KoreanTV: Toppling Tropes

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Dear Korean TV writers,

Today I want to congratulate you.

Great job, introducing a lead male character whose relationships are generated almost entirely from empathy. You rock!

The show “Oh My Venus” was so cleverly subversive. I almost didn’t watch it because the title and description suggested all the things I don’t appreciate in relationship stories. But, you were so tricky!

I was pleasantly surprised at the way you started to cultivate and then totally submarined typical tropes and replaced them with healthier messages. It wasn’t 100%, but wow, what a refreshing drink from the entertainment fountain. Thank you!

A few examples:

Fat shaming: the show description leads you to believe that there will be a focus on slender bodies and physical beauty as the key for women to attract men. Instead, the male lead, who has a medical and fitness busines gets upset when those he is counseling or training are focused on “the shell”, as he calls it. He doesn’t care about weight, he cares about inner health. “Being healthy on the inside is sexiest.” Ultimately, there will be a character who has done a lot of damage to herself with an unhealthy focus on being thin and pretty. She is depicted as deeply unhappy and really struggles to maintain relations. Meanwhile, there is a character who is very heavy set and she’s happy and functional. At one point, the heavy set woman is concerned that her friend/boss is dieting too much. When she learns that the diet is about dealing with hypothyroidism, she says, “oh, that’s okay, then. My doctor says my weight is all muscle.” And there is never a single derogatory depiction of the heavier woman. It’s awesome.

Yes, the “it’s all about what’s on the inside” is somewhat conflicting with the fact that most of the central characters are so beautiful. Baby steps. Thank you for the anti-fat shaming.

Hyper-masculinity: The men in this show are all about empathy (if they are not, it is an object lesson.) Mr. Silver Spoon with a black belt has a couple of very close friends. You don’t realize for a while, that they aren’t also rich boys. He has taken them in as family. They will live with him and he will help them find careers. But, mostly, they are so affectionate and intimately present. As it becomes clear that the friends have traumatic backgrounds, we see how one of the friendships began. In that process, the potential friend says, “I don’t want your pity.” At which point, the main character shows him some nasty scars on his knee and says, “it’s not pity. It’s empathy.” As the viewer, you come to see that this is the source of every single one of his relationships. Because empathy is the source, there is an utter lack of any kind of macho masks in their friendships. Lots of hugging, crying, laughing, being silly, and acceptance of one another. A lot of good caretaking.

There are fabulous non-sexualized relations between men and women.

The struggles people go through seem fairly realistic and not based on pathological manipulations and evil doings.

Even the piece where three men are scamming this woman, out of their own fears, ends up with them realizing that they were causing unintended harm. They feel terrible and quite humbly seek to make amends and do. Well done.

For the most part, utter respect of boundaries. I admired the way a conflict of relational style meant that the characters had to have faith in one another and let go of having things go their own way. Waiting for the other person to reach a mutual point.

Perhaps the one I got the most bang from, was the use of the trope where someone claims they own someone else. Mr. Fitness Guru, after realizing that the woman he has been trying to train has serious health issues, tells her that if she wants him to commit to helping her, she has to let him own her body, for a while. He’s doing it because she has lost the ability to relate healthily to her own body. (He has watched her push herself to the point of hospitalization several times.) She consents but I still found myself wary of this dynamic. My wariness felt justified when, later, he wants to kiss her and says, “your body is mine, so you can’t say “no.””

This leads to her redefining what he has control of. She makes it clear that his “ownership” is solely related to the health regime and may be rescinded at any moment. Later, they will even have a conversation about “what is this “own someone else’s body line, anyway. You can’t ever own someone body.” Blow me away, given how often that trope is used in Korean drama.

In short, brilliant use of the “set it up to tear it down” tactic.

Keep up the good work!

In great appreciation, Una Spenser

from FB post 12/12/16

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