Mass media should get engaged in self-reflection
Music videos often show female K-POP idols in cleavage-baring or translucent outfits. Their dance moves are provocative enough to remind one of a porn movie. In one movie clip, girls lie down on the ground or kneel down and proceed to a sexually stimulating dance sequence. In another, a female singer lies in a bathtub or appears asleep with soft white sheets covering her body except for her slim thighs or puts a strawberry in her mouth in a provocative way. What stands out among others is the group Stellar’s recently released music video titled ‘Marionette’ in which milk flows down one member’s chest.
Girl groups have always been criticized for their seductive attire and choreography. The problem is that they are becoming more suggestive in the midst of intense competition for attention. Some even point out that it is no longer just a matter of ‘mercantile use of sex,’ but ‘mental and even spiritual prostitution.’
Recently, Stellar launched an event, “Oppa, I am at your service – Marionette” which resembles an adult game. During the event, when the number of ‘Likes’ reaches a certain level, a portion of a photo shoot of a Stellar member in lingerie is revealed.
Criticism on controversial performances only elevates when a minor constitutes a group because she is required to sell sex. A case in point is the girl group AOA’s member Chanmi who was born in June 1996. Early this year, AOA introduced its music video ‘Short Skirt’ which features explicit displays of sexual acts along with the motion of zipping down a skirt.
Even when minors are, to some extent, forced to be part of raunchy performances and music videos, pop music censorship is not as stringent as it should be. Once rated by the Korea Media Rating Board or at least one national or cable TV network, music videos can easily be distributed on the Internet. Once a movie clip goes viral online, people of all ages have access to the content. Furthermore, Korean pop music censorship and relevant regulations do not cover video clips posted on foreign web sites such as YouTube. On top of everything else, broadcasters choose not to impose strict restrictions with their focus on attracting the target audience.
On February 19, representatives from the Korea Communications Commission and the three largest public networks met to carry out discussions over highly sexualized videos. “We have already requested girl groups in question to adjust their choreography and outfits so that their videos can be aired. We will continue to review videos in advance,” a producer from KBS 2TV music program was quoted as saying.
This January, the government enacted the ‘Act on the Development of Pop Culture and Art Industry’ which will go into effect in July. Accordingly, ‘Young performers and artists should not be forced to expose their body excessively or exhibit sexually suggestive behavior.’
As of now, concrete rules of punishment do not exist. Also, the Act itself may not be an effective tool because there is no clear and unified definition as to what is or is not ‘excessive body exposure’ or ‘sexually suggestive behavior.’ The government counter-argues, however, that it plans to implement a registration system so that disqualified entertainment agencies or producers will be screened out. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether the plan will be successful.
Elim Kim Professor of Law at Korea National Open University stressed “Regarding regulations on gender discrimination in mass media, the ‘Act on the Development of Pop Culture and Art Industry’ and the ‘Framework Act on Women’s Development’ should be interpreted more clearly. In addition, all the rating standards and the ‘Juvenile Protection Act’ should be examined closely. Although we do not have clear-cut punishment rules, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism can always give a warning or impose control.”
A bigger concern is that such provocative and sensual materials are mostly consumed by the youth. Experts comment that young people may be misled by lookism and sexually explicit content at a time when they have to build up their identity and frame appropriate awareness of their body and gender.
Tacteen Naeil Standing Representative Lee Hyunsook said “We should never cease to stay alert because sexually titillating lyrics and performances can easily be adopted by our children. Their interpretation of love can be distorted due to current trends like a one-night stand. Also, it is important to note that unregulated displays of sexy dance or provocative content may stimulate criminals to commit sexual crimes against minors, putting kids in greater danger."
Director Bae Jeongwon of the Center for Sex & Culture pointed out “Teenagers who consume provocative materials become insensitive about the commercialization of their own body because they unconsciously learn that their identity is built on their sex appeal only.” She urged “We can’t blame the whole situation on entertainment companies or consumers themselves. The media should play its role. Currently, camera angles mostly focus on female idol group members’ body.”
The industry says girl groups are strategically encouraged to create sexy content to dominate a target market. Lee Miyoung(Pseudonym) who used to work at a big agency stated “Male idol groups bring greater profit than female groups do. That is why agencies prefer male groups over female ones.”
According to Lee, sources of income from idols include their music, commercial films, ceremonial events, and dramas. Since girls make up the majority of the fan base, the revenue from music or concerts is guaranteed for male idols.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for girl groups. Therefore, they are pressured to woo fans with their sex appeal so that they become popular enough to appear in a drama or a commercial film.
“Ultimately speaking, the law of survival of the fittest applies here as well – the fittest being big entertainment agencies. Big agencies already hold a dominant position in the market and they have diverse sources of income. Consequently, girl groups of these big agencies enjoy relative freedom from having to produce provocative materials. Therefore, the number of female applicants far exceeds the number of openings, intensifying competition,” said Lee.
Director Kang Sunmi of Harang Gender Equality Education Institute emphasized “In addition to legal regulations, citizens themselves should actively voice out their opinions against sexual violence and oversexed culture, and bring about a change in our society.”