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)