Reading “The Lolita Effect” in Korea: Part 1

James Turnbull's picture

There’s so much raised by 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 for all the world like they’re in a strip club, actually the heterosexual women display a similar enthusiasm, and later a mixed group goes on to parody it. Finally, a 12 year-old girl in the audience is brought on stage to similarly thrust her crotch at the camera, much to the delight of all.

Naturally, I’ve 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, overwhelmingly by 20-something women; stereotypes of married and/or 30-something women as asexual; a huge prostitution industry; and so on. With the “Lolita Effect” being so extreme here then, in this series I’d like to use this episode of the show both to pass on Durham’s arguments to a wider audience and to gain some greater understanding of Korean media and sexuality in the process.

But before being able to so however, it’s important to know a few things about Korean talk shows that you may be unaware of. In particular, even the conversations in them are frequently by no means as spontaneous as they are made to appear (let alone the dances), and to illustrate this point and give you a feel for the show, let devote the rest of this 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 GaHee’s statement, the other male guest appearances on the show had felt embarrassed. So as to not make them feel bad and hurt, GaHee 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 ovewhelmingly 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, 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 balloons to 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…

(Posted at The Grand Narrative)


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