Healthy porn for men – deconstructing dog-whistle concepts in k-pop

Recently, a producer of the idol TV show “Produce 101” came out and openly admitted what I’d already known and had been telling people for years – that the show (and by implication, all idol groups with a similar theme) is basically jack-off material, or “healthy porn for men” as he describes it.  Several people were shocked – could this be true?  How come they hadn’t noticed?  More importantly, how to identify this “healthy porn”?  Come on a journey with Kpopalypse into the world of dog-whistle concepts!

dogwhistlehead

Here’s an activity that you can all do the next time you’re feeling adventurous and like a bit of social shaming.  Or you can just imagine yourself doing this, if you’re a pussy but enjoy living life vicariously through other people’s snarky blogging.

Step 1: go to a place that meets the following criteria:

  • Somewhere in public
  • Has a computer with Internet access and a big screen in full view that people can easily watch over your shoulder
  • Plenty of people of all ages milling about doing stuff but no people very familiar with k-pop anywhere around

Step 2: pick a YouTube video to watch.  If you’re male, pick this video, or something with a very similar visual presentation, something that you believe is completely innocent.

If you’re female, instead you can pick something along the lines of this:

Step 3: as you watch, occasionally look around at all the people watching YOU.  What do you think people will say?  How do you think they will react?

I do the above process fairly often at the radio station where I work, not as some kind of social experiment but just because it’s part of my weekly routine to check out new k-pop.  If I put on something like pretty much anything with a group of girls dancing in it, regardless of the levels of flesh shown or where the video sits on the “cute/sexy” scale, over-the-shoulder commenters (of both genders) will always say stuff like “okay, I know why you like this group” with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge-say-no-more kind of tone.  People who are new to k-pop and slightly older/wiser than the average k-pop fan (demographically) haven’t been desensitised to the constant sugar-rush of young men and women releasing cheesy videos every week and therefore they can detect what you can’t – the dog-whistle.

I’ve discussed the power of the dog-whistle concept before, but a brief recap: a dog-whistle can only be heard by dogs, not by humans.  Likewise, the dog-whistle concept is one that has a certain meaning on the surface, but a completely different meaning just for a specific audience.  Let’s quickly look at a western example before we get into the k-pop.

If you’re a fan of classic Hollywood movies you’ll know that women in them are getting spanked all the time.  Why?  Was there a massive sexual preference for spanking that swept through Hollywood at this time, that then mysteriously vanished a few decades later?  Doubtful, rates of people enjoying BDSM have never changed much.  Was it some sort of anti-female conspiracy to promote domestic violence and keep women in their place?  Maybe misogynistic scriptwriters were the reason in some cases, but it wasn’t a very effective Hollywood conspiracy if Mae West was also allowed a long, active career in the very same system.  A much more likely reason for the proliferation of spanking is that you couldn’t show sex on screen in Hollywood due to the Hollywood Code that regulated film production, but spanking was permissible because you could dress it up with moral values in the script.  Make the woman naughty, and later in the script punish her for misbehaving, then you can have a scene where she gets bent over by a man which is the closest thing to fucking that you could show on screen back then, but because according to the script the woman deserved it you could say “but we’re just promoting good moral values” if anyone called you out on it.  The people who put these scenes in the films knew that the audience members were actually imagining the people on screen having sex instead.  Not many people get spanked in movies anymore, and it’s because the sexual activities that people really want to see in films are more permissible now, so the need for a substitute is no longer required.

In k-pop however, not much is usually permissible.  EXID’s “L.I.E” is a nice basic example to look at, to get started.  The video is overtly sexy by k-pop standards but also full of innuendo that’s reasonably obvious:

  • At the start of the video, a couple pull up to a hotel.  The receptionist gives them the key and smiles.  The date then changes from 6/8 to 6/9.  The insinuation is that the couple are checking into a love hotel.
  • The key to the room is also “690”.
  • The lift control is phallic and gets “fingered”.
  • The two bells on the desk clearly represent boobs.
  • The receptionist “beats her meat” in time to the song, presumably while thinking about the couple in the hotel room.

And that’s not even a complete list, just the first one and a half minutes.  Before any of you accuse me of “reaching”, we know that this is all deliberate because in a rare case of industry candour the director freely admitted to it.  The song has the girls looking hot and so he’s given them a hot, sexually suggestive video to match, but he’s also upped the ante with the extra messages which might slip under the radar of the very naive but make perfect sense to anyone with a bit of wisdom about sexual matters.  In k-pop idol territory showing too much flesh or sexual activity is a risk to their brand (will teenage girls want to buy beauty products that a female idol endorses if she acts slutty?) but moving these messages just under the radar of the very naive is enough to get the intended message over the line on the surface without dulling the intention for the dog-whistle’s target audience.

This is a pretty basic example, because the overt message of the video and the underlying message are more or less in sync, the dog-whistle is just a slightly more extreme version of the same thing, implying actual sexual activity rather than just “sexiness”.  However, many k-pop MVs are a lot more subtle than this, and the really advanced dog-whistle deployment comes when the overt message and the underlying message of the video are more contradictory.  Let’s now look at such an advanced example.  Be warned – this is completely disturbing and may make you hate me, yourself, k-pop and/or life in general.

There’s nothing overtly sexual about April’s “Dream Candy” whatsoever, right?  On the surface it’s just an everyday little-girl fantasy about gardens and unicorns or some stupid bullshit, and if that’s all you saw when you looked at this, congratulations, your mind has been unsullied by the wicked ways of the world, and you would be well advised to retain your precious naivety and stop reading this post right now.

Actually, “Dream Candy” is under the surface as creepy as fucking shit, absolutely the worst of the worst of pedophile-pandering in k-pop.  It’s also a perfect example of the kind of “healthy porn for men” that Produce 101’s director was talking about.

healthyporn

Let’s break it down.  Get that bucket handy.

  • For a start, the girls might be wearing some baby-doll style dresses but boy did they get the 18+ makeup applied to their faces.  There’s nothing innocent about that particular shade of ultra-glossy pink lipstick which whether you like it or not is straight out of porn where matching lip tone to labia tone is used to heighten sexual suggestion.
  • From the second verse, the girls are wearing dirndls during their dance routines.  Dirndls are colloquially known as “German milkmaid outfits”.  These are also standard porn attire (what – don’t believe me?  Google search “dirndl porn” with Safesearch off if you dare!), especially in the modified form they appear in here, because unlike April’s dresses a traditional dirndl doesn’t rise above the kneecap.
  • The rest of the time the girls are in either bed clothes or baby-doll dresses, creepily exaggerating their extreme youth (but still with adult makeup on!)  They also spend a fair bit of time in the video in bed, which I suppose should be expected for a song called “Dream Candy”, but if that name alone doesn’t ring alarm bells, your parents haven’t taught you well enough about “stranger danger“.  Don’t accept “dream candy” from strangers, kids!
  • Lots of blowing kisses and lovey-dovey eyes straight to camera all throughout the video, which would be fine and could easily be written off as platonic, if not for…
  • …how in one scene they’re sneaking out of their bedroom via a fucking bedsheet-rope, which is what you do when you’re a kid and you want to do something ill-advised late at night without your parents’ permission, like meet some creepy uncle stalker fan.
  • To top it all off there’s the song’s lyrics.  “Why not?  I want to know!” sing the April girls.  “Isn’t this fun?  Can you believe it?”  Don’t forget to “bring your heart, pounding with excitement”.  Even if those translations are only half-right – ewwwwwwwww.

To someone as young and naive as the girls themselves probably are, none of this would register as an issue, and that’s how stuff like this gets over the line with k-pop fans.  The reason why the average k-pop fan wouldn’t even think to bat an eyelid at this video is because just like a dog whistle the true message isn’t actually for them, so they can’t detect it.  It also gets over the line with censors, the MV director can very easily claim “innocence” in the face of any arguments that something’s not quite right with their video.  However anyone reasonably knowledgeable about the fucked up ways of the world can see the truth – this is a dog-whistle concept specifically targeting the kind of people that Chris Hansen likes to provide furniture for.  It’s not as far-fetched as it seems – remember that the vast majority of k-pop girl group songs are written by older men in boardrooms.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with ignoring all that and just enjoying “Dream Candy” on a “it’s a nice song with an attractive video” level, just like there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the EXID video, and just to be clear I’m not saying that it’s wrong to watch these videos or accusing anyone of liking either song of being dishonest or dirty or whatever.  I’m just saying that an underlying message exists specifically targeted towards a certain audience, and that while you might be enjoying the video in one way, there’s a whole bunch of other people out there who are enjoying it in a completely different way.

This type of dog-whistle message is very common in k-pop, I could put up here several more examples of exactly this type of thing in k-pop but you can also probably go and find your own.  Many groups and solo performers have been through a concept like this, or something similar to it.

IU certainly knows all about it, having been at the coalface of dealing with creepy baby-doll concepts for years.  It’s helpful to finish off this post by looking at “Twenty-three”, because here IU does a fair bit of deconstruction of her own.  People think I exaggerate IU’s disdain for her old career path, but I don’t – in reality, we know that she’s sick of it and she hates it, because she told us.  IU with the help of her video director recently did something completely unprecedented in all of k-pop, and exposed k-pop’s dishonest pedophile-pandering dog-whistle approach, turning it completely on its head.  Unfortunately, she did it in a way that k-pop’s legions of dummies were largely too stupid to understand.

Do I really actually need to explain the meaning of IU’s “Twenty-three”?  I would have hoped not, but since the song and the entire “Chat-shire” album was misunderstood by so many, and so many continue to bang on incorrectly about IU’s “lolita concepts” or whatever, it’s probably worth briefly highlighting a few key scenes, so you can understand how IU’s deployment of the dog-whistle works in reverse.

  • Before the song starts, IU reveals a birthday cake, with the name of the song “23” on it.  She blows out the candles, as it’s her 23rd birthday.  The cake is cute, and decorated with girly pastel colours, but IU isn’t happy, she doesn’t smile or act cute, she can’t bring herself to celebrate her career.  IU cautiously tastes the cake and then collapses into it, exhausted.
  • At 1:00 IU is dancing with backup dancers, giving a huge, fake grin, then quickly becomes annoyed with the facade and shoves the microphone away.  The microphone transforms into “spilled milk”, i.e something that there’s “no use in crying over” because it’s the path she’s chosen, she’s trapped.  The next time we see her singing, she’s smiling less.
  • Chasing the rabbit is a reference to the book Alice In Wonderland (written by Lewis Carroll, also a target of pedophile accusations) and as the video progresses IU goes deeper into a succession of “rabbit holes”, implying again that her situation is one like Alice’s in the book, something that she’s trapped in until resolution.
  • At 1:47 IU emerges from one such hole into a birthday party room, but the decor and table arrangement suggests a child’s birthday party, not an adult’s.  Instead of celebrating politely, she rips the party treats off the table and trashes everything, destroying the childlike image.  It’s the only time she genuinely smiles in the entire video.
  • The famous “baby” scene at 2:04 is exactly the opposite of what netizens idiotically pretended it was.  IU is on a high stool, and pet food bowls on the floor symbolise her servitude, that her position has been forced on her.  IU glares at the camera and does not smile.  She starts off sucking the bottle and holding the doll, playing the game of the infantilised pop star as she’s told to, then gets quickly bored, trashing her doll and then eventually collapsing in her seat, exhausted once again, so “absolutely over it” that she can’t keep up the facade for more than a few seconds.

On top of all that there’s the lyrics.

I want to be a child forever,
No, I want to be a moist woman
Yes, I will live silently as death
No, I will turn everything inside out
Try to guess – which one?

IU’s image historically through the early portion of her career has been that of a “child forever” (forced into baby-doll dresses and pandering to pedophiles) who “lives silently as death” (was not allowed to speak up about it).  However now she’s the “moist woman turning everything inside out”.  She then asks the listener sarcastically and rhetorically “am I still the child or am I an adult now?  Guess which one!” – the answer’s obvious enough as it’s the title of the song.

you cannot tell by my face
making a facial expression opposite to the heart is really simple

IU would know all about that.  Remember that the image IU was made to carry through her early career got so creepy that she was even disgustingly called the “Nation’s Little Sister” at one point by Korean media and fans alike, a title she has since openly spoken out against.  In “Twenty-three” IU is rallying against the kind of attitude of the Produce 101 producer (and several other similar producers) who wants to create “healthy porn” with underage or dressed-underage girls, deconstructing the dog-whistle concepts so you can see them for what they really are.  I bet she can’t watch April’s “Dream Candy” without shuddering.  You don’t have to go very deep to see the critique, and the fact that most netizens were completely incapable of doing even this tiny amount of thinking for themselves and accused IU of pedophilia (or whatever) instead shows just how incredibly stupid the average consumer of Korean pop culture can be.

Now you know everything you need to for “health improvement”!  Fortunately only smart people read Kpopalypse blog, so we definitely won’t see any misrepresentation of my aims or intentions with this post on any forums or popular k-pop focused websites.  Isn’t that a relief?

dogwhistlefoot

10 thoughts on “Healthy porn for men – deconstructing dog-whistle concepts in k-pop

  1. After reading this post, I convinced my room-mate,-whose only interaction with K-pop comes from whatever songs I’m blasting while I’m in the shower-, to watch that April video with me. Poor innocent soul was discussing the lyrics and the song, so I stopped her and asked “Did you see the porn in this video?”, and she said “Porn? Really? They were pretty covered-up compared to anything you might see on TV now. There was some leg on display, some upskirt angles and the overall look reminded me of Japanese street fashion with all the frilly white Victorian princess-ness. Is that what you meant?” Then I showed her your blog post. She read it, sighed, said “I’m clearly not made for this world and I’ll have to suffer for it” and left. This is yet another one of many reasons why more women should read the Kpopalypse blog! To learn how the world works.
    You already post very frequently and it would probably be too much to ask, but it would be so awesome if this post would turn into a series of its own! You may be inclined to say that you don’t want to spoon-feed your readers. And I agree. Your video break-downs would be educational and eye-opening and, hopefully, by using each deconstructed example as a blue-print, readers will become able to think, deconstruct and analyze videos the way you can. Your future examples will be like training. And then like solving a quiz and checking your answers at the end.
    Sometimes I wish someone would translate this or any other of your analytical posts in Korean and post it on pann or whatever platform is the most popular with netizens. It could lead to a Matrix-like awakening.

  2. I’ve watched a lot of children’s movies as an adult (hazards of being an auntie), and it’s interesting to me to see how much of this goes on to make the material appeal to a broader audience than just kids. The “Shrek” franchise in particular is very much like watching two different movies at the same time, and it’s interesting to see what makes the kids laugh (HA-HA-HA!) vs. what makes the adults laugh (heh-heh-heh).

    Although it can get very creepy–have you ever seen “National Velvet”? That has a scene where a 12-year-old (but still quite beautiful) Elizabeth Taylor lies in her bed and pretends to ride her horse (who she thinks about just ALL the time)–I’m sure that she and most of the (1940s) audience had no idea what was going on, but I felt like the writer and director should probably both have been arrested….

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  4. I agree with blt97, that despite being an “intelligent adult”, I don’t pick up on those dog-whistle messages, usually (I did get most of them in EXID’s LIE.) But if you were to point out that Gfriend (my absolute favorite group) does these things, I’d roll over, unconscious. So PLEASE, I beg of you, please explain more, we want/need more examples, ok, cuz we’re dumb! 🙂

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