Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ladies (and Men?) of Korea: Keep It Classy

Sorry for the break in posts guys - I'm really busy these days (shooting a film!! For a class. Having a ton of fun. Want to keep doing this in future.) But I found something that I wanted to write up quickly and see if anyone had an opinion. Due to lack of time to devote to my exploration of Korean culture, I get all my news from allkpop, and two of their articles from yesterday peaked my interest: one being the comments of South Korean model Choi Eun Jung saying that "10-19 is the perfect age to show a lot of skin" and "Since the sexy concept is the trend, the young idols are carrying it out. Is it really necessary to look at all of this from a negative perspective?" The other was the news that all the music chart shows were upping their age rating from 12 to 15 because of the sexy dancing and clothing.

What i find interesting about both of these articles is that what is under consideration is the affect that the exposure of skin has on the public, and no one is talking about how the women themselves feel about it. Do young girls ages 10-19 generally WANT to wear skimpier clothing, and are simply not being allowed to? Do female k-pop idols they feel empowered by being able to wear sexier outfits on stage than Korean culture normally allows? Or do they feel objectified knowing that they're dressing and dancing that way simply to attract fans? This is a problem that I feel a lot of women performers face, and have to negotiate through their choices of clothing and performance - when they have them. A professor of mine argued that in the case of Josephine Baker, her sexy performances were empowering rather than demeaning. As a performer, she had great creative control over her performances. However, she worked in a entertainment industry where her "wildness" (i.e. nakedness and silliness) were what drew in the crowds and got her gigs at a time when black performers who performed for white audiences were few and far between. She could have easily decided not to perform these shows (which would have likely led to her exit from the entertainment industry), but she chose to perform, and she chose to perform in that particular style, drawing people in by creating this image of a "wild, African woman." My professor thought that the creative choices that led to this image are indication that she held the power, and while I agree with her, I also think it's still a pretty complicated issue, and not everyone could do what she did. My question now is, where do female Korean artists stand on this issue? Do they think their images are too sexy? Do they agree to do suggestive performances in the hopes that in the future they'll have more control and won't have to be sexy if they don't want to? Or do they find it empowering that they can be sexy on stage, since in real life they're much more limited? (Lucky them they don't have Megan Fox's problem - many people think that because she's sexy, she's also a slut.)

Korean rap artist Defconn responded to Choi Eun Jung's comments with outrage, suggesting that she was not considering the feelings of other young girls, and her comments are improper in light of recent news about sexual offenses against elementary school students. Which wouldn't bother me if it didn't remind me of the common thought process of people towards women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted - "They were dressing provocatively so they are complicit in the crime." I agree completely that young girls dressing provocatively could draw attention of the wrong kind, but I have never heard a sex offender say that he assaulted a woman or girl because she was wearing a short skirt. More often than not, a woman is sexually assaulted simply because she's at the wrong place at the wrong time, and cannot defend herself successfully. It would be great if people could focus less on what the woman did to get herself assaulted (which is often, nothing) and focus instead on the motivations of the attacker.

I think Defconn's comments come from the right place, though. 10-19 is pretty young, and girls that age are not only impressionable, but also in my opinion, not yet as knowledgeable about their sexuality as they need to be in order to make choices about how they want to display that sexuality to others. Encouraging them to show more skin at a younger age will not make them more knowledgeable, but will only make them more confused and insecure, as the reactions of society - both positive and negative - will greatly influence the way they view their bodies and themselves, and could make growing up just that much more difficult.

Back to the music shows: I'm talking about it in relation to women, but is the indecent exposure of men also being taken into consideration? I mean, often times they're simply an ab-fest, and even on family shows such as Star King, men are free to bare their upper bodies. I don't know about you, but if I was preventing my young kids from seeing scantily clad women on TV, I'd do the same for men as well, because half-naked men are not asexual. Maybe they've been desexualized, (and half-naked women over-sexualized) but they can still evoke the same thoughts in the minds of young ones that scantily clad women can. I dislike double standards, and this new rule reeks of it.

Finally, Choi Eun Jung's comment about older women in bikinis INFURIATES ME. How DARE she call other women's bodies "disgusting"? Who made her judge of all that is pretty? And now that I think about it, who the hell cares if she thinks they're disgusting? If she doesn't like it, she should stay away from the beach!!! Those women are proud of how they look and don't go to extremes to keep themselves looking unnaturally young, thin or shiny-skinned, while I'm sure Choi works her ass off just to make sure some other pretty girl who's 8 ounces lighter than her doesn't steal her jobs. Whose life would you rather have?

Seriously, though, whose life would you rather have? One where your image is constantly manipulated to appeal to the masses (either to entice them or to not offend them), or one where you get to decide what that image is for yourself? Are these two lives ever mutually exclusive? I don't think so, but what I'm wondering now is, is that a good thing? A bad thing? Or one of those things about life that we just have to deal with?

NB: Question for those more familiar with Korean culture - how much do Korean parents control what their kids watch? Would this rating change (which is a small 3-year increase on the age limit) have a significant effect on the careers of idols?


  1. This is a great post, and I don't really think there's much I can add that you haven't said!

    Because of that, I'll only answer your question at the end: the ratings changes will change nothing. While Korean parents do tend to have a fair amount of control in the hous, a lot of this "youth/pop culture" passes them by, so I would say it's quite likely that children get to watch whatever happens to be on when they get the chance to watch tv without their parents. One area that parents these days in Korea essentially find themselves unable to control is the internet. We all know how internet-savvy most Koreans are in general, and so many kids have their own computers or visit PC-bangs regularly. All the popular shows are uploaded onto the net, and all new music-videos, making of videos, adverts etc etc are all online. Even if they don't ever have access to a tv, I think the majority of Korean teenagers/youths can view all of that sort of content online regardless.

  2. "Finally, Choi Eun Jung's comment about older women in bikinis INFURIATES ME. How DARE she call other women's bodies "disgusting"? Who made her judge of all that is pretty? "

    Preach it. Choi has a pretty face and nice boobs, but her body is otherwise unremarkable. She has a thick waist and straight hips with no curve or definition. If Choi wore a thong bikini on a beach in LA or Miami, no one could give her a second glance. Check out this video of a woman more than thrice as a old as Choi and with a sexier bod and a more generous spirit.