Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Korean LGBT Issues…

G-Dragon Big Bang Blonde

Being at 8:30am on Sunday morning, then my presentation at the ICAS 6 Conference in Daejeon last weekend wasn’t exactly well attended, but at least I did get to meet Professor Douglas Sanders of the University of British Colombia, a noted author on human rights and LGBT issues, and as it happens also the first openly gay person to speak at the UN. He later passed on a paper he has just written on the development of LGBT issues and activism in Korea in the 1990s and 2000s, and I recommend it for the chronological overview of the subject it especially, and which I wish had been available before I read the rather denser (but also excellent) article on the subject in the Autumn 2005 Korea Journal article “Intersectionality Revealed: Sexual Politics in Post-IMF Korea” by Cho Ju-hyun. Combined, you probably couldn’t ask for a more comprehensive look at the subject, although of course please pass on any more resources if you know of them!

Not to imply that G-Dragon (G-드래곤) of the Korean boy-band Big Bang (빅뱅) above is anything but heterosexual by the way, but that’s certainly an interesting photo of him above (source), and which as someone growing up in the UK in the 1980s instantly reminded of noted LGBT celebrities Boy George and Julian Clary. For the story behind the photoshoot, see here.


What do Koreans REALLY Think of Bloodtypes?

big bang 2%보족할때 광고 blood type advertisement

With those top two panels reminding me of the futuristic Blade Runner, it’s ironic that the ad is actually based on the decidedly archaic belief that one’s bloodtype determines one’s personality. What’s more, it’s a surprisingly deeply-held one too, with some Korean women even rejecting all B-type men as potential marriage partners because of it, as I discussed when I wrote about a similar marketing campaign for kiwifruit back in May. In short, it’s not quite the same as having a good laugh at your daily horoscope, and can’t be so easily dismissed.

My Boyfriend is Type-b Tandy Advertisement

A strange {and slightly disturbing} advertisement for Tandy found on this site about the 2005 movie My Boyfriend is Type B {B형 남자친구}. See later in the post for one more, and here for a review of the movie.

Lest one is tempted to jump to conclusions about Koreans’ critical-thinking skills though, then consider this blog post on the subject that was featured on the front page of Yahoo! Korea about a month later, which I’ve translated below. It is from the 12th most popular Korean blog according to its own blog ranking system—by way of comparison, this one is currently ranked 87,378 out of 4,644,184—so it would have been read by a lot of people:

우리나라에서만 볼 수 있는 ‘혈액형’ 광고의 불편함…

It’s discomforting  how Korea is the only country in the world with advertisements about bloodtypes…

A형, B형, AB형, O형이 한자리에 앉아서 식사를 하고 있었다. 갑자기 AB형이 밥을 먹다 말고 벌떡 일어나 뛰쳐나가자 O형이 AB형을 뒤쫓아간다.

남겨진 A형이 B형에게 조심스레 묻는다: “쟤 혹시 나한테 화난거야?”

온라인과 오프라인을 막론하고 이젠 귀에 딱지가 앉을 정도로 듣게되는 혈액형별 성격에 관한 유머다.

일본에서 들어와 국내에 뿌리내린 혈액형별 성격 분석은 독일의 우성학에서 출발해 일본에서도 1970년대에 확고히 자리잡았다고 하는데 이런 성격 분석이 국내에 유입되어 뿌리내리며 우리나라를 전세계에서 몇 안되는 혈액형 신봉 국가를 만들어 버렸다. 사람 둘 셋만 모이면 혈액형에 대한 이야기가 쏟아져 나오는 그런 나라…;;

그렇게 보면 다음 CF들은 어쩌면 우리나라에서만 만날 수 있는 광고의 유형은 아닐까?

A, B, O & AB Bloodtypes Eating TogetherFour people, one with bloodtype A, one with B, one with AB, and one with O were sitting down having a meal together. Suddenly, “AB” stopped eating and got up and ran outside, and “O” decided to follow (him).

“A” and “B” remained, and A nervously asked B: “Is (he) angry with me?”

(James: No, I don’t get it either. But, for the remainder of the cartoon version on the right, see here, and here for many more like it.)

Needless to say, online and offline, there is so much humor about blood types that people are very tired of it.

Blood type and personality analysis originally derives from German eugenics, but it became firmly rooted in Japan in the 1970s, and from there in Korean culture, making Korea one of just a handful of countries that haven’t thrown such beliefs away. Indeed, get two or three Koreans together, and invariably they’ll end up chattering about blood types…

In this sense, you can only really see commercials like the following in Korea, right?

혈액형으로 먹는다제스프리 골드키위/Eat according to your blood type…Zespri Golden Kiwi

키위를 먹는 방식을 혈액형 성격 분석에 맞춰 유머러스하게 풀어놓은 제스프리의 CF다.

Here’s a humorous commercial by Zespri saying different blood types eat Kiwis in different styles (James: see my earlier post for the other 3 in the series):

Vodpod videos no longer available.

혈액형으로 마신다… 2% 부족할 때/Drink according to your blood type…2% “Near Water

제스프리가 코믹이란 콘셉트를 내세웠다면 이쪽은 혈액형과 치환되는 단어와 사랑을 엮고 빅뱅을 얹어 광고를 내놨는데 실제 빅뱅 멤버의 혈액형에 맞춘 광고란다.

Whereas the Zespri commercials had a comic concept, the following ones with the band Big Bang (빅뱅) has each member falling in love and romancing women according to their bloodtypes (James: this video combines all 4 commercials in the series):

재학습되는 혈액형 성격 분석…/These commercials help perpetuate public belief in the bloodtype and personality theory

평소 귀가 얇은 편이라 혈액형별 성격 분석에 종종 혹하는 편이지만 ABO식 혈액형의 고작 4가지 패턴으로 60억 세계인의 성격을 모두 분류할 수 있다고는 생각치 않는다. 또 이론적 뿌리도 부실하고 지나친 일반화와 선입견 듬뿍 담긴 규정으로 혈액형 별로 사람을 가늠해 버리는 것 자체가 혈액형에 기준한 성격 분석이 갖는 문제점이라고 생각하는 편이다.

Normally I’m a little gullible, so I’m often convinced of the validity of the bloodtype and personality theory, but still, I can’t believe that all 6 billion people in the world can be compartmentalized and categorized into just four types. And it is a problem that people are influenced by and follow the rules of their prescribed personality when the theory is based on insufficient evidence,  is too generalistic, and rife with prejudices and preconceptions.

My Boyfriend is Type-b Korean Tandy Advertisement

그런 이유로 이번에 소개한 혈액형에 관한 CF들은 왠지 불편했는데…감각적인 영상과 유머 코드로 적당히 버무려 광고를 바라보는 이들에게 쉽게 퍼지고 기억되는 이런 영상들이 결국 사람들 사이에 회자되는 혈액형별 성격 분석을 재학습시키고 있는게 아닐까란 생각에 이르렀기 때문이다.

For this reason, seeing these commercials made me feel a little uncomfortable…when sensible (if misguided) notions of bloodtype and personality are mixed with humorous ones in a sort-of cultural code and then utilized in commercials like these, they help to keep the theory on everyone’s minds and thereby perpetuate artificial divisions.

물론 사회에서 익숙한 코드를 반영해 상품을 홍보하는 건 일반적인 광고의 특성이니 어쩔 수 없는 부분이 있었겠지만 그래도 “이 혈액형은 이렇고 저 혈액형은 저래. 그러니 너는 이렇지?”라는 식으로 세상 모두를 4가지 성격군으로 분류할 수 있다고 생각하는 것 자체가 문제 아닐까?

훗~ 평범한 O형의 한마디였다. 응?

Of course commercials will always reflect a society’s cultural codes, but nevertheless isn’t it a problem when we say “this bloodtype behaves like this, that one like that, so that’s why you do what you do, yes?”, and that we want to compartmentalize the whole world into just four types?

I’m O by the way. Is that a typical thing for an O type to say? (Finish)

Get's the blood flowing...

Not exactly the piercing critique I anticipated when I began translating, but that wasn’t my point really, which was more to provide a healthy reminder that just like back home there is a healthy diversity of opinions in Korea on just about every subject, but which it’s very easy to overlook if you only rely on English-language sources. Indeed, I’ve just found yet another, longer news report on the same two advertising campaigns, which I’m happy to also translate if anyone’s further interested (it’ll be good revision).

In the meantime, while finding some images for this post I couldn’t help but notice that, once again, apparently the powers that be felt that only young women in tight t-shirts and/or miniskirts could persuade persuade Koreans to perform their civic duty on “World Blood Donor Day” this year (left) and last (right). Come to think it though, that particular advertising convention doesn’t exactly detract from the aim of getting people’s blood flowing…

Sorry, I couldn’t resist it. And in fairness, this year’s ads did feature boy-band Super Junior (슈퍼주니어) also. For some big pictures of them promoting donating blood, albeit together with Girls’ Generation (소녀시대), see here.