Kind of perverse

There’s a new SBS variety show called “Heroes” with an all-female cast (minus the MCs) — IU, Kara’s Nicole, After School’s Gahee, Shin Bong-sun, Lee Ga-eun, Yoo In-ah, T-ara’s Ji-yeon, BEG’s Narsha, Seo In-young, No Sa-yeon, Hong Soo-ah, Finkl’s Lee Jin.

The episode begins with the cast members arriving one by one to a remote location, inside a warehouse, where there are two tables set up. One table is labeled “popular team,” and the other is labeled “unpopular team.” As the members arrive one by one, they’re supposed to decide which table to sit at.

This is the awkward and stupid part: the sunbaes in the industry obviously feel like they belong at the popular table, and the eldest unnies who are also the most senior in experience feel even more of a reason to sit at the popular table. This leaves: jokes about Shin Bong-sun, and jokes about the younger members.

Seniority is a big deal in Asian culture, and I understand that. Women like Noh Sa-yeon and Lee Jin have been in the industry for forever, and do have a lot of work experience that people, say, IU don’t have. But the problem I have with Asia’s sense of seniority is that somehow it trumps everything (both seniority in age and in experience). Look, things in the industry are a lot different now than they were ten years ago. I know that the elder sunbaes have had to pay their dues many times over to be where they are, but it’s so embarrassing to watch them single out newbies like they o b v i o u s l y do not know anything or they can’t possibly be knowledgeable of this, this, or that.

So you get the younger girls being embarrassed to admit their popularity for fear of appearing haughty — because we know that it’s double whammy to be both haughty and a haughty female — when I’m sure audiences know someone like IU is sure as hell more relevant now than Lee Jin.

Aside from that are the jokes on Shin Bong-sun. Good thing she’s such a confident woman and a popular comedian to boot, so that she can neglect comments that the younger, skinnier, prettier women on the show feel like they’re entitled to make. Let’s face it, any show that Shin Bong-sun is on and I will guarantee you she will be the butt of some joke, created to separate her from the prettier, leggier guests. Certain people on the show — cough Narsha and Gahee — are somehow genuinely surprised that SBS is popular, or that god forbid, people like her more than they like them. Yeah, because a non-conventionally attractive, non-stick thin woman can’t be better than them.

Towards the end of the episode, the women play a game, where one person writes down one flaw they have, and the other members have to try and guess what it is. The winner gets to be part of the team that gets certain privileges.

Shin Bong-sun wins one round, so she gets to be the person to test others. Her flaw is that “she can’t hold in her gas.”

It’s a game, it’s meant for fun, blah blah blah, but some of the shit the members said are unbelievable. Narsha was What right does she think she has to say that Bong-sun has a small chest because “all her fat is elsewhere”???? And to think that all of these things are treated as joke material lessens the severity of the statements and diminishes the significance of how male producers encourage this kind of hostility between the women. When it’s Noh Sa-yeon goes, it’s really more of the same rudeness — her face is big, her shoulders are too close together, her hair is terrible — and it’s another shot at women who are past the 20s prime that Korea seems to be so obsessed with.

I notice that on shows that feature all-male casts, when members egg other members on, it’s for lack of ability and prowess, whereas with all-women casts, it’s never on their ability but their appearance and youth. Women are encouraged to be catty to each other, whereas men are not pushed to that level because once men are quarrelsome with each other, the resolution to that tension — as taught by dramas, movies, other social representations — is to fight it out and to reclaim legitimacy through reaffirming their masculinity, and that’s just not very variety show-friendly.

If you want to take another example, SBS’ Intimate Note featuring Super Junior on one episode, and SNSD on another.

On Super Junior’s episode, when the members go up against each other and have their say, bar-none, they point out each other’s flaws as artists. Eunhyuk gets mad at Heechul for his inability to perform seriously on stage without making dramatic gestures, Sungmin tells Kangin to actually go to practice, etc etc. With SNSD, however, the girls get indignant over who dresses really badly, who has bad roommate habits, who can’t cook, and I just wanted to keel all of them for the screeching, the gender policing, and just the general levels of annoying.

So I tried to like “Heroes” and will probably watch the next subbed episode when it’s released, but I think that all-women cast shows are not for me, but solely because the producers behind them (I think I can safely say they’re all male) write scenarios a certain way so that it brings out the most insecure and defensive sides to all of them. And what’s up with all-women casts being MC’ed solely by males? That’s probably another important thing to look at.

  • Amanda

    Oh, I was so mad when Heroes had male MC’s too. The female cast was such a good idea in theory but they ruined it with the cattiness towards each other. I was legitimately shocked when Gahee mentioned that SBS was flat. Does she not have a personality flaw that you could criticize rather than her looks? That would have been less offensive than insinuating she should look like a Barbie doll.

    That is a really good point about Intimate Note. Super Junior, Big Bang, hell ever the Kara/SS501 episode focused on the member’s flaws rather than their inability to be “female”…whatever the heck that means. I’ve never been able to explain why SNSD’s episode annoyed me but you’ve managed to articulate that well. Kudos.

  • Amanda

    …or inability to be male in the case of Super Junior, BB and SS501.

  • jamieguo

    I watched part of Heroes, with the women coming in, but it seemed boring. I think what Intimate Note (and I thought Suju’s IN was great fun and SNSD’s was boring, those secrets were hardly that, Suju seemed more real to me) has that this show doesn’t is that the people involved know each other intimately. Really, if you don’t know a person, you are basically going on superficial things.

    Was thinking about catching the rest of it, but thanks to your review, don’t have to anymore.

  • f

    This makes me want to go back and find any subbed Dangyunhaji segments from XMan and see what some of the ladies had to say to each other.

  • pengork (ex-xiahkixiri)

    i really hate the way the comedians and especially the comediennes are treated on korean variety shows, it’s such a huge turn-off. i mean you know they know what they’re in for but i hate that these tired old jokes, this sexist, shitty humour is still being used. as for heroes.. i always really want to know how much and which parts are scripted. for the pilot ep of a new show especially, i’m sure a lot must’ve been scripted; the younger, prettier girls are always treated like queens on shows, snsd, kara etc, often being compared to shin bong sun, jung joori and co, so it must get in their heads, too, that they’re so pretty and great and the comediennes so hideous. it’s really disappointing. i mean, gahee gets dissed for her age, even, so she’s no stranger to this stuff either, i’d be really fucking disappointed if she meant all this shit. i hate how it perpetuates females policing each other for their physical flaws.

    as for snsd’s intimate note, i’m a little confused. like someone above said, they know each other really well. it didn’t seem to me like the same thing at all. sure they mentioned height and whatnot, but the stuff about cooking didn’t seem to me on account of her being female, it seemed to me like just a personal thing. it seemed part of their dynamics. but, anyway. to sum up: yuck.

  • todays the day

    yes, i tried to watch that show

    but some of those girls are just hands down rude as hell…

    and i’d pick SBS over all of them any day, man do i love anything she does and everything she’s in.

  • snsd

    SNSD is forever my love. Every of them are so dorkable

  • jon kimbell

    Try Invincible Youth season 1 (not season 2 as one of the running jokes is having one of the girl’s teeth laminated while another girl looks like a dude)