‘Tough guys’ do not wear lipstick

The writer says Korea should foster emotionally mature young people who can deal with vital issues calmly and rationally.

Kim Seong-Kon

Kim Seong-Kon

The Korea Herald


May 4, 2022

SEOUL – Today, the world is witnessing the flourishing of Korean pop songs, films and television dramas. The worldwide popularity of BTS, “Parasite,” “Minari,” “Squid Game” and “Pachinko” owes much to a great number of foreigners who watch Korean films or dramas on Netflix these days. This phenomenon, called the “Korean Wave,” has greatly encouraged and heartened Korean people who are depressed lately by domestic political disruptions that are seriously disturbing our formerly peaceful nation.

Yet while enjoying Korean television dramas, some foreign viewers find it strange that young male actors wear red lipstick. Indeed, young Korean male actors always wear lipstick on the screen, and as a result, they look like women. Sometimes, they even look prettier than the women with whom they share scenes. Amusingly, in a recent Korean drama, even a soldier receiving military training in boot camp wears lipstick. Koreans do not seem to care about it. In foreign viewers’ eyes, however, it could surely look weird because it is not manly for a man to wear red lipstick. Many Koreans do not seem to think so. They are fond of pretty boys whom they call “kkotminam,” or “flower-like handsome boys.”

Foreign viewers also find it strange that in Korean dramas, actors are prone to lose their tempers and start yelling at each other as soon as they engage in a conversation. In the eyes of foreign viewers, it could seem like Koreans are easily irritated and provoked, and become emotional. Foreigners may wonder if it is just a matter of Koreans’ temperament, or their particular parlance. In American dramas, for example, such things rarely happen. American actors in television dramas seldom shout or raise their voices. Instead, they try to explain or argue calmly and logically even when something gets on their nerves. Of course, there may be some exceptions. And yet, that is the general tendency of English-speakers.

Another thing that may perplex foreign viewers is that male Korean actors frequently shed tears or weep loudly in television dramas. In Korean culture, it is only natural for men to cry when they are sad or get emotional. In other cultures, however, men seldom weep or cry. To foreign eyes, therefore, it may seem weird and awkward when a grown-up frequently cries. In English-speaking countries, people would make fun of such a man by calling him a “crybaby.” Indeed, how could you trust or depend on a man who cries so often? Especially in American culture, a man is supposed to control his emotions and hold back tears — even under sad or difficult circumstances.

While playing an important role in raising the profile of Korean culture overseas, Korean television dramas might inadvertently give the wrong impression that South Korea is full of sissy boys, emotionally immature people and crybabies. Perhaps our male actors should refrain from wearing red lipstick, shouting emotionally and shedding tears so frequently.

Perhaps instead of “pretty boys” we should value “tough guys” who can overcome ordeals and hold back tears, no matter how difficult the situation is. We should change our social atmosphere of admiring “flower-like pretty boys” who are fragile and weak when facing hardships. We should not be so fixated on men’s physical beauty. Inner beauty and strength are much more important. Our dramas, too, should stop insisting that young male actors always wear lipstick. Rather, we should encourage our young men to become tough and strong.

We should foster emotionally mature young people who can deal with vital issues calmly and rationally. We should be people of composure, not people of anger or impetuousness. Especially when in relationships with other countries, we are not supposed to act narrow-mindedly or emotionally. Instead, we should be flexible, generous, rational and reasonable.

We should also learn to refrain from weeping or crying, or overflowing with emotions. We should “bite the bullet,” not cry and endure even unbearable pain silently. We should learn to control our emotions and maintain integrity and dignity under any circumstances. In diplomacy, too, we should demonstrate a gallant mien, not a sly or obsequious attitude in front of other countries when they display their hubris or try to bully or manipulate us. Only then will those countries respect us. To those countries that help and befriend us, we should be grateful and appreciative.

In reality, however, we have been doing the opposite. To overbearing and bullying countries, our government has been submissive and chosen to cave in. To friendly countries that have helped us greatly, we have been ungrateful, and even impudently hostile. To countries to whom we could show leniency and generosity, our politicians have acted like petulant children and thus irrevocably ruined the relationship.

In 1984, Norman Mailer wrote a novel called “Tough Guys Don’t Dance.” Later, he directed a film with the same title. “Tough guys” have other characteristics. They do not sob or weep. They are calm and cool, not emotional. Furthermore, they do not wear lipstick.

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