It Can Pay to be a Pygmy
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 (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.
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.
‘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.
‘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.
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!
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!
© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence..