Media cultures around the globe are known for double standards and sexism. Most entertainment industries have seedy underbellies and inner workings that people speculate about and catch glimpses of, but South Korea has a unique social framework that relies on the illusion of celebrities that are pure enough not to disrupt viewer’s ideas of innocence, but sensual enough to sate their curious needs. This under observation has caused a duplicity — a rift in what can coexist in individuals that has lead fame to be an even trickier labyrinth of perfection to navigate than any other.
Idols are the recipient of every ideal projection that fans can muster. For Korean fans this often means that they crave to see all the skin and luscivious dancing that can be permitted in music videos, movies, even commercials, but in reality, they want their precious prizes of fame to have never been touched by another person. They are supposed to be both the epitome of sex and the absence. They are supposed to ooze sensuality whilst never having pressed their lips to someone else’s. It’s an impossible standard, but one that celebrities are held to constantly.
It comes up frequently in Korean dramas (especially with the female protagonists) that being even about 30 years old, but only having sexual experience if you’ve been married (and even then it’s sparse and quiet) is normal. In movies and shows it’s common to have characters be virginal in their mid-twenties. Though the duplicity comes out in those same dramas when the love interests finally come together and everybody is anticipating a sex scene, or the characters are getting teased for how far they’ve gone as a couple. There are obvious double standards here, when we all know about the Playboy character sleeping around, but the girls haven’t had boyfriends yet. It makes you wonder: who are all these people he’s sleeping with if the girls are maintaining their “chastity”? These standards create room for everything but honesty and are detrimental to people who need a healthy view on how sexuality really works.
Something that has made me literally jostle my head around in confusion is the fact that porn is completely illegal in South Korea. It comes up that a man who watches porn is a pervert (forget about women watching porn, that’s nearly unheard of apparently) but at the same time, it is a regular question on broadcasts (talk shows, radio programs, other television shows, etc)! Legitimately — they ask “Do you watch porn?” And they answer. I don’t know how honestly, but they do. I have two main questions about this:
1) It’s illegal! How are they supposed to answer truthfully if there could be legal ramifications?
2) If it’s considered a perversion, how are you hoping they’ll respond?
I know that broadcasts try to get juicy information just like any other branch of the industry, but they also have guidelines they have to follow and things they can’t air. But you know what? More often than not, the celebrity doesn’t exactly lie about having seen porn, but comes up with some on the fly excuse like they were watching for research or they downloaded it by accident. Sometimes, but rarely, they’ll own up to watching porn (because you know, it’s a normal human behavior) and here comes my jostling again at the fact that it is illegal. Though, the technical law has no punishment for viewing porn, there are punishments for owning it. There are all strict measures put in place to prevent Koreans from finding “inappropriate” websites, and an army (quite literally) of over 800 volunteers who spend their free time marking down websites of inappropriate content for the government. So then, how do people find the so often discussed pornography if the government is making it nearly impossible, and again, why is it a topic?
This is also harmful because celebrities who do watch porn are considered the “perverts” of the groups, but (particularly the male idols) aren’t really “men” if they don’t have a healthy appetite for sexual content.
This type of dialogue leaves no room for them to be who they are, and enjoy what they enjoy, without either being a prude, or being a pervert. There is no middle ground in Korean entertainment for people who want to avoid scandals.
Your silence is just as sentencing as your lies.
When all is said, there isn’t a country I can think of that has a particularly healthy view on sex (except maybe Sweden, they’re doing pretty well actually.) Korea definitely needs to make some huge steps towards change in my opinion to how they teach and portray sexuality as both a medium of entertainment and as a part of life. I truly hope South Korea can break free of its stifling selfmade chains and grow as a society, and I hope that articles like this can open people’s eyes a bit more and make room for discussions between fans that will eventually spread and trickle into real breakthroughs with how we see celebrities and it’s my honest dream that even the smallest of dialogues will someday help us all adapt into more open individuals who can lift up our idols and help them grow too.
Disclaimer: Everything stated in this article only reflects my views — separate from UKP and anyone who may have been mentioned in the article. Just one guy with a delicate heart and itching fingertips.