Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Pairing party" in Hongdae gives some people the vapors

I've long described Korea as the country that invented Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That is, it's perfectly acceptable to be homosexual as long as you keep it to yourself.

To a large extent, this compartmentalization is a larger reflection of Korean culture's utilitarian attitude toward sex in general, including the heterosexual variety. Scratch below the surface and there is a pragmatic realization that sex is something people want to do and need to do, including those who are unmarried or married to someone who does not sexually satisfy them, but there is a cladding that protects — even inoculates — the rest of society that simply doesn't want to know about it (or shouldn't know about it).

This was manifest in the ubiquitous red-light districts just a side street or two removed from major train stations that had later transformed into shopping districts, the wink-wink cultural acceptance of extramarital sexual relations (but not really affairs) through room salons, etc. Adult prostitution is de facto legal in South Korea, and there is widespread acceptance of the idea that it is not really cheating if you're not in love with the person you're having sex with (e.g., the room salon girl).

Meanwhile, there has been a consistent — but not always successful — effort to keep those in high school or younger out of these places, either as customers or service providers. (And lest anyone think I'm condoning or even glorifying the practice, I want to make clear that it was built on the backs of women who were often kidnapped, duped, or otherwise coerced or physically forced into the business, including recently women trafficked from other countries like Russia and the Philippines, and it is good to see various government agencies trying harder and harder to curb that.)

Whiskey, tango, foxtrot, Kushibo?!
How can you post pictures like that?!
Well, devoted reader, it's
in the Chosun Ilbo,
and if it's in the
Chosun Ilbo, it's A-okay.
Until recently, sexuality in Korea was not so in-your-face, but that started to change with such movies as Yellow Hair (left) in the late 1990s, with its lengthy sex scenes that heralded an era where casual sex, premarital sex, and extramarital sex were all so normative.

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that a club in Hongdae, whose bar district earns its bread and butter from providing opportunities for casual sex, would offer up an event like the "pairing party" or "mating party" advertised in the lovely artwork above and below, where they promise to pay for your one-night stand.

From the Korea Times:
Who would have ever imagined a club that promotes sex exists in the supposedly conservative country of Korea? This absurd idea is happening in the middle of one of Seoul’s most popular areas, Hongdae, according to Friday.

Posters advertising one-night stands at a club are found on Hongdae streets.

This club even offers to pay for the drinks and motel fees if clubbers find their partners for the night, encouraging people to actively engage in sexual activity.
But see, here is the problem. The organizers of this 짝짓기 파티 (jakchikki means pairing, and doubles as a euphemism for mating or coupling), by publicly advertising and formalizing their activities, have breeched the appearance of propriety in this society where conservative sexual mores are still commonplace. They have violated the Don't Tell part of this unspoken social contract.

It matters little that they pierced the veneer in Hongdae (which, by the way, is nearly engulfed by a residential area). Marring that facade is still a social faux-pas or even, depending on its severity, a crime. We saw this a few years ago when English Spectrum publicized their infamous Hongdae party (right), a move with led to the launch of Anti-English Spectrum. And granted, while that outrage was fueled by more than a bit of racism and sexism, at its foundation was anger that the apple cart that everyone knew not to touch had been upset.

The sin here is that the broader public is being made aware of all this, and the club probably ought to have known that, if it is run by Koreans. But then again, a lot more SoKos no longer really care for the archaic and quaint old rules governing expressions of sexuality. Or tattoos. Or marriage. Or whatever else your parents or grandparents have firm ideas about.

Some would ask how the club can make any money by offering, as the Korea Times says they're doing, to pay for the drinks and motel costs of the clubbers who manage to hook up with random strangers, but I think what they're trying to do is create a brand: we are the club to come to if you want to get laid tonight, even on the other 360+ nights a year that we're not holding this type of event.

And that's like printing money.

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