…for a value of today dating back to Mary Wollstonecraft’s tenure as a governess, and courtesy of Ruth Brandon’s book Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres:
To which Mrs. Jiwaku immediately exclaimed: “It’s Korea!”
Mary found them quite uncultivated, with no topics of conversation other than dress, dogs and marriage.
Meaning South Korea, today. Except that in contemporary South Korea, it’s not just rich young people… not everyone is like this, but the middle class, and even the aspirational types in the lower class, are mostly precisely this way.
Well, okay, dress, dogs, Kpop, and marriage.
Which reminds me, one of the bits of the script for The Music of Jo Hyeja that made me proudest was a little jab at precisely this dynamic, where one of the character Miju’s friends, a brainless girl of precisely this sort, completely misunderstands her friend’s fascination with surreal, occult, otherworldly (Lovecraftian) music. “Oh, I know exactly what you mean!” she exclaims, and starts blabbering about some ridiculous K-pop group called “Boys’ Life.”
The gag being based not on the (WTF?) ultramodern version of the magazine, which I didn’t know about at the time, but rather the Boys’ Life of the old days, the magazine Norman Rockwell painted covers for:
The above invokes for us a degree of camp that wouldn’t raise many eyebrows in Seoul… and, hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if some boy band actually had dressed up in those iconic scout uniforms–pure-blooded little Korean princes, instead of blond Aryan lads, of course, but the sentiment maps fairly directly; I imagine them being across the terrain of their cheese-laden music video, led by some rapacious corporate sleazeball or other, compass in hand…
Yeah, sometimes, the metaphors ride close to the surface, really.
Or this, which was by some painter I don’t know:
… which certainly plays into the infantilization I see in Kpop generally. (And nostalgic attitude towards early childhood common in Korea today, which feels a bit like what we imagine was the American one back in a long-gone age.)
If you’d like to see other Boys’ Life covers, there’s an archive at their site going all the way back to 1911.