“W코리아가 여성을 화보에 담아내는 방식이 마음에 든다. 자기다운 모습으로 카메라를 응시하는 여성 모델들.”

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes. Image sources: @pompomiya

“I like the way W Korea portrays women. Look at the models here all staring back at the camera in their own ways.”

If I die tomorrow, my biggest regret will be never completing my epic series on the queer female gaze in K-pop. No, really. So, while I’m up to my eyeballs with that then, please allow me a quick break today by indulging myself in @pompomiya’s tweet about W Korea‘s July issue. Their point about controlling the viewer’s gaze really resonates with those made about Titian’s Venus of Urbino in my Boobs, Butts, and Biceps post, and is a helpful reminder of what exactly makes that painting so captivating. So too, of why these photos have 6,600 retweets so far.

Three of the models in them are instantly recognizable as K-pop star Amber Liu, volleyball player Kim Yeon-gyeong, and actor Han Ye-seul, but the woman in blue was a mystery. Her name is DJ Seesea (@uuuuman), and the most information about her online seems to be available at W Korea itself, either in their (Korean) article or video interview.

This is the longest performance of hers I was able to find:

Frankly, most of those tracks aren’t to my taste. But the MIXMIX TV channel itself has many more male and female DJs to choose from, and can be good background music to work to when you need a change from Chillhop Music, lofi hip hop radio, and 24/7 lofi hip hop radio. Also, DJ Seesea mentions in her interview that she used to belong to an all female-DJ line-up called Bichinda (Facebook, Twitter), sadly now dismantled but with interesting things to say about the changes more female DJs bring to clubs and the attitudes of audiences, so I’m glad W Korea gave DJ Seesea the chance to give that topic a little more exposure this summer.

Please hit me up if you know anything more about DJ Seesea or Bichinda, or about any other interesting female Korean DJs. Also, make sure to check out 6 Alternative Female Musicians For Fans Of K-Pop at Nylon, many of whom I do like and am eagerly looking for a track or MV to highlight here. Please let me know if you have any suggestions!

Update: Here’s DJ Seesea’s Soundcloud playlist.

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

Korean Sociological Image #50: The Depths of the Red Ginseng Craze

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Are commercials for this product really the same the world over? Put that to the test by quickly trying to guess what is being advertised above, before all is revealed at o:10.

For non-Korean speakers, the powder shown is a combination of ganghwa-yagssoog (강화약쑥), or “medicinally strengthening” mugwort, and hongsam-paoodeo (홍삼파우더), or red ginseng powder. And surely there is no greater testament to believing in its health benefits than by being prepared to use it in the most intimate of places?

Lest my bashful euphemism for VAGINAS detract from that point however, do recall that during the 2008 protests against US beef imports for instance, many Koreans genuinely believed baseless rumors that Mad Cow Disease could be caught via the gelatin used in sanitary napkins. So it makes perfect sense for aptly-named manufacturer Body Fit (바디피트) to capitalize on the belief that what’s inside sanitary napkins can have direct effects on the wearer’s health.

Indeed, red ginseng in particular is even rumored to be an aphrodisiac too.

Still, you could also argue that it actually smacks of desperation by ginseng producers. For – with apologies for the inadvertent pun – one of the first things the commercial reminded me of was the fact that:

…once a market is saturated, I learned at university in New Zealand, there is a inherent tendency for a company’s rate of profit to fall. But this can be offset by re-marketing and/or making new varieties of the original product, and accordingly my lecturer posited the plethora of varieties of Coca-Cola available in the U.S. as a reflection of the greater capitalistic development of its economy (read: saturation of its domestic market) compared to New Zealand’s, which then only had two. Indeed, advertising culture in New Zealand in the late-1990s, he suggested, was only akin to that of the US in the 1950s in its scale and intensity, no matter how brash and “American” New Zealanders regarded it.

( Source: unknown )

And the second was either a Metro or Focus newspaper cartoon I remember from 2005, a satire of the “well being” (웰빙) craze that showed that simply adding a sprinkle of green tea powder to a product seemed to give it health benefits in consumers’ minds, and for which they were prepared to pay a premium for. In particular, the last panel had me laughing out loud on a crowded subway car, for its ads for extremely expensive “Well Being Apartments” built with green tea concrete really hit the spot.

And which just goes to show that not all Korean consumers are gullible as the mad cow disease connection above suggests. And – seeing as we’re talking about vaginas after all – then the latest Western craze for “labiaplasties” for instance, sounds far far worse (see a NSFW video here too).

But hey, if a misguided belief in the health benefits of a product exists, then you can guarantee that companies will exploit it and/or encourage it. And so it seems very strange then, that actually neither sexual potency or health benefits are the stated logic of the commercial, which is rather that the combination of mugwort and red ginseng would eliminate odor. And which my wife assures me is a genuine concern for women, and not an invented concern as I first thought.

But still, would they really be the most appropriate substances for doing so? How about green tea powder, which – you guessed it – is also found in feminine hygiene products in Korea?

Let’s just say I have my doubts. Meanwhile, can anyone also think of any red ginseng (or green tea) products specifically aimed at men? Or, aphrodisiac-wise, is red ginseng actually only supposed to work on men anyway?

Update: Here’s a collection of amusing and/or bizarre “care down there” ads from around the world. Enjoy!

(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)


What a Lovely Big Shiny Purple One My Man Has!

whisen-air-conditioner-advertisement-han-ye-seul-song-seung-hun(Source: Korea Times, 25/02/2009, p. 20; see full advertisement here)

A classic case of sociologist Erving Goffman’s notion of “The Ritualization of Subordination” in depictions of the sexes together, although you don’t need to have heard of either to tell who’s the boss in this particular advertisement!

One slightly less obvious point of interest though, is Han Ye-seul’s (한예슬) use of the “bashful knee bend,” a common motif for women in advertisements, and which according to Goffman:

…can be read as a foregoing of full effort to be prepared and on the ready in the current social situation, for the position adds a moment to any effort to fight or flee. Once again one finds a posture that seems to presuppose the goodwill of anyone in the surround who could offer harm. Observe…that a sex-typed subject is not so much involved as a format for constructing a picture (Gender Advertisements, 1976, p. 45).

Which I read as it being used in advertisements to show women feeling safe and secure in the presence of their male protectors, in this case Song Seung-heon (송승헌). And why not? To claim that the depiction of that natural feeling is sexist in itself is absurd, but Goffman’s point was simply that the knee bend, and a host of other means of active/passive dichotomies in depictions of the sexes like that—such as men almost always being portrayed as taller than women, far more than in real life—were still overdone in advertising, and not exactly compensated by images of women as assertive, aggressive and/or as instructors, superiors and leaders either.

Or at least in 1976; as that last link explains and the advertisement on the right (source: popseoul) with Lee lee min ho levisMin-ho (이민호) makes clear, things have certainly changed a great deal since, having one person on a bed and/or lower than the other also being a common way of showing ranking. Which is not to say that—now that you have it in mind—you won’t still find many many examples of women with the knee bend in advertisements (or, indeed, in a bed).

But even more interesting though, is the fact that it is Song Seung-heon at all that is advertising the Whisen (휘센) air-conditioner, for actually I only noticed the ad because is the first Korean one for an air-conditioner that I’ve seen in which a man is the center of attention. Sure, that they’re dominated by women is no surprise, as it’s also true of their Western counterparts, albeit to a much lesser extent (but a difference one would expect given Korea’s deeply patriarchal society). But then bear in mind that the process of  modernization that electronics and electric appliances still epitomize—especially in a society as development-obsessed as Korea—has always involved “housewifization” and the nuclearization of the family, and so while it’s certainly true to say that owning one’s first washing machine in the 1960s in the UK, say, was also a definite signifier of status and upward mobility, Korean advertisements for the same should be placed in the context of a society where consumerism has been equated with national security, and in which the lowest numbers of women in the world work (for a developed society).  Hence not only are Korean examples almost hyperreal advertisements for modernity itself, but so far they’ve overwhelmingly featured female-centered narratives, Korean housewives’ need for the self-fulfillment that Betty Friedan saw that their purchase provided being all that more the greater here, and other manifestations of which would be an obsessive focus on real-estate speculation and on children’s educational achievements.

Which might sound a little to take in all at once, but I assure you, once you’ve seen a few examples like the one below then you’ll get a sense of how surreal they consistently are, and why this deserves explanation (and have also reminded me personally of how advertisements really are a reflection of the zeitgeist of an era). So, why the change in that particular advertisement?

My first thought was because it was for the “Luxury” (럭셔리) model, as the instant I learned that in fact a scene from science-fiction novel I read as a teenager came to mind, which opened with a conversation between a couple in which the woman explained to her fiance that, while women did the bulk of shopping, men still bought the important expensive things like houses and cars. As it happens, the couple were in a decidely backward parallel universe where, among other things, American women had never gained the vote(!), but obviously it still has echoes in real life, and indeed this logic does especially apply to Korea: for instance, while I’m not sure to what extent this tradition is followed, I’ve repeatedly heard that it is expected that before a wedding a new wife’s family must provide for the furniture for their new apartment, whereas the husband’s family must provide the apartment itself. Does the expense of this model then, draw it from the female realm to the male, thereby appealing more to the latter? Or is the advertisement still primarily aimed at women, this supposedly luxurious model possessing a male and/or sophisticated aura that other, cheaper ones lack? Or is there still some other factor that I’m missing?

Unfortunately, the K-pop blogs (see here, here and here) do little more than provide more pictures and links to related commercials, so I’d be happy to hear your own thoughts. And I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for mention of it in next month’s Korean advertising magazines.