Korean Sociological Image #13: The Kiss

Everybody Has Secrets Kiss 2004(Source: unknown)

It’s amazing how quickly things can change in Korea sometimes.

Granted, you’re unlikely to see an eye-catching kiss akin to the above on primetime TV at the moment, but at the rate things are going then it won’t be too much longer. It was only at the end of May that Shin Min-a (신민아) for instance, made waves for her first screen kiss with Won Bin (원빈) in the coffee commercial below, and it seems like pop culture blogs have literally been full of similar examples ever since:

See here, here, #10 here, and here if that’s given you for a taste of more. Indeed, in one of those links, I lamented that with so many commercials with kissing appearing these days, it’s difficult to keep track — but it wasn’t really until I saw this next commercial that I realized just how mainstream it had suddenly become:

No, I couldn’t keep a straight face either…

But what might one gain from this, other than merely passing on notice of a new trend? Well, most if not all of those commercials above are aimed at 20-somethings, either explicitly in the tag-line (a new trend in itself) or by the admission of producers. And while they are hardly unique in that regard, the combination of the two personally reminded me of the perceptive point made by Korean sociologist So-hee Lee made in her chapter in Under Construction: The Gendering of Modernity, Class and Consumption in the Republic of Korea:

Generation is an important attribute of identity in Korea, like race in the United States. (p. 146)

Obvious perhaps, but arguably only with the benefit of hindsight, and in the decade or so I’ve been reading about Korean society I’ve only come across a handful of authors making the same point, and never so succinctly. Moreover, despite having been written in the late-1990s, this commercials prove that it is more relevant than ever, and I’d argue that it should be included in the first lecture on any undergraduate course on Korean society.

Won Bin Shin Min-a Kiss(Source)

For more on Lee, see here for my take on her work on female sexuality in Korean popular culture. Meanwhile, I accept that my memories of Korean commercials may be lacking, and so I am happy (and fully expect) to receive earlier cases of kissing in Korean commercials from readers: surely the first wasn’t just this May? And in that vein, I also accept that their recent numbers may also have been inflated by my imagination, and regardless by no means precipitated by that one with Shin Min-a and Won Bin either, which may have been merely the first I noticed.

On a final note, I’m also curious in your opinions on what impact – if any – these commercials with have on the acceptability of kissing in public. Personally I think that that’s some years off yet, but then I rarely go drinking these days, and may well be surprised at what goes on in my local university district on Friday nights!

(For more posts in my “Korean Sociological Images” series, see here)

Korean Gender Reader

Photoshop Shoo

One of these pictures from Shoo’s (슈) recent photoshoot is not quite like the others: take a closer look, and if nothing sticks out then see these classics of the genre for hints, or #6 for the solution.

1) In that vein, for me last week really stood out for the number of excellent points raised about the subjects of women’s body images, censorship, and Korean sexuality by Korean bloggers. But first, I should of course mention that a South-African woman was raped in her home in Ulsan by a neighbor earlier in the month, and early indications were that the police were at best lukewarm in handling her case, which naturally provoked lively discussions in the Korean blogosphere about rape in Korea, women’s and foreigner’s safety, and the Korean police ‘s attitudes to both. Lest I appear indifferent by not discussing those subjects in more detail myself though, lengthy but often informative comments threads on these already exist at Korea Beat and The Marmot’s Hole if you’re interested. Moreover, it appears from this Facebook thread devoted to the issue that claims of police indifference were complete fabrications by The Chosun Ilbo, as were quotes from the victim, who hadn’t actually spoken to any news outlets.

2) First up then, in a post I’m embarrassed not to have written myself, VixenVarla of Seoulbeats asks if Korean society is really ready for “women” idols, and thinks not: noting the netizen furor over the above Abracadabra (아브라카다브라) music video by the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운아이드걸스), which features a sex scene (and rather more than the mere lesbian kissing scene I reported last week sorry), she argues that while provocative, both that and Chae-yeon’s (채연) new music video Shake (흔들려) were at least alternative representations of Korean women to the coy, innocent, and sexually inexperienced ones normally presented. But while teenage groups’ blatantly sexual dance moves are usually instantly praised as being “hip”, “sexy”, and “cool,” Abracadabra will probably have to be heavily edited for television (despite protestations that it won’t be), as indeed much tamer Shake was recently (see #1 here).  She concludes:

….when Korean “women” choose to project a more sexualized side of themselves they are looked down upon by censors and neitizens. Is Korea so afraid to show adult women in control of their own sexuality that they would prefer to cast scantily clad little girls in heavy makeup, to play “grown up” in their place?

See here for the full post. But please note that by reiterating it’s main points I (and I’m sure VixenVarla would concur) am not attacking expressions of teenage sexuality per se: rather, I’m just saying that they don’t deserve the kid gloves with which they are treated with by the Korean media (see here for my most recent post on this issue). Possibly Abracadabra was a bad choice with which to make that particular point though, as it’s easily the most sexually-explicit mainstream Korean music video I’ve seen in the whole 9 years I’ve lived here:

Abracadabra Brown Eyed Girls( Source )

Of course, 9 times out of 10 such a video would be used to disguise the poor quality of the music itself, but this song is actually good, and – I confess – I heard it on the radio and thought it was (forgive the temporary lapse in sophistication) cool well before I saw the video above. Meanwhile, here is a live performance if you’re curious as to how all that translates to the stage (see PopSeoul! for the details):

3) In case you’re confused by the Korean media praising moves by, say, The Wondergirls (원더걸스) or Girls’ Generation (소녀시대) as “sexy” while criticizing, say, Chae-yeon’s dancing as too sexual though, Brian in Jeollanam-do has an excellent post on how Korean uses of the word have become almost entirely divorced from its English meaning.

4) In related news, while discussing a promotion in Seoul involving women dressed as Paris Hilton to celebrate the Korean airing of MTV reality show “Paris Hilton’s My New Best Friends Forever,” Brian also makes the point that:

…while Korean celebrities are held to pretty high moral standards, you have a woman like Paris Hilton regularly on TV and endorsing Fila Korea.

Like he thought, he’s not the first or the last person to mention that (see #18 here), and after reading this post on her by Michael Hurt at Scribblings of the Metropolitician I would also no longer, well, slag off Paris Hilton as readily as most people are inclined to either.  But still, the point stands regardless of the celebrity involved, and is worth remembering.

5) Also making big news were some Southeast-Asian men being arrested for taking pictures of women at Haeundae Beach in Busan, whereas – as numerous bloggers have pointed out, Korean newspaper photographers regularly (and excessively) do so, and particularly of Caucasian women also. See Brian’s post (yes, again – a productive week for him it seems!) and Korean Media Watch for more.

Choi Ji-woo Vidi Vici6) No, that’s not an alien on the right, but Choi Ji-woo (최지우) promoting cosmetics brand Vidi Vici. Speaking of which, if you haven’t figured out what was wrong with the opening image of Shoo, see AllKpop here for the solution.

7) Also on the photography front, many Korean newspapers (and particularly the ones that denounce Western men as sexual predators and deviants: see #1 here) are increasingly posting “upskirt” pictures of celebrities and members of the public on their websites. Apologies for not providing links (even I have my limits), but I mention this because PopSeoul! has raised the point of PR managers and so on increasingly providing only high stools for stars to sit on at press conferences, which there can only be one reason for given that it is now de rigueur for female stars to wear something short and skimpy to them.

8) Spare a thought for North Korean women: among numerous other frustrations of daily life there, they also have to contend with being forced by government to wear skirts at some times of the year, and traditional clothing at others.

9) A while ago I mentioned a post at Sociological Images about the Tokyo City Government’s appointment of three young women as “cute ambassadors” for the city, the better to promote Japanese kawaii (cute) culture and project Japan’s “soft power” abroad. Now Ampontan – my personal choice for the best blog on Japanese society, politics, and culture – has a great meta post on what issues the policy raises, noting, for example:

I’d rather the Japanese had chosen other parts of their culture to present to the rest of the world—festivals, for example—but might there be a bigger picture that we’re missing?

Plug the word kawaii in English into Google and you’ll get 7,590,000 hits. Do the same with cosplay and you’ll get 24,200,000. Yes, I was astonished too. When the words kawaii and cosplay are so commonly known and accepted around the world, I think it’s safe to say we’re dealing with a phenomenon that transcends Japan.

Read the rest here, and you may also be interested in the Korean government’s recent efforts to promote itself overseas, albeit sans Hello Kitty and Gothic Lolita costumes.

10) I’m still generally against cosmetic surgery, but largely through reader’s comments I’m much more sympathetic of it and understanding of people’s reasons for having operations (especially in an appearance-obsessed society as Korea) than I was before I started the blog. In that vein, see AllKpop here for winner of the title of “prettiest celebrity after female surgery,” with the important point that contestants were only those that openly admitted their surgery.

Meanwhile, the Korea Times reports that young Korean men are apparently becoming keener on having cosmetic surgery (see #7 here also).

11) Given the amount of photoshopping that was necessary for him to do so, I possibly was a little harsh in my opinion on Park Ji-sung’s (박지성) appearance in this post on his modelling for Gillette Korea. But I have to say, he looks quite dapper in his latest photoshoot for Gentlemen’s Quarterly (via KP Culture):

Park Ji-sung Gentlemen's Quarterly( Source )

12) While apparently sexual relations with 13 year-olds are okay (see #3 here), Extra Korea! notes that from next year, solitciting teenagers for sex will be punishable, even if no sexual act takes place. Hey, at least it’s consistent with laws for adults…

13) Widely reported in the Korean media, Koreans as a whole are becoming more overweight. Considering that Korean women were among the lest obese women in the OECD (let alone the world) as recently as 2005 though, then the new data needs to be taken with a grain of salt (no pun intended).

Update: Extra Korea has some additional links on the latter.

Ironically, this news comes as North Korea opens its first fast-food restaurant.

Asian Man Redefined 2010 Calander14) With apologies for this being the largest picture I could find, Andrew Lim recommends you buy the (self-explanatory) “Asian Men Redefined 2010 Calendar,” the proceeds of which will go to charity. For the details, see Ningin here.

15) Singer Ivy (아이비) is trying to make a comeback after being forced to put her career on her hold by a sex-tape scandal…which didn’t actually exist. If the latter is news to you, then see DramaBeans for the background.

16) Somewhat predictable, but still sad, the economic recession is resulting in many fathers running away from their families in shame at not being able to get a job and/or support them, and also the number of 2-child families is decreasing as women’s wages decline. Hat tip to Alex for the latter, who makes the following perceptive points about the article:

I’m wondering if they’re insinuating the wage of female workers should decrease to save the national birthrate…

“Working mothers who prefer to offer quality education or living environment rather than having more children has also contributed to the declining number of second children.

The report said the increase in the women’s wages has negative impact the births of a second child but the increase in paychecks from husbands increases the chances of having more than one child. ”

That’s quite the justification for the disparity in salaries.

Meanwhile, see here for Tom Coyner’s article on the effects of the recession on young people, to which he adds in his email on it in his “Korean Economic Reader” mailing list that:

To be candid, one of the ulterior motives to write this column was to plug my firm’s “Rising Star Coaching” program that helps organizations lacking the budgets to go out and hire specialists while needing to recycle bright, younger employees to assume new roles as their employers adjust to new challenges.

Should the reader know of anyone who lacks internal mentors for developing a specific skill set in a younger manager or employee, please let me know.  We can provide senior Korean executives who have been trained in coaching skills to mentor junior employees on a short-term contractual basis.

And in some rare positive news, Korea Beat reports that women are advancing in the government and legal professions.

17) Finally, in news that I should have placed much earlier in the post sorry, Brian notes that a pregnant 18-year old Cambodian woman was given a 4-year sentence for killing her abusive husband, and also that 2 sisters-in-law and a stepdaughter of a Vietnamese immigrant wife were fined for beating her after she allegedly failed to tend to her mother-in-law’s needs. That second link is just factual really, but in the first has many interesting points about Southeast immigration to Korean and the international marriage trade.

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