As I rode the subway this morning at 6AM being squashed in on all sides by various other Seoulites heading begrudgingly to work, I thought back to one of the happiest times of my life which was when I just graduated high school and was living with my Mom in Vancouver. During that time I was translating Japanese anime and manga, watching anime, playing fun games, hanging out with friends, and working at a Chinese fruit store. It doesn't sound lik
e much, but to an extent it was heaven for me. During that time, one of my alltime favourite girl groups was called 'Morning Musume,' or 'Morning Daughter,' a popular girl-group in Japan at the time (2003'ish) who are showcased here on the left.
In light of this nostalgic moment I went and searched for one of my favourite music video's called 'Kashigashi Monogatari,' which then led me to one of my other old favourites called 'Do it now.' Upon watching 'Do it now' I had a sudden string of thoughts which really made me rethink the way I have started to view women in Korea.
The first two images like this one on the left and the one following it show the girls not 'getting prepared' for a show, but rather 'being prepared' like some kind of doll. The part that really caught me was how they both look absolutely devoid of emotion, as if they are totally helpless in their current situation.
In the last picture shown below, they are given a set of clothes to wear. If you view the video:
From my point of view, the whole situation strikes me as some kind of assembly line where girls are being prepared for commercial consumption.
This was the train of thought that really led me to think more deeply about my current conceptions of girls. I realized that when I was younger I really focused on each girl's individual personalities and characteristics. However, after living in Korea for four years, I am unconsciously throwing aside these values and focusing more on the superficial outer layer.
The first thing I asked myself was 'Is this because i'm getting old, or because i'm living in Korea?'
At first I wanted to believe the former as I had heard of some research done ages ago that concluded that psychologically men are attracted to a mate who is in the optimal physical condition for reproduction, in addition to the other research that states that both males are females unconsciously choose mates in accordance with their desire to sire aesthetically pleasing offspring.
*Edit, I saw this in some journals but it was also pointed out to me in an earlier article by Erwin*
That being considered, I then considered the latter which would posit that in some way modern South Korean culture is purposefully 'preparing' females for 'commercial' consumption. I realize that commercial sounds crass... however I have a few reasons for saying this:
First, the plastic surgery industry here which is one of, as far as I know, the largest in the world, is thriving like crazy. Why? Girls want to look beautiful to get a guy and show off to their friends. It is an economic benefit to be beautiful~ free drinks, free clothes, free rides, free services, first choice in men and becoming the envy of all one's friends.
The second way that girls can be classified as a 'commercial commodity' is quite literally the sale of their bodies. These days the newspapers are filled with countless scandals and incidences that all can be traced back to female body pandering.
In this case a politician enlisted wives, businesswomen and female students among others to 'service' high-level politicians and construction conglomerate owners.
In this case brothel owners were caught using female models' photographs to attract customers to their 'love hotels.'
Finally, today upon coming to my University to do research, I find a group of my colleagues sitting around watching something on one guy's phone with some 'club music' playing in the background. When I got around to see, it was some young girl who apparently 'had received a lot of plastic surgery' doing strip shows on her webcam and distributing the video for free around the net. In broad daylight a bunch of guys were sitting around together just oggling her as she girated naked at home in her bedroom. I realize that this isn't just something that happens in Korea, however I was shocked both by how non-chalent these guys were looking at a strip show in the middle of the day and talking about how perfect her body is. According to one of them 'if you pay money to her account she will do whatever you ask her to do on her next livestream.'
I'm starting to realize that from pop videos, to the news (which on every station features one old guy and one beautiful young girl like the image on the left), to the korean pop-up adds (about 60% of them are selling either plastic surgery or sex services- I can't fathom why these adds are allowed to exist since i'm sure underaged children view these normal websites too) to every girl who walks up and down the street with fake eyes, fake noses, fake breasts and revealing clothing~ that not only are girls being commercially commodified, but I am becoming an unconscious consumer. I never even realized it until today, but whether I like it or not, the constant unconscious consumption of the commodified female image is changing the very way I view women in general. Originally, I was revolted by the mere thought that a women that I am talking to or spending time with is in some way 'fake,' but nowadays even I feel indescriminate and drawn to the homogeneous faces and bodies of pop stars, and even the 'plastic girl' stripping in her bedroom for the whole world to see. What am I becoming?
Not only as a sociologist, but as a man i'm left to ponder these questions:
How does female commercial consumption affect the way I treat/judge girls?
Is there a limit to how much the female image can be commodified?
Is this mass commercial commodification of the female image detrimental to the development of women's status and rights? Or, in the same stride as the backlash to second wave feminisim, can this commodification of the female image be seen as empowering?
Recently I dated a wonderful girl as I mentioned sometime before. In every way she was perfect~ she was kind, had similar goals, hobbies, dreams and passions as me. She was everything that I had ever wanted... But... despite all that I wasn't attracted to her. Could it be that I am only starting to like the generic commodified female image that Korean society has consistantly spoon-fed me for the past four years? I sincerely hope not.