Korean Sociological Image #22: Fresh, Young Meat

Kara Cob Chicken Advertisment Male Objectification

For reasons that will soon become clear, girl-group Kara’s (카라) latest commercial for Cob Chicken (Cob 구어조은닭) is making big waves at the moment.

But probably most men are missing just how ground-breaking it really is. Mainly, because of Nicole’s buttocks thrust into their faces just 2 seconds in:

Part of Kara’s “butt dance” used in the choreography to “Mister” (미스터) though, which is playing in the background, it have been very strange not to have used it here. Indeed, it’s become something of a meme in K-pop, aptly demonstrated by this rather surreal clip of perhaps 25 female singers simultaneously performing it in a recent comedy program:

Korean Butt Dance

In light of that, it’s actually the sudden entrance of the well-muscled male at 0:17 that’s the most interesting and surprisng. And no, it’s not “groundbreaking” in the sense that it’s an explicit case of male objectification, which is not exactly a first for Korea. Rather, I label it as such because not only is the first time the makers of a Korean commercial have acknowledged their objectification of women and men therein, it’s also the first in which that acknowledgment has become a central, almost satirical theme of the commercial. Consider the screenshot viewers see immediately after the half-naked man for instance:

Kara Cob Chicken Advertisment Objectification

In English, it reads: “Because the chicken is grilled, the fat is removed completely. Chicken’s young taste,” and, judging by the advertisement from the Cob Chicken website below, the association between chicken meat and lithe young bodies isn’t a one-off. Moreover, although the Korean language lacks the associations the English term “meat market” has, it has a close equivalent in “물이 좋다,” or “The water is good”, and of course there are numerous instances of food terms being used for body parts. For the most recent example, consider Matt’s excellent commentary at Gusts of Popular Feeling on the invention of the term “honey thighs” (꿀벅지), and one high-school girl’s laudable rare attempt to demonstrate how sexist and demeaning such language is.

Kara Cob Chicken Advertisment(Source: Cob Chicken)

Granted, lauding a commercial objectifying both sexes is perhaps a strange choice to include in that vein. But recall that the academic studies of gender studies and feminism don’t really seem to have permeated wider Korean society like they did in the 1960s and ’70s in the West, with the result that a Korean language search for, say, “sexist advertisements”, will provide very few Korean examples. Getting the notion that objectification occurs in advertisements and in wider society out by whatever means then, I’d argue, is a very important first step towards rectifying that (however ironic this particular example is!).

Update: For comparison, numerous examples of the sexualizing and/or gendering of food in Western advertisements are available here.

Update 2: An amusing post from Seoulbeats on how appearing in chicken commercials seems to be a rite of passage for up and coming Korean stars.

Update 3: A photoshopped image that has been spreading around the Korean internet in the wake of the advertisement(s). Normally I’d demur from posting this sort of thing, but it seemed appropriate here:


(For more posts in the Korea Sociological Images series, see here)