Foreigners in Korea have reported shock and outrage over the latest video of S.E.S., Korea's top girl band, in which "arrogant" Americans are fed to dogs, ridden like horses and beaten and thrown off buildings.Well, obviously, I had to find the video (for a song called "U") to see for myself:
I was thinking at first that this video was a response to the 2002 Olympic 'Ohno speed skating incident', but as it turns out, the S.E.S. album this song is from was released on February 14, while the fateful speed skating race took place a week later. The March 3 entry here (see below) reveals that by that date, the video had already been released, so the 2002 Olympics clearly did not motivate the imagery in the video. This might seem to suggest that the video was drawing on already-existing anti-American feeling, perhaps caused by some of the incidents and political currents described here.
Eller certainly thinks so, saying that "the most shocking thing about the video is that it is mild compared to others that have proceeded it." He mentions the song "In my heart" by 4U, the video for which can be seen here, which shows how two Koreans who love model planes meet in the US, but the girl can't fly because she's married to a scowling older white man, who the Korean man rescues her from. All in all, I don't really see the video to be offensive at all. Insipid, yes, but not offensive. The video for the Position song "I Love You" is more troubling, seeing as every white guy the three nice Korean characters meet is a cowboy hat-wearing thug, a date rapist, or someone who would push an inexperienced Korean skier down a steep hill before he's ready. Of course, the video is set in Whistler, so does that make it anti-Canadian? If so, seeing as the video is three years before English Spectrum-gate, the video makers are true path breakers.
The aforementioned March 3 entry was about "SES & Finkl's return":
SES has also come out a little prior with their album and title song "U". It has an American Pop (Euro Pop) sort of style and their music video is none like any other they had shot. Before, they had shot videos which depicted them as cute, pretty or innocent. However, in this video, they are all confident working women. Eugene is something like a marketing specialist, Shoo is a card dealer, and Bada is a camera director. However, they show their confidence against the ignorance of some men.Well, Eugene gets pissed because, while she's giving a presentation, none of the men in the boardroom (who are all white) are paying attention to her, and one guy is asleep! And he has his dog next to him! She storms over, slams her papers on the desk, and confronts him.
Next we see the man, clad in bondage gear, chained in a cage, and Eugene struts in with his dog...
and sics it on him.
If this is indeed anti-American, perhaps it could be narrated by a North Korean voice, which B.R. Meyers describes here:
The novel "Barrel of a Gun," for example, released in 2003, is an official "historical" work about how Mr. Kim's iron resolve forced the Clinton administration to its knees in 1998. "Excellency," the American negotiator says at the end of the book, groveling shamelessly before his North Korean counterpart, "you are also a mighty superpower."Sometimes, it's like the DMZ isn't even there.
"I like the sound of that," the North Korean answers with a chuckle and a sharp look.
That narrative could perhaps also apply to the second story, where Shoo is a card dealer. She deals to some haughty Americans, one of whom blows cigar smoke in his face.
They lose however however, and when they are shown the card that beats them, they are shocked, and the cigar smoker mouths the f-word.
(Keep those dumb faces in mind; they appeared in the first story as well, and appear again). Shoo is then shown riding a mechanical horse, but when she dismounts, we see that the horse is actually the man who blew smoke in her face!
Well, I guess riding a guy like a horse while holding (his?) gun and wearing a satisfied grin is one form of revenge.
Perhaps the producers were confused about what kind of message they were trying to communicate.
Seeing the images of the "man in bondage being attacked by his own dog" and the "mechanical horse with a human head", I can't help but remember this scene from "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance", where a dog with the head of the bad guy is bound to a sled before the main character blows blows his brains out its rectum.
At any rate, the last scene has Bada behind the camera shooting a movie, the only Korean - and woman - in a group of white men. She doesn't like their attitude, so she amazes them by jumping from down from behind the camera and booting the director off the roof.
Note the dumb looks on the faces of the guys above. The face the guy on the right is making looks similar to the expression of the Canadian woman here. At any rate, this post continues:
Both groups have something in common. They both show their feminity more than ever, and their confidence [and are] getting away from their former images of innocence and "cuteness".She may be correct; maintaining your innocence is often difficult when feeding a bound man to his own dog.
It's interesting watching the dancing in the video. Fully dressed in baggy, white full-length clothing as the S.E.S. members are, their 2002 dancing and costumes just don't compare to the more risque dancing and costumes seen in 2008.
Compare the dancing and clothes in the SES video to the Wondergirls' newest video, "So Hot":
I meant for the GIF below to illustrate this, but for some reason it's not working. Working GIFs can be found at the Grand Narrative here, where James wonders why GIFs of these particular scenes were used to announce their new video. At any rate, when I watched the video to get the above screenshots, I realized that the dance in the first photo (and GIF below) comes off as overly sexualized without the context the music provides. The second photo, on the other hand, of the girls doing synchronized pelvic thrusts, is set to the sound of a breathy "Oh! Oh!" If you looped it, you'd have a porn soundtrack.
So yeah, things have changed in six years, at least as far as how much sexuality can displayed in movies, even those aimed at teenagers (in 2006, Dasepo Girls could portray S&M (in the classroom), pre-op transsexuals, cross dressers, etc), or displayed through dancing in music videos. I don't watch a lot of music videos, but I'd be willing to bet that its mostly female singers whose dancing has become much more suggestive.
Taken at face value, the SES video seems to be about getting revenge on some boorish (white) men and humiliating them, but I think there are other ways to look at this video than just as a representation of Korean anti-Americanism. A very simple question would be: How many working women in Korea interact with foreign bosses, foreign colleagues, or foreign customers? I would imagine that the vast majority of working women never have to deal with foreigners in the workplace. So, for working Korean women (about whom James at the Grand Narrative has written a great deal), who would the sexist or rude bosses, colleagues, or customers really be?
The answer to that is a simple one, but can you imagine the video above with Korean men in those humiliating situations? In 2002? I would imagine mainstream TV would not accept it even now (but I can't be sure because I don't watch TV). Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, or if there are examples of Korean men being humiliated like the foreign men above are. While there are "girls getting revenge on bad men" narratives in, say, the first two Wondergirls videos, the men are not humiliated in the extreme ways seen above. In one video, the Wondergirls use a voodoo doll to make a cheating boyfriend look silly in front of his date:
Another key difference is that the men targeted in the Wondergirls videos are clueless boyfriends, flashers, or schoolyard bullies - not men who are in a position superior to them in their workplace.
So, is the SES video simply influenced by (and reflecting) the anti-Americanism of the time (and perhaps helping fuel it, considering how timely it was, being released just as the "Ohno incident" occurred at the 2002 Olympics)? Is it a video about putting arrogant Americans in their place? Could you analyze it as yet another in the series of rings flowing outward from the pebble dropped in in the pond 1945 when Korea was liberated by outsiders, much as the North Korean text quoted above is?
Is it a good example of the stereotypes that exist of westerners, or at least how they are perceived in the media in Korea?
Or could this be seen as a "liberating" narrative of women standing up to boorish, disrespectful men in positions of power over them and humiliating them or otherwise getting revenge on them and asserting their power. In this case, the use of foreign actors to portray these men acts as the spoonful of sugar which makes the medicine go down because images of Korean men being humiliated would never be approved.
Whatever the answer, what's clear is that, especially in 2002, on TV, Korean men could never have been treated like this, unless it was done with a lot of humor (and probably not even then).
It needs to be asked, of course, why it would be acceptable to portray foreign men the way they are in this video, but not Korean men. Perhaps the answer is as simple as "Because foreigners are not Korean".
If the video is, indeed, anti-American, then it may well be six years ahead of its time. You see, this is the card that Shoo shows to the cigar smoker (before she rides him but after she takes all of his chips):
Not a mad cow, but a mad bull is close enough.
* That post is from Ben Eller's website which looked at the anti-American protests back in 2002. The site is down now, but the main page, his 'Open letter to South Korea', and a letter section are available via Google cache.