Korean Gender Reader

(Source)

Some interesting pictures of G-Dragon, even by his standards (via: Noona Blog).

1) Cory at Banana Milk unimpressed with Project Obaeksang’s “Speed So-Getting Contest”

2) Curfews for 20-something Korean women

How common are they? And like YOUNique, does getting a job mean that parents no longer enforce it?

I had big problems with my first Korean girlfriend’s one 11 years ago, while dating my future wife later was made much easier by her living away from home. What have your own experiences been? Has anyone ever met a 20-something Korean man that had a curfew?

3) Babies!

Congratulations to A Good Korean (Feminist) Wife on her impending Dragon baby, and congratulations in advance to Shotgun Korea, whose baby is due any day now.

(Source)

4) Sex in Korean cinema vs. sex on Korean television:

YAM Magazine ponders the differences

– The Korean Film Archive is highlighting the theme “[A History of] Eroticism in Korean Movies” in August, with all(?) movies featured available for free viewing after signing up

– KBS has come under fire for its screening of the single-episode lesbian drama “Daughters of Bilitis Club” (클럽 빌리티스의 딸들) . Thanks to all the people who passed that news on, and also see YAM Magazine for a potted history of how LGBT issues have been covered on Korean television.

– KBS’s “Dream Team 2” has also come under under fire for, well, showing women in bikinis, even though I could go and see the same 10 minutes walk away at Gwanganli Beach. For more information, see Angry KPop Fan, who – unlike 99% of commenters at Omona! They Didn’t! and Allkpop – actually watched the segment of the show in question, and points out that internet portal Nate basically lies in reporting that cameras gave repeated close-ups of the women’s breasts (which would have justified the complaints).

Having said that, the offending objects were still pretty difficult to avoid, as tends to happen in an inane show featuring women in bikinis having a race in a swimming pool. But what else did complainers expect from something titled “Dream Girls Summer Special“?

5) B2ST, G.NA, and 4Minute help teenagers prevent crimes

While lame, it’s no more so than public service announcements in other countries, and I particularly liked the part at roughly 2:18 in the first video that says “음란물에서의 성은 잘못된 성입니다”, or literally “Sex in pornography isn’t good sex”. Rather than expanding upon that point however, a trying to look stern – but ending up looking cute instead – HyunA and G.NA unhelpfully simply say “Absolutely stay far away from 18+ things”.

See Angry KpopFan for more commentary on the pornography segment.

6) HyunA revealed to weigh 39 kg during her “Bubble Pop!” promotions

A man well over twice that, I’m not very familiar with healthy weight ranges for 164cm tall women. But the consensus of women that are appears to be that that is much too low, and – given how she looks in the music video – that that figure is exaggerated by Cube Entertainment, if not an outright lie.

7 Westin Chosun hotel tries to inject some fun into stuffy Korean weddings

Starting at $140,000 however, then I don’ t think wedding halls will be put out of business anytime soon! (via: @hanbae and @a_ahmad)

8) The more you learn about China’s One-child policy, the uglier it gets

What’s more, while Chinese proponents claim that it has avoided 400 million extra mouths to feed, most likely China’s rising wealth means that they would never have been born anyway.

9) “Cute and lovely” Korean S&M movie gets warm reception in Montreal’s 2011 Fantasia Film Festival

10) Korean couple fighting

This may make for uncomfortable viewing, but I include it for the reasons I give here:

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Mirror Mirror (거울아 거울아) by 4Minute (포미닛): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation

(Source, all screenshots)

For many Korean girl groups, debuting a new song on a music program seems to follow a set script these days:

  • First, it will include some provocative lyrics, choreography, and/or outfits that deliberately push the envelope
  • Then, despite presumably knowing that well in advance, the producers of the program will still allow the song to be performed, only then to disassociate themselves from it and claim shock and surprise at the ensuing reaction
  • Next, those songs will be will be banned from future broadcasts unless changes to the offending parts are made
  • Equally absurdly, the performers themselves or their entertainment companies will claim shock and surprise that people find them sexually suggestive at all
  • Finally, despite those protestations, the groups will have modified versions of the song available to be used suspiciously quickly

It’s really quite a farcical process, and very patronizing to viewers.

Nevertheless, while nobody emerges unblemished from all that, it’s the entertainment companies that I’m most critical of. For rather than actually admitting to the sexuality in their groups’ performances, thereby placing the onus on the music program producers and public to explain just what is it that is so problematic about that exactly, instead they even force their own performers to be complicit in a longheld narrative of female virginity and innocence in K-pop.

Granted, they may lack the clout to challenge terrestrial broadcasters on that point, nor is there much evidence that they possess the feminist motivations to do so. However, even just for financial reasons one would expect more of a challenge to systematic double standards in the Korean music industry, as the various restrictions on girl group performances can often be quite costly.

(Source)

As for how that all recently played out with Mirror Mirror (거울아 거울아) by 4Minute (포미닛), see the links in the list above, while Mixtapes and Liner Notes has more on Rania’s (라니아) performance of Dr. Feel Good (닥터 필 굿) specifically. Two of the three controversial songs that debuted on Music Bank on April the 8th (the other was Do You Know/아나요 by the Brave Girls/브레이브 걸스), unfortunately Mirror Mirror is the only one of them I like enough to listen to – yes, sans eye-candy – on my MP3 player!

Yes, however crass, it does indeed sound like Hyuna is saying “4 minute slut” at the beginning. As for the translation, the vocabulary and grammar were relatively easy for a change, and the song mercifully short and repetitive too. But some unclear breaks between sentences and strange word orders definitely complicated things:

Let’s go

4minutes left 4minutes left Ah! Ah!

4minutes left 4minutes left Ah! Ah!

대체 왜 그땐 날 거들떠 보지 않고

매일 날 그대만 바라보게 만들고

오늘은 좀더 예쁘게 나 나 나 날 (오늘도)

보여줘 너무 멋진 너 너 너 너 너에게

거울아 거울아 이 세상에 누가 제일 예쁘니?

거울아 거울아 이 세상에 내가 제일 예쁘니?

오늘만은 내가 제일 예쁘다고 말해줘 봐

Let’s go

4minutes left 4minutes left Ah! Ah!

4minutes left 4minutes left Ah! Ah!

Why on Earth didn’t you notice me back then?

Everyday, you made me gaze only at you

Today, show me me me me a little more prettily  (today too)

To very cool you you you you

Hey Mirror, hey Mirror, who is the prettiest in the world?

Hey Mirror, hey Mirror, am I the prettiest in the world?

Just for today, please try saying I’m the prettiest

Here, “대체” is short for “도대체” (on Earth), and a new one for me was “거들떠보다” (not even notice/look). Otherwise:

  • the “바라보게 만들다” in line 4 is a long causative, which there’s a lot of in this song (see p. 368 of Korean Grammar for International Learners [KGIL] for more information)
  • See Seamus Walsh’s comment here for more on the “니” ending in lines 7 and 8
  • And of course the last line is some simple indirect speech. Although it’s awkward in English, I include a “try” in it (and similar sentences in later verses) because technically, “보다” added to a verb stem does indeed mean “try to do [the verb]”

All basic stuff by this, my twelfth song translation for the blog. But lines 3 and 4 were a bit of a stumbling block until my wife pointed out that actually a break falls between “오늘은 좀더 예쁘게 나 나 나 날 (오늘도) 보여줘” and “너무 멋진 너 너 너 너 너에게”.

너를 생각하면 더 거울에 비친 내 모습은 마치

너무 예쁜데 너는 자꾸 왜 다른 생각만 하는지

왜 날 보지 않는건데

내 거울아 (거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아)

거울아 (거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아)

내 거울아 (거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아)

거울아 (거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아)

It’s as if my reflection becomes prettier the more I think of you

Why do you frequently think differently?

Why do you not look at me?

My mirror (Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror)

Hey Mirror (Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror)

My mirror (Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror)

Hey Mirror (Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror)

Again, Lines 1 & 2 become much easier if you know there’s a break between “너를 생각하면 더 거울에 비친 내 모습은 마치 너무 예쁜데” and “너는 자꾸 왜 다른 생각만 하는지”, but this time the location of the “더” complicates things even further. Ideally, it should be placed before the “예쁜데” in line 2.

Update: With thanks to J.Goard for pointing out it, actually that pattern is perfectly acceptable in Korean, and quite common.

대체 왜 언제나 본 체 만 체만 하고

매일 밤 너는 날 가슴 뛰게 만들어

언제나 너무 멋진 너 너 너 너 너

내게로 다가오게 더 더 더 더 더 Ma boy

거울아 거울아 이 세상에 누가 제일 예쁘니?

거울아 거울아 이 세상에 내가 제일 예쁘니?

처음부터 마음에 들었다고 내게 말해줘 봐

Why on Earth do you always pretend not to see me, and

make my heart pound every night?

Always so cool you you you you you

Come more more more more and more closer to me Ma boy

Hey Mirror, hey Mirror, who is the prettiest in the world?

Hey Mirror, hey Mirror, am I the prettiest in the world?

Please try to say that from the beginning, I was the one for you

And here, again there’s a long causative in line 2 – “가슴 뛰게 만들어” – but the “날” before that (me [object]) is I think ungrammatical, and it should really say “내” (my) instead. Before that, the phrase “본 체 만 체” (pretend not to see; show indifference to; slight) was a new one on me, and it didn’t help that I forgot that “[verb] + (으)ㄴ/는 체하다” was the same as “[verb] + (으)ㄴ/는 척하다” (to pretend to [verb])”! (see p. 58 of KGIL)

Next, it’s just the chorus again.

너를 생각하면 더 거울에 비친 내 모습은 마치

너무 예쁜데 너는 자꾸 왜 다른 생각만 하는지

왜 날 보지 않는건데 예~

내 거울아 (거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아)

거울아 (거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아)

내 거울아 (거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아)

거울아 (거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아)

It’s as if my reflection becomes prettier the more I think of you

Why do you frequently think differently?

Why do you not look at me?

My mirror (Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror)

Hey Mirror (Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror)

My mirror (Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror)

Hey Mirror (Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror)

Oh mirror shine Let me fix my make up

Break it down Break it down

Baby I like that Baby baby just I like that

Baby I like that Baby baby just I like that

더 더 더 내게 빠져들어

Shine on my face 모두 놀라지 Oh

거울아 거울아 이 세상에서 누가 제일 예쁘니? It’s me

Oh mirror shine Let me fix my make up

Break it down Break it down

Baby I like that Baby baby just I like that

Baby I like that Baby baby just I like that

Become fallen into me more more more

Shine on my face everybody surprised Oh

Hey Mirror, hey Mirror, who is the prettiest in the world? It’s me

In line 5, I was confused by how “빠져들어” is different to “빠지다” (to fall into/for), and the best explanation my wife could provide was that it means “become fallen for”. Which is just fine with me, but it does sound a little awkward.  Can anybody do any better?

Update: With thanks again to J.Goard, see here for a much fuller description of how they’re different exactly.

And suddenly it’s already the last verse:

좀더 너에게 다가가서 난 1,2 step 1,2 step 1,2 step

Let’s live it up Let’s make it up

나를 보면 니 마음 흔들릴수 있게

내 거울아 (거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아)

거울아 (거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아)

내 거울아 (거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아)

거울아 (거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아)

거울아 거울아 거울아 거울아

I’ll come a little closer to you, I 1,2 step 1,2 step 1,2 step

Let’s live it up Let’s make it up

If you see me I can make your heart shake

My mirror (Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror)

Hey Mirror (Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror)

My mirror (Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror)

Hey Mirror (Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror Hey Mirror)

And on that note, here is an alternate translation by Chris @4-minute.com, which you can use to follow-along with the video:

As you can see, fortunately our versions seem pretty much the same, although his(?) sounds rather better because he hasn’t been quite so literal with his choice of words!

Meanwhile, apologies to any readers that may have been expecting a promised(?) translation of Can’t Nobody by 2NE1 (투애니원) instead today, but unfortunately my finally getting tired of that after listening to it for probably the 100th time(!) coincided with me getting heavily into this one, and besides which I wanted to do something more recent for a change. Having said that, next I’ll actually be doing the 2005 song Girls on Top by BoA (보아), because a reader sent me the following intriguing email:

…I have been following your girl group lyric translations but there’s one song I am really curious about, mostly because I’d like to know if it’s as overtly feminist as I suspect it is. The song would be Boa’s “Girls on Top”…

…It’s not only the gold lamé and skull ring that’s tough but the part at the end where she fake kicks her male dancers into submission in a Take Back the Night inspired bit of of pop choreography. I know you’re focusing mostly on girl groups, but I think this one’s interesting in the context of K-pop because it seems to fall outside the two ever present concepts of “sexy” and “cute.” I have tried to find the lyrics in English but most of them are poorly done. What I’ve gleaned so far is that she may be talking about the myriad conflicting expectations a modern girl must fulfill and might even be bemoaning the constant pressure to embody male views of sexiness (!). Or it could be a girl power-lite anthem conceived by greedy business men; but either way I’d like to hear your views.

Until then, I hope you a good weekend, and as always I’d appreciate any feedback on the translation and/or your thoughts on the song!^^

Update: I’ve just found these profiles of the group members on korean lovers photoblog, and thought they might be useful for future reference:

(For more Korean song translations, please see here)

Restrictions Imposed on 18+ Controversial “Wide Leg Spread Dance”

(Source)

Followers of K-pop blogs will already be well aware of this latest storm in a teacup of course, but it’s always interesting to see what ordinary Koreans themselves read about such things. Accordingly, here’s my (very literal) translation of an article from yesterday’s Metro newspaper, which millions would have read on their morning commute:

Restrictions Imposed on 18+ Controversial “Wide Leg Spread Dance”

Three groups with underage members all do suggestive dances as if they’d planned them together

Demands for a review of regulations on suggestive outfits and poses on music programs

While the three girl groups that are showing off their so called “wide leg spread dance” are being regulated by broadcasters, controversy has arisen about suggestive choreography.

Appearing on Music Bank on KBS2 on the 8th, 4Minute (making a comeback that night), RaNia, and the Brave Girls have become very controversial for the suggestiveness of their performances.

While performing their new song Mirror Mirror, 4Minute members get on the floor on their knees, spread their legs, and repeatedly open and close them:

With support from overseas producer Teddy Riley, new 7-member group RaNia debuted with Dr. Feel Good. Sporting a striking lingerie and garter belt look, one mesmerizing dance move involved only moving their legs and pelvises repeatedly. And Brave Brother-produced 5-member group Brave Girls gave off a similar sexual attractiveness with their debut song Do You Know:

(Update, August 2013: Unfortunately the Youtube videos have long since been deleted for copyright violations, but both the “Dr. Feel Good” and “Do You Know” performances can still be seen here and here respectively. In their place, above is RaNia’s original uncensored MV for the former)

Giving the same performances on 2 other broadcasters’ music programs last weekend, the controversy increased. In the end, Music Bank, SBS’s The Music Trend, and MBC’s Show! Music Core all demanded changes to the dances and outfits and imposed restrictions on them. The reason is that programs that a lot of teenagers watch can not have outfits which expose too much of the body, and/or dances that bring to mind sexual acts.

In particular, it is not just the nature of the outfits and the choreography that is the problem, but that many of the performers are underage. In 4Minute, Hyuna (18) and So-hyun (16); in RaNia, Di (19), Joy (20), T-ae (16), and Xia (16); and in Brave Girls, Yu-jin (?) and Hye-ran (?) are all underage.

(James: Most of the ages given in the article are wrong, whether using the Korean or the “international” system: instead, I’ve provided their international ages, with sources given in their links, although I’ve been unable to find any sources for the ages of the Brave Girls members. I remain confused about why some are described as “underage” though, because clearly many aren’t at all, even with the {incorrect} ages given in the original article)

The result of analysis reveals that this is the result of following the dance moves of sexy pop stars. Before there were national girl groups, it was Lady Gaga that garnered a lot of controversy for the wide spread leg dance and sexually suggestive choreography of her Born This Way music video:

About this, an [anonymous] person in the broadcasting industry said, “While people say that Lady Gaga’s dances and dance moves are unique and individual, they say that Korean singers aren’t like that” and that “it’s a pity that in this era of spreading K-pop to the world, we have such anachronistic rules” (end).

(Source)

Like me, you’re probably aghast at the Metro’s low writing standards and sloppy fact-checking. But that’s quite normal for Korean tabloid newspapers (and, alas, many of their mainstream counterparts too), so much more of interest personally was the author’s point that “before there were national girl groups, it was Lady Gaga that garnered a lot of controversy”, indirectly confirming my own (and many others’) observation that although of course there have always been Korean girl-groups previously, it’s only been in the last 4 years or so that there’s been such a glut of them. And also that, following the model set by The Wondergirls (원더걸스), they’re generally much much racier than their predecessors were.

Other than that, I’m a little tired of references to Lady Gaga whenever a girl group comes up with a suggestive dance move, but that’s hardly unique to the Korean media. Also, it’s curious that the anonymous person in the broadcasting industry felt that Korean girl groups must follow her example to “spread K-pop to the world,” because although this does play to Occidentalist stereotypes of hypersexual Western audiences somewhat, it also marks the culmination of a 180-degree turn against what used to make K-pop appealing to East-Asian audiences, and which presumably influenced music producers. As Rowan Pease explains in her chapter “Korean Pop Music in China: Nationalism, Authenticity, and Gender” in Cultural Studies and Cultural Industries in Northeast Asia: What a Difference a Region Makes (2010):

(Source: The Japan Foundation)

In 2003, the Korean National Tourism Office [a major investor in the Korean wave] conducted a Hanliu tourism survey in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong exploring attitudes to Korean culture, publishing the results online…

….It compared the impact of Korean culture with that of four “competitor” countries (the U.S., Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong), and in the process revealed much about Korea’s own political and nationalist concerns, particularly in relation to Japan and America. Six of the eleven options for respondents to the category “reasons I like Korean culture” reflect this preoccupation: “less sexual than Japanese culture,” “less sexual than American culture,” “less violent than Japanese popular culture,” “less violent than American popular culture,” “decreased interest in American culture,” and “decreased interest in Japanese culture.” One other echoes Straubhaar’s notion of cultural proximity: “similar in culture.” Certainly, Korea’s own music media censorship laws (which even in 1997 prohibited the displaying of body piercings, navels, tattoos, “outfits which might harm the sound emotional development of youth,” and banned violent or political lyrics), meant that Chinese TV stations could buy in Korean music videos and music TV shows knowing that they were unlikely to upset local censors. However, these questions also reflected a perception that Korea acts as a defender against excessive Westernization and as a guardian of Confucian values within East Asia. (pp. 155-156)

Which long-term readers may remember from my translation of the lyrics to Bad Girl, Good Girl (배드걸 굿걸) by Miss A (미쓰에이), probably the most erotic Korean girl group music video I’d ever seen until these latest ones came out:

Alternatively, the above view of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong tastes may well be outdated, and “the world” in the newspaper article shouldn’t automatically be taken to mean Western audiences: after all, 2 members of Miss A are Chinese, and the group was originally designed to be overwhelmingly aimed at the Chinese market.  What do you think?

Meanwhile, see here, here, here, and here for the latest developments in this “Wide Leg Spread Dance” controversy (yes, I love saying that too!). And today’s edition of the Metro newspaper also happens to have an interview of RaNia in which they discuss the dance, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to translate it at the moment sorry. Any takers?^^

(Source)

Update: Here’s an hilarious response to the banning from some netizens!

Update 2: See Mixtapes and Liner Notes for some more in-depth analysis of RaNia’s performance, its subsequent censorship, and the issues it’s raised.

Korean Gender Reader

(“Alice {The Devil’s Bride}” by Stephen Fabian; source)

1) Rape and “Blood Money”

In essential reading for all expats, Ask a Korean! clears up misunderstandings about how and why victims of crimes are often offered the choice of quick financial compensation from perpetrators, rather than the latter automatically being prosecuted by the state. With a lot of pros in practice, unfortunately there are also some big cons in relation to sex crimes specifically:

Probably the biggest flaw is that often, a victim of a crime cannot properly assess the extent of her loss through the crime. If a person is beat up, the person might suffer a lingering damage that does not flare up until the settlement amount was computed. Also, sometimes it is not the victim herself who enters into the settlement. This used to lead to an incredibly outrageous situation in case of child molestation. As noted above, rape is a private crime. Since a child does not have the legal decision-making authority, the parents would handle the private crime process. And often, a molested child would come from a broken home, in which the parent would rather take a lump sum of cash right away rather than ensuring that the child rapist would go to jail. (Fortunately, this situation was redressed in 2008 by a new law that made child molestation a public crime.) Also, the inclusion of rape as a private crime is roundly criticized by many legal scholars, as it puts a burden on the victim to pursue what is a very serious crime that significantly threatens the social order. (To be sure, rape with battery, i.e. a violent case of rape, is a public crime. But, for example, a date rape involving drugs is a private crime.)

2) Non-Asians in Korean Music Videos: A Response

(Source)

3) A Place of Refuge: The Sae Gil Shelter

A very welcome follow up to its February article on the Busan performance of the Vagina Monologues (videos below), BusanHaps tells us more about the  Sae Gil Shelter for victims of domestic violence, which the show managed to raise 3.4 million won for.

While the funds are desperately needed of course, fortunately great strides have been made in combating domestic violence in recent years, primarily due to a 2007 law change that requires police to forward all cases of domestic violence to a prosecutor (the previous 1998 law just left it up to their own discretion). For more details, see here.

(Via: Koreabridge)

4) South Korea Keeps Its Military Ban On Gay Sex

In a 5-4 decision last month, the Constitutional Court ruled that a 39 year-old military law criminally punishing homosexual soldiers for performing sexual acts in military barracks is constitutional. As the AFP reports:

“The legal code cannot be seen as discrimination against gays because such behavior, if left unchecked, might result in subordinates being harassed by superiors in military barracks,” it said in a statement. The law’s purpose was to ensure discipline within the whole military organization, the court said. The ruling came after an army military court filed a petition with the Constitutional Court. It asked whether the military criminal code, written in 1962, was discriminatory against gay soldiers and thus unconstitutional. Homosexuality is not illegal under the civil legal code.”

A somewhat hollow-sounding defense considering overwhelming evidence of systematic and widespread sexual harassment and abuse already occurring, as outlined here and here. Also, OnTop Magazine adds that “The Military Penal Code further punishes gay troops by lumping together consensual and non-consensual gay sex as sexual harassment”, and the The Korea Times that ‘offenders’ are also given a dishonorable discharge after leaving jail. This effectively punishes them for life in a society where military service is widely regarded as a de facto requirement for “real” citizenship.

Meanwhile, in other LGBT-related news, gay filmmaker Kim Jho Kwang-soo – only the second man in the entertainment industry to come out of the closet – has announced his marriage (alas, not legally recognized). And I’m No Picasso discusses the unfortunate consequences for one her students of Korean society denying and/or marginalizing homosexuality.

(Source: Barry Deutsch)

5) International Comparison of Gender and Unpaid Labor

For a pleasant change, Korea is only slightly worse than the OECD average for the extra unpaid labor women do compared to men.

Also, for a very interesting new book on the subject that I look forward to buying when it’s available at WhatTheBook? (hint hint), see Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality by Rebecca Asher.

6) The Female Writer in Korea

Charles at Korean Modern Literature in Translation on the first two chapters of Ideology, Culture, and Han by Younghee Lee, which are “a brief but quite interesting analysis of women writers in the Joseon and early Modern periods”.

7) Banned Music Video of the Week: Mirror Mirror (거울거울) by 4Minute (포미닛)

Or at least, the consensus is that one particular dance move in it soon will be. If the song itself is not to your liking, then skip ahead to 2:16.

8) Booking Clubs

Perspectives on Korean and Los Angeles Booking Clubs from Blog in a Tea Cup and Hyphen Magazine respectively.

9) The Jang Ja-yeon Tragedy: Making it all go away

Committing suicide 2 years ago because of forced prostitution by her managers, alleged letters by Jang Ja-yeon (장자연) detailing the string of VIPs, including directors, media executives and CEOs she was forced to have sex with have (naturally) been getting a lot of attention recently. See The Three Wise Monkeys for the definitive guide to all the latest developments in that case.

10) Cosmetic Surgery on the cheap

GeekinHeels discusses some sort of tape used for creating “V-lines” she was given as a gift, while Martina and Simon of EatYourKimchi are a little braver and try the ones for double-eyelids for themselves:

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Korean Sociological Image #30: Exploiting Koreans’ Body Insecurities

Like everywhere else, Korea has a long tradition of celebrities endorsing government campaigns.

Unlike everywhere else, a “huge proportion of Korean ads depend on famous people,” says Bruce Haines, head of Korea’s largest ad agency Cheil Worldwide, a tendency which in its crudest form degenerates Korean advertising into merely “beautiful people holding a bottle.” In turn, that leads to a scramble for and subsequent overexposure of whichever Korean stars are most popular at that moment, regardless of their inappropriateness for the product(s).

Government campaigns are no different, to my mind the most notorious case still being the National Election Commission’s (중앙선거관리위원회) choice of The Wondergirls (원더걸스) to encourage people to vote in local elections in April 2008. Needless to say, I can’t think of anyone more inappropriate than teenagers (two of whom were only 15), and their choice of outfits simply beggars belief:

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But again, no different to what they wore in commercials at the time. Which is precisely my point: regardless of their merits, major trends in advertising are bound to be reflected in government campaigns sooner or later.

And as long term readers of this blog will be well aware, one trend is encouraging consumers to associate certain foods and drinks with certain desired body shapes. While it is hardly unique to Korea, it is done to excess here.

Is it any wonder then, that with the decline of the domestic rice industy, and concerns food security as a whole, that the government would do the same when promoting the consumption of domestic foods and drinks?

Last year for instance, I gave the example of how the Korean rice wine Makgeolli (막걸리) was being marketed to women on the basis that it is supposedly good for one’s skin. Now, I’ve found two more examples by the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (농림수산식품부; MIFAFF), using the new group 4Minute (포미닛) and the Olympic medalist Park Tae-hwan (박태환) respectively:

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To be clear, I am not saying that either are inappropriate choices. Actually I think they’re rather good: both are very popular, and it turns out that 4minutes’ egg song is a variation of their recent hit “Hot issue” too. I also fully concede that the connections between consumption of the product and obtaining an attractive body are fleeting (4minute) or merely implied (Park Tae-hwan) at best.

But still, they’re there. And given the long-term problems with Korean agriculture as identified above, then I hereby predict that we’re going to be seeing many more public campaigns like these in 2010. In particular, the links made between the products being advertised and obtaining an “S-line” and so on are going to be made more explicit.

Sound like an exaggeration? Well, recall how quickly commercial incentives have transformed decades-old standards for soju advertisements: just three years ago, they overwhelmingly offered virginal images of women, whereas now it’s rather difficult to find ones that don’t present them as eminently sexually available. Moreover, in an effort to appeal more to women, soju companies too are encouraging them to associate new lower-strength brands with maintaining a good body, however implausibly.

But perhaps an even more appropriate example is soy milk. If you’ll bear with me, being allergic to milk means that I follow developments in the soy milk industry here pretty closely, and Starbucks Korea’s belated decision to add soy to its menu in 2005 had a huge impact on my quality of life here! Not unlike the drinks themselves though (anybody know where I can find these flavored ones?) – or, indeed, government campaigns – soy milk commercials tend to be rather bland, so I certainly sat up and took notice when I first saw this one a few days ago:

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Soy milk companies too then, seem to be adopting the tactics of their more popular counterparts now. Lest I appear overly critical though, consider the scene 0:03 from 0:06 where 17 year-old Kim Hyun-ah’s says “[S]라인을 유지하려면 어쩔 수 없어,” or “If you want to maintain your S-line, you have no choice but to [drink] this.” Despite my constant criticisms of that sort of thing, and my earnest desire that my daughters don’t grow up to repeat it, I have to admit that I can’t help but find her expression and tone of voice, well, extremely cute…

Yes, I know: very hypocritical of me, and I await your counsel. But on a final, more serious note, consider Garaetteok Day (가래떡데이), MIFAFF’s scheme since 2006 to get people to eat stick-shaped rice cakes instead of Pepero chocolate sticks on November 11 each year. Promoted mostly as a romantic event for couples, as are most imported and/or artificially created holidays (Christmas Day, for instance, is the date the most condoms are sold in Korea), is it really too much of a jump to imagine that concerns about one’s appearances will be added to that too? Watch this space!

Update: An alternative way of exploiting Koreans’ associations with November 11 (source):

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

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