Korean Gender Reader

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1) As mentioned in #9 last week, Christian Dior has been heavily criticized on the web for the heavily Orientalist imagery of its latest advertising campaign Shanghai Dreams. But it turns out not to be Christian Dior’s own creation, but rather that of Chinese photographer Quentin Shih, who commented in an interview at China Rises that he:

…wanted to express a dialogue between Chinese fashion (60s to 90s) and Western fashion (Dior Haute Couture represents it the most). During that time, China was a country with socialism — people wearing all the same outfits and divided into different groups/identities like workers, students, intellectuals etc.

And that far from being racist, the Caucasian model:

…stands there only to represent the clothes, not herself and not a western people. I was not lucky enough to shoot a Chinese model wearing Dior — if I did I would have put her in my work.

But as commenters there point out, given the obvious potential for misinterpretation then it was still a bad choice on Christian Dior’s part, and in particular Gary Soup says:

I half agree with Shih. The “cloning” of a representation of a Mao-era worker is just a device frequently encountered in contemporary Chinese art. It’s generally used to good effect, and the artist seldom seen as racist. But China certainly has plenty of tall, elegant models who could pull off the generational contrast, and the use of a Caucasian model certainly seems to send the wrong message.

While we’re on the subject of art, see works by Zhang Wei for examples of a common Occidentalist theme in East Asia, particularly Qi BaiShi vs. Marilyn Monroe and Madonna vs. Qi BaiShi (both NSFW).

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2) Just out of curiosity, I noticed these Bunny Girl-like headbands above all over Haeundae Beach last weekend, and wonder if they are just a Busan thing, or if they are the fashion in the rest of Korea too?

For a photo to compare the above headbands with the originals, see this interesting article about how the “Chick-Lit” label is very frustrating for women authors!

3) A doctor in Gwangju has been arrested for molesting sleep-induced patients, and was ultimately caught when one became suspicious and brought a hidden camera in her bag.

This reminds me of a UK scheme I once read about to prevent such abuses, under which all patient visits were to be recorded by a security camera and automatically deleted perhaps 3 months later, but before which they could be reviewed by authorities if any allegations of abuse are made. Can anyone confirm if that scheme was actually implemented?

4) From this week, sex-offenders and murderers are to be paroled wearing electronic ankle bracelets. See #2 here for more on why now exactly, but regardless it’s about time, as despite its low crime rate in general Korea is in fact becoming one of the worst places in the world for sex crimes against teenagers, outnumbering those in Japan by more than three times and Germany by nearly nine times. Moreover, those high figures are despite a great number of such cases ending up being unsettled because victims are reluctant to undergo police investigations, and also the age of consent in Korea being 13 serving to lower the number of ultimate prosecutions.

Meanwhile, the Korean military has set August up as a special month to reduce sex crimes within the ranks; see my post Sex as Power in the South Korean Military for more background, and also this follow-up.

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5) Not unsurprisingly, a recent straw poll has shown that most teen mothers quit school. Also, the numbers of miscarriages and infertile couples are rising, as are the numbers of women drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and it probably doesn’t help that some old people are almost literally assaulting pregnant women for sitting in subway seats reserved for both of them either.

Perhaps the government response will again be to devise slogans to encourage childbirth, just like in Taiwan?

On the positive side though, the drama Nanun Jonsol Eeda (I am Legend; 나는전설이다) is currently providing a very positive portrayal of a young single mother. And for positive news in real life, see the New York Times for more on a group that is resisting the Korean stigma for unwed mothers.

6) I haven’t been following the inane “virtual marriages” of various celebrities on Korean variety shows in recent years, but hijinx at SeoulBeats notes that in one, Ga-in of the Brown Eyed Girls has yet to show her bare face to “husband” to Jo-kwon of 2AM, and says that apparently a lot of Korean women do go out of their way to always have make-up on when their boyfriends or even husbands see their faces. Which says a great deal about their relationships if true, but is it?

7) Unfortunately the video that spawned it has since been removed from YouTube, but still see Curiosity Killed The Eccentric Yoruba for a great post on relationships between African women and Korean men. And for more practical advice, also see The Three Wise Monkeys and Hot Yellow Fellows for why you can seem to be having a great relationship with a Korean guy…but then all of a sudden he may completely and inexplicably cut off all contact with you.

8) Not that he doesn’t still have a great body, but perhaps I was mistaken in thinking that singer Chang-min’s pecs had been badly photoshopped?

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9) I’ll let Lee’s review of Remembering Koryo, a fascinating book written by S.K. Chae, a Korean French adoptee, speak for itself:

The story of Korean adoption is highly complex and prone to being misunderstood. While I don’t claim to know the whole truth behind the scenes, I do know some things from my own experiences and have heard a lot more from interacting with others in the Korean adoptee community. Making claims for or against adoption is futile unless one first understands that each case is unique and that there are a multitude of societal forces at play.

Remembering Koryo follows the lives of a few Korean adoptees returning to Korea for various reasons. The stories are unique and colourful, easily understood by an adoptee like myself, but perhaps more unfamiliar to the average reader. To appreciate Remembering Koryo in a realistic context, one first needs to know a little more about Korean adoption in general.

Read the rest at Lee’s Korea Blog.

10)As pedotastic as some of us feared” says Extra! Korea of GP Basic’s new video, whom with an average age of just 15 years, are easily Korea’s youngest girlgroup. But is it as bad as that? Take a look for yourself below, and see my posts Reading “The Lolita Effect” in Korea and Ajosshis & Girls’ Generation: The Panic Interface of Korean Sexuality for some context, then two separate posts by hijinx at SeoulBeats here and here for a big debate among its readers:


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)