Korean Sociological Image #23: Male Objectification

Acutely aware of the role my heterosexual male gaze can play in my choice of subjects and images for this blog sometimes, ironically I spend more time looking for those involving men these days, hoping to find something of note with which to achieve a balance.

In itself, this new commercial with boy-band 2PM hardly qualifies. But not only is male objectification an increasingly common theme in Korean advertising in recent months (see here and here for two examples featuring Lee Byung-hun {이병헌} and JYP {박진영} respectively), this would easily be one of the most audacious examples I’m aware of.

And coming so soon after this one for Cob Chicken (Cob 구어조은닭) too, then perhaps, like kissing, male objectification will be yet another advertising taboo discarded in 2009?

Granted, this may sound like exaggeration to readers based outside of Korea: all of the above examples are rather tame compared to their Western counterparts (NSFW) for instance, and the frequency of male objectification in the Korean media is easily paled by that of women, whom are also subject to excessive objectification and commodification in daily life here.

Nichkhun's Abs Real Brownie CommercialBut that media imbalance is hardly confined to Korea, and the speed of change is particularly remarkable. After all, however unbelievable it may sound today, recall that social norms prohibited Korean women from publicly admiring men’s bodies until as recently as 2002!

Meanwhile, apologies for not providing a translation for the commercial, but given the product’s name then I think you’ll quickly get the idea!^^ And I would very much appreciate it if readers could tell me of any more examples like it that I may have missed.

(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)

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)