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Your Kpop Obsession CAN be your thesis paper [Feb. 5th, 2009|07:53 pm]
nepenthes59
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I'm taking a class "Survey of Japan" which covers Japanese history & culture. While looking at online sources to help me study for an exam, I came across a site that may interest some of you ^.~

Gender Iconography & transformations in Korean Pop Culture
"Who’s girlier, Rain or the female security guard? You tell me."
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[User Picture]From: nepenthes59
2009-02-06 02:06 am (UTC)
I agree with you ~ I found the articles by Mark McLelland to be a bit more in depth when it comes to gender identity, etc.

http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue3/mclelland2.html
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[User Picture]From: eclexys
2009-02-08 09:48 am (UTC)
Well, first, the author of that post (it's not an article, just a blog post) is male. (Me!) :)

Second, if you look at the depiction of men in Korean film only ten or twenty years ago, it was very masculinized and very much following after American styles of masculine iconography. From "hi-teen" films to Park-/Chun-era sexploitation films, men showed off their muscles, had manly faces, and often showed off being tough, violent, strong, and so on. I haven't seen all Korean films, but I've seen many and the codes for "attractive male character" have shifted radically. My vague impression is that they shifted in the late 90s, which is around the same time a sudden influx of Japanese pop culture, fashion, and internet culture all appeared in Korea.

And I'm also perhaps commenting on a trend that is confined to domestic marketing here. Bae Yong-joon's everywhere these days -- in women's makeup ads -- and most Westerners who don't know who he is mistake him for a young and slightly weird-looking ajumma -- a mistake non non-Korean would make regarding pop stars in standard marketing 20 or 30 years ago, which suggests the iconography of masculinity has shifted from emulating Western styles to something else. If you walk around Seoul, you almost never see Rain's muscles: you see him in what a westerner would consider girly glasses and girly clothes, acting girly. And you see lots of young Korean guys in the same state.

Whether it's a revival of something domestic, or an import from Japan, I can't say for sure, but I strongly suspect the latter is part of it. (And the shift in female consumerism in Korea is another.)

And while, yes, the "beautification" of male celebrity is far from isolated to Korea, the specifically feminized beautification strikes me as unusually Northeast Asian. I suspect Western celebrities dressing like, and presenting personae like, those of these feminized male stars in Korea, would be laughed at in the West. Doesn't that mean it's *different*?

(And don't even get me started on the blurry line between homosocial and homoerotic imagery in Korean advertising.)
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[User Picture]From: nepenthes59
2009-02-08 03:14 pm (UTC)
Hi! Thanks for stopping by. I hope you don't mind that I posted a link to your blog entry. (Compared to my anemic blog babblings, I would elevate your entry to an article ^.~ ) I found it very interesting & I knew that many people on my fl would want to read it as well.

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[User Picture]From: eclexys
2009-02-09 02:37 am (UTC)
I surely don't mind! I don't even mind being contradicted, if people don't mind me responding. :)

You'd probably like to look the blog The Grand Narrative, as well. Lotsof stuff on Korean advertising and media there:

http://thegrandnarrative.wordpress.com/
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[User Picture]From: eclexys
2009-02-09 03:01 am (UTC)
my impressions are only based on being immersed in Korean pop culture for several years and being surrounded by Korean FOBs around 24/7, so maybe my opinion is jaded.

Well, far be it from me to tell you you're wrong, but I'd be wary about expat representations of their own culture. This is something I figured out talking to Westerners in Korea: even people unlikely to be all nationalistic and whatever idealize and misrepresent their culture in discussions when they go or live abroad. And with Koreans, where there's a strong nationalistic tendency hammered in through education and media, it's even more common for distortions to creep in when interfacing with non-Koreans. The real scoop is what you hear Koreans saying to other Koreans.

That in mind, I do think the trend is partly related to the class struggle in Korea at the moment, and throughout the world.

That's interesting. I think you have things a little backwards, in terms of consumerism: in Korea over the last forty years or so, male modes of consumption have been totally acceptable -- soju, cigarettes, and to some degree paid-for-sex. But these days, new patterns of "female" consumerism -- and I'm talking W4000 coffee at Starbucks, as opposed to W100 crappo machine coffees, have attracted loud and rather misogynistic denunciation. The interesting thing is that it's been pointed out to me that female consumerism has been criticized in film and pop culture way before the most recent wave. And a lot of the men who are being girlified are being used to advertise products for and to women. (Like Bae being used in makeup ads.) It seems to me much less an unconscious shift in the meaning of luxury, as much as a conscious feminization of male stars to tap into the young female consumer market. Don't forget, the major movie hit of -- was in 06, or 07 -- was about a very feminine circus performer who was getting it on with a Korean king back in the day. (And there's another film about a gay Korean king from this year, too.) There's a conscious blurring going on.

(And given, among at least some young Korean girls going back to the turn of the 21st century, the interest in yaoi fiction -- a definite Japanese cultural import -- with its idealization of pretty, feminized men in ambiguous or romantic relationships, I can't help but think this aesthetic is totally designed to bring women into stores and spend money.)

As for Yonsei only taking in beautiful women, or the marriage stuff you're talking about, I think there's some K-expat distortion going on. The SKY universities are pretty exclusive, and attendance there can mean (or used to) that one could be set for life. As a result, a lot of Koreans will say all kinds of resentful things about the filters used to exclude people. There is no beauty exam to get into Yonsei. And most of the young women I know argue that plastic surgery, cosmetics, and clothing are tools in their career path: they're not advocating getting eye jobs and boob jobs to marry up, so much as to get a decent job. (Or so they argue, and these are, by the way, people in their early 20s now.)

You're right to observe the brand-obsession in Korea. It's such that sometimes you even find knockoffs that are higher quality than the real thing. But when you write:

"The amount of attention celebrities pay to brands in Korea is staggering."

You miss the fact that this is, by and large, pretty normal in Korea, at least among young people. Brands are a huge obsession here.

"I feel that brands originally designed and marketed to women are transforming the culture to value males that are feminine at least on the outside."
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[User Picture]From: eclexys
2009-02-09 03:01 am (UTC)

Sure, and there are a few ways that the most prominent promoter of this path of constructing masculinity here is deeply informed by Japanese constructions of same -- from yaoi and manga in general, to films and TV, and to fashions and Japanese advertising -- which, anyway, in Korean thinking seems to be perceived as an alternative to the Western construction of masculinity. You noted how European male models would look just as feminine, except for their faces, but this is part of my point: the Korean models being chosen are guys with less masculine appearances. It's not hard to find a Korean guy with a manly face, if you want that look. Advertisers are consciously choosing men who look less and less "mannish", which is a notable departure from the patterns I think I see when I look at ads and pop culture from the past.

As for "GAY IS EVIL", that's not quite as widespread in Korea as maybe some of your friends suggest. In classroom discussions, students sometimes bring it up or lead discussions on it by their own choice. What's interesting is that almost all the people who have neutral or positive views of homosexuality are women, and most of the men present exaggerated disgust, as if they're playing it up to ensure nobody can accuse them of not being revolted. Occasionally, a male student would say something approaching tolerance or just indifference, but it was uncommon. Yet "The King and the Clown" sold jillions of tickets. Some of the people seeing it were men, and they knew, within a week or so, what they were going to see. Verrrrrrrry interesting.
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[User Picture]From: eclexys
2009-02-09 04:48 am (UTC)
zeli17,

You are comparing the Korean version of "manly" to the Western version of "manly". Your own idiom of what is manly and what is feminine is being applied to a different culture where that is not necessarily the case.

Wow, I guess you're not reading my comments, like where I discussed how I'm contrasting the construction of masculinity in Korean media now to its construction in older films and advertisements.

It's nice that you've dated a Korean exchange student, but I wouldn't be so bold as to use that to claim expertise. I've lived here seven years, had many professional and relationships of different kinds with Koreans across a range of ages and social classes, and I'm not trotting that out as a way of claiming expertise, after all.

But since you are suggesting I have no idea and should ask random people on the street, I will say that gender issues come up a lot in my classes, and there's a wider range of opinions on things like masculinity and femininity than lots of Westerners here suspect -- they're just less-often expressed tro Westerners, or discussed at all in public.

As for the students you hang out with, if they're studying abroad, they're likelier to be more affluent (since the people with no money will either go to places like Philippines or Singapore for English, or study at hakwons here) and the more affluent, generally, the more socially conservative. But seriously, the breakdown about anti-homosexual attitudes is that most men present antipathy, many women present discomfited indifference or sympathy, and a few women present antipathy.

And while I think you're right that there's a range of reasons why people went to see The King and the Clown -- including keeping a girlfriend happy, or curiosity, or other reasons -- I think you're missing the question of how and why it got made, and how/why Lee Junki (and other very feminine-looking men) ever achieved stardom here in the first place. I mean, you are familiar with the way people become stars in Korea, right? How corporate it is, and how top-down?
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[User Picture]From: eclexys
2009-02-09 05:14 am (UTC)
No, I saw a trackback on my website. Modern webpages do that, as you are 'm sure aware...

And I'm just disagreeing, and finding it annoying that you're trying to psychologize me, and insult me, when I'm just pointing out my experience differs from yours. I've pointed out I'm not an authority, I've never claimed to be: I've just noted my experiences and the things I think suggest a different interpretation makes sense. Your "credentials" mean less to me than your argument, just as mine should to you.

And yeah, of course some people scrimp and save to go abroad, but pardon me if I am dubious about the idea that many people studying English abroad did so: I've known a number of people for whom studying abroad is an impossible dream, no matter how badly they want to learn English. Most of the people for whom going abroad to a Western Anglophone country (as opposed to the Philippines or Singapore or similar places with lots of English but closer to home and cheaper) is an imaginable option are relatively well-off, period. (Especially these days.) One of them managed to get a Working Holiday Visa, and it was the only way for her.

Anyway, I'm not bashing you. Seriously. I don't know who you are, even. I'm just disagreeing. I don't see why disagreeing has to be taken as disrespect. Anyway, whatever, I think I've said my piece.
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[User Picture]From: eclexys
2009-02-09 05:07 am (UTC)
First of all, could you please refrain from insulting me? I never called you backwards, I just disagreed with you and said I thought you had your model of the growth of consumerism backwards.

(You argued that mainstream male consumerism was some sort of outgrowth of female consumerism here, when a close look at changes in advertising, in imports, economics, culture, and media suggests that it's female consumerism that is booming, while male consumerism is continuing on much as it ever did... perhaps with slightly different products in some cases -- pink sweaters instead of black ones -- but in a pretty conservative way, I think. What you're suggesting is consumerism, I'm suggesting is marketing which, by its very nature is made to LOOK like it represents real-life consumerism.)

A little politeness, please. And no, the current gay Korean film, at least in my neighborhood, was still Ssanghwajeom, at least as of a couple of weeks ago.

(I have been busy, haven't gone to the cinema lately, and haven't heard of this Antique Bakery, but anyway, I didn't know there was an official "gay Korean film" and that there could only be one. On a personal note, I think it's much more interesting how the exploration of Korean historical figures of, well, non-strictly-hetero orientation is pretty interesting, given the outright obsession with history that grips this society.)

Anyway, I'm not "acting like" anything: I'm just disagreeing, which I have every right to do since your experiences definitely contradict mine. As for everyone wanting to be a celebrity, I kind of suspect a lot of my Korean students don't. The pressures celebs are under here -- the moral standards being so much higher, common plastic surgery procedures being scandalous for pop stars, and the perception that their suicide rate is so high (when, really, the national rate in general is high across the board) makes a lot of people I know seem to pity celebrities here. Most of the people I know have more modest dreams -- a stable (or good) job, a "good" spouse, maybe cute children, and money enough to live in luxury or at least comfort.

To me, the brand-name obsession seems a lot more like keeping up with the Joneses, or, er, Kims, here. Thus you see hundreds of Luis Vuitton bags (real and fake, sometimes side by side) on every outing in Seoul these days. Sometimes it's even called the "Three Minute Bag" because you can't possible go more than three minutes without sighting one.
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[User Picture]From: eclexys
2009-02-09 06:55 am (UTC)
Nah, I was too busy with work to catch it. It was still running last time I was by the cinema, though I bet it's gone now. Sigh.

Sorry if I was hypersensitive. It was where you called me "backwards" -- if you meant that I had my argument backwards, I took offense unfairly. But I assumed you're an anglophone and that the phrase was purposefully used.

Netizens are an amazing force indeed, for better *and* for worse. My kneekjerk anti-censorship/anti-net-control philosophy is sometimes sorely tried here, by the things some netizens do. (Flaming torches and pitchforks and all!)

It's funny, maybe things are different in the SKY Universities, but I don't find my Korean students (who are definitely higher up the ladder, but not quite top elite, academically or economically speaking) quite so invested in being "popular" though there's a HUGE amount of effort in self-presentation and especially in being "normal." The neat thing is that smart kids can be popular; the word "nerd" is one I've had to explain carefully, as 범생 is only the closest Korean equivalent, but massively different in connotation.

As for brands, yeah, I'd buy celebrities being part of it -- and media. So much strikes me as top-down. (And I've heard hilarious stories about ajummas going on trips abroad just to get the designer bags cheaply. As in, there's a special sale day in Paris, or LA, or wherever, and the shops are full of Koreans. Someone showed me a funny video clip about that and talked about the accompanying article, though it's faint in my memory.)

So now I wonder who popularized the Luis Vuitton bags here. It must be possible to track it back to a single original trendsetter or campaign...

(Though, werent't they, and Burberry, big first in Japan, and then in Korea? Burberry is still common enough that newcomers to Korea ask, "What's with that beige plaid thing?")
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[User Picture]From: hydeist_wannabe
2009-02-06 03:03 am (UTC)
i'm doing a project on japanese performing arts right now, and my 4th year thesis will be to design a concert with johnny's ent. in mind ;)

(ps. pshaw, of course it's that girl waving right? XDD)
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[User Picture]From: stringy_cow
2009-02-06 05:01 am (UTC)
Interesting, that's the girliest I ever saw Rain. He's pretty manly in my eyes, and he's friggin' RIPPED man XD (Even Lee Junki is pretty buff too. <3)

My overall opinion on this topic is that fashion and what is accepted as feminine and what is accepted as masculine clearly changes throughout history. I mean, just look at back in the days when guys ran around in frilly collared dress shirts, tights, shoes with heels and buckles, and wigs!! Do you think people thought they were being feminine? No, they were being regular men of the day. And as time goes on, today that's clearly not the idea of a masculine image. And people seem to forget iconic images such as Fabio, who dawned long beautiful flowing blond hair paired with rippling muscles.

I just dare say that all this Korean and Japanese men looking feminine is not such a happening from the moon planet as they like to think. To me it's like fashion and style coming back around in a circle. The queerest thing to me is this, no matter what women turn out to wear, it's all ok! Apparently we just look good in anything XD
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[User Picture]From: nepenthes59
2009-02-06 04:08 pm (UTC)
At first I didn't recognize Rain - from fleeting glances of him on my fl, I saw a guy who was, as you say, friggin ripped AND beautiful... ahh the best of both worlds. ^-^
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[User Picture]From: eclexys
2009-02-08 09:55 am (UTC)
I agree, fashions and the boundaries of gender do change, and Fabio's an interesting example, though he was much less emulated than are Rain and Lee Junki in popular youth culture. Fabio ended up copied on roance novel covers; Rain's girly apparel ends up on a certain percentage of young men on the street; and they stand out in harsh contrast to the many men who dress in what is more like Western male fashion.

I'm not so much railing against this, mind. I'm just pointing it out.

The other thing is: the fashions I'm talking about are not just frilly-for-all: they appear to involve the very conscious claiming of women's fashions and transplanting the into the domain of mens' wear. Not just the colors (though pastels and especially pink seem to have become de rigeur) but also the cut of the clothing. A low-cut front on a woman shows off her chest, in theory; what does it show off on a man -- especially the mostly slim meen who wear such fashions -- except his flat shirtfront? That's different from men wearing codpieces and britches that showed off their legs and so on, or the wigs that covered their bald heads. (Wasn't that fashion prompted by baldness from, was it syphilis?)

As for women's fashion, it doesn't *quite* work as you suggest in Korea. There's a bit of the unisex, but many women are wearing girlier and girlier clothes too, or so it seems to me.
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[User Picture]From: eclexys
2009-02-09 03:07 am (UTC)
I should add there's another style I more often see Rain in on posters and billboards, which is kind of borderline. It's more, for lack of a better word, "diminutive." The styles are less feminine, but more kid-like, and the net effect, to a Westerner anyway, is of a grown man who looks the way ten-year-old boys dressed by their doting mothers look. Not sure I want to think about what the subconscious message of that is.
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[User Picture]From: cassanthia
2009-02-06 07:52 pm (UTC)
The topic of my Master's Thesis is the use of English in Japanese popular music lyrics. :P I never thought I would get my MA with the aid of one of my dearest hobbies, lol.
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[User Picture]From: eclexys
2009-02-09 03:03 am (UTC)
Oooh, If I remember right, there's a paper I read on the use of English in the theme song of some Japanese SF anime film. (The song actually got popular beyond the movie, maybe among SF fans or beyond, I can't recall.) It's in the collection Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams if you're interested. Sounds right up your alley.
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[User Picture]From: cassanthia
2009-02-09 06:28 am (UTC)
Thanks, I'll try looking that up ^^
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[User Picture]From: eclexys
2009-02-09 06:46 am (UTC)
No problem. The paper's title, by the way, is "Words of Alienation, Words of Flight: Loanwords in Science Fiction Anime" by Naoki Chiba and Hiroko Chiba.
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[User Picture]From: miya_fangirl
2009-02-09 03:43 am (UTC)
I started laughing at the title of your post given my current side obsession XDDD

Now off to read the article itself... I see that there is an ongoing conversation going on about it in your comments~
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[User Picture]From: miya_fangirl
2009-02-09 04:02 am (UTC)
What can I say... fashion comes under many shapes and forms. The current trend in Asia leans towards "pretty boys", but it is not much different in Europe. I sometimes show my American friends pictures of some of my European guy friends and one of the things that pops up the most... "are they GAY?" No, sweethearts, you just need to go out and see the world more XD Ahh if only they saw Gypsy Hyde, that would give them quite a shock, ne?
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From: Lee-Lee Mc
2017-10-28 08:11 pm (UTC)

Master Thesis on BTS and their growing popularity in the West Due to Social Media

Hi All,
To comment on the photo first. I do believe that is the most feminine I've ever seen on Rain. I think he's very manly and buff looking but he does have a pretty face. I've been a fan of Korean Pop for about 6 years now I guess. I think what first attracted me was their hard work and dedication they have for making music. They work very hard to make music that fans all over the world will love and enjoy.
On some of these idols for example (Heechul, and Sunjong I've seen comments asking "Are they gay"? Not that it would matter at all if they were but are they asking that because they have feminine features or are they looking at their mannerisms?
The same thing can be said for Amber of FX because she has a more tomboyish style than other girl idols. People assume she's gay as well. Like I said, even if these idols were it's no big deal, and it doesn't change who they are, However some fans see it in a derogatory way.
I like many things about the Korean culture but the one thing I don't understand is "the shipping of idol couples" It seems that entertainment companies market that idea to get fans excited and then because South Korea is still very conservative they back track and say "shipping is for entertainment purposes?"


For my Master thesis I've decided to write about how social media has become the ultimate medium for the K-pop genre to spread internationally. I'll be looking at the growing popularity of Bangtan Boys.
Writing a paper about Korean Pop will be an interesting challenge because it's not really in the mainstream but at the same time it can be difficult when looking for academic sources
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