Elwood 5566

It Can Pay to be a Pygmy

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Entertainment, Gender, Korean children by 노강호 on October 7, 2010

Not suitable for Pumpkin people

My Korean girl students love camp boys, other wise known as ‘flower boys.’ Camp is totally in and the poncier and more androgynous a boy or man is, the better – provided of course, he’s straight. If you dressed a frond of ooo-wong (우엉 – burdock) in fashionable clothes, gave it a nice haircut and sent it flouncing down the street all limp and bendy, girls would swoon.

‘Boys over Flowers;’  highly successful!

Jay Park (박재범) – Handsome or Pretty? Or even pretty handsome!

Boys over Flowers (꽃보다 남자) was a highly successful drama which ran in early 2009, was aired in numerous other Asian countries and has subsequently been identified with the migration of Korean culture to other countries, a phenomena known as the ‘Korean Wave’ (할류). The first ‘wave’ (2005-2009), often associated with Winter Sonata,’ consisted exclusively of drama which gradually gained a fan base outside Korea, predominantly in Asia. With the export package now including  pop music, theater and musicals, a second wave (dating from 2010), can be identified. As an example, the singer Jay Park created more traffic via Twitter, on March 8th, 2010, than did that day’s Oscar nominations. Coined by some as ‘Hallyu 2.0,’ the ‘2nd ‘wave’ has encompassed Egypt, Turkey, Romania,  India and even Uzbekistan. Interest in Korean has increased and a country as small as  Nepal now has 30.000 people a year  signing up for  Korean language proficiency tests.

Burdock, wu-weong (우엉) Limper than a lettuce!

The incredibly popular, ‘Boys over Flowers,’ which has among other things, helped lower the fan-base age associated with the ‘Korean Wave,’ consists  of 29 episodes following the intrigues of a group of  high school boys. The four central characters, often refereed to as ‘F4,’ have been attributed with consolidating the interest in ‘flower boys’ and encouraging men to take more pride in their appearance. As a result, significantly more Korean men now use cosmetics and the current trend for teenage boy fashion is what Americans might call ‘preppy.’

Boys over Flowers‘ (꽃보다 남자) was inspired by the Japanese bi-weekly manga comic, Hana Yori Dango, by Yokio Kamio and ran from 1992-2003.   The magazine was targeted at Japanese high school girls. I find the title, ‘Boys over Flowers,‘ a little clumsy and  feel ‘Boy’s before Flowers,’ a frequently used alternative, much clearer. The title is a pun on  the Japanese saying, ‘dumplings before flowers’, which refers to the habit of being more interested in eating snacks than viewing the cherry blossom during the famous Hanami festivals.  It is the snacks and  festival foods that  are the most alluring; the blossom simply provides an excuse to indulge.  And if you’re not eating the snacks, you’re probably watching the passing boys, especially if they are as beautiful as the blossom.

A Japanese hanami party. Beautiful blossom, beautiful boys, delicious food. What’s your priority?

‘Flower boys,’ basically meaning ‘pretty boys,’ is not in the least offensive and Korean youngsters, even boys, are able to differentiate between those who are ‘handsome’ and those who are ‘pretty.’ Neither identifying someone as ‘pretty’ or indeed being labeled ‘pretty,’ implies  any accusations of homosexuality or effeminacy.

A boy nominated by his class as a ‘pretty boy.’

‘Pretty boys’ have delicate features, soft skin, and are usually a  little gaunt and certainly very androgynous. In terms of western, and certainly British standards, they’d babyishly be deemed ‘gay’ and might even get the shit kicked out of them.  Korean ‘flower boys’ can also get a rough  ride, not because they’re gay, but because  of their pin-up status and ability to capture the hearts of girls and women.   One significant mystery-comedy movie, ‘Flower Boys,‘ often called by the crappy title, Attack of the Pin Up Boys’ (2007), centers on the theme of ‘flower boy bashing.’ There’s no pleasing thuggy straight men who will just as quickly bash you for being gay as they will for being heterosexual and a babe magnet.  Of course,  Attack of the Pin Up Boys is only a story and doesn’t reflect real life. From what I’m led to believe however, the biggest problem ‘flower boys’ face, is in convincing girlfriends they are not ‘playboys’ (바람둥이) because they are often too pretty for their own good.

Leetuk, one of the Super Junior celebrities. A possible candidate for a ‘pretty boy’ nomination.

Unlike many British girls, Korean girls tend to like a boy who is well-mannered, slim and  averagely muscled (which given we are talking predominantly about boys, means skinny), has broad shoulders, is fashionable and  intelligent. Neither do they have to have a six pack or look manly. Indeed, a few of my female students positively dislike both aggressive boys and muscles. But the most important quality of all, one which  constantly supersede all others, is that a boy has to be taller than his girlfriend. Girls can be quite cruel about this requirement and while talking to a class of girls about the celebrity Tae-Yang (태양), I overheard  one call him a ‘loser.’ The reason? He is under 180 cm tall. Basically, if you’re a boy and short your fucked!

Taeyang Big Bang member. ‘Handsome’ or ”pretty?’

Though they wouldn’t understand the word even if explained to them, the definition most reflecting the sort of boys Korean girls like, is camp! In the very words of one of my students,  ‘we’ like boys who ‘look like girls.’ And though ‘handsome’ boys, that is boys who look like men, are attractive and certainly seem to be preferable in terms of a solid relationship,  many girls will swoon in discussions about ‘pretty boys’ even if they prefer the ‘handsome’ type.

Back in Scumland UK, when it comes to boys, many girls have no taste at all often because their priority is a quick rummage in their panties or a passionate-less poking behind the bike sheds and hence prefer boys who are one step up from brute primates and who are valued for being aggressive, butch, sporty, loud mouthed and promiscuous. If British girls demand any prettiness, it is that their lads be, ‘pretty unintelligent.’ Yes, I’m being horribly unfair but in the UK, currently riddled with anti-intellectualism,  teenage pregnancy and sexual diseases, for many, any spark of brain is a turn off.   The reason why the Korean predilection with ‘flower boys’ is so refreshing is that it is a kick in the mouth to the belief that the alpha male is universally appealing. I would go as far as to suggest that in Korea, even the boys and men who look like men pail into effeminacy when compared to the shaven heads and brute physogs of the men that dominant and epitomize so much of British culture. Meanwhile, if you’re a Korean girl with the stature of a pygmy or dwarf, life’s gonna be one big ride!

Creative Commons License© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence..

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2 Responses

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  1. lilo said, on June 7, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Basicly some observations, why the korean girls like men that look like women? or enjoy the fan service watching two men kissing, isn´t that a lesbian act? the other is if the flower boys are not considered gay then what is gay? if wearing makeup, eyeliner, purse, tight pants,and cute behaviour, so then what is considered gay in korea?

    • 努江虎-노강호 said, on June 8, 2012 at 12:20 am

      First, you need to consider that gender is a social construct. Korean girls only ‘like’ men/boys who look like girls from a western perspective: from a Korean point of view those men/boys are 100% male.

      There is nothing intrinsically ‘gay’ or feminine about makeup, eyeliner, a purse, and tight pants any more than there is about a pair of trousers being heterosexual and masculine. All the attributes you cite have been used in the past in a masculine and predominantly heterosexual context. In some African tribes pouting and make-up for males were masculine expressions, eyeliner is worn by most actors and at one time was fashionable not just in ancient Rome by ancient Egypt. As for tight pants, well they’ve had their day in British and US fashion and no doubt will again.

      For most of my life pink was considered a colour only fit for females and gay men – until Beckham wore a pink shirt. On my last trip to the UK pink was one of the most fashionable colours for men – and in particularly quite ‘laddy,’ masculine men.

      The fixation about gay people and femininity, limp wrists, pink, pouting lips, girly behaviour etc, etc, is very much an image construed by heterosexuals. There was a time when the only time a gay person appeared on TV was if they ‘camped it up’ and this is often still a requirement. Heterosexual men in particular can find it very uncomfortable if other men, gay men, are more masculine than they are and they way to diffuse this fear is to ridicule gay men and assign them a ‘camp stereotype.’

      Your sexual orientation, even your gender, have no intrinsic bearing on what you wear other than through the importance, meaning and symbolism given to fashion at a given place and time in history. A gay man is no more attracted to eye-liner than a straight man is attracted to football or a lesbian Doc Martens and dungarees.

      What is confusing you is that in Korea the divide between male and female in terms of gender attributes isn’t as broad as in a western context. It is totally feasible, and even alluring to have a society where there are no gender differences and men and women dress and behave in an identical manner and their differences are marked only by their biology.


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