Those women were chosen by their looks

The arrival of the “army of beauties,” North Korean cheering squad, has become the centre of the attention in the 2018 winter olympic games opening ceremony. The fact that the country is authoritarian regime highlights the injustice towards women driven by look-oriented “employment”. But the demeaning of women and their rights by emphasising their looks lies not too far from democratic societies and as close as our own television. This is my review of one of DJ Khaled music videos.

While waiting for my kebab and chips to be ready, I was watching the television installed in the kebab restaurant. With the sound turned off, colourful sparkly pop music videos were playing. When I approached to the TV, the first scene I happened to caught was a woman dressed in mesh walking with a giant ass on focus. A mesh, the garment that is extra loosely weaved together. I wondered if this was some kind of urban porn. I thought so because I didn’t know it was a music video as the sound was muted. While thinking that, another woman appeared in the scene on a white horse. Her giant breasts were jumping up and down in a slow motion as the horse trotted. They gather at a nice mansion-like place with fancy pool, where male singers stood in the centre with extra amount of garments and accessaries on and around their body. Around them, women were densely spread in a fan shape and were lightly responding to the rhythm in their swim suits.

I was slightly disturbed by the amount of bodily exposure alongside the smell of my kebab being prepared, but still I thought, ‘let them be.’ There are things like this and things like that. Because it’s not a news that half-naked women dance for men especially in hip-hop or reggaeton songs (do correct me if I’m wrong). Sometimes they dance vigorously towards camera looking all empowered. Those men in the video in question were singing, making exaggerated hand gestures in the air, tilting their head towards the camera, and playing a ball, seemingly not aware of the attractive women around them. And somehow it struck me that I’ve been looking from the wrong angle. It’s not the nakedness of women that harms women’s social position. It’s the power relations. The men singers were always doing something, either playing, singing or directly looking at the camera. The women, on the contrary, were always looking at those men doing their thang or cheering for them. In the mid to end way of the video, a hundred of women gathered around the pool and danced with the sweet melodic song composed by DJ Khaled, where the man sings baby and the bitch in the same sentence. What makes women a mere chunk of meat isn’t the the amount of body exposure. It’s the way men look compared to women in this kind of image. It’s through the subtle sensory images (male’s dominance or importance in interactional relations), the way the discrepancy increases, rather than through visually evident images (nakedness of women). The image which depicts certain gender is dominant—even without interactions between one another—as the right or regular one, can ultimately shape the social structure in gender roles.

Surprisingly and unsurprisingly, this video was watched 939,413,581 times on youtube. Meaning, it delivered very subtle power relations to the viewers so indirectly that it’s almost invisible. I can say that because I was distracted by the nakedness in the first place and did not see the power relations imposing on me until later.

Just after that day, I was listening to a news radio in the morning and caught the speakers saying something about the “army of beauties”, referring to North Korean cheer squad who are to attend 2018 olympic games. One of the speakers said, “those women were chosen by their looks.” Then both had some laughs asserting the non-sensicalness of the statement. I frowned, thinking why is that a thing? Is it a thing enough to make a fuss about in the news channel in the midst of sexual harassment claims by women basically everywhere on TV? Of course, though, the prevalence of more bad thing should not discourage speaking about less bad things. That’s not my point. The way I perceived their semi-casual conversation was that they appeared to look down on the propagandist elements under dictatorship because of dictatorship. It almost reminded me of the typical movie scenes in which popular high school girls making fun of an unpopular girl for anything just because they look down on her. I have nothing against those news speakers, by the way. My point is, why is it “more” special compared to the same thing happening in our daily life? Models are hired based on certain standards like body shape, looks, and the way they walk. And is it a coincidence that lots of actresses and actors are good-looking? What differentiates these people with North Korean cheer squad is that the squad has an ideology under dictatorship. In this logic, preferring pretty looks for certain jobs in an authoritarian regime is worse than doing the same thing in a democratic country. The quality of ideology aside, is it more justifiable to perform the “action” as a temporary consumption than participating in the it driven by strong belief? It’s up for judgement.

These radio speakers certainly did not watch the DJ Khaled video, because while they are laughing about pretty women with their ideology for doing their job which also gives a form of privilege in their society, there are other women in those speakers’ own backyards shaking boobs and asses for men. Rather than looking at the situation with only criticism, I think we should be appreciating the clarity the North Korean leader presents. What I mean by that is it’s not so ambiguous what he does with the good-looking squad. When things aren’t ambiguous, it’s easier to detect and easier to avoid. But the power relations the popular music culture shows, on the other hand, is discreet, indirect, and often can be ambiguous. It’s harder to fight against things that are too subtle that they are basically invisible. I don’t believe much things will be different if those dancing women were wearing more garments with more than half of the body coverage, because their body speaks unequal relations rather than merely shows them.

Criticising pop cultures seems lame, evidenced by responses I got whenever I talk about it. Certain images drawn in them doesn’t seem to carry much significance and rather, it invokes pessimism in bitterness and perhaps a bit of helplessness. Like, “of course, what do you expect?” I got the similar reaction when I talked about the tendency to fantasise foreign culture in Korean entertainment channels. Popular cultures are more accessible in terms of grasping information and easy to absorb, much more so than scholarly journals for non-academic professional population. To conclude, I will keep on analysing pop cultures no matter how lame it is.

 

Photo by Johny Goerend on Unsplash

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Author: Choyoung

An anthropology novice with passion for small things. A development worker in a world of imponderabilia.

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