Reading “The Lolita Effect” in South Korea: Part 1
There are so many issues raised by 18 year-old Kim Hyuna’s (김현아) performance of her infamous “pelvic dance” (골반댄스) on last week’s episode of Quiz That Changes The World (세상을 바꾸는 퀴즈) below, that it’s difficult to know where to start.
Probably most notable however, is the surrealism of having observers explicitly acknowledging the dance’s sexual nature, only then to implicitly deny that nature by their subsequent actions. For while the men whoop and comically feign arousal while watching it, looking more like they’re in a strip club than on a talk-show, actually the heterosexual women display a similar enthusiasm, and later a mixed group goes on stage to parody it. Finally, a 12 year-old girl in the audience is brought on to similarly thrust her crotch at the camera, much to the delight of all.
Naturally, I have already discussed the issue of the media projecting, exploiting, and yet simultaneously denying female sexuality like this many times before, but after recently reading the The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It by M. Durham (2009), I realize now that I was rather naive in ever thinking that that was unique to Korea. Nevertheless, there are some features of the Korean media and social landscape that certainly exaggerate the phenomenon here at least, such as:
- the slave-like contracts musicians have with their entertainment companies (did Hyuna want to dance because it was “empowering” in a sexual and/or feminist way, or because she felt compelled to?)
- “sexy dances” being synonymous with Korean talk shows, and overwhelmingly performed by 20-something women
- stereotypes of married and/or 30-something women as asexual
- a huge prostitution industry
- a reluctance to publicly acknowledge that Korean teens (and even 20-somethings) have both sex and sexuality, both cause and effect of an almost complete lack of sex education and reflected in a huge abortion industry
- extreme ambiguity about the age of consent, with public perceptions that it is 18 at odds with rulings in recent court cases that it is in fact as low as 13
And hence my plan with this series is to demonstrate just how extreme the “lolita effect” really is in Korea by analyzing the episode using Durham’s book, hopefully gaining some new insights into representations of sexuality in Korean popular culture in the process. I’d also like to pay special attention on how her strategies for confronting the lolita effect can be applied to the Korean context.
But first, you need to see the episode for yourself:
And then you need some background, as there may be a few things about Korean talk shows that you are unaware of. In particular, even the conversations in them are by no means as spontaneous as they are made to appear (let alone the dances), and so to both illustrate this point and give you a greater feel for the show, let me devote the rest of this introductory post to yet another “scandal” from as recently as the preceding episode, in which After School (애프터스쿨) leader Park Ga-hee (박가희) said that she doesn’t like dating guys under 183cm tall:
As noted in numerous K-pop blogs and forums (see here, here, here, and here), Korean netizens unfairly compared that to the infamous “Guys under 180cm are losers” comment by a college student last year. Rather more disturbing and bizarre however, but not unexpected in light of the above, is what happened next:
With Ga-hee’s statement, the other male guest appearances on the show had felt embarrassed. So as to not make them feel bad and hurt, Ga-hee presented a set of sexy dance routines on the show, much to the delight of the other star appearances and the TV viewers.
Which in turn has led to a great deal commentary at those above links, which I’m glad to say is overwhelmingly critical. Yet for all the virtual ink spilled on it, unfortunately it’s not actually true, that internet meme starting from a misinterpretation and/or mistranslation at KBites. In reality, she was neither encouraged to dance for that reason nor stated that that was why she was doing so, but rather supposedly did it on a whim because “she hadn’t seen the hosts for such a long time.” Korean speakers, listen for yourself from 1:49 to 2:03 to confirm, but regardless of your ability it’s really quite easy to see that it was preplanned:
In that vein, was it just coincidence that the men on the last show happened to have cushions to hide their erections with while watching Hyuna, or curvaceous cushions to squeeze and fondle?
Update: Before completely finishing with Ga-hee however, a point to ponder by babochureum, a commenter at allkpop:
…it’s ok to say you like tall guys? What if a guy went on there and said he only likes girls with bra sizes bigger than C? It’s just ridiculous to say that you only like a certain sized person…
Filed under: Body Image, Gender Roles, Gender Socialization, Girl Groups, Korean Children and Teenagers, Korean Feminism, Korean Media, Korean Sexuality, Korean Talk Shows, Sexual Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Teenage Sexuality Tagged: 4Minute, 김현아, 포미닛, Kim Hyuna, The Lolita Effect