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  1. BenTheDanevolent
    BenTheDanevolent April 17, 2008 at 1:02 am . Reply

    Wait wait wait. The guy who played Dawson was only 22? He *looked* like he was about 40. I always thought he was the single least convincing high school student on record.

  2. James Turnbull
    James Turnbull April 17, 2008 at 1:50 am . Reply

    Gord, in all seriousness, I think that that was one of best pieces of writing I’ve ever read on the internet. It’s tempting to also say that it puts posts of mine to shame, but that would convey that the impression that mine were perhaps still in the same league, albeit at the opposite ends of it, whereas I don’t personally think so!

    I have to admit that my first reaction to seeing it was sheer disbelief at its length. Having read it now, I can see and understand that when you find your muse, you can’t stop (hence me writing until 4am last night), but it does leave a commentator wondering where to begin. Having said that, I must confess that I did start wanting to skip forward at about the point where you say “Still, there’s one angle that I haven’t seen discussed anywhere, and this, too, concerns me”, just after the last video with Jun Ji-hyun, not because the thread is lost but by sheer exhaustion. If you did decide to edit this post and possibly make it into 2 (although that doesn’t seem your style, and you do have more writing experience than I!), that’s where I would choose personally to split it.

    Naturally I wasn’t offended by anything you said. If I had to begin the first of what I think will be many comments of mine on this post then, it would be point out that, in fact, I completely agree on your point about the essential arbitrariness of the age of consent, and especially the dilemmas and contradictions men face in being aroused by women completely capable of sexual reproduction but being so strongly censured socially, morally, and legally were they to openly admit that they do so. Hence it’s no coincidence that I’m a teacher of teenagers and have been noticeably silent about that sentiment of mine on my own blog. In fact, like you point out, I keep emphasizing how two members of the group are fifteen and, by virtue of doing so, seem to be arguing the complete opposite of what I just said, that that age is central to the discussion. No wonder you got the impression that you did.

    But if I say I agree with you, why do I seem to react so strongly? For two reasons I think. The first is because although many girls that age may well be, the youngest girls I mention aren’t in fact physically mature. Post-menarche certainly, but I’ve heard from numerous sources that physically bearing a child for girls/women still remains very dangerous for them for quite a few years afterwards. In the first video on my site I see one leaning forward and jiggling her breasts in a very adult way for instance…except that, sorry to sound so crass…but she doesn’t have any breasts to jiggle. She looks like a child pretending to be an adult, and the move as a whole very forced.

    Which brings me to my second and more important point, and that is that the videos representing and helping (by various means) teenagers, especially girls and most particularly Korean girls to resolve the dilemmas of their transition phase (for want of a better term at 1:37am), and their healthy exploration and expression of newfound sexuality and so forth…is an excellent point which, combined with the “acting like adults” fantasy you mention, in hindsight very much explains why the have the popularity that they do. These may well be in the minds of producers of the ads. But…they’re not in the minds of the Wondergirls. I still see girls being very much forced to dress and act provocatively, setting new standards and acceptability for the practice in the industry and reflections in young Korean women’s behavior, and this is a counter-acting negative development at least as significant as the positive ones you describe.

    But there are positive ones, and I didn’t realize it before I read your post. Sorry in advance for illegibility of this comment at this late hour (1:49am now), and also if you cover some of the above already. But it is easy to get very lost in that post!

  3. Horace Jeffery Hodges
    Horace Jeffery Hodges April 17, 2008 at 6:51 pm . Reply

    James is right. This is great writing, far superior to anything that I’ve posted at my blog. I admire the complexity, the insight, and the expression.

    Now, when are we gonna get hammered again?

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  4. bulgasari
    bulgasari April 17, 2008 at 7:22 pm . Reply

    That’s a doozy of a post, but well worth the read. Of course it does leave one not knowing where to start in replying!

    Your take on the video is interesting, though it does make me wonder if the video was the primary way in which viewers experienced the wonder girls. If you look on Youtube (not that it represents Korea, really – though isn’t it odd that such a centralized society as Korea lacks (at the moment) a UCC forum as centralized as Youtube is in North America?) you’ll see lots of “live” TV performances in addition to their videos. I’d wonder if the video was seen as often as all of these live performances put together. Consider also that because the video cuts away from the dancing so often, it might not have been the best choice to learn the dance moves from. So I wonder just how much of an influence the video would be – though I haven’t a clue really, because I don’t watch TV, so I don’t know to what degree the video was being pushed vs the live performances.

    Something worth noting also is that while I don’t know that much about the underaged sex industry prior to the ‘popularity’ of wonjo gyoje, there were, in the mid 90s at least, lots of teens working in bars and selling sex (often in Norae-bang style bars). Perhaps there have always been a sizeable contingent of underaged girls in the sex industry here. What changed with Wonjo Gyoje was, perhaps, quite a few more middle class girls taking part in it, not to survive, but in order to partake more fully in consumer culture. I suppose you can look at WG and the WGs as being symptoms of the rapid encroachment of consumerism, putting a dollar sign on everything (as Bill Hicks put it – nice to see him in this post!).

    As for music, Mark Russell has told me there have been three occasions where the powers that be (in the industry, or even the state) have taken measures to crush independent music (the marijuana busts in 74 or 75, at some point in the 80s (i think) and with the advent of punk and indie rock in the late 90s. I’m looking forward to reading his book.

    Oh, and Nora Ephron’s essay is here.

  5. Mark
    Mark April 18, 2008 at 8:00 pm . Reply

    I think your notions of what constitutes “popular” are problematic. The entire time Dawson’s Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were on TV, they both soaked up a lot of ink about how “popular” they were, but if you actually looked at the ratings, Buffy was near the bottom, and Dawson’s Creek was somewhere near the middle. The top-rated show on TV at the time was…JAG, a series about military lawyers. Buffy and Dawson’s Creek got a lot of attention because of a small segment of viewers they attracted, while JAG had more eyeballs, albeit less profitable eyeballs.

    I think time spent watching, listening, or reading something is a useful metric, but isn’t quite as useful cash. Howard Stern was popular when he was free, but when he moved to sattelite radio, his listeners just melted away.

    Popular music is even more problematic. Sure, The Rolling Stones are “popular”. But how many ageing boomers (Billary, I’m looking at you) could name any of their hits besides “Satisfaction”, “Sympathy for the Devil”, and maybe “Mother’s Little Helper”. After forty years in the business, it’s a slim catalog at best.

    With an act like the Wondergirls, not unlike Britney Spears, I suspect it gets more complicated, with “re-mixes” (re-selling the original slightly tweaked single to the same fans), youtube, and P2P blurring the line even more. 17 million people paid too watch The Sopranos, and that means there is roughly 275 million who didn’t. Two or three million Americans bought a Britney Spears album…well, you can do the math. I’m sure the Wondergirls hold on the public’s imagination isn’t quite as impressive when looked at from that perspective.

  6. Mark
    Mark April 19, 2008 at 3:30 am . Reply

    If I could distill my point into the briefest form possible, I was trying to point out just how unpopular our supposedly popular culture is. If Buffy has a larger influence on the popular culture, it will ironically be due to cable and DVD sales (see my posts on Crank and Idiocracy) which seem to have become “hits” (in a relative sense) despite poor initial first runs on the big or small screen. While I prefer to read/write about a “faux” pop phenomenon like Buffy (I suspect our values aren’t ultimately all that different from Whedons) a truly popular book, like “The Purpose Driven Life” can rack up huge sales eclipsing the ever so delightful Ms. Britney Spears in terms of audience. At first blush, “The Purpose Driven Life” has more cultural impact, but because Britney Spears can help sell ring tones to a million or so adolescent girls, she gets the press attention.

    I do think there is something to the long tail argument, but cash can still be the best indicator of passion. I mean, I knew I loved P.J. O’Rourke even when I couldn’t afford to buy his hardcovers when they were new, I’d just pay attention to the book reviews and his byline and slap a hold on the title as soon as it popped up in the libraries database. However, I knew I really, really, loved O’Rourke’s work when I was in Japan – when I discovered he had a new release coming out I ordered a copy on Amazon.com as soon as I found out. I had very little Japanese, but I figured out how to navigate the Amazon.co.jp site pretty quickly.

    Cash is still a very useful yardstick (though it does have it’s limits, I think it’s more useful as a measure for contemporary work as opposed to older stuff more easily obtained, performed, or seen in a library, concert hall, gallery, or museum) as a measure of just how much a person really enjoys a particular artist.

  7. Mark
    Mark April 19, 2008 at 3:30 am . Reply

    So much for brief:)

  8. Mark
    Mark April 21, 2008 at 12:21 pm . Reply

    Cultural influence is definitely a factor I forgot to consider, given how I’m a fan of a lot of these serial TV shows. I do like to keep things in perspective, and I find taking in to consideration money, eyeballs, eardrums, and bums in seats gives a little bit of perspective, and more importantly, reminds everyone of just how ephemeral pop culture can be.

  9. Mark
    Mark April 21, 2008 at 10:16 pm . Reply

    Well, when I think of ephemeral, I also think disposable. I mean the Beatles are cool and everything, and I’m sure people will listen to some or all of their stuff in the future. However, I’d rather listen to Liz Phair or the Beastie Boys. They might not be greater than the Beatles, but why get off on somebody else’s nostalgia?

    X-Files, the various incarnations of Star Trek (DS 9 and Enterprise had some great arcs), Buffy, Band of Brothers, Rome, The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Lost, Weeds, and Big Love, off the top of my head are some of my favorite serials, though given enough time I could think of some more. It’s amazing how much the overall quality of television of programming has improved since the debut of The Simpsons and the X-Files way back in the nineties.

  10. Mark
    Mark April 22, 2008 at 12:44 am . Reply

    I love Arrested Development. I think it’s probably the best of the bunch we’ve talked about, though I think Breaking Bad is really underrated, albeit overshadowed by it’s predeccessors, Weeds and The Sopranos. Never got into Six Feet Under, nor The Wire, though I’m told both are good.

    Re: Pop ephemera and disposability, The Beatles and music were just variables, and you could pretty much fill in the blank (Gilligans Island and television) with whatever you want. As a Lit major, I’d read something like Vanity Fair in my spare time, and while I loved it, it can be interesting to see how someone like Tom Wolfe updates the themes, concerns etc and puts a contemporary North American spin in on it in a novel like Bonfire of the Vanities. If people are still interested in producing and consuming new stuff, it’s a sign of cultural health. Too much time spent mining the back catalog by consumers, and well, it’s definitely a sign of cultural decline.

  11. Mark
    Mark April 22, 2008 at 1:00 am . Reply

    I think my main point could be distilled to that old saw about one hand washing the other. An appreciaton of the back catalog can help lead to a deeper appreciation of whats being produced now, which is what I think you are driving at too.

  12. Mark
    Mark April 22, 2008 at 9:45 pm . Reply

    I think that what makes a lot of the old stuff great, and what a contemporary audiences and artists forget is that Bach et al. weren’t worried about being authentic or great, they just worked on putting out the best possible work they could do.

    As long as John Currin, Takashi Murakami, P.J. O’Rourke, Neveldine & Taylor, and Christopher Buckley are putting out the best possible work they are capable of doing, I don’t really care if it stacks up against that of their predecessors.

  13. Mark
    Mark April 23, 2008 at 9:31 pm . Reply

    I’ve blogged recently about Murakami (see my “Andy’s Chest” post), Neveldyne and Taylor (“Toward A Po Mo Interpretation of Crank”), and have done some posts in the past about John Currin. However, I wrote the Currin posts before I started embedding links to photos and videos.

  14. Mark
    Mark April 24, 2008 at 2:53 am . Reply

    Thanks for the props – I’ve been disappointed to see my Technorati ranking go down, but I don’t feel as discouraged when I read about your plans to incorporate Weeds into your classroom syllabus. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but if you like Weeds, Breaking Bad is definitely worth checking out.

  15. Roboseyo
    Roboseyo April 25, 2008 at 1:12 pm . Reply

    Hi there. I really liked this post, and your attempt to hand at least a little empowerment back to the young people playing for the fantasy.

    I quoted and linked you over at my blog while posting on a slightly different topic (Hallyu and KimCheerleading), here:


    Thanks for the food for thought.

  16. Pat Byrne
    Pat Byrne December 5, 2008 at 4:23 am . Reply

    This comment conversation is so long dead no one will ever see this, but as for young girls acting like adult women, I was teaching in Busong-Dong Joong right about the time this post came out. I was teaching summer school (no uniforms, this will be important in a minute) with some other teachers from the Iksan Y and about ten minutes in, I noticed that one of the girls was wearing a shirt that said “I Lost My Irginity in Madagascar” After an awkward ten seconds of staring at her chest to make sure I was seeing that correctly, I asked her if she had ANY idea what that said, to which she responded “no, what?” and I proceeded not to even look in her direction.

    No analysis, just one of the funnier things that happened while I was away. From the other two (male) teachers walking in to the break room after class asking “Did you get a load of that SHIRT” to the reference to interracial sex where the kids call the tan one “black skin” to mock him, to the idea of a freaked out 14 year old desperately trying to find the translation of “Irginity” on Naver to find out why the male teachers in class looked at her like she was the girl from The Ring… Good times.

  17. Steve
    Steve January 12, 2014 at 3:09 pm . Reply

    Just wanted to express my admiration for this thoughtful and thorough post.

    The rigor of the thought is something I don’t see in English writing on Korea and your post hit upon the exact thing that bothers me in so much of the white-knight/cultural exceptionalist/quasi-racist-misogynistic commentary on the country’s media and pop culture (Turnbull did deserve a mention): how those writers treat Korean women as passive, naive dummies who are easily ‘tricked’ because they lack personhood, the ability to process content for themselves, and, well, just brains in general.

    Props for treating them as people who might have their own needs, thoughts, and aspirations.

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