Music Break: Two K-pop Gems You’ve Been Missing

I’d like to like Misogyny Drop Dead by Planningtorock, but agree with a commenter that its more “experimental” and “obscure” than something you can actually dance to.

As for that “problem” though, the author definitely has a point. Just type “trance” into a Youtube search and see for yourself:

Trance Music ObjectificationThoughts? Any more quality K-pop (or covers or remixes) out there that should be much better known? Would you say the objectifying imagery is simply because — I assume — most of the DJs are male? Or some other reason?

*Update: Link is just about the regional Wellington competition sorry. Any sources on the national competition would be appreciated.

“Cleavage out, Legs in” — The Key to Understanding Ajosshi Fandom?

“Here is the next Samsung: fast growing Korean companies that you’d better know about.” Source.

“Stop obsessing with sex.” (Fernando)

“If I went to New York and started pointing out how many skyscrapers there were, would you suggest that it was *me* that had the obsession with noticing skyscrapers, or New York for building them all?” (Norman Lewis; source)

And indeed if you went to Seoul instead, it’d be difficult not to notice all the exposed women’s legs. Even—or perhaps especially — in the winter.

It wasn’t until I saw this November 2010 video from the Singaporean RazorTV though, that I realized the fashion might not be so common there yet. Likewise, it was just starting in Thailand, where authorities were warning against the danger of dengue fever from the ensuing extra mosquito bites:

Unfortunately, only the narrator speaks English, while the hosts and interviewees chat away in Chinese (is that normal for Singaporean TV?), and no subtitles are available. However, I was able to find this related article from parent organization The Straits Times, and it had an intriguing conclusion:

Entertainment journalist Tan Chew Yen from the Chinese Central Integrated Newsroom reasoned that showing off legs allows these girl groups to maintain a healthier but nonetheless sexy image.

It invites less controversy and criticism from concerned citizens as compared to showing cleavage, for example, due to their young fan-base.

I beg to differ on the youth of their fan-bases these days. But still, those few words resonated on so many levels, potentially speaking volumes about how K-pop has developed over the last 5 years.

First, because it’s certainly true that Koreans regard legs as a much less sexual body part than cleavage. While that distinction is easy to overstate though, and is eroding precisely because so many Korean girl-groups are wearing hot-pants and mini-skirts these days, it’s confirmed by numerous expat women that have had to adjust to it (and of course cishet men like myself have noticed it too!).

Source

Next, because choreography, outfits, and music videos tailored for that distinction would be equally applicable to the more conservative—but still lucrative and influential—Chinese market, where for a long time Korean groups were considered much “safer” than their Japanese and Western counterparts:

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. (Rowan Pease, 2009)

Of course, this assumes that the Chinese make the same distinction between legs and cleavage. But I’d wager they do—after all, Park Jin-young of JYP Entertainment especially has always had a firm eye on the Chinese market, with two members of Miss A being Chinese, and even the “A” in the name meaning “Asia.” And the group’s logo speaks for itself:

Source

Finally, likewise hot-pants would be a perfect fit with “Ajosshi” or “Samchon” fandom. Here’s a quick definition of that for new readers:

…what is extraordinary in girl idols’ fandom is that a large number of male fans in their 30s and 40s have constructed the unprecedented scale and mode of fandom called Samchon-fans, or uncle-fans. As Samchon in Korean refers to one’s parent’s brother, this name implies the middle-aged men’s care for their young nieces. Once this familial setting is built up, a relationship between male viewers or self-claimed Samchon fans is restructured in the complicit relationship between uncle and little nieces. Accordingly, the male’s gaze at young female bodies is legitimized and normalized as the voluntary support and pure love of uncles for their nieces. Under the identity of uncle, they can deny the sexual aspect of what they see and insist on appreciating merely the pure surface of pretty children. This double male psychology of interwoven denial and justification is pervasive in the constitution of the girl idols’ fandom. Thus, with the pretentious reformulation of the male gaze into an uncle’s familial support, the male consumption of the girl bodies becomes relieved of the predictable blame for pedophiliac abnormality. (Yeran Kim, 2011; see sources below)

Previously, most discussions about Samchon fandom have focused on pointing out its existence and/or its effects, both of which you can read about in depth here and here. But in hindsight, not enough attention has been give to the process of how it came about, which this cleavage/legs distinction now potentially helps to fill. For if entertainment companies subscribed to it, having their girl-groups members flaunting their legs while covering up their cleavage, then it’s easy to see why this would provide plausible deniability for all involved.

“Because of Sistar, uncles [feel like] teenagers again!!” Source.

Not that being a middle-aged male fan of a girl-group is wrong per se of course. But for a number of years the Korean media would indeed promote the deceitful “innocent until proven sexual” byline of Samchon fandom (and to a large extent still does—see here and here), providing a window for entertainment companies to sex up performances to their hearts’ content.

Was this the result of a deliberate, years-long strategy by entertainment companies? That’s unlikely: not only did Girls’ Generation at least actually wear “skinny jeans” well before hot-pants for instance (I believe they only started doing so with Tell Me Your Wish in July 2009), but it’s difficult to speak of grand plans by JYP, for instance, when he’s well known for his constant experimentation with groups, trying everything until one concept finally succeeds.

In short, I think entertainment companies lucked out. But like the video says, K-pop has been about legs, legs, and legs ever since they did, and with a palpable influence on Korean fashions. Moreover, whether they’re on the screen or on the streets, people will still make much the same claims about them:

…people maintain [Girls’ Generation are] pure, clean, and cute, and everyone tries to erase and deny the blatant fact of their sexualization in that curiously Korean way that college freshman can click-clack to class in 5-inch hooker heels and a leather skirt and when asked if that might not to be too risque for class, people get defensive and indignant and call the gazer the pervert, while letting the main parlayer in and of the male gaze (the women totally subjecting herself to it) off the hook. (Michael Hurt; source)

Granted, mini-skirts especially are just as — if not more — popular in Japan, so it’s entirely possible that the Korean trend actually comes from Japan, and predates the girl-group boom of the late-2000s. Yet I don’t personally recall seeing quite so many legs on the streets of Busan (which is much warmer than Seoul!) until just a few years ago, with the exception of World Cup summers (when standards are relaxed). And while I’m usually loathe to ascribe top-down origins to fashion trends, I’d be lying if I said Koreans don’t seem to be notoriously conformist in this regard (as this 2004 Prugio commercial with Kim Nam-ju used to be a good illustration of, before the video was taken down!):

And on that note, please let me know what you think, and by all means poke holes in it—my connection between girl-groups only showing their legs and the rise of Samchon Fandom is just the germ of an idea at the moment, which now needs fleshing out (not unlike many of the legs themselves). But if I do say so myself, it’s one of the biggest epiphanies about K-pop I’ve had in a while!

Update 1—See here, here, and here for the next 3 parts of the RazorTV video, about which idol has the best legs, problems with underage performers, and the increasing objectification of male idols respectively. Parts 2 & 3 also have more English

Update 2—Let me pass on Esther Hoeve’s illuminating comment from Facebook:

The difference in what constitutes as ‘sexy’ bodyparts is an interesting one. Back home (western Europe) I’m much quicker to reveal cleavage or shoulders, but I spent half a year in Thailand and had to adjust to wearing shorts, but tops with sleeves. The shorter my skirt or shorts, the longer my sleeves would be. I actually grew self conscious of how much upper body I was showing, but usually have the same feeling concerning my lower body here in Europe. It completely changes your perspective on what’s considering ‘revealing’.

Like I say there, this reminded me of some of my female students back in 2000 complaining of middle-aged and old women telling them to cover up their bare arms. This was in Jinju/진주 though, a university town but still quite small and conservative, so I don’t know if their counterparts in larger cities had the same problems.

Sources

  • Yeran Kim (2011): Idol republic: the global emergence of girl industries and the commercialization of girl bodies, Journal of Gender Studies, 20:4, 333-345.
  • Rowan Pease (2009): Korean Popular Music in China: Nationalism, Authenticity, and Gender, in Chris Berry, Nicola Liscutin, and Jonathan D. Mackintosh ed.s, Cultural Studies and Cultural Industries in Northeast Asia: What a Difference a Region Makes, 151-167.

(Hat tip to dogdyedblack)

Korean Boys: “Wearing Hot Pants Says Something About You”

(Source)

A much more serious topic than it may sound, this article from Ilda Women’s Journal will definitely give you a renewed appreciation for the goals of the Slutwalk (잡년행진) movement.

Once it does though, unfortunately you’ll probably find yourself pretty frustrated with it too. For the author only really gives platitudes about the need for change, rather than provide any details about who those boys were, what they said exactly, and the sex-education program her and her colleagues were involved in.

But still, she’s right to be concerned about the messages children are receiving about sexuality when any elementary school boys both approve of and chastise attractive women for wearing revealing clothes. Let alone disallow “ugly” ones from wearing them:

(Source)

“못생긴 애들 핫팬츠 입지 말라”는 아이들 Children That Say “Ugly Girls Shouldn’t Wear Hot Pants”

여성의 노출’을 바라보는 십대들의 시선 Teenagers’ Views on Women Who Wear Revealing Clothes

So Yeong-mi, August 2010

(일다의 독자위원인 서영미님은 현재 십대들과 함께하는 성교육 프로그램을 진행하고 있습니다―Editor)

Editor: Ilda reader So Yeong-mi is currently involved in a sex-education program aimed at teenagers.

“선생님, 질문 있어요. 왜 여자애들은 그렇게 짧은 반바지를 입어요?”…“여자애들이 핫팬츠 좀 못 입게 해주셨으면 좋겠어요!”…“?????????”

“Teacher, I have a question. Why do women wear such short shorts?”…”If young women didn’t wear hot pants, that would be good.”

이게 도대체 무슨 문제란 말이지? 최근 들어 두 번이나 받은 질문이다. 고등학교 청소년 남자 아이들을 만났을 때 한번, 그리고 초등학교 남자아이들과 교육하면서 한번. 성장기 자신의 몸의 변화나 성관계, 임신/출산에 관련한 질문들이 대부분인 편이라 이 질문이 유독 기억에 남았다. 같은 반 여자아이들이 핫팬츠를 입지 말았으면 좋겠다니 이 무슨 말인가?

(Source, NSFW)

Why on earth are they saying and asking these things? This has happened to me twice recently. Once, from teenage boys at a high school, and the other from boys at an elementary school. Most of the questions I get are normal ones about their development, changes to their body, sexual relationships, pregnancy and childbirth and so on, but I especially remembered these. Why are boys saying that girls in their classes shouldn’t wear hot pants?

James – Because of the mention of female classmates, I’m assuming the boys were in mixed-schools then? But So Yeong-mi doesn’t mention how the girls reacted to such questions, an omission which hopefully means she taught the boys and girls separately.

뜬금없는 질문이 궁금해 스무고개 하듯 계속해서 질문을 주고받으며 질문한 의도를 파악하려 애썼다. 질문자는 한 명이었지만 반 아이들 모두가 동의하고 있었고 별로 웃기지도 않은 질문에 아이들은 자지러졌기 때문이다. 질문을 받은 내가 자신들 생각대로 웃어넘기지 않고 진지하게 계속 물으니, 나중엔 아이들도 제법 진지하게 맞받아쳤다. 그리하여 나온 결론은 같은 반 여자아이들은 핫팬츠를 입으면 안 된다는 것!

I was very curious why these questions came out of the blue, so I sort of played 20 Questions with the students to find out. Only 1 student [in each case?] asked, but all the other students thought it was hilarious, and they expected me to laugh along with them. I wanted to get to the bottom of that, and so later when they gave me feedback it emerged that they felt that girls in their classes shouldn’t wear hot pants.

(Source)

모자와 핫팬츠는 다르다? What’s the Difference Between Hot Pants and Hats?

“오크가 그런 걸 입는 게 말이나 돼요?” “Would Orcs Wear Hot Pants?”

판타지 소설이나 롤플레잉 게임에 주로 등장하는 괴물, ‘오크’족. 쭉쭉빵빵 몸매도 좋고 능력도 좋은 미녀캐릭터들에 비해 볼품이 없어 쉽게 무시당하고 힘만 센 캐릭터. 아이들의 설명에 의하면 이랬다. TV에서 연예인들이 입는 것과는 다르다는 것. 그건 당연히 ‘봐줄 만하다’는 것이다. 핫팬츠뿐만 아니라 미니스커트에도 역시 강한 불만을 표했는데, 이번에는 또 다른 이유를 제기했다.

As the students explained, in fantasy novels and role-playing games the monster that appears the most frequently is the orc. Unlike beautiful female characters, with great abilities and voluptuous bodies (and usually useless armor – James), orcs are essentially faceless characters that can easily be disregarded. What entertainers wear on TV is different though, and, of course, it’s worth watching.

But it’s not just hot pants that the boys had problems with girls wearing, but also miniskirts. They gave a second reason for that.

“옷이 그러면 그렇고 그런 거 아니에요? 위험할 수도 있잖아요.”

“Doesn’t wearing clothes like that say something about you? And it’s dangerous too!”

아이들은 여성인 내게 “선생님도 그런 옷을 입냐”며 “도대체 왜”냐고 야단이었다. 한 학생이 모자를 쓰고 있기에 “너는 왜 모자를 쓰고 있냐” 물으니 “그냥 좋아서”라고 가볍게 얘기했다. 그럼 “핫팬츠나 미니스커트를 선택해서 착용하는 것은 무엇이 다르냐” 물으니 “그건 당연히 다르다”고 소리친다. 적절한 대답이 없을 때 아이들은 대개 화를 낸다.

(Source)

The students asked me, a woman, “Do you wear clothes like that?”, and, in a critical tone, “Why on Earth do women wear those?”. So, to one student who was wearing a hat I asked “Why are you wearing that hat?”, to which he casually replied “Because I like it”. So then I asked “How is that different to choosing hot pants or a miniskirt”, and got the retort that “Of course it’s different!”, the student becoming angry that he didn’t really have a proper answer.

그날 종일은 아이들과 좀 더 많은 시간을 들여 ‘개인의 취향’에 대한 이야기를 나누었다. 서로의 취향을 존중하고 이해해야 하는 이유를 찾아보며 남/녀를 탈피한 다양한 관계 속에서 역할활동까지 해봤다. 그러나 그 날의 아이들에게는 이미 모자와 핫팬츠의 ‘선택’이 다르지 않다는 것을 이해시키는 것이 어려워 보였다. 너무나 견고한 그들만의 ‘패션철학’이 놀라울 따름이었다.

I spent all day with the students, and shared a story about personal tastes with them. Then we did roleplaying, breaking away from normal man/woman and girl/boy ones, in order to better understand and respect each other’s personal tastes. It was difficult to make them understand that wearing hot pants was a choice, no different to wearing a hat, and I was very surprised in how unwavering some of their attitudes to fashion were.

우연히 비슷한 시기에 만난 이 집단 아이들만의 문제였을까. 교육이 끝난 후 평가시간에 이 에피소드를 털어놓으니 유난히 남자아이들 교육을 진행할 때 그런 질문이 많이 나온다는 실무자들의 의견이 있었다. 예쁜 사람이 입으면 괜찮고, 아니면 안 괜찮고, 짧은 옷을 입으면 위험하고 야한 어떤 것이라는 10대 초반의 아이들의 논리. 고등학생 이상의 청소년 들을 만났을 때만 해도 성인과 비슷하게 생각해나가는 시기여서 그런가 생각했는데, 초등학생들에게서까지 강한 불만으로 표출되어 나오니 그냥 웃어넘길 일이 아니라는 생각이 들었다.

I wondered if this way of thinking was just confined to the groups of students I taught, so afterwards I asked other sex-ed teachers involved in the program, and they confirmed that they get similar questions and opinions from especially male students. The logic of boys in their early teens was that if pretty girls wear hot pants and so on it’s okay, but if they’re not pretty then it’s not, and that [in either case] such clothes are both too revealing and dangerous.

(Source)

Now, if I’d asked high school students and so on, who think like adults, then I wouldn’t have been surprised, but once I learned that even elementary school students are saying such things then I realized that this was no laughing matter.

고 민지점은 성인들이 갖고 있는 편견이나 고정관념들이 고스란히 아이들에게도 답습된다는 것이다. 또한 그 연령이 대폭 낮아졌다는 사실도 놀랄만한 일이다. 그 어린 학생들마저도 ‘여성’의 몸을 검열하고 있다는 사실에 주목하지 않을 수가 없는 것이다.

Children are picking up adults’ prejudices and biases, although it is surprising that they’re doing so at such a young age. And we can’t help but notice that even these children too think the female body is something to inspected and evaluated.

우리가 어떤 일을 할 수 있을까 What can do we do about this?

노출이 많은 옷을 입은 여성과 그렇지 않은 여성을 간단하게 이분화 시키고, 거기에 아름다움이라는 가치를 연결시킨 잣대로 평가하는 것은 아이들도 어른들과 크게 다르지 않았다. 다만 아이들의 용어로 표현하고 있을 뿐이었다. 이를 우스갯거리로 사용하는 아이들을 보고 있자니 솔직히 조금 화가 나기도 했다. 그리고 그와 동시에 우리 스스로 반성해야 될 때가 아닌가 생각해보게 됐다.

Children splitting women into simply those who wear very revealing clothes and those that don’t, and judging their value only in terms of their appearance, is little different from what adults do. But although the children just used these terms jokingly, to be honest I still got a little angry with them.

Yet at the same time, we really need to examine ourselves too.

대중매체에 대한 비판을 하려던 차에 최근 10대 청소년 연예인들을 상대로 60%가 신체 노출이나 과도한 성적 행위 장면을 강요했다는 기사들을 보게 되었다. 한 언론과의 인터뷰에서 가수 이은미는 음악성 보다 외적인 면에 더 관심을 갖는 사회 분위기를 우려하며, 성적인 면이 강조된 걸그룹의 노래, 의상, 춤에 환호하는 이 사회를 ‘몰상식의 극’이라고 표현했다. “초등학교를 졸업한지 몇 년 되지 않은 아이들을 벗겨놓고 대 놓고 섹시하다고 박수를 치거나, 꿀벅지, 꿀복근 같은 용어들을 사용하는 대중문화를 보면 소름이 끼친다.”는 것.

(Source: unknown)

I was about to blame the mass media, as recently I’ve read reports which say that 60% of female teenage entertainers have claimed to have sometimes been forced to wear revealing clothes and/or do sexual dances and so on. And in an interview of the singer Lee Eun-mi (James – Not one of those teenage entertainers; she was born in 1968), she said she was worried about a society that considered external appearance more important than musical quality for singers, where girl groups’ sexual dances, songs, and outfits where cheered…she used the term “thoughtless/careless”. She said “I freak out at the thought that just a few years after they graduate from elementary school, young male and female entertainers are being praised for taking off their clothes and being talked about in terms of their ‘honey thighs‘ or six-packs.

쏟 아지는 대중매체의 벗기기 논란은 새삼 어제오늘 일도 아니건만, 아무 손쓰지 않고 있었음에 반성하게 된다. 상품화되고 대상화되고 있는 여성들의 문제를 공공연히 문제 삼지 않았던 것이 일상생활에까지 주변 사람을 대상화하고 외모로써 평가하는 지금의 일을 만든 게 아닌가 하는 생각에서다.

But these trends in the media didn’t just appear overnight – they were allowed to flourish by the public’s inattention and lack of concern. This way, we have come to consider the commercialization and objectification of women as a normal part of our daily lives.

아 이들의 생각을 넓게 펼쳐주진 못할망정 오로지 외모로써 사람을 평가하는 우리 사회에서 우리가 어떤 일을 할 수 있을지 함께 고민해봤으면 좋겠다. 우리가 그동안 무심코 내뱉었던 말들이 아이들에게 어떤 영향을 미치게 될지 생각해보면서 말이다. 문제가 수면으로 드러난 지금이야말로 왜곡된 미와 과장된 외모 중심의 평가들로부터 벗어나 아이들에게 더 많은 관심을 가져야 할 때다. 아이들뿐만 아니라 사실은 우리 모두를 위해서 말이다.

It’s difficult to broaden children’s minds, but we do have to make an effort to stop judging each other on our appearances. We have to consider what has been the effect on our children of this focus, this excessive emphasis on appearance. Not just for them, but for society as a whole (end).

My post title aside, I don’t mean to generalize about all Korean boys, and given the author’s vagueness then what she says about them really needs to be taken with a grain of salt. So, to get a better overall picture, I’d really appreciate anything any teachers can tell me about what their own young students have ever said about such things (alas, it’s been a while since I’ve taught children or teenagers myself).

And to end on a positive note, was anyone else reminded of the above semi-response to such sentiments? Now I have a renewed sense of appreciation for that too!^^ (See here for a discussion of the song’s lyrics and meaning)

Korean Gender Reader

(Sources: Top, Bottom)

1) Professionalism in K-pop: A Double Standard?

For those of you unaware of the latest storm in a K-pop teacup, Yoona (임유나) and Taeyeon (김태연) of Girls’ Generation (소녀시대) were heavily criticized by netizens last week for appearing tired and bored in an American MTV interview. But while that may well have been “unprofessional” of them though, Chloe of Seoulbeats points out that women tend to be called out on it much more than men, with the rudeness and unprofessionalism of Heechul (김희철) of Super Junior (슈퍼쥬니어) in particular usually simply dismissed as good harmless fun instead.

2) Why the Huge Disparity in Korean Rape Sentences?

I’ve never read Stars and Stripes before, naturally assuming it to be a little partisan. But if the following article is any guide, I’ve been misjudging it:

From a distance, it appears a travesty of justice has occurred.

In hearings held just 12 days apart in the same courtroom, the same three-judge Uijeongbu District Court panel sentenced a Korean man in his 20s to 3.5 years in prison for the rape of a U.S. soldier in her late teens, and sentenced a U.S. soldier in his 20s to 10 years in prison for the rape of a Korean girl in her late teens.

The disparity in prison terms prompted a flurry of emails and Internet message board posts suggesting that the soldier-rapist was unfairly punished for his crimes and that the Korean man who raped the female service member was given a relatively light sentence because the Korean judges were biased toward their countrymen or against the U.S. military.

But a closer look at the situation reveals that while some believe publicity surrounding the soldier’s rape of the Korean teenager might have played a role in the disparity, there were a number of other factors that could explain why one rapist was sentenced to almost three times as much prison time.

Read the rest here.

3) What to make of IBM Korea’s Pro-LGBT Ad?

At first, it sounded great:

IN LATE September, the South Korean arm of IBM, an American computing multinational, put out an advertisement soliciting applicants for a round of job vacancies. The text was standard fare in every aspect except one: sexual minorities—gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people—were to be given “extra points” in the screening process, according to Asia Kyeongjae, a South Korean financial newspaper.

Such a policy might raise eyebrows in many places….

But later:

IBM Korea thus looked to be at the cutting edge of South Korean social change. However, the firm is now backtracking and has changed the wording of its original advertisement. Public-relations staff say there was a misunderstanding and that the firm simply wants to offer equal opportunities to all.

Read the rest at the Economist. Whether because of a genuine mistake or negative publicity though, I think IBM Korea’s retraction will have done it no favors with more liberal Koreans.

See Asian Correspondent also for, sadly, parents and teachers’ opposition to The Seoul Office of Education’s attempts to safeguard gay students’ rights, and here for a good historical guide to Korean LGBT issues up to 2009 (source, above).

4) The “Good Girls Marry Doctors” Project

In its own words:

Many times, Asian parents in the diaspora have a sharpened sense of what family or society in the “home” country might expect of them. Even if they left Asia decades ago, the older community rules by which they grew up is what is replicated as a model of behavior for their daughters, even if things in the “home” country have changed quite a bit with the times. Most importantly, it is made clear to women in particular that they are the bearers of their culture, and that if they fail to impart tradition to the next generation, they will have failed in their duties. The stress this creates often leads to these girls loving and feeling totally loyal to their parents, but also feeling like their parents don’t necessarily understand them.

Read the rest at the F-Word Blog. But just to be clear though, the project is NOT about “backward” Asia-bashing:

…this project’s goal is not to chastise culture for limiting women’s choices, but rather we hope [it] will give strategies and ideas of how girls can find new ways of finding their own path while still being able to honor our cultural background.

(Not technically related to the above story sorry, but this book I stumbled across while looking for an accompanying image does look quite interesting!)

5) Ultrasound Images Posted Without Parents’ Knowledge

Which is more concerning than it probably sounds:

The images, which can be used to determine a child’s sex and check for abnormalities, were found to have been posted on a web page where anyone with a membership could see them.

MediNBiz, which began ultrasound imaging of fetuses in 2003, is the top-ranked company in its industry, with partnerships with some 300 hospitals, or more than 70% of birthing hospitals nationwide. An examination of its SayBebe website (saybebe.com) by the Hankyoreh found that 2.82 million fetus ultrasound images for 400 thousand members were posted on the site as of Nov. 2, with the mother’s name, the birth date, and the hospital where the child was born. The images were available for viewing by anyone with a membership.

Read the rest at the Hankyoreh. On the plus side, all images were immediately made private as a result of the newspaper’s investigation.

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Finally, it behooves me to mention that today is “Bra Day” (브라데이) in South Korea, on which men are encouraged to buy lingerie for their girlfriends and/or or wives. See the helpful graphic above for an explanation of why November the 8th was chosen for it, and especially Brian in Jeollanamdo’s post for more on this and similar fabricated Korean consumer holidays.

Update – For any single readers traveling to Shanghai this week, don’t forget that the 11th is “Bachelor Day” there! (via: @AdamMinter)

The Most Impressive Girl-Group Dance Performance Ever?

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Girls’ Generation justifiably gets a lot of flak  for the underlying messages about gender roles and body image they present in their songs, not least from myself. So much so, that sometimes it’s easy to forget what consummate performers they are, and how important their level of training has been in distinguishing them from their Japanese counterparts. Hell, if SM Entertainment deems them fit to act like actual women too, as is widely expected with the imminent release of their third album? Then I may finally be able to admit how much I like them, albeit pretending it’s only recently and begrudgingly.

Ironically though, perhaps they were actually at their best when they were first about to debut. As askbask explains, at Frank Kogan’s music blog:

“This is the most impressive dance performance I’ve ever seen from a girl group. It almost beggars belief. The stuff around the 3 minute mark is just scary…. Helps that it’s all lip-synced — it’s noticeably less sharp on regular performances — and that the camera is fixed so we get the amazing sync work and units moving around the stage. I don’t expect them to ever match this level again because it was their debut track and they exclusively practiced this choreography for such a long time”.

It’s certainly a video that deserves to be much better known, and kudos to askbask for finding it. See what you think:

Here are some better quality live performances found via the “features related” sidebar on its Youtube page, albeit without the OMG effect that comes with the fixed camera angle:

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t have stars in my eyes, and it says a lot about the nature of the K-pop assembly-line that better performances don’t necessarily come with performers’ greater experience. But the products it can create are no less impressive for all that!

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What did Depraved Oppas Do to Girls’ Generation? Part 5 (Final)

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This translation of part of this Korean article follows directly from Parts One, Two, Three, and Four. If you haven’t already, please read those first, as the author didn’t intend for any section to be a stand-alone post:

려한 조명과 환호 속의 착취 / Exploitation inside the bright lights and cheering

아이돌 시스템을 ‘착취’로 보는 데 모든 이가 동의하지는 않을 것이다. 이렇게 물을 사람도 있을 것이다. 고되고 불확실한 과정이라지만, 누가 강요한 것도 아니고 스스로 원해서 하는 일 아니냐고.

That the idol system is exploitative might not be a view that not everyone shares.  There might also be people who ask this kind of question: though it is a difficult and uncertain process, isn’t it something they’re not forced to do and that they’re doing because they want to?

그렇다면 가혹한 입시제도도, 살인적 등록금도, 젊은이의 미래를 절망스럽게 만드는 비정규직도 별 문제가 아니다. 누가 대학 가라고, 누가 비정규직으로 일하라고 강요하던가. 선택이 제한된 사회에서 ‘자발적 선택’이란 얼마나 허망한 말인가. <한겨레신문>에 실린 한 아이돌 지망생의 말을 들어보자. 이 고등학생은 어렵사리 쌍꺼풀 수술을 한 후, 이제 코 성형을 목표로 편의점, 패스트푸드점, 주유소에서 아르바이트를 하고 있었다.

If so, then the rigorous university entrance exam system, murderous tuition fee, and the irregular work that fills a young person with despair aren’t really problems.   Who forces them to go to university or do irregular work?  In a society that has limited choices, how unreliable the expression ‘voluntary choice’ is!  Let’s hear what one idol hopeful said, as reported in the Hankyoreh [newspaper].  After getting a double-eyelid surgery with [financial] difficulty, this high school student is now working part time at a convenience store, a fast food restaurant, and a gas station with the goal of getting nose surgery.

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“어린 나이에 그토록 힘든 일을 감내해가며 연예인이 되고 싶은 이유가 뭐냐고, 이른바 ‘불공정 계약서’를 쓰고 젊음과 재능을 착취당하는 아이돌 얘기 못 들어봤느냐고 겁주는 소리를 했더니 그 친구가 말했다. ‘기자 언니, 솔직히 말해보세요. 나처럼 돈 없고 ‘빽’ 없고 성적도 그저 그런 애가 그럭저럭 대학 가면 그다음엔 뭐 있어요? 지금은 좀 힘들어도, 기획사에만 들어가면 나한테는 진짜 ‘기회’가 오는 거잖아요.” (<한겨레신문> “빽 없는 연예지망생 ‘성공시대’ 저무나” 2011. 6. 17)

“After I asked her scary things like what’s her reason for wanting to become a celebrity while enduring such difficulties at a young age, and hasn’t she heard of idols whose youth and talent were exploited after they signed so-called ‘unfair contracts,’ she answered me.  ‘Reporter Onni, be honest.  If a person like me, without money or connections, and whose grades are so-so, somehow goes to university, what is there after that?  Even though it’s a little difficult now, you know that if I just get an agency, that is a real opportunity to me.'” (Hankyoreh, “End of the ‘Era of Success’ for would-be celebrities with no connections” June 17, 2011)

James – See “Teen Angst and the K-pop Machine” at SeoulBeats for more on the appeal of joining a talent agency

지난해 여성가족부는 청소년 연예인(지망생 포함)을 대상으로 설문조사를 했다. 그 결과를 보면, 미성년자 연예인들의 ‘자발적 선택’이 어떤 것인지 알 수 있다. 응답자의 36%가 하루 8시간 이상 초과근무를 하고, 41%가 야간과 휴일에도 일하고 있었다. 미성년자인 이들 중 10%가 신체 노출을 경험했다고 말했고, 그중 60%가 강요에 의해서라고 답했다.

Last year, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family surveyed adolescent celebrities (including hopefuls). By looking at the results, we can see what kind of thing underage celebrities’ “voluntary choice” is.  36% of respondents worked more than 8 hours a day and 41% even worked on nights and weekends.  Of these minors, 10% said they had experienced wearing revealing clothing, and of that group 60% answered that they did so under coercion.

앞의 <한겨레신문> 기사를 더 읽어 보면 이런 기회조차 평등하게 주어지지 않음을 알게 된다. “돈 없고 빽 없는” 아이들에게도 기회를 주는 듯했던 연예기획사들이 이제 돈과 배경을 갖춘 지망생을 선호하는 것이다.

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If you read more of the Hankoryeh article mentioned above, you’ll learn that even this kind of opportunity is not given equally. Entertainment management agencies, which had seemed to give chances to children “without money or connections,” now choose hopefuls that combine money and background.

“‘형편이 어려운 아이들은 헝그리 정신 덕분에 빨리 성장하긴 하는데, 성공한 뒤에는 집안의 실질적 가장 노릇을 하기 때문에 계약서 관련 소송을 일으킬 확률이 높다’는 논리라고 한다. ‘반면 있는 집 아이들은 돈 문제에 민감하지 않고 ‘강남 키드’, ‘엄친아’ 이미지에 힘입어 광고계에서도 각광받는다’고 했다.”

“‘Though children in difficult circumstances develop quickly thanks to their hungry mentality, after succeeding, the chances of contract-related court cases arising is high, because they are effectively the heads of their household,’ is the reason a broadcast PD [Marilyn – I checked] gave. ‘On the other hand, children from homes that have money don’t care about money problems, and with their image as a “Kangnam kid” or “Mom’s friend’s son” [a perfect kid, to whom your mother is always unfavorably comparing you] they are in the spotlight in advertising too.’”

일부 아이돌 지망생이 일반인들은 상상하기 어려운 부를 얻는 것은 사실이다. 그렇다고 해서 아이돌 시스템이 정당화되는 것은 아니다. 이 체계는 피라미드 하층부 다수의 희생에 기초를 두고 있기 때문이다. 한국의 입시교육이 소수에게 혜택을 준다고 해서 절대 다수를 ‘들러리’로 희생시키는 행위가 정당화될 수 없듯 말이다.

It’s true that some idol-hopefuls make money that average people have difficulty imagining.  That doesn’t mean that the idol system is justified.  This is because it based on the sacrifices of the majority at the bottom of the pyramid. It is like how even though the Korean university entrance exam education benefits a minority, sacrificing the majority in supporting roles can never be justified.

당신이 아이돌의 팬이든 아니든 상관없다. 그들이 좇는 꿈이 칭찬할 만하다고 생각하면, 그 꿈이 행복한 결실을 맺도록 보살필 일이다. 만일 그 꿈이 철부지들의 몽상이라고 생각한다면, 입시와 오디션을 거치지 않아도 기쁘게 살 길을 마련해 주자. 그게 진정 ‘오빠’와 ‘누나’가 할 일이다.

It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of idols or not. If you think the dream that they are pursuing is worthy of praise, it is a matter of taking care of them so their dream has happy results.  If you think that dream is a just a children’s fantasy, lets provide a way for them live joyfully even if they don’t pass the university entrance exam or audition. That is the duty of real “oppas” and “noonas.”

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Image Caption 7: 아이돌 기획사는 창의적 재능을 갖춘 지망생을 원하지 않는다. 이상적인 후보는 정해 준 동작을 그대로 익혀 따르는 기계적 완벽성이다. 사진은 소녀시대의 ‘오!’ 뮤직비디오의 한 장면.

Image caption 7: Idol agencies don’t want hopefuls who possess creative talent.  The ideal candidate is mechanical perfection at learning and copying the moves as they are given. In the picture, a scene from Girls Generation’s music video “Oh!”

(Thanks very much to Marilyn for translating Parts 4 and 5)

Update – See The Korea Herald for more on exploitation of minors in the Korean music industry.

Update 2The Marmot’s Hole reports that “apparently there are hundreds of students from elementary to high school who are skipping class in favor of auditions in hopes of becoming a celebrity. National Assembly members are calling for measures that would ensure that these students receive the mandatory education like other students.”

What Did Depraved Oppas do to Girls’ Generation? Part 4

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This translation of part of this Korean article follows directly from Parts One, Two, and Three. If you haven’t already, please read those first, as the author didn’t intend for any section to be a stand-alone post:

아이돌: 꿈의 비정규직? Idols: the irregularity [instability] of the dream?

오디션은 누구에게나 열린 평등한 기회가 아니다. 가장 중요한 것은 육체다. 기획된 노출 용도에 적합한, ‘규격’에 맞는 몸을 가져야 한다. 기획사는 창의적 재능을 갖춘 사람을 원하지 않는다. 가장 이상적인 자질은 기획사가 정한 동작을 완벽히, 기계적으로 따라하는 ‘길들이기 쉬운’ 신체다.

Auditions are not an equal opportunity open to everyone.  The most important thing is [one’s] body.  One must have a body that is suitable for the planned purpose of exposure and meets “the standard.”  Agencies don’t want people who have creative abilities.  The most ideal qualification is an “easy to tame” body that perfectly, mechanically copies the moves that the agency determines.

아이돌 지망생들은 1000대 1 가까운 경쟁을 뚫고 오디션을 통과해야 겨우 연습생 자격을 얻는다. 물론 다수가 교습소에서 춤과 동작을 배우고, 다이어트와 성형을 거치는 등 ‘선행 훈련’을 쌓는다. 그리고 이렇게 선발된 연습생 가운데 2~3%만이 그룹으로 활동할 기회를 얻는다.

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Idol hopefuls have to beat nearly 1000-to-1 odds to pass the audition and just qualify as trainees.  Of course, the majority study dance and movement at a [training] school, and pile up “prior training” like going through diets and surgery.  Also, among trainees selected in this way, only 2-3% get the chance to be part of a [girl or boy] group.

연습생들이 고된 훈련과 불투명한 미래를 견디는 이유는 하나다. ‘내게도 기회가 올 수 있다’는 막연한 희망이 있기 때문이다. 그러나 이 ‘희망’은 대단히 잔인한 훈육 체계다. 연습생들에게 보상이 불확실한 노동을 지속하게 하고, 데뷔한 그룹에게는 ‘너를 대신할 사람은 널렸다’는 위협이 되기 때문이다. 아래 글은 이 점을 잘 지적하고 있다.

There is one reason that trainees endure intense training and an uncertain future.  It is the vague hope that “I too can get an opportunity.”  However, this “hope” brings with it a very cruel system of discipline.  This is because trainees are made to continue to do work for which reward is uncertain, and they become a threat to groups that have made their debut, [who are told] “There are many people who can do this instead of you.”   The excerpt below illustrates this.

“그룹을 꾸려 데뷔를 준비하는 것도 마음과 취향이 맞는 연습생끼리 어울려 이루는 것이 아니다. 소속사가 기획하는 그림에 따라 멤버가 추려지고, 그룹 안에서 맡아야 할 역할에 따라 지시된 이미지대로 움직여야 한다. 여기서 밉보이거나 엇나가면 이들을 자산으로 관리하는 기획사는 본보기로 멤버 가운데 하나를 탈락시킨다. 이런 으름장은 신인 연예인을 다스리는 효과적인 전략이다.” (이안, ‘원더걸스 선미 탈퇴로 비춰본 아이돌에 대한 허상’, <미디어오늘> 2010. 1. 26)

“The making and debut preparation of a group is also not something formed between like-minded trainees of similar tastes.  Members are selected according to the image that the record company is planning. They must behave according to the image assigned to them as the role each must play in the group.  If they anger [the agency] or go astray here, the agency that manages them like they are property can make an example of one of the members by eliminating him or her.  This kind of threat is an effective strategy for controlling new celebrities.”  (Lee Ahn, “Illusions about idols revealed by [Marilyn- in light of?] Wondergirls’ Sun-mi’s departure”, <Media Ohneul> 2010. 1. 26)

과거의 아이돌 그룹은 각 구성원이 뚜렷한 개성을 지니고 있었고, 서로 구분되는 역할을 했다. 그로 인해 한 명이라도 빠지게 되면 그룹 전체가 타격을 받곤 했다. 한 멤버의 탈퇴로 그룹이 해체되는 경우도 흔했다. 그러나 2000년대 후반에 나타난 아이돌 그룹은 비슷한 키에 비슷한 몸매를 갖고 있고, 그룹 내의 역할도 차별성을 갖지 않는다. 이제 구성원은 언제라도 대체될 수 있는 ‘규격부품’이 된 것이다.

In idol groups of the past, each member had a marked individuality and played a distinct role. As a result, if even one member left, the whole group was damaged.  Groups often also broke up because of the withdrawal of one member.  However, idol groups that appeared in the latter half of the 2000s have similar heights and figures, and their roles in the group are not distinct.  Now, a member is a “standard part” that can be replaced at any time.

원더걸스의 경우, 현아와 선미가 탈퇴한 자리는 곧 다른 멤버로 채워졌고 아무 문제 없이 그룹이 운영되고 있다. 걸스데이 기획사 역시 지선과 지인의 탈퇴 발표 후 나흘 만에 새 멤버를 영입했다. 남성 아이돌 그룹 유키스 또한 기범과 알렉산더가 남긴 빈자리를 신인으로 보충해서 활동을 계속하고 있다. 결국 아이돌 시스템은 노동을 손쉽게 대체하기 위한 ‘연예계의 노동유연화’ 또는 ‘비정규직화’인 셈이다.

In the Wondergirls’ case, the openings left by HyunA’s and Sunmi’s departures were soon filled by other [new] members, and the group is operating with no problems.  Girl’s Day’s agency also recruited new members within four days of the announcement of Ji Sun and Ji In’s departure.  Male idol group U-KISS also filled open seats left by Kibum and Alexander with new faces and is continuing to work.  Ultimately, the idol system is about “the flexibilization* of entertainment labor” or “irregularization” for the sake of easily replacing labor.

(Source)

Caption: 아이돌 그룹의 특성은 몰개성과 획일화다. 표준화된 이미지와 역할분산은 멤버들을 ‘부품화’함으로써 언제라도 대체할 수 있게 만들어 준다. 원더걸스의 경우 다섯 명 가운데 두 명이 교체되었지만, 큰 타격 없이 활동을 계속하고 있다.

Caption: The standardization and lack of individuality of idol groups’ characteristics.  Through componentization [making each member into a “part” that is responsible for a small aspect of the whole], a standardized image and the division of roles make members replaceable at anytime.  In the Wondergirls’ case, two out of five members have been replaced, but the group is continuing to work without much damage. (end)

*Apologies for the long delay since Part Three, and thanks very much to Marilyn for helping me to catch up by translating this one. About some of the odd words in it, she adds that she:

…found a definition of “flexibilization” as leading to “a core group with unlimited full employment, and an increasingly larger group of short-term limited and or part-time employees who face severe employment risks, ultimately resulting in stress” and “componentization” is “not limited to software; through the use of subcontracting and outsourcing, it can also apply to business organizations and processes.”, but “irregularization” seems to not be a real word.

(See here for Part 5)