Korean Sociological Image #17: Deconstructing the Ass Dance

Han Hyo-Joo VLUU Sexy Dance

A both compelling and rather confusing marketing campaign from Samsung, difficult to avoid on the Korean internet at the moment:

The dancer is actress Han Hyo-joo (한효주), very popular because of her role in the drama Shining Inheritance (찬란한 유산), which finished last month with record ratings. The products being advertised are the VLUU Wink, which features a WIreless liNK for uploading to a computer, and also a small lens in the top-corner of the camera that conceivably looks like an eye, and then the VLUU Mirror, so called because it has an additional small viewing-screen at the front next to the lens for taking pictures of yourself more easily (known as selka {셀카}, from “self-camera”).

I say it’s “compelling” because of the combination of the soporific music from o:13 to o:29 (and then again from 0:55 to 1:19) and the slow motion dancing, albeit both of which actually become rather grating after viewing them the numbers of times I’ve had to for this post. Of course, I grant that Han Hyo-joo is an attractive woman also, and that this sparked an interest in it that a male actor (hopefully doing different dances!) wouldn’t have. But as it turns out, I only know of the single example below of an advertisement of recent years that demonstrated how an electronic product or service could make a man a better dancer, and this discrepancy means that the latter would have been far more deserving of attention:

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But in particular, far from a rare sexy side to Han Hyo-joo being a compelling factor, literally my very first thought upon seeing the the video was that it looked surprisingly similar to “Virtuagirl” screensavers and desktop widgets and so on readily available on the internet, all by definition somewhat seedy. I wouldn’t recommend watching the following example at work:

Now, some translations of the text from the first half of the VLUU video for comparison:

Han Hyo-Joo VLUU Ass Dance 1a

“Be Smart. Hyo-joo’s Ass Dance.” Notice the highlighted “S,” which I’ll discuss in a moment.

Han Hyo-Joo VLUU Ass Dance 2a

“Step 1: Swing/Thrust-out your ass hard! But move your hips softly~”

“Warning: Be careful of moving excessively, or you might expose yourself.” Also note that the word norchool (노출), is one that almost invariably pops up as a suggested search term if you type Korean female celebrities’ names into Korean search engines.

Han Hyo-Joo VLUU Ass Dance 3a

“Step 2: While giving seductive hand gestures towards the viewer, step to the right~”

Han Hyo-Joo VLUU Ass Dance 4

“Step 3: Quickly but smoothly squat and then stand again”

“Warning: People with big asses can fall/collapse easily”

Han Hyo-Joo VLUU Ass Dance 5

“Step 4: Do this one more time!! Hip-hop success Yeah~~~”

Han Hyo-Joo VLUU Ass Dance 6( Source: Paranzui )

“Take a picture, send it wirelessly. Samsung VLUU WINK”

Now, of course an “ass dance” on a virtual stripper and on Han Hyo-joo are going to look pretty similar. But that’s my precisely my point: replace the text in the commercial with something more appropriate for a male gaze (“I’d like to spank that” is my helpful suggestion for #1), and the video would be almost indistinguishable from a Virtuagirl screensaver; indeed, the video is available as a screensaver from the VLUU website. What ultimately makes watching the VLUU marketing campaign a simply surreal experience though, is not because of its blatant use of sex to sell a product, but rather because of its clearly trying to present itself as something more sophisticated…and failing miserably.

Hence my confusion with what Samsung was exactly trying to achieve with the marketing campaign, and with whom were the intended audience exactly. Having women doing sexually-arousing dances or wearing skimpy clothing is nothing new in advertising targeted towards women of course, with the logic that men want the women and women want to be them, but even the most vacuous of consumers would soon realize that the products would clearly do nothing whatsoever to help anyone learn the dances. Yet the choice of Han Hyo-joo – by no means known for sexual dances and clothes previously – and the childish imagery of most of the print advertisements suggest that the target audience was indeed women:

Han Hyo-joo VLUU Mirror

Update: I should mention though, that feigned childishness by Korean women also plays a role as an indirect but socially-acceptable means for them to express their sexuality (see here, here, here, and here), so possibly the dance and imagery like the above are not as contradictory as they may at first appear.

Naively, I thought that the following television commercials that went up earlier tonight (Saturday) might help with answering those:

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The voiceover and text, in the rare event that you were paying any attention, say that “There are now 2 Han Hyo-joos. The answer why will be revealed in 15 seconds.” I’ve only seen these online actually, so presumably they’d be back to back on television, or in the same commercial break.

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Alas, all I learned was that this was a commercial for the VLUU Mirror phone, and that in Korean “VLUU” is written as “블루,” which sounds like and would normally be written in English as “blue”: a mistake, or some rare creativity perhaps?

Regardless, it is true that this is ultimately just one…let’s say misguided marketing campaign, so what makes it notable in a sociological sense? Well, with the proviso that it shouldn’t be used in isolation to as an example of any of these, I identify at least 3 (and I invite readers to suggest any more):

• First, the discrepancy between the number of male and female dancers represented in advertisements, as noted earlier. Surely men are just as active dancers at Korean nightclubs as women, and just as in need of technological solutions to help improve their technique? Presumably, but outside of nightclubs women dancers are ubiquitous as either “narrator models” (나레이터 머델) for promoting new stores, as are costumed women known as doh-00-mi (도우미, or “assistants”), used to promote even the most humble and mundane of products  at supermarkets, so there is the context of the much greater utility and objectification of women’s bodies in Korea. See the introduction to this post on the militarization of daily life in South Korea for more links on that, including this series on the phenomenon’s foundations in Neo-Confucianism.

• Next, there’s the highlighted “S”s. Granted, it is by Samsung, and given that the title of the next dance in the video is the “S-line dance,” and involves showing off your breasts and buttocks, then it’s by no means the best example of how abstracted the concept has become, what I’ve argued is almost a hypperreal meme now pervasive throughout Korean popular culture and especially advertising, often with little relationship to women’s bodies from which it originally stemmed and yet still highly influential on women’s body images. See here and here for much more on that, and arguably the video is still in that vein, as “smart” and “stylish,” are by no means adjectives that spring to mind when thinking of the phone, and their highlighted “S”s don’t help that much with brand recognition either. But they do remind me of S-lines and/or the meme though.

• Finally, a point brought to mind by the following video, which happened to be just before the two commercials above where I first found them:

Interpark (인터파크) is a Korean internet auction site, and yes, it does indeed open with a line towards Lee Hyori’s buttocks, the text reading “Interpark, do you want to exchange?”. Yes, I too would be prepared to exchange a great deal for access to those, but again the point is that they have nothing to do with the product being advertised:

Lee Hyori Interpark

Lee Hyori has a deserved reputation for sexing-up advertisements, even more so among Korean speakers, so perhaps she isn’t the best example(!) to draw attention to the fact that, like their overseas counterparts, advertisers have been deliberately sexing-up advertisements and commercials recently for the sake of getting consumers’ very limited attentions during the current recession. Given that then, although I disagree with blogger Roboseyo’s take on the alternative representations of Korean women’s sexuality presented by this recent music video for instance, he is correct in saying that the burden of proof is on the person claiming that there is more to any sexualized cultural product, commercial or advertisement than simply the fact that sex sells.


Update: The attention on Lee Hyori’s buttocks does have a logic in the 30 second version of the commercial below (her shorts are too tight), although it is too long to be played on TV:

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And if you’re interested in that sort of thing, see here for more on Interpark’s reasons to hire her.

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