Korean Sociological Image #43: ESL Students on Top?

( Source: Gusts of Popular Feeling. Reproduced with permission )

A recent advertisement for the Pagoda chain of language institutes noticed by Matt of Gusts of Popular Feeling, who notes that the attraction “is clearly for women to get close to, to have one on one communication with, and to have almost direct contact with the male foreign teacher.”

In any other context this would be unremarkable, but unfortunately the Korean media is notorious for presenting foreign male – Korean female relationships either negatively or not at all (although this is slowly improving). So this advertisement really stands out for the rare, quite literal closeness of the models in it, albeit not necessarily in a romantic sense.

In contrast, Japanese language institutes have already been advertising this way for a long time, as noted by Keiron Bailey in his 2006 journal article Marketing the eikaiwa wonderland: ideology, akogare, and gender alterity in English conversation school advertising in Japan. Two examples from that, both from 2002:

I’ve already discussed Bailey’s article in depth in an earlier post however, so let me just quickly highlight three points from it here:

Younger women are pursuing English-language learning for three major reasons. The first reason is to enhance their career prospects….The second purpose is to engage in travel, either for vacation purposes or for ryugaku. The third motivation is to actualize what Kelsky calls ”eroticized discourses of new selfhood” by realizing romantic and/or sexual desires with Western males. (pp.105-6)


…the visual pairing of Japanese women with white males invokes a set of social and professional properties that are radically differentiated from a hegemonic array of gender-stratifying ideologies. This metonymy relies on the properties of the white male signifier being defined in relation to a historical gendered Occidentalist imaginary as an ”agent of women’s professional, romantic and sexual liberation”. (p. 106)

And finally:

This [advertising] trend valorizes and celebrates female erotic subjectivity and positions the white male as an object of consumption for sophisticated, cosmopolitan female consumers. (p. 106)

And see that post or the article itself for more. Note that the latter was actually written in 2003 though, so I would appreciate it if any Japan-based readers could confirm if that is still in fact a trend there, and especially if you could pass on some examples. Also, I should stress that this is but one Korean example, and indeed possibly the first of its kind too, so it’s a little premature to argue that Korean language school advertisements are now going to be following the same logic that Bailey identifies. In particular, it definitely shouldn’t be taken as confirmation that Korean women are especially attracted to Western males either, a fallacy which unfortunately many expats (both male and female) seem to subscribe to.

Personally, I’d be much more interested in finding any advertisements featuring foreign female teachers instead, as the corollary of demonizing their male, mostly Caucasian, counterparts in the media in general seems to be hypersexualizing Caucasian women.  Alas, I haven’t taught in an adults language institute since 2004, so please help me: is this trend mirrored by Korean language school advertisers? Why or why not?

Meanwhile, Matt did also see an advertisement aimed at Korean male students, to whom the message appears to be “to take the intensive program and, moving beyond healthy competition, to be better than the (male) native speaker, to beat him, to be stronger than him”:

( Source: Gusts of Popular Feeling. Reproduced with permission )

Which is certainly quite a contrast! See the comments thread on Matt’s post for more commentary on both.

Update 1 – By coincidence, a commercial with a hint of an interracial relationship I saw as soon as I finished this post. Perfectly innocuous in itself, unfortunately the Korean media is almost completely devoid of anything with a reversal of the sexes:

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Update 2 – Brian in Jeollanam-do remembered this Wall Street Institute advertisement from March last year:

See Brian’s blog for more commentary, and Page F30 for the original images, including the clumsily added correction to the atrocious English a few weeks later.

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