The Popularity of Pretty Men
BUSAN, South Korea – There was an interesting article in the Korea Times this past week talking about the marketing dilemma faced by producers of domestic appliances in Korea. Apparently, there is a great debate at planning room meetings as to “whether it’s better to have the products endorsed by beautiful women or men just as pretty.”
Men just as pretty? I love the fact that I have lived long enough to be in a world where one can muse on such things with a straight face. A straight, pretty face, all the better, in my case.
Yet, looking around Korea, at billboards, TV commercials, music videos and all manner of media, I see that the trend is true: there is an abundance of pretty-faced men looking back at me. And they are often winking, giggling, holding a stuffed animal and gesturing in all sorts of ways that would, much as the word “pretty” traditionally be attributed to women.
What a brave new world it is: where having a delicate appearance, opposite the standard image of “brave” can garner you a boatload of cash pushing washing machines and rice cookers.
Korean Actor Bae Yong Jun, the man that Japanese housewives lose themselves over, shown here in his ad for The Body Shop
While there are certainly exceptions, the pretty man trend is not a phenomenon one sees in the West. There, the men who grace billboards, commercials or sing songs (with the exception of Emo) tend to be a bit more on the rough and edgy side–often appearing with messed up hair, an unshaven face, dirt smeared somewhere on their torso and generally, looking more like men as they have been portrayed for time eternal.
What I find most interesting is that the two opposing standards of maleness in the media are in fact images of males opposing the reality of males in both cultures which they inhabit. More simply put, the marketing mavens have reasoned that the women they are pushing products to want what they can’t have.
At the risk of playing into several stereotypes lets face it: Western men are a bit wimpy when compared to men in other cultures. Perhaps “wimpy” is a poor choice of words, but suffice it to say that men, in most parts of the world, fit much more comfortably into the “traditional” image of being a “man” than those in the West.
As products of the sexual revolution, Western men were, for the most part, tamed and taught that being a tough guy just won’t play anymore, and that the tools once pulled from the testosterone toolbox are no longer of much use.
It is a culture remolded and reworked over the past 40 years that puts forth the revolutionary cultural more that ‘hey, that girl you used to push around on the playground and who you later didn’t get the door for, will probably grow up to be your boss so you better start playing nice’.
What this has created is a generation of more feminized Western men. “Feminized” encompassing things such as getting in touch with your feelings, playing nice with others, allowing women equal access in the job place and not resorting to violence to settle a score with another male. And, it is interesting to note that at the most base aspects of relationships between men and women in the West, that domestic violence from men aimed at women has consistently fallen and domestic violence from women towards men has gone up.
There was an interesting survey a while back involving American women in top management. A fair percentage of those polled wished that they had pursued the more “traditional” stay home, take care of the kids role in their lives. Are we to infer from this that there are certain innate qualities within our species of predetermined gender roles? My Western upbringing forbids me from answering that question for fear of reprisal, but if so, following this line of logic, if many women wish that they were more “womanly,” it stands to reason that they wish we were more “manly.”
Sean O’Pry, rated by model.com as the #2 top model in the world
As is often the case in our psyche, people usually want what they can’t have. You know, the ol’ “grass is greener on the other side” thing. It is from this porous premise that I posit the following: The reason Western media is filled with unshaven slackers and bad boys is because of the Western remaking of what it traditionally meant to “be a man,” where as in other parts of the world, such as Asia or just about everywhere else for that matter, men are still, well, men. At least in the traditional sense: Holding a vast majority of the power, the money, the top positions and, quite frankly, all the cards. And when you hold all the cards, there is no need to play nice. What is your counterpart going to do to you when they have little to do it with?
Perhaps more interesting are the cyclical possibilities. If the masses mirror what is fed to them by the media, then we should see more “manly” men in the West coming to the fore and more “feminized” men (and thus, higher placed women) becoming prominent in Korea. Then we have to start the whole thing all over again, and I will surely need massive amounts of plastic surgery and a large collection of stuffed animals.