For reasons that will soon become clear, girl-group Kara’s (카라) latest commercial for Cob Chicken (Cob 구어조은닭) is making big waves in the Korea media at the moment. But one suspects that most male viewers in particular are missing just how ground-breaking it really is:
Yes, those are indeed shapely buttocks firmly thrust into our faces 3 seconds into the commercial. But those are to be expected, as Kara has been well-known for their “butt dance” since first performing it as part of their single “Mister” (미스터) back in August, which is playing in the background. Not only would it have been very strange not to have used it here then, but it has become something of a meme in K-pop, aptly demonstrated by this rather surreal clip of perhaps 25 female singers from various groups simultaneously performing it in a recent comedy program:
Much more surprising then, is the sudden entrance of the well-muscled male at 0:17. And no, it’s not “groundbreaking” in the sense that it’s an explicit case of male objectification: while that’s comparatively rare, it’s not exactly a first for Korea. Rather, I label it as such because not only is the first time the makers of a Korean commercial have acknowledged their objectification of women and men therein, it’s also the first in which that acknowledgment has become a central, almost satirical theme of the commercial. Consider the screenshot viewers see immediately after the half-naked man for instance:
In English, it reads: “Because the chicken is grilled, the fat is removed completely. Chicken’s young taste,” and judging by the advertisement from the Cob Chicken website below, the association between chicken meat and lithe young bodies isn’t a one-off. Moreover, although the Korean language lacks the associations the English term “meat market” has, it has a close equivalent in “물이 좋다,” or “The water is good”, and of course there are numerous instances of food terms being used for body parts. For the most recent example, consider Matt’s excellent commentary at Gusts of Popular Feeling on the invention of the term “honey thighs” (꿀벅지) , and one high-school girl’s laudable rare attempt to demonstrate how sexist and demeaning such language is.
( Source: Cob Chicken )
I acknowledge though, that a commercial objectifying both sexes is perhaps a strange choice to also include in that vein. But recall that the development of Korean Gender Studies as an academic discipline somewhat lags behind its Western counterparts (let alone in popular discourse), with the result that a Korean language search for, say, “sexist advertisements” for example, will actually provide very few Korean examples: in all seriousness, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more here than on the entire Korean-language internet. Getting the notion that objectification occurs in advertisements and in wider society out by whatever means then, I’d argue, is a very important first step towards rectifying that.
Update: For comparison, numerous examples of the sexualizing and/or gendering of food in Western advertisements are available here.
Update 2: An amusing post from seoulbeats on how appearing in chicken commercials seems to be a rite of passage for up and coming Korean stars.
(For all posts in my Korea Sociological Images series, see here)