Taehoon Lee is doing a useful service on Korea Observer that Robert Koehler used to perform over on the Marmot’s Hole, back when he started out: translating and posting Korean news items that don’t make it into the English-language news in Korea. But man, sometimes the reactions his postings get are just stupid and wrong-headed, and it’s almost always self-righteous expats who are eager to:
- critique the hell out of everything in Korea, and
- spew outraged critique all over Facebook
Here’s an example, a poster for a dance recital at Chonbuk National University that went viral online. Lee posted about it here. Here’s the poster:
My comment on Facebook? As follows:
The reaction (among expats) has been oddly self-righteous and prudish, not to mention hypocritical. The human body being featured in art–nude–is a massive part of cultural history–and not just female bodies, though yes, a lot of it was women’s bodies (issues, yeah, but…). I mean prudish not as in scared of sex, but prudish in that this being unconnected to sex, there must be something morally wrong with nudity at all.
Which, note, I find a very American middle-class sort of response. All uptight and morally outraged because someone showed skin but it’s not intended as masturbation grist.
So yes, I get all the arguments about the commodification of female bodies, but that’s not really what you’re grousing about. Folks, this is why the Victorians made women cover their ankles and necks: enforcing moral codes on the representation of female bodies that insist on pansexualizing them is just as problematic… especially because of this next point:
These people are dancers–they make their art with their bodies. And they know that they live in a society where art is not appreciated even 1% as much as hard liquor, video games, and paid-handjobs. So they engage with the dominant culture in their advertising, hoping maybe to draw a a slightly bigger audience, or who knows, maybe even implcitly comment on this fact. And, as someone with a lot of experience performing music live, it’s a very clever comment on how “naked” you feel on the stage.
Cue hypocritical Western freakout. Cue administrators missing the metaphor and saying, “Geez, if they’re not dancing naked, why make this poster?”
Ah, subtle metaphor on the experience of artistic performance… lost on bureaucrats? Is that possible?
Cue viral explosion of stupidity.
Forgive me if I detect a note of “You aren’t allowed to do anything with your body that hasn’t been approved by us men!” I guarantee all the men criticizing this have no serious philosophical issues with pornography, or strip clubs, or nudity in movies. But a little mild nudity (backs! basically what you’d see on a beach!) on a dance recital poster has them in a tizzy about the commodification of female bodies and misogyny and all that, because WE MUST CRITIQUE KOREA BECAUSE FACEBOOK IS FOR OUTRAGE!!!
And I say this knowing full well I’ve joined the mob in the past, too. This is not hypocrisy, in other words. I’ve been there. Commenters on my post on FB have rightly notes that (a) the poster is tasteful, and (b) outrage is addictive. And it’s the latter that concerns me here: outrage is addictive, and something about the internet generally, and Facebook specifically, fuels that.
Oh, and that guy in the poster? Yeah, I doubt the photo shoot was that fun for him. I’m guessing he politely covered his eyes till they got their shirts on, but even if they didn’t ask him to… they’re dancers. Dancers do wardrobe changes in a hurry backstage all the time. Again, there’s the disconnect between people who have only ever sat in an audience (if even that) and people who actually perform.