oddly precocious” sensuality, as the film historian Marianne Sinclair has observed — in fact, the acclaimed novelist Graham Greene was sued for commenting on it a film review. (pp. 115-116)
Indeed, Temple herself later described the series as a cynical exploitation of her childish innocence. Appearing from 3:16 below, you’ll soon see why:
But why is it deeply disturbing when 4 year-old Shirley Temple assumes sexual poses and all but blurts out that she’s interested in having sex with the “men”, whereas it’s supposedly as kawaii as hell for 6 year-old Ashida Mana to do, well, almost exactly the same thing? Granted, some actual kissing is involved in the former, but then I’d argue that the majority of viewers would still find the film at least a little concerning without it. In contrast, I’d wager most of us have much more mixed feelings about Ashida Mana, and I’m curious as to why.
With me, I think it’s through seeing my daughter Alice in Ashida, and knowing that she’s completely unaware of the implications of what she’s saying, instead simply having fun and/or fulfilling her natural urge to mimic the behavior of adults. But which is not quite the same as saying it would have been okay for her dance to the much more sexual Mister rather than Lupin at her kindergarten however, let alone for any child do it on national television simply for our titillation.
But other than that, I’ve pretty much said all I can myself in that earlier 3400(!) word post, so I’d really appreciate hearing your own thoughts!^^
The “Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea” series:
Three things of interest I came across all in the space of this morning…
First up, a recent edition of the BBC4 podcast Thinking Allowed, which – paraphrasing slightly – discusses the contention of cultural critic Paul Gilroy that:
From Curtis Mayfield to 50 Cent, from Nina Simone to JayZ, black music has declined in its quality and lost its moral stance. Outlined in his essay “Troubadours, Warriors, and Diplomats” in his book Darker Than Blue: On the Moral Economies of Black Atlantic Culture(2010), he joins host Laurie Taylor and music journalist Caspar Melville to discuss the counter-cultural stance that black popular music once had, and explore whether it really has been destroyed.
On the surface only tangentially-related to Korea, in that modern K-pop has strong hip-hop roots (in contrast to J-pop, which are more in rock), this 28 minute, very accessible synopsis it is still surely required listening for all those interested in music and cultural studies. And indeed, the second half of the discussion in which they talk more about the impact of technological developments on music, and especially the reality that precious few young people are prepared to pay for it anymore, is perhaps more pertinent to the Korean music industry than most.
Next, an Icelandic reader passed on a link (thanks!) to the journal article “Crazy About You: Reflections on the Meanings of Contemporary Teen Pop Music” in the Electronic Journal of Sociology (2002), by Phillip Vannini and Scott M. Myers, in which the highlighted part below immediately leaped out at me. With apologies for the long quote for the sake of context (actually, only 2/3rds of the paragraph!):
…Centralized corporate production insures continued consumption through pervasive distribution, vast output volume, and structured product obsolescence (Gitlin, 1981) while strategies of careful manufacturing of the image and sound of pop icons ascertain that audiences are treated as ‘targets’ and ‘market-segments’. Take for example the case of Britney Spears. Her image and sound had been first controlled by Disney as a pre-teen Britney worked as a host of the Mickey Mouse Club. Subsequently her schoolgirl image was spiced up to appeal to the 12-16 age group and her videos were made to occupy a steady spot in the rotation of Zoog ABC and the Disney Network. Now, with her continued biological growth her image has been recreated as sensual and provocative and formatted to meet the demands of MTV. As this takes place new ‘Britney’s’ mushroom on the market to appeal to different targets: Jessica Simpson to Christian teenagers, Mandy Moore to preteens, Jennifer Lopez to Latinas and older fans. Producers’ control extends from songwriting to image-packaging and personality development (Frith, 1978). Any boy-band act is put together to appeal to various personalities and life outlooks of fans as each band includes a member portrayed as cute and sweet, one funny, one good-looking and mysterious, one creative and goofy, one talented and motivated, one dark and tough, and such. Bands are created with the consumers’ demand in mind4, for example LFO target through MTV an older adolescent urban audience with their hip-hopish sound and sexual innuendos, while S Club 7 and Aaron Carter target preteens through Fox Family and ABC Family. This is an example of the diversification of products that allow producers the broadest appeal possible and the highest profit margin.
In passing, footnote 4 from that is also interesting:
4. The structure of consumer demand is an important concept to keep in mind. As Frith (1978) suggested producers’ ability to shape needs is limited. Why or when a style becomes popular or unpopular remains a conundrum for the music industry. It is much easier for any producer to stay with one genre or act after it has become popular and produce endless imitations than experiment with new formats or shape consumer demand. Record industries still find very few acts highly profitable, while the majority of albums produced and distributed hardly bring any profit at all (Burnett, 1996).
But the highlighted part caught my eye because of what I’d read in the post Thoughts on K-Pop Vol. 1: So Addictive at the blog Multi, which is definitely required reading for those interested in Korean music specifically:
Another important thing to note is that the Korean music industry is populated mainly by groups of at least five members. With a main audience of between 10 and 19, this is a brilliant idea because all the kids will have at least one person they like in every band, are enthralled by their personalities as seen on numerous TV shows, and will not hesitate to buy their albums and merchandise. This works for other industries as well, as phone, food and clothing companies almost solely hire celebrities to star in their commercials. They also record songs and shoot music videos (and short films) for these products and then endorse them on their numerous TV appearances. Basically, the celebrities become the only people you see on screen and in print. They become ridiculously popular really quickly, and then are sent around Asia to maximize their worth because all the other countries have succumbed to the “hallyu wave”.
Naively, I hadn’t been aware that the same logic also existed outside of East Asia. But having said that, it is still much more marked in K-pop. For not only it is exaggerated by the overwhelmingly celebrity-focused nature of advertising here, but that in turn is further exaggerated by the need to sell singers rather than their music per se, for reasons mentioned earlier. And there’s less space for independent artists that don’t subscribe to that logic to emerge too.
Finally, all the photos of KARA (카라) in this post are from their performance at (unfortunately spelt) Wonkwang University (원광대학교)* last month, in which it started to rain halfway through their song but – seemingly without so much as batting an eye – they kept performing nonetheless (see video below). Found via Omona They Didn’t!, admittedly I probably wouldn’t have given the photos a second glance if they had been of a boy-band instead, but once I had then I really responded to them, well-aware of how refreshing and especially liberating it can feel to continue exercising – or indeed, dancing – in a downpour.
More to the point though, not only are the photos themselves stunning, which this blog theme doesn’t really do justice to (click on the images themselves for more detail, or see Diaboliquehere and here for more), but in particular KARA happened to be performing Lupin (루팡), in which as Multi – who else? – puts it:
…From what I gleaned from Youtube translations of the songs, they sing about being confident (in love?) and not being afraid…as opposed to simply trying to get a guy’s attention in “Mister” (미스터); check here and here for respective lyrics, and it shows in their performances. They shine in “Lupin”, but bore with “Mister”. It might just be that “Lupin” is fresher, and they’re bored of performing Mister (side effect of weekly live performances, a.k.a overkill, of songs in k-pop) but I doubt it’s just that…
She tends to prefer performances to the music itself, and presumably to the music videos too, but for what it’s worth here they are to compare:
And finally a fan cam of the performance, although unfortunately it’s of very poor quality. The rain starts falling about at about 1:20:
p.s. I’d been under the impression for many years that the term “Black Music” wasn’t particularly PC, and consequently have sometimes discouraged my Korean students from using it, but the Thinking Allowed podcast made me realize I may have been mistaken. Was I, or is there perhaps a difference between American and British English?