Welcome back K-Poppers (and non-K-Poppers)! It’s time to discuss the video that I posted in my first entry, “Sherlock” by SHINee.
Before I start analyzing any video, I would like to present a disclaimer. I am an avid consumer of Korean popular music. I was introduced to Korean culture, Korean popular culture more specifically, a little over 2 years ago. I watched my first Korean drama and was hooked. I think that one of the reasons I became so interested in Korean pop culture was because it is a lot different than ours here in the United States. There are some aspects of Korean boy bands that remind of American boy bands back in the day. However, I believe that Korean popular music is in a category all on its own. Please note that as I am a consumer of K-Pop, my analysis and discussion will be coming from a biased point of view. I am not simply an outsider looking at these music videos for the first time, not knowing anything about them or the groups who are singing in them. Although I am biased, you might find that I do sometimes like to make fun of K-Pop. But, when I do, it is probably out of love. Now that I’ve set that on the table, let’s begin!
This music video came out about one month ago, so it is extremely current. The one topic that I want to discuss about this video is the appearance of the 5 boys. What traits of masculinity do we see by looking at them? Do we see any feminine traits as well? I think that it is important to first define what we mean by masculine and feminine. According to Dictionary.com, “masculine” is defined as “pertaining to or characteristic of a man or men” and “having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength and boldness.” “Feminine” is defined as “having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness.” I think that these definitions can give us an idea about how a good portion of the people in our country view these characteristics. My concern is that we live in such a masculine society, we can sometimes be blind to the fact that other countries and other cultures may have different, and even opposing views of masculinity.
Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions can help shed some light on masculinity and femininity in different countries. According to Hofstede, his dimension of Masculinity/Femininity can be described as follows:
A high score (masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field – a value system that starts in school and continues throughout organisational behaviour.
A low score (feminine) on the dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable.
The United States score 62 on this dimension and is considered a “masculine” society. Behavior in school, work, and play are based on the shared values that people should “strive to be the best they can be” and that “the winner takes all”. As a result, Americans will tend to display and talk freely about their “successes” and achievements in life, here again, another basis for hiring and promotion decisions in the workplace. Typically, Americans “live to work” so that they can earn monetary rewards and attain higher status based on how good one can be. Conflicts are resolved at the individual level and the goal is to win.
South Korea scores 39 on this dimension and is thus considered a feminine society. In feminine countries the focus is on “working in order to live”, managers strive for consensus, people value equality, solidarity and quality in their working lives. Conflicts are resolved by compromise and negotiation. Incentives such as free time and flexibility are favoured. Focus is on well-being, status is not shown. An effective manager is a supportive one, and decision making is achieved through involvement.
While I think that Hofstede’s masculinity/femininity dimension does shed some light on the difference between the United States and Korea, I think there are many things this assumes about Korean culture that are not true. For example, the professional world in Korea is actually very competitive. Careers are based on hierarchy: if someone is older than you, they deserve more respect than you do. Period. It’s all about age in Korea; their language even has different forms of words to use depending on who you are speaking to. I also don’t think that this dimension really speaks to what we are trying to discuss about this video. Hofstede’s dimension talks more broadly about the professional sphere and careers. What we are trying to evaluate are music videos: what do the appearances and actions of these boys tell us about masculinity in Korean popular culture, and possibly Korean culture as a whole?
What are some things that you noted about the video that you thought portrayed masculine behavior? What about feminine behavior? Masculine appearance? Feminine appearance? Androgynous appearance? Some things that I think might seem feminine to someone who grew up in American culture are: one of the boys’ long hair, painted finger nails, hair styles, eye makeup, and possibly clothing and accessories. In America, we are not used to seeing boys wear that much eye makeup (unless they are in a punk band) and are not used to seeing boys that have long hair like a girl’s. What do you guys think? Do they seem feminine to you? Masculine? Why do you think your opinions are the way they are?
The next video I post will deepen this conversation!