… is an impromptu question I thought of while casually reading this piece by Bitch Magazine. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I sense that the K-pop hype has done two very separate things to this age-old misconception of the “emasculated” Asian man:
On one hand, it has challenged it. Asian guys (or rather, Korean guys) are now seen by many (well, fans at least) as a sexually desirable bunch. Considering the endless archives of smut fictions floating around out there, along with countless stuff like (insert idol group here)sexualconfessions.tumblr.coms and “Dubulge” appreciation posts (ahem), I don’t think I need to explain myself further. (Oh, and check out this old but relevant (and interesting) post as well.)
On the other, it has strengthened it. We still have non-K-poppers (or K-poppers themselves) who call the industry and its fans, to be frank, “gay”. (I’ll never understand the ridiculous misuse of this term. Never.)
There could be other camps I’m missing out on, but that’s all my tired brain can generate at the moment. Nevertheless, it’s a good question for all you guys to think about :)
(image source: Google images)
Hoo geez, this is a hard one. Honestly, if I didn’t get a request, I wouldn’t have bothered to make a post on this issue. I’ll explain myself later.
f(x)’s Krystal is currently a hot topic among netizens for supposedly acting rude towards her ice-skating coach (Lee Donghoon) on SBS’s “Kiss & Cry”. According to Allkpop,
[…] viewers noticed an air of tension […] Like any trainer would, Lee attempted to teach Krystal from the basics, step by step. However, Krystal proved to be a bit of a difficult student, “He only teaches me the basics, and basics are no fun.”
With a sigh, Lee remarked, “It was difficult to train her because she refused to learn the basics. She would just stand there, and even when I told her to skate, she wouldn’t.”
Some viewers felt that Krystal’s poor attitude escalated when she bluntly stated, “He’s a poor instructor because he’s only used to singles. It’s really frustrating.” Lee is also seven years her senior, but Krystal didn’t hesitate to glare at him whenever their opinions clashed.
The article also provided a video, posted under the cut (with subs).
Took a break from writing my papers and logged onto Allkpop to find this horrible piece of news. I felt like this needed to be shared.
Kim Yuri, a young model born in 1989, was found to have poisoned herself. Though she was rushed straight to the hospital she unfortunately passed away.
She is the latest celebrity death since its surge in 2005. Below is a list of several celebrity suicides I quickly put together:
Take note that this barely makes up the entire picture of the rate of suicides in South Korea. The country currently has the highest in the world, known to have doubled between 1995 and 2006 (22 suicides per 100,000). Here is an excerpt from Time Online that sums up what the reasons may possibly be behind the shocking rates:
Social workers blame the high rate on heightened pressure to succeed in South Korea’s increasingly wealthy society combined with a breakdown of traditional family support systems. Korean society holds its members to high standards of behavior, and public humiliation is sometimes too difficult for Koreans to handle. “People are feeling a huge gap between their ideals and reality,” says Ha Sang Hun, director of LifeLine Korea, a Seoul-based NGO that operates suicide hotlines. “People tend to believe that if they don’t realize their expectations, that’s the end of things.
This should tell us that as international fans, kpop is not something we should take so lightly or for granted. I’m saying this because I personally have regrettably come across quite a number of kpop fans who “wish to live in South Korea one day because of kpop” or “because they want to meet oppa”, and they don’t realize that Korean pop culture is hardly everything that the country is about. Behind the glitz and the glamor of the variety shows and dramas we watch, or the music we listen to, is a country struggling with its own challenges. These high suicide rates among stars, politicians, adults and adolescents alike is one of them. Let’s be careful not to appropriate one aspect of a nation and completely overlook the rest.
Prayers and condolences go to Kim’s family, as well as to those whose loved ones have taken their own lives. May they all rest in peace.
(Picture and news credit: Allkpop)
[Warning: loooong read ahead. Get yourself cozied up with a warm cup of coffee before you begin :D]
Last month, singer Lee Jung and actor Joo Sang Wook were asked to discuss the recent rumors regarding their sexual orientations, to which both responded with the following [quotes hyperlinked to sources]:
Joo Sang Wook:
So I’m not really sure what Lee Jung meant by “insane”, but it’s clear what Joo Sang Wook’s stance is on the matter. And I don’t like it.
There is absolutely nothing “ridiculous” and “absurd” about being gay. But rather disappointingly, this is not the first time stars have reacted in disgust:
There are many misunderstandings that have come up regarding my close friendship with Soohyun. It’s ridiculous.
(in a separate interview) There were a lot of misunderstandings originating from a picture of Shin Soohyun and me. It’s unfair. If I were homosexual, I wouldn’t be on [MBC's program] We Got Married. I love her [Ga-In] and that’s why I am doing the program.
This disgusts me to no end. These stars are acting as if members of the LGBTPQIA* community are creatures from alien planets — beings whose lifestyles they can just openly joke around insensitively and disrespectfully. Excuse me, kpop, but these people you are talking about are human beings too. Kim Ji-Hoon was just as much as a human as you all are. And it is because of you and your hate he felt absolutely no choice but to leave this world.
But unfortunately, this homophobic sentiment is not just a result of individual opinions, but that of the entire culture. If I am allowed to get quite personal, growing up in Asia and having a lot of South Korean friends, I was exposed to a number of homophobic mindsets. (This is not to say that every South Korean out there/I’ve met was homophobic — I know a lot who are very open-minded and tolerant. But then again, I am also not saying that homophobia is only found amongst South Koreans or other Pacific Asians. The point I am merely trying to prove is that homophobia exists quite a bit in South Korea, as it does in other places around the world.) I have been told comments that range from “gays and lesbians are weird” to things like “they’re different from us - they’re not normal”.
First of all, how is homosexuality “not normal”? It occurs in the rest of the animal kingdom. Studies show that approximately 1,500 animal species practice homosexuality — and in fact, one very well-known homosexual species is our closest relative — the dwarf chimpanzee. With that said, which species comes off as the “abnormal” one now?
There are also traces of homosexuality in our human history as well, and surprisingly, including that of East Asia:
Homosexuality in China, known as the pleasures of the bitten peach, the cut sleeve, or the southern custom, has been recorded since approximately 600 BCE. These euphemistic terms were used to describe behaviors, not identities. The relationships were marked by differences in age and social position. However, the instances of same-sex affection and sexual interactions described in the classical novel “Dream of the Red Chamber” seem as familiar to observers in the present as do equivalent stories of romances between heterosexual people during the same period. [Going back to our high school Asian history lessons, remember that Korea and Japan have roots in Chinese culture]
Homosexuality in Japan, variously known as shudo or nanshoku has been documented for over one thousand years and was an integral part of Buddhist monastic life and the samurai tradition. This same-sex love culture gave rise to strong traditions of painting and literature documenting and celebrating such relationships.
Homosexuality in South Korea: While the ancient Kingdom of Goryeo had no rich tradition of homoerotic literature like its nearby Northwest Asian neighbours, it did have a string of historical figures, like Buddhist monks, nobility and Korean monarchy, famed for their same-sex preferences. Like England’s Edward II, King Hyegong was killed by jealous nobles for his preferential treatment of his favourites to the detriment of his realm, although Kings Chungseon (1275-1325) and Gongmin (1325-1374) were both far more careful to attend to their administrative and political responsibilities, so they could also spend time with their wonchung (male lovers), known as chajewhi (“little brother attendants”…)
Once more, who are the “unnatural” ones now - homosexuals, or homophobics?
Let’s now focus ourselves on the modern context of South Korea. In a nutshell, there seems to be a multitude of social and cultural contradictions.
First, some political trivia on South Korea’s anti-LGBTPQIA sentiment:
On the other hand,
You can kinda see how the situation in South Korea is rather obscure. Why is it that LGBTPQIA* rights have not yet found its way to the government’s political agenda?
Another aspect that needs further elaboration is something I touched upon earlier: the social sentiment and public opinion regarding homosexuality. I came across a rather interesting blog post written by Yawning Bread, a South Korean studying in Yale University. I highly encourage you to take the time and read it, for it may answer questions as well as raise others.
In summary of his points, South Korea as a nation has apparently gone through multiple phases of acceptance and rejection: in the beginning, though there was awareness that homosexuality existed among Koreans, the lifestyle itself was seen as a “bad influence” from the West. (Keep in mind that Japan and South Korea are known for their “cultural isolationist” policies — that is, limiting the amount of cultural influences from the West for the sake of preserving their own.) Later came a “mere sensationalization” of homosexuality when a bunch of student groups from some of the nation’s most prestigious university publicly declared their coming-out, and it later reached its peak when in 1999, “the gay students’ group at Seoul National University [became] the first officially recognized college-based gay group in Korea.”
Though he continuously expresses throughout the post his optimism regarding people’s eventual acceptance of homosexuality, he provides some really in-depth examples of why the lifestyle is still very much stigmatized:
the misconceptions that homosexuality is only about sex, that it is something that you “fall into,” that it is only a “phase” which you’ll eventually outgrow are still prevalent. Quite a few silly “theories” of homosexuality are around, too. A lot of people still confuse it with transgenderedness; some people associate it with the recent sexual liberation taking place in Korea; some suggest that it reflects the breakdown of the traditional family; some even suggest that environmental pollution is to be blamed [huh]
The following are two of the common ways Koreans justify their anti-gay attitudes: (1) that homosexuality is unnatural and (2) that it is against the Bible [South Korea is predominantly a Christian nation].
Korea is now beginning to come to grips with the fact that gays are their neighbors, children, and co-workers. This awareness may result in more formal forms of oppression in the future. At present, the burden comes more from Korea’s traditional values such as the beliefs that one has to carry on one’s family name and that one has to get married if one is to lead a wholesome life. (This is not to say that they are the sole bases of homophobia in Korea, of course.) When combined with some of the characteristics of Koreans, namely, the willingness to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others (esp. parents) and the capability to withstand extreme oppression, these beliefs tend to discourage gay people from coming forward and do something to make this world a better place.
He also attributes intolerance to the fact that homosexuality is virtually invisible to the average South Korean:
This invisibility has partly to do with the fact that Korea is such a touchy-feely society. That is, women can walk hand-in-hand (or arm-in-arm) in the streets without inviting any suspicion whatsoever. While men do not enjoy that much luxury, it is perfectly okay to walk with an arm over another’s shoulder; when you’re drunk, it is even okay to walk hand-in-hand. (But things are slowly changing. For example, two men walking hand-in-hand *could* be now considered as signifying homosexuality. Also, some schools have decided to go so far as to place a ban on overt, yet innocent display of intimacy between the members of same sex.) […] Verbal abuse is quite common in the cyberworld and, in the real world, other forms of threats such as blackmailing have become quite prominent.
Now, tying this back to kpop, it becomes increasingly clear as to where anti-homosexuality sentiments are rooted. Regardless, idols need to start becoming at the very least respectful of homosexuality, for two reasons:
The more globalized kpop is becoming, the more aware it needs to be of the rest of the world. And let’s face it, how relevant is sexual orientation to one’s love for acting or music anyways? An ‘idol’ is no less of an ‘idol’ if she or he is gay or lesbian (as a matter of fact, in the context of kpop today, in my opinion, it actually makes him or her more of an ‘idol’). Same applies with fans. Seeing homophobia openly in an industry we all know, love, and look up to, gets unconsciously transferred over to our daily lives, and before we know it we as fandoms are homophobic. The powers of the media, guys… let’s not underestimate that. It’s the same with standards of beauty and body image. And idols, as “idols”, (as well as nuts and bolts of the entire industry) need to get this into their heads and start being more sensitive to the people they are being exposed to.
But fans themselves are to blame as well. The recent controversy surrounding the unwarranted use of BIGBANG’s Daesung’s and Seungri’s image in a gay Chinese website illustrates how bigoted fans are against homosexuality, showing their “their frustration towards the website for its damaging image.” (In this case, we should also attribute some blame to the original My Daily article as well for the denigrating use of words…)
Ahh, all these things are just perpetuating one another, just…ugh. What should be done? Kpop should not be allowed to pride itself in becoming a global force if it chooses to alienate an important part of our human society. Solutions must come in forms that recognize cultural roots as well as the forces of the media. Having said that, things are definitely easier said than done.
But I refuse to leave on a negative note. We’ve seen the power of fandoms manifest itself in both amazing and ugly ways. We’re the ones with the advantage and capacity to do something, and one way we can start is by getting people talking about these issues, and how they’re not right. As a kpop fan, I’m confident enough to say that I’m positive about changes we can bring to the industry.