JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

copyright 2021, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 60, spring 2021

The queer politics of Korean variety TV: state, industry & genre

by Grace Jung

On September 3, 2016, the popular South Korean (hereafter “Korean”) variety program Ask Us Anything (2015— ) on cable network JoongAng Tongyang Broadcasting Corporation (JTBC) aired an episode featuring singer Ahn Sol-bin of the Korean pop (K-pop) girl group LABOUM.[1] [open endnotes in new window] Early in the episode, one of the program’s regular cast members Kim Hee-chul (of boyband Super Junior) invites Ahn to come sit beside him saying,

“Sol-bin. Even if you date me, you won’t be involved in any scandals so don’t worry. Really.”

To this, Ahn immediately responds,

“Why? Are you gay?”

Kim and the cast members all react to Ahn’s comment with laughter over the canned laugh track that sets off in the background. Three months later, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) issued a disciplinary action against Ask Us Anything’s program runners citing this remark to be problematic as it might be offensive to the “sexual minority” (sŏngsosuja)—the LGBTQIA+ group in Korea. Alongside this, the KCC also condemned the program’s frequent objectification of women’s bodies, citing the episode in which cast member Min Kyung-hoon made a bra out of paper cups and gifted it to actress Jun So-min.

The KCC is a state administration that is responsible for producing and regulating all television-related policies including censorship clauses, and it is comparable to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US. KCC representative Ha Nam Shin states,

“[Ask Us Anything] is a variety program which is comedic in nature but it also enjoys a level of popularity that rivals non-cable programs. This means that the show also must maintain a level of class that reflects its popularity and we decided to issue a warning on this ground."[2]

In the same report is a record that thirty-seven viewers wrote in complaints against the show to the KCC, although details of these complaints were not published.

In this article, I investigate the KCC’s disciplinary action against Ask Us Anything based on claims of homophobia and sexism, which construct a state concern for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community and women. The state and industry, however, prevent fair and equal treatment of queer and female identities on and off screen through moments of homophobia, sexism, and emphasis on heteronormative ideals. While the two particular incidents that the KCC cite lack sufficient textual evidence of homophobia or sexism, Ask Us Anything does air homophobic and misogynistic content that state censors regularly overlook, demonstrating the KCC’s inconsistent political concerns for the rights of marginalized identities in the Republic of Korea (ROK). While a gay celebrity like Hong Seok-cheon makes an appearance on the show, the program reduces his appearance to a state of homonormativity by making his value and return to television conditional upon his economic contribution to the nation as an entrepreneur and not recognizing his inherent human value as a person who happens to be a gay man.

The genre of Korean variety TV and figures like Kim Hee-chul, however, transgress conservative rationales on television through queer/camp visuals and queer stardom. In addition, the female comedians who make guest appearances on Ask Us Anything also bring an element of trans gender queering to the screen by disrupting the straight cis-male cast members’ masculinity, male gaze and male appetite for sexually desirable femininity. I argue that while the instances that the KCC cite as homophobic and sexist are not so violating to LGBTQIA+ members and women, the show still violates the rights of these identities in other ways. At the same time, the show exhibits queerly liberatory moments as well.

While reading Ask Us Anything through a queer lens, I bring attention to the “queer politics” of Korean variety television by using a method similar to one that political scientist Samuel Chambers applies.[3] I analyze state laws, the industry, and episodes of Ask Us Anything for evidence of state and industry intolerance of queer identities. I also look at how the show transgresses the very acts of queer suppression and homophobia by exhibiting high camp elements and startexts while also maintaining a highly hegemonic-masculinist logic in practice within the TV industry through hierarchies and relations that oppress or exclude women.[4] The discriminatory practices against women and queer identities expose how hegemonic masculinity affects both groups in the television industry specifically and in Korean society more broadly. With that said, Ask Us Anything also contributes to progressive queer television viewing through frequent gender bending and trans gender queer subjectivity. 

There is a dearth of queer Korean TV studies in the fields of Cinema and Media, Gender and Sexuality, and East Asian studies. Historian Todd Henry’s essay “Queer/Korean Studies as Critique” comments on the systemized discrimination against and suppression of not only queer civilians in the ROK but also of the scholars who seek to publish on queerness thus “relegat[ing] scholarship on LGBTQI Koreans to a position of negativity and neglect.”[5] In fact, during the research for this article, I had trouble finding academic publications on queer critical Korean television studies; an article on the Korean drama Life is Beautiful (SBS, 2010) and gay representation is an outlier.[6] What articles I did find on contemporary queer Korean media were few and far in between, and topics were mostly limited to cinema, fashion, and K-pop. This project aims to fill a gap and expand the discourse in the area of queer Korean television studies with a focus on variety content.

Anti-queer politics in Korean broad/narrowcasting

Queer Korean identities are not outlawed or completely erased in Korean broadcast and cable television. Within domestic politics, however, the state makes little effort to enforce policies that prevent discrimination of LGBTQIA+ citizens. Following the impeachment and arrest of former President Park Geun-hye in late 2016, President Moon Jae-in was elected. During his presidential campaign, he publicly announced that he opposed gay marriage and homosexuality in the military. Moon claimed that one’s sexual orientation is a “private matter”—an expression that forces queer people into the closet and prevents them from living freely and openly in society.

In the JTBC serialized TV drama Schoolgirl Detectives (2014-2015), a kiss scene between two high school girls led to a warning citation from the KCC to the producers of the show because of the content’s “harmful influence on Korea’s youth.”[7] Homosexuality is not illegal in Korea, but laws like the Juvenile Protection Act (also known as the Youth Protection Act) which went into effect in 1997 masquerade as a form of government protection of youth while repressing queer identities. In 2001, the law was amended to prohibit the distribution of any homosexual material or content related to incest, bestiality and sado-masochism.[8] Distribution, according to the act, includes the sale of audio-visual media and broadcasting. This law not only equates homosexuality with harm to youth but also legitimizes the exclusion of queer subjects on television. In April 2003, after years of activism by Korean LGBTQIA+ groups, “homosexuality” was removed from the list of “obscenity and perversion.”[9] Despite this, in 2015, it was reported that Samsung, along with Google, banned a popular app for social networking within the queer community called Hornet.

Samsung, which owns the newspaper JoongAng, is also affiliated with the cable network JTBC where Ask Us Anything airs. The KCC’s Broadcasting Act allowed chaebol[10] groups to own up to 33% of cable operations and to produce, program and air their own entertainment.[11] A representative of the company explained in a memo to Hornet dated January 1, 2013 that the app was not approved for Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets:

“[D]ue to the local moral values or laws, content containing LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi sexual, Transgender) is not allowed in the following countries….”[12]

The list includes 34 countries including Korea and the US, as well as nations with socially progressive gender and sexuality politics such as Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Norway. The report also states that images found in the app are “not appropriate for young users” such as teens and children.[13] This remark stems from Samsung’s assumption that an LGBTQIA+ identity is necessarily sexual and immoral. It also contains the discriminatory stereotype that conflates homosexuality with pedophilia. Samsung’s report which includes this conflation parallels the language used by the KCC in the Broadcasting Act. While queerness is not illegal in Korea, queer discrimination is systemically present in both state and commercial institutions.

The KCC’s Broadcasting Act applies to all broadcast and narrowcast programs. Throughout the document, there is a consistent discouragement of “lewdness” or anything that would disrupt “a sound family life and on [the] guidance of children and juveniles.”[14] The Broadcasting Act also condemns discrimination according to “sex, age, occupation, religion, belief, class, region, race, etc.”:

“A broadcast shall strive to faithfully reflect the interests of the groups or classes that are relatively small in number or at a disadvantage in realization of the pursuit of their interests.”[15]

Whereas identity-based discrimination is condemned, there is no explicit language that protects LGBTQIA+ rights in this act. Rather, by upholding family wholesomeness and values, emphasizing the protection of youth, and stressing overall “public morals and social ethics,” the Broadcasting Act demonstrates its bias for the heteronormative family structure. The state’s protectiveness of the “sound family life,” children, as well as public morals is motivated by sexist and homophobic underpinnings, as demonstrated by the Juvenile Protection Act.[16]

The irony is that despite the state’s emphasis on the family life, Korea has many single people. The number of heterosexual marriages is low while divorce rates are high. The number of births is also at a low, which produces a great deal of government anxiety given the high number of senior citizens and a concern over welfare.[17] Because there are so many singles living in Korea, same-sex cohabitation among heterosexuals is quite common, and homosexual cohabitation can easily pass for straight.[18] As mentioned earlier, being gay, lesbian or bi-sexual is not illegal in Korea. Being transgender is also not barred by law; it is legal to change one’s gender status in government records, public files, and national registration identification card (chumin tŭngnokjŭng) albeit with a great number of bureaucratic challenges.[19]

Queer policing takes place in certain spaces and events set aside for gendered nation-state duties. According to the Constitutional Court of Korea, Article 92 of the Military Criminal Law considers homosexual behavior (2008Hun-Ga21) in the military punishable by law. Article 92 stipulates that anal sex or sexual acts between service men may be punishable for up to two years in prison. Because of this law, in 2017, over 30 men were arrested and charged with 2008Hun-Ga21.[20] Laws such as these demonstrate the legal consequences of being gay in Korea, where conscription to the military is mandatory for every able-bodied cis-man in the country. Although the military does not turn away gay conscripts, the law does not tolerate gay intimacy during service.[21] In addition, in January 2020, transgender sergeant Byun Hui-su was discharged by the Korean military citing “physical or mental disabilities” as a provision to discharge military personnel, equating Byun’s gender-reassignment surgery as a disability, and barring her from serving despite her desire and commitment to her military duty and national security. Such examples demonstrate the suffering that queer individuals endure in Korea due to the nation’s homophobia and transphobia.  

The ROK’s military discrimination against queer citizens is an example of Eve Sedgwick’s concept of “homosexual panic”—a type of homophobia that transpires in a homosocial environment wherein both the self and others are suspected of being gay and therefore feared.[22] Homophobia is amplified in homosocial conditions because the potential for homosexual desire is heightened. I add that not only does the Korean state induce homosexual panic through law but legitimizes said panic with the state’s concerns over the country’s low birth rate. All men in the ROK are required to serve in the military for up to two years—a gendered state obligation required by law for men to be socially recognized as men.[23]

Upon completing this task, the next step is for men to fulfill their state duties as breadwinners by participating in the economy and as fathers through marriage and procreation with a woman. Thus, homosexual panic, when coupled with the nation’s panic over the population crisis, makes homosexuality appear like a betrayal of the state, and makes women’s bodies seem valued solely for procreation. The nation’s heavy emphasis on hetero-normative familialism, or what John (Songpae) Cho calls “Confucian biopolitics,” “inhibits the expression of homosexuality, except in highly discreet ways….”[24] Confucian biopolitics prioritizes the heteronormative family and the nation-state over individual independence; the individual is expected to conform to specific social prescriptions as a collective—the “family governmentality.”[25]

In her monograph on single women and the housing market in Korea, cultural anthropologist Jeesook Song details how lesbians remain closeted for fear of facing job discrimination and abandonment by their families. All unmarried women—lesbian or straight—who choose to live apart from their families are infantilized and othered by their community: “[Unmarried women] are treated as children or disabled people and their sexual security is threatened.”[26] The treatment of single women as disabled echoes the treatment of Sergeant Byun’s transness as a disability making someone unfit to serve. Misogyny and transphobia in such contexts morph into ableist discrimination. Song describes one woman’s experience at a social gathering where she was told by married men that “‘children should go home’ because they ‘shouldn’t interfere with…adult business.’”[27] Song observes a parallel between the single woman’s issue with the queer issue because both identities fall outside of Korea’s social order of heteronormativity. This order is, in part, conditioned by patriarchal rationalizations that all women should be married to men, and it labels those who do not as “immature.”

The misogynistic idea of the single woman’s immaturity is tied to the assumption that all single women are virgin and not sexually awakened through intercourse with a man, specifically a husband. The possibility that the woman might have engaged in pre-marital sex with someone regardless of their gender or sexual orientation prior to meeting her husband simply isn’t an option. Just as female bodies are treated purely as an apparatus of procreation within the confines of marriage to a man, homosexuality is not viewed as an option in this hegemonic masculinist conception of “normal” lives and relationships. This assumption ignores accounts documented in memoirs and short stories of lesbian relationships among school girls in colonial Korea, which were long trivialized and dismissed by scholars due to their ephemeral and transient quality during the girls’ “transitional phase” of adolescence.[28]

It also erases the documented homoerotic stories between women aimed predominantly at male readers for entertainment purposes in newspaper weeklies. These stories combined “investigative journalism and the playful invention of fictional storytelling” to produce “cautionary tales” in 1950s-1970s ROK’s Cold War era. In fact, their purpose was to allow male readers to “imagine themselves as more thoroughly embodying idealized notions of (re)productivity and patriotism, thus allowing them to assume a position of domination in relation to their ‘deviant’ female compatriots.”[29] The conjoining of homophobia and misogyny legitimizes hegemonic masculinity and heteronormativity, while the queerness of the variety genre creates moments of queer potential on Korean television.

The queerness of the Korean variety show called yenŭng

Korean variety shows are referred to as yenŭng—a genre of entertainment broadly composed of classic variety show elements such as musical performances, sketch comedy, talk show banter, and ad-lib, as well as reality TV, and quiz/game shows.[30] Comedy is the foundation of all yenŭng programs and with it comes great possibility for destabilizing constructed identities. Gender-mixing, bending and crossing occur regularly on these shows as they did in American TV like The Texaco Star Theatre (1948-1956, NBC) with Milton Berle.

As Alexander Doty notes, queer readings “result from the recognition and articulation of the complex range of queerness that has been in popular culture texts and their audiences all along.”[31] Stylistically, formally and aesthetically, yenŭng differs from standard U.S. and British reality shows in that yenŭng has laugh tracks, CGI, sound effects, and subtitles to enhance emotional and comedic impact.[32] The shows imitate studio recordings before a live audience but without an audience. In this way, yenŭng emulates live performances’ theatricality that is in line with the tradition of vaudeville and variety shows that are staged and filmed before a live audience. Korean yenŭng programs are conscious of the live audience watching at home as well as the state censors (the KCC) who approve or disapprove of certain images, actions and language for television. More than in narrative content, yenŭng exhibits its queerness through a camp aesthetics of excess and artifice. That is, Korean variety programs have an excess of effects both sound and visual, e.g., CGI, slow motion, repetitive replays of significant moments, subtitles in bold texts, canned laugh tracks and music. In addition, the programs contain multitudes of intertextual meanings. For example, they consistently point to recognizable media from the local and global (typically from Hollywood) zeitgeist including film, TV shows, celebrities, newspaper headlines, etc.. Although Korean variety shows do not incorporate obvious qualities that would at first-glance be recognized as queer, the genre works as a queer text through its consistent homosocial casting, cross-dressing, cross-gender play, and by recurrently featuring women who do not conform to the heteronormative conventions of desirability that cater to the hetero cis-male gaze.

At this point, because I am finding queerness in works that are not overtly so, I want to contextualize my use of this concept. Gender scholars may favor the term “queer” for its flexibility and boundlessness but the scholar also needs to set parameters for how they use the term in their work.  For example, “queer” is characterized by Annemarie Jagose in Queer Theory: An Introduction as elastic, mobile, indeterminate and arising during moments of ambiguity.[33] Korean variety shows’ ambiguity as a genre allows both scholars and many viewers to anticipate its queerness through its unstable, excessive, and camp qualities. In cinema studies, Ungsan Kim defines queerness as “a stylistic and formalistic attitude that disrupts or alters cinematic conventions” that work in conjunction with filmic elements of “non-normative sexual desires.”[34] Kim acknowledges at the same time that the terms “queer” as well as “queer cinema” are unstable and always changing. Judith Butler observes that queer must remain open and cannot ever be “fully owned” so that it may evolve constantly into useful political applications.[35] The political application of queer theory matters greatly in contexts where rigid language and ideology repress identities that go beyond hegemonic recognition—as it is in the case with contemporary Korea. As Dong-jin Seo writes,

“Although homosexuality exists in modern-day Korean society, it seems to be an entity whose meaning has been endlessly deferred.”[36]

Seo laments the unhappiness which frequently defines homosexuality in Korean society because its “social existence” goes unrecognized. This raises the question of where Korea’s queer individuals can turn to for affirmation. Thus, in my application of the term “queer” herein, I include all qualities and identities that disrupt heteronormative and hegemonic assumptions, and this extends to not just individuals but also genre categories.

Yenŭng consistently displays queer and destabilized images of gender “norms” through humor. Jack Babuscio considers humor “the strategy of camp: a means of dealing with a hostile environment and, in the process, of defining a positive identity.”[37] The baseline of comedy in all yenŭng programs is not only a facet of its camp attributes, but it’s also a queer strategy that processes Korea’s patriarchal heaviness. Humor mitigates any real threats to the patrilineal heteronormative order; yenŭng programs are therefore “safe” for TV airing. In a country that has just one openly gay celebrity, it is impossible to state that queer people do not exist; yet they do not come out for fear of backlash. Yenŭng’s constant destabilization of gender, sexuality, customs and hierarchy make Korean variety TV queer. These family-friendly weekend variety programs that iterate state-approved prescriptions of socio-cultural “norms” are, in fact, expressing queerness at all times.

Yenŭng programs are typically hosted by comedians in a homosocial group. For instance, popular shows like 2 Days 1 Night (KBS, 2007— ), Infinite Challenge (MBC, 2005-2018), and Ask Us Anything feature an all-male cast. All-female yenŭng programs such as Sisters’ Slamdunk (KBS, 2016-2017) and, the Infinite Challenge spin-off, Infinite Girls (MBC, 2007-2013) had much shorter runs compared to their male counterparts. Because these shows are segregated by gender, queerness is always present through homosociality’s queer potential, but this suggestion remains in tension with the programs’ overt emphasis on heteronormativity, which is a strong socio-cultural underpinning of Korean society.

Queer startext and the straight guys’ queer possibility on variety TV

Cultural anthropologist Erick Laurent claims that queer culture in ancient Korea has conflicting roots tangled in Buddhist and Confucian ideologies that coexist in the nation’s social and cultural fabric across centuries. Records of queerness in Korea date back to 350 AD with shamans who dressed outside of gender-normative outfits; in the 13th century, homosexual relations among the hwarang (men who served the royal court’s military) and the namsadang (a mobile theater troupe) commonly occurred. But as Confucianism began to take hold in Korean society, the pressure to conform to a hetero-family unit began to rise: “Confucianism, its emphasis on social order and family, viewed male same-sex relations as a threat….”[38] Meanwhile, Buddhism, which was and is just as influential in Korea, promotes acceptance of homosexual engagement. Because of this, Laurent contends that while the burden to get married and produce offspring exist because of Confucianism, homosocial bonding is greatly accepted because of Buddhism in Korean society:

“[S]ame–sex friends living together before marriage, the fact of holding hands and rubbing each other in the street, of brushing a male friend’s buttock or genitals when parting. Nothing sexual will be interpreted.”[39]

The kind of homosocial acceptance that Laurent describes, however, has more to do with open homosexuality being so far from the realm of possibilities in Korean society that such homoerotic behavior will not be interpreted as anything but straight intimacy.[40] Ron Becker observes that post-closet U.S. TV narratives construct “queer straight guys” who are open to the possibility of male-to-male intimacy as well as emotional and physical bonding; the queer straight guy concept functions as a sign of liberal progression of the producers and viewers of that era.[41] In Korea, however, the nation’s open acceptance of homosocial bonding is a result of never considering queer relationships as a possibility. Queerness is not an option. With that said, Ask Us Anything includes instances of homosocial bonding and queer straight guy intimacy.  

Kim Hee-chul is a popular entertainer and emcee on numerous talk and variety television shows, but his stardom originates from the internationally beloved K-pop boyband Super Junior, which debuted in 2005. Since his debut, Kim has co-hosted over three dozen unscripted television programs on public, commercial and cable channels. Kim’s popularity among fans stems from his sharp wit and comedic timing but also from his close friendship with numerous girl group members and his androgynous appearance. For instance, Kim was mistaken for a woman by a security guard when he tried to enter a men’s room. Although many rumors speculate on his sexuality, Kim claims to be straight.[42] Kim also claims in interviews that he does not adamantly deny gay rumors for fear of offending his gay fans.[43]

On episode 37, Kim and the other members of the show play two rounds of a game called “the egg test,” which determines a man’s stamina by seeing who can hold an egg between their knees the longest. Kim wins both rounds of the test. Upon winning, Kim turns to the camera in direct address and says, “Dear future wife, aren’t you so grateful to me?” Kim performs his heteronormative masculinity here but he is mostly known on the show for his frequent cross-dressing and dancing alongside girl groups whenever they appear as guests. Kim is, by all means, “that bitch” on the show:

“Within the world of queer performance, being ‘that bitch’ is about having an exacting, unquestionable creative juice and asserting yourself through performance and style.”[44]
Kim’s male co-hosts tease him for this while also expressing their awe at how well he knows the girl groups’ dance moves. When Kim goes up to dance, the editors add graphics to give Kim long flowing hair, turning the moment into a CGI drag performance, as they did in episode 21 (air date Apr. 23, 2016) with a guest appearance by Red Velvet. Kim happens to know all the dance moves because he is a fan of Red Velvet’s music, but when the producers in the editing room place a CGI wig over Kim’s head, there is a hint of trans/homophobic ridicule in equating his love for a girl group as a gendered act. With that said, Kim’s “that bitch” attitude makes him a confident queer figure on Ask Us Anything. That is how he reacts towards speculations about his sexuality and he seems not to care whether or not his knowledge of girl group dance moves might challenge his gender or sexual identity. Thus, Kim gets constructed in two contradictory ways: he is a freely queer figure on the show and is also used to demonstrate moments of the show’s queer phobia. In addition, while male-to-female cross-dressing ridicules trans/queerness, as Quinlan Miller points out, such an image also informs queer viewers of a possibility toward productive queer imagining:

“The pain is part of it, but it can’t be the whole focus, especially if you take the actual lived existence of trans people…into account. Anecdotal evidence confirms that the medium was doing more than inflicting harm….”[45]

Onscreen cross-dressing is a camp feature—a superficial style.[46] Such images of gender nonconformity are also “a part of trans history.”[47] Kim’s persona on Ask Us Anything is “trans gender queer”—a term that “positions gender as a multiplicitous switch point between trans and queer….”[48] This term enables a wider and more inclusive reading of texts by taking gender and sexual orientations into account. By naming Kim trans gender queer, the myth that queer identities do not exist on Korean television and society is broken; queerness gets centered, and the variety genre’s camp gets recognized. In Kim’s trans gender queer performance, he not only dresses and embodies female attributes but also plays the role of a wife or girlfriend to some of the male cast members in their improv and sketch segmenst. In fact, Kim cross-dresses so frequently on Ask Us Anything that a fan created a supercut YouTube video of all the moments he appears as a woman on the show.[49]

Kim’s confidence and enthusiasm whenever he dresses like a woman or dances alongside girl groups display Becker’s notion of straight guy queerness. Kim’s remaining untethered to gender “norms,” in fact, is a quality commonly found in many K-pop boybands. Male K-pop soloists and boybands have a flexible gender identity when it comes to expressions of masculinity, ranging from hard-bodied muscular images like Rain to softer, more effeminate images such as BTS and 2AM.[50] The range of masculine images for male K-pop stars, however, does not apply to girl groups, who must always accommodate the hetero-male gaze. Girl groups are pressured to maintain slim bodies, create certain facial features through surgery and makeup, wear short skirts and heels even when performing complex dance routines, and behave childishly (aegyo) to preserve the fantasy of the infantilized girl child.[51] There is a rigid gender expectation placed on girl groups to be hyper sexual, hyper feminine and youthful. Such gender disparity explains the variety show’s homosocial environment. Women are not invited to be regular cast members on popular programs like Ask Us Anything. In general, women are never cast in historically popular Korean variety shows such as Infinite Challenge and 2 Days 1 Night. When women do appear as guests, they are expected to sing and dance for the men like show girls. And the KCC never penalizes these programs for such common instances of female objectification.

Yenung producers’ consistent failure to cast women as regulars on programs is an industrial act of female exclusion. These variety shows that centralize men permit queer moments between cast members with male-to-female cross-dressing perhaps because remaining homosocial with the potential of crossing into queer boundaries is preferred over inviting actual women as show regulars. Furthermore, the drag performance by these straight men is an example of “hetero-masculine drag” that gets staged strictly for “fun and comedy.”[52]

Kim Hee-chul’s startext is queer while he maintains a straight orientation; this makes him a prime candidate for giving the show a hue of liberal progressiveness by exploring gender fluidity as well as queer intimacy. This is particularly evident in Kim’s music video made with his variety show’s co-host Min Kyung-hoon and the rest of the Ask Us Anything members and production staff. Entitled, “Sweet Dream,” it has a storyline of a love triangle between Kim, Min and Momo from the K-pop girl group Twice. At the end of the video, when Kim happily meets Momo in-person, Min reacts with supportive joy for his friend but later, when no one is looking, he removes his hand from his desk to reveal the scrawl “Kim Hee-chul <3 Min Kyung-hoon,” suggesting gay love.

Kim and Min are known on the show for their “bromance” and common expressions of straight guy queerness through words and actions just as much as Kim is known for his feminine tendencies on Ask Us Anything. With that said, Kim and Min also push the boundaries of this intimacy by frequently getting close onscreen with suggestive visual displays of same-sex love.[53] Including these characters on a show as popular as Ask Us Anything signals the text’s progressive choices. However, it is important to note that these queer intimacies all function in the realm of comedy. As Chambers claims,

“Thought rigorously, ‘queer television’ would describe television that suggests a relational understanding of (sexual) identity and/or television that resists or subverts normative heterosexuality.”[54]

Variety shows are known for their excessiveness and liminality through their comedy, skits, costumes and games, and thus they are the perfect temporary realm for all identities to transgress their social and cultural boundaries for a moment before the show ends and everyone returns to their regular social positions. Experimenting with gender crossover and homosocial play that edges towards homosexual intimacy are all acceptable in the secure bounds of the variety show genre and it comedy. With that said, Ask Us Anything also clearly demonstrates homophobia through its display of homosexual panic when an openly gay man appears as a guest.  

Open gayness on Ask Us Anything

Actor Hong Seok-cheon is an Ask Us Anything guest on January 13, 2018. The minute Hong arrives, jokes stemming from homosexual panic get thrown around among the cast members, which Hong plays into. When Kim Hee-chul asks Hong if he would care if Twice appeared, Hong expresses irritation at the thought of being surrounded by nine girls. But when Kim mentions the boyband Wanna One which consists of eleven young men, Hong breaks out into a celebratory song and dance making his preference for men very clear. On the one hand, discussions of gayness are relatively prevalent on a variety show, where they can exhibit queerness through the safety net of comedy. It happens in the way that Becker discusses the constant presence of humor around television discussions of homosexuality, which demonstrates a persistent cultural anxiety around LGBTQIA+ themes in the mainstream:

“That most queer straight guys are found safely wrapped in comedic irony reveals a culture nervously processing its changing politics of gender and sexuality rather than one fully confident in a vision of some queer future.”[55]

At the same time, homosexuality is also a threat on a set like Ask Us Anything where all the male members are confined to a homosocial space; Hong’s openly gay identity activates homosexual panic in the room. Hong’s deviance from heterosexuality is a threat to the members’ masculinity. As long as they are telling jokes, however, the threat of Hong’s sexuality is under control. While Hong appears as an LGBTQIA+ member who has found success on television, due to the “dominant currents within televisual flow…[he is]…no longer quite queer….”[56]

This kind of use and disavowal of homosexuality exemplifies Lisa Duggan’s concept of “new homonormativity.” That is, a shallow or false liberation in gay politics gets promised while maintaining dominant heteronormative systems and organizations. According to her, the problematics of homonormativity is rooted in U.S. political economy and neoliberal rationality as they dismantle and depoliticize queer politics. This happens through the privatization and monetization of gay culture, and places the onus of political responsibility on the individual while equating political practice with consumerism and wealth.[57] Hong’s career as a gay celebrity in Korea follows a similar pattern of homonormativity.

Hong is the first celebrity in Korea to come out as gay in 2000. Upon coming out, Hong faced industry homophobia. He lost all of his broadcasting and advertisement deals including the children’s program PoPoPo (MBC, 1981-2013) on which he was a regular. In Ask Us Anything, Hong casually mentions this period in passing. He tells how he could not make any television appearances for three years but without explicitly mentioning that the cause of this break took place due to homophobic backlash from the industry. Hong then transitions into a story about how his passion for cooking enabled him to become a great chef and successful restauranteur (he owns seven restaurants in Seoul’s queer-friendly district Itaewon). The congratulatory and triumphalist tone of this anecdote, however, skirts the fact that Hong had to seek an alternative means of survival after losing his job in entertainment as a consequence of coming out.

Hong is now back on as a regular in multiple television programs; however, the industry’s acceptance of Hong’s gay identity was contingent upon his success as a restauranteur. This demonstrates the conditional acceptance of gayness for economic purposes—a logic and practice found in the US television industry as well, where executives target white upper middle class gay and lesbian viewers as consumers.[58] Hong’s return to the public eye is accepted by Korean society despite his gay identity because of capital success. Furthermore, Hong’s wealth and status afford him the luxury to take time off, make a career transition and start a new business. Living an openly gay life in Korea, however, is not an option for everyone, especially if they lack the economic means to live apart from their families or if they get fired as a consequence of coming out or being outed. Hong’s bold move to come out in 2000 has empowered numerous others. With that said, Hong’s persistent treatment in mainstream television as the token gay man whose sexuality gets reduced to a joke is a testament to Korea’s social and cultural lag in accepting and humanizing its LGBTQIA+ citizens. 

Threats to hetero masculinity: trans gender queer and masculine female comedians

Heteronormative ideals on Ask Us Anything are prominent. Whenever a female guest who meets the standards that qualify her as desirable to the male gaze by being conventionally beautiful, young, slim, and demure, the cast members greet them with loud and unrestrained joy. It conjures the classic animation of Tex Avery’s Big Bad Wolf who howls, whistles, and bangs his head with a mallet at the sight of an attractive woman. But when female comedians who do not meet patriarchal physical standards like Lee Guk-joo, Jo Hye-ryun and Park Narae appear as guests, the cast members treat them as undesirable or threatening. For instance when Lee Guk-joo and Kim Ji-min appear as guests (airdate Feb. 13, 2016), the male cast members immediately express disappointment at the sight of two comedians instead of a K-pop girl group. When they come on stage, the two women are immediately desexualized and treated with mild disdain through humorous banter. Lee Soo-geun makes a joke about Lee Guk-joo’s fat body by comparing hers to Kang Ho-dong’s huskiness and masculinity.

In another episode (airdate Sept. 10, 2016) a different group of female comedians—Park Mi-sun, Jo Hye-ryun and Park Narae—appear as guests. Park Narae instantly notes the male cast members’ lackadaisical reception of them. After introductions, the members bring up news headlines about Park Mi-sun’s recent physical transformation; she’d become extremely fit through personal training which the men openly praise thus reinforcing patriarchal standards for the female body. This exchange follows: Kang Ho-dong challenges Park Mi-sun to prove it to which she jokingly replies, “Are you saying I should take it off?”

Kim Hee-chul chimes in and says, “The fittest person here actually appears to be Hye-ryun noona.” [59] The men gawk at Jo Hye-ryun’s brawny calves which they notice through her skirt; as a joke, Kim Young-chul asks her if she boxes. Kang laughs hysterically while calling attention to the size of Jo’s knee caps. Jo jokes that she built her calf muscles by shoveling on a farm. The men compare Jo’s body and her overall aggressive demeanor to the bear that attacks Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Revenant (2015, Alejandro González Iñarritu). The men laugh but also look at Jo’s legs in awe and envy, projecting an idealized masculine fantasy of a muscular male body onto a cis-woman. Jo does not meet their expectations of a desirable woman but of a man whom they wish to embody. Such a moment in the show exemplies Jo’s trans gender queerness in the “flipping [of] the social codes of gender and sexuality.”[60] Jo then brings Park Narae close to her and compares both their legs side by side saying, “Hers are no joke, either,” to which the camera zooms in and establishes a close-up shot of both Park Narae and Jo’s robustly built legs as the men’s cackling resounds in the background. Kim Hee-chul then comments,

“Two ladies are raising their skirts at us and there’s no embarrassment at all.”

Kim’s elucidation gives insight into how the male cast members view these female comedians—not as women but as comedic figurines meant to be stared at for their lack of femininity and traditionally masculine (butch) attributes. The gaze is like in a freak show. But these women are not openly lesbian or bi-sexual; they just happen to emanate female masculinity by rejecting “the strictures of femininity.” On television these strictures are established by commercial Korean patriarchal demands that become visible in the male cast members’ reactions onscreen, blending shock and mirth with hints of disdain, confusion and incredulity at the sight of these women comedians’ bodies.[61]

While the most familiar and widely accepted version of female masculinity is found in adolescent cis-girls in the form of a tomboy, as Jack Halberstam notes, tomboys also get punished when the girls reach puberty because of the threat tomboyism poses on social and familial traditions and expectations.[62] In the case with women like Park Mi-sun, Jo and Park Narae, their ages range between 30 and 50, thus making the threat even greater as coming from grown women. Jo and Park Narae’s single status transgresses these expectations even further thus queering them all the more, given Korea’s dominant heteronormative expectation of all adults to get wed and settle down. These female comedians are not only single but they are also not “feminine” in the conventional sense (slim, young, pretty, shy, demure, etc.); based on how the members treat these women, they are interchangeable with men. In the context of this show, female comedians can be swapped specifically with gay men in that both groups threaten the heteronormative order and are received similarly by straight cis-male cast members, signaling their queerness. As Richard Dyer mentions, “the female” does not exist—only “the non-male”:

 “[T]he only way a woman can be accepted as a person (except as a demeaned, and still ultimately threatening, sexual object) is for her to become ‘non-male’; that is to say without gender.”[63]

For instance, at one point, Park Narae turns her back to the men and bends over. All the men look away in humiliation in response to her sexual aggression, which is expressed through her short and stocky body emanating butch dominance and which the men find unsettling. This is why they mitigate their discomfort by demeaning her body in the form of jokes; the female comedians’ trans gender queer presence threatens hegemonic masculinity. That threat is visible in the male cast members’ open reaction of disdain, disappointment or disapproval of these women by gasping, turning away, or just laughing disparagingly.  

Ask Us Anything preserves hegemonic masculine ideals through both misogyny and homophobia in the male cast members’ disqualifying or rejection of the female comedians on the show as women; meanwhile, these women take on a trans gender queer dimension, thereby queering the show. John Fiske’s concept of “excess as hyperbole” on television defines this inherent contradiction that television has in its ability to support hegemonic ideals (sexism and homophobia) while also being critical of them—however unwittingly or indirectly—through transgressions such as straight guy queerness and trans gender queerness as in the case with Ask Us Anything.[64] However, while Ask Us Anything has queer presence on its show through queer startexts like Kim Hee-chul and masculine women, it ultimately underscores heteronormative values by pairing the women with men as couples to compete in games, quizzes and perform improvised skits together while laughing at the women’s display of gender nonconformity.

The KCC and male cronyism

Cable channels like JTBC have slightly more leniency in terms of censorship compared to public broadcasters such as KBS and MBC, and commercial broadcaster Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) which are available as terrestrial (free) TV. With that said, the Broadcasting Act applies to all Korean networks, and if they break any KCC rules or provisions, they are subject to warnings, fines and penalties in the workplace including a demotion.

On Feb. 7, 2018, I conducted an in-person interview with Ana Park—a former variety show producer-director (PD) who worked for SBS television and radio back in 2011.[65] Park explained that despite the KCC’s standards for broadcasting and censorship, the relationship between the chief producer (CP) and the members of the board at the KCC is what determines the outcome of these cases. When a PD gets hit with a warning, there are a number of possibilities that could result ranging from it being just a warning to a demotion. If the CP in charge of that team is close to members of the KCC, then the KCC overlooks any issues that could otherwise be problematic, e.g. cursing, slang, innuendos, etc. If the CP has no relationship with the KCC, or, even worse, a bad one, then the committee tends to be more scrupulous in their monitoring of the show and come down with harder punishments. Park extrapolated that the latter is likely the case with Ask Us Anything involving Ahn Sol-bin’s question to Kim Hee-chul:

“Asking someone jokingly if they are gay on a comedy show is hard to qualify as an offense. How can [the KCC] know if the majority of the viewers were offended by this? It’s hard to measure what turns an entire audience off. What ultimately matters is what the relationship is like between the CP and the board members of the KCC.”[66]

Park’s response is a direct reflection of how masculinist-cronyist politics—non-contractual “gentleman’s agreements”—dictate the political and social networks of the broadcasting industry and state institution.[67] The hetero-masculinist nature of these networks make female and queer identities impossible to enter—a reflection of how the industry maintains its hegemonic social infrastructure. Park believes that the KCC is an archaic concept:

“Back when I was working in TV, we all looked at the KCC like they were just a bunch of old men with too much time on their hands. They had nothing better to do so they came after us. Also, a lot of the men working at the KCC were former PDs whose programs didn’t do so well, so now they are working for the state. If they were good at their jobs, then they’d still be working in the industry, right?”[68]

PDs who retire from the industry often write books on how to work in the industry, or get a PhD and become professors in communications and media studies. Others get hired by the state and work at the KCC. According to Park’s testimony, however, it’s also possible that the PDs who work at the KCC are disgruntled former industry workers. This makes the relations between the industry and the state institution all the more dependent on how satisfied the KCC members are with the PDs they formerly knew as colleagues. There is an added social pressure among PDs due to this incestuous relationship between the KCC and networks, seeing as the KCC’s decision to take disciplinary action against a program can be capricious. People of lesser power are more vulnerable in situations where decisions are made arbitrarily. In an environment where interpersonal relationships dictate decision makings, it becomes difficult for workers to have any certainty about their place in the industry’s strata. Cronyism makes it all the more difficult for non-hetero and non-cis-men (e.g., women and queer identifying individuals) to have any influence seeing as they are not invited to social settings that have professional impact. Park was careful to explain that finding favor with the broadcaster and the higher ups also depends on just how much the program is favored by viewers and listeners:

“If a PD’s program has incredibly high ratings but also a bunch of warnings, it becomes trickier for the CP. Ultimately, though, money wins. If you look at a show like Cultwo, it’s partially successful because of the show’s edginess and frankness. They’ve been hit with multiple warnings.[69] The DJs would even drink on the show, or show up to work after having a few. This is an absolutely unacceptable way to conduct broadcasts, and they’ve been warned by the KCC multiple times, but their ratings have remained steadily high. Audiences love them. So, in a case like theirs, the program and its staff are protected by other influences. A broadcaster can’t afford to shut down a show with such high popularity.”[70]

Park’s explanation here is an example of immunity to power that comes from market success, demonstrating the KCC’s inconsistency while reaffirming the broad/narrowcasting system’s neoliberal values. A show like Ask Us Anything happens to be one of these programs that boasts high enough ratings at JTBC to maintain its influence regardless of issues with the KCC. Based on this industry insight, the KCC’s concern for how Ask Us Anything offends the LGBTQIA+ community and women is questionable.

Regardless of whether or not the LGBTQIA+ community and women are offended, Ask Us Anything exhibits both oppressive and emancipatory moments of queer viewing. The variety show’s inherent openness as a genre allows greater queer possibilities among a homosocial cast. Images of straight guy queer intimacy as well as trans gender queer startexts and moments abound on Ask Us Anything. However, the show also includes sexist leanings in how the male cast members prefer straight guy queer intimacy over regular engagement with women on set and do not hire female comics. This exclusion of women as regular cast members on the show results from feelings of threat to their hetero masculinity and the heteronormative social order per the nation’s standards determined by the state and industry. Nevertheless, the female comedians who appear as guests embody queerness through gender non-conformity and gender bending while playing with the male gaze in both subversive and transgressive ways. In this way, they also manage to expose how the show maintains patriarchal preference towards a female image that caters to the male gaze.

Queer politics in Korean variety television is discursively visible on a state, industrial and generic level, but within the text, its manifestations are far more complex. In this intricate tapestry of variety, it is difficult to pinpoint specific moments of offense and label them in black and white as the KCC has. What the KCC missed are moments of actual misogyny and queer phobia on the show as well as moments of subversion and transgression that allow a hyper-queer presence on the show. The KCC never penalizes the show for regular female objectification when young female guests stars who fit the standards of the cis-male gaze are asked to sing and dance for the male cast members. They also miss moments of agentic female liberation through strong and confident women like Lee Guk-joo, Jo Hye-ryun, Park Mi-sun and Park Narae who, despite the constant mocking of their bodies and appearances, persist in their abilities to make the cast members laugh, flaunt their bodies confidently and maintain televisual presence however temporal. My research indicates that we should see the Korean variety shows as the variety that they are which includes a degree of celebration of difference. While there may be moments of misogyny as well as homo/transphobia, there are also freeing moments for female guest stars to derange the male gaze and for trans gender queer stars to maintain a queer occupancy on Korean TV. This deserves acknowledgment.

Notes

1. Ask Us Anything is also known as Knowing Bros and as Men on a Mission on Netflix; for the purposes of this article, I use the McCune-Reischauer romanization save for the spelling of names.

2. Pinaz Kazi, “Knowing Brothers receive severe disciplinary action for sexually objectifying women,” International Business Times, Dec. 27, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.sg/knowing-brothers-receive-severe-disciplinary-actions-sexually-objectifying-women-5891.

3. Samuel A. Chambers, The Queer Politics of Television, (New York & London: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 3-10.

4. By “hegemonic masculinity,” I am referring to the dominant hetero masculinity in Korea which propagates misogyny; see Woori Han et al, “Gendering the Authenticity of the Military Experience: Male Audience Responses to the Korean Reality Show Real Men,” Media, Culture & Society, 2017, 39:1, 62-67; the authors base their concept of hegemonic masculinity from Gramsci’s (1973) work on hegemony.

5. Todd A. Henry, “Queer/Korean Studies as Critique: A Provocation,” Korea Journal, 58 (2) 2018, 5-26, 10.

6. See Basil Glynn and Jeongmee Kim, “Life is Beautiful: Gay Representation, Moral Panics, and South Korean Television Drama Beyond Hallyu,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 2017, 34 (4): 333-347.

7. Ibid, 338; this show is also known as Seonam Girls High School Detectives.

8. Erick Laurent, “Sexuality and Human Rights,” Journal of Homosexuality, 48:3-4, 163-225, 206.

9. OutRight Action International, “South Korea: Homosexuality Removed from Classification of ‘Harmful and Obscene’ in Youth Protection Law,” Apr. 22, 2003, https://www.outrightinternational.org/content/south-korea-homosexuality-removed-classification-harmful-and-obscene-youth-protection-law, (accessed Mar. 6, 2018).

10. Chaebol refers to Korean conglomerates.

11. For more on Korean cable history, see Daeyoung Kim, “The Development of South Korean Cable Television and Issues of Localism, Competition, and Diversity,” (2011), Research Papers. Paper 78, Southern Illinois University of Cabondale OpenSIUC, http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/gs_rp/78; Armit Schejter and Sahangshik Lee, “The Evolution of Cable Regulatory Policies and Their Impact: A Comparison of South Korea and Israel,” Journal of Media Economics, 20:1, 2007, 1-28.

12. Samsung Apps, “Application Screening Result Report.”

13. Ibid.

14. Korea Broadcasting Act, The Korea Communications Commission, chapter 1, article 5, paragraph 5, 6.

15. Ibid, chapter 1, article 6, paragraph 2, 6; chapter 1, article 6, paragraph 5, 6.

16. Ibid, chapter 1, article 5, paragraph 5, 6.

17. Suk-Hee Kim et al, “Long-Term Care Needs of the Elderly in Korea and Elderly Long-Term Care Insurance,” Social Work in Public Health, 25 (2) 2010: 176-184.

18. Hwajeong Yoo, “Living Cohabitation in the Republic of Korea: The Reported Experiences of Lesbians, Gays and Heterosexuals,” Ph.D. diss., 2015, The University of York (United Kingdom), https://search.proquest.com/docview/1779252662?accountid=14512 (accessed March 7, 2018).

19. For more on this topic, see Ruin, trans. Max Balhorn, “Mobile Numbers and Gender Transitions: The Resident Registration System, the Nation-State, and Trans/Gender Identities,” ed. Todd A. Henry, Queer Korea, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019),357-375.

20. Paula Hancocks and Lauren Suk, “Dozens arrested as South Korea military conducts ‘gay witch-hunt,’ CNN, June 11, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/06/11/asia/south-korea-lgbt-military/index.html.

21. Hyun-Jung Song, “The Application of the American Experience on the Decriminalization of Homosexuality to South Korea,” Kyungpook National University Law Journal, 53:2, 2016, 31-54.

22. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “The Beast in the Closet: James and the Writing of Homosexual Panic,” The Masculinity Studies Reader, (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2002), 157-174.

23. Seungsook Moon, Militarized Modernity and Gendered Citizenship in South Korea, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 45.

24. John (Song Pae) Cho, “The Three Faces of South Korea’s Male Homosexuality: Pogal, Iban, and Neoliberal Gay,” Queer Korea, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), 263-294, 265-266.

25. Ibid, 265.

26. Jesook Song, Living On Your Own: Single Women, Rental Housing, and Post-Revolutionary Affect in Contemporary South Korea, (Albany: SUNY Press, 2014), 33.

27. Ibid.

28. Shin-ae Ha, trans. Kyunghee Eo, “The Wartime System and the Symptomacity of Female Same-Sex Love,” Todd A. Henry, ed. Queer Korea, 146-174, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020), 149-150.

29. Todd A. Henry, “Queer Lives as Cautionary Tales: Female Homoeroticism and the Heteropatriarchal Imagination of Authoritarian South Korea,” ed. Queer Korea, 205-259, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020), 210-212.

30. Grace Jung, “Aspirational Paternity and the Female Gaze on Korean reality-variety TV,” Media, Culture & Society, 2020, 42(1): 191-206, 193.

31. Alexander Doty, 1993, Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 16.

32. Jung, 192-193.

33. Annemarie Jagose, 1996, Queer Theory: An Introduction, (New York: NYU Press).

34. Ungsan Kim, 2017, “Queer Korean Cinema, National Others, and Making of Queer Space in Stateless Things (2011), Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema. 9 (1): 61-79, 62.

35. Judith Butler, 1993, “Critically Queer,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 1: 17-32, 19. 

36. Seo, Dong-Jin, 2001, “Mapping the Vicissitudes of Homosexual Identities in South Korea,” trans. Mark Mueller, Gay and Lesbian Asia: Culture, Identity and Community, edited by Gerard Sullivan and Peter A. Jackson, (New York: Harrington Park Press), 65-80, 66.

37. Jack Babuscio, “Camp and the Gay Sensibility,” Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality, 19-38, ed. David Bergman, (Amherst: University of Massachussetts Press, 1993), 27.

38. Laurent, 205.

39. Ibid, 206.

40. Ibid.

41. Becker, “Guy Love: A Queer Straight Masculinity for a Post-Closet Era?” Queer TV, Theories, Histories, Politics, Ed. Glyn Davis and Gary Needham, (New York: Routledge, 2009), 121-140, 125.

42. Simi John, “Is Super Junior’s Heechul gay? Singer declares his true sexual orientation,” International Business Times, Sept. 6, 2017, https://www.ibtimes.sg/super-juniors-heechul-gay-singer-declares-his-true-sexual-orientation-15915, accessed Dec. 30, 2019.

43. Ra Hyo-jin, “Kimhŭich'ŏri tebwi ch'obut'ŏ iŏjin 'keisŏloŭl haemyŏnghaji anŭn kŏn sŏngsosuja p'aendŭl ttaemuniŏtta,” Huffington Post, April 14, 2020, https://www.huffingtonpost.kr/entry/story_kr_5e953d9bc5b606109f5f0e11, accessed July 20, 2020.

44. Madison Moore, “‘I’m that bitch’: on queerness and the catwalk,” Safundi: Journal of South African and American Studies, 18 (2), 2017: 147-155, 147. 

45. Quinlan Miller, Camp TV, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), 19.

46. Richard Dyer, Stars, (London: British Film Institute, 1979), 67.

47. Miller, 2.

48. Ibid, 4.

49. Little Petals, “[KB] Every girl role is played by Heechul,” YouTube, Feb. 2, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbyI9JQDOus, accessed Dec. 8, 2020.

50. For more on popular Korean masculinity and their diverse variations, see Sun Jung, Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption, (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2011).

51. An exception is Amber Liu of the K-pop girl group f(x) known for her androgynous tomboy look; for more on “aegyo,” see Aljosa Puzar and Yewon Hong, "Korean Cuties: Understanding Performed Winsomeness (Aegyo) in South Korea," The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 19, no. 4 (2018): 333-349.

52. Joanna McIntyre, “Respect and Responsibility? Hetero-Masculine Drag and Australian Football Culture,” Outskirts, 33, 2015: 1-17, 1.

53. “Bromance” is a portmanteau of “brotherhood” and “romance.”

54. Chambers, 21.

55. Becker, 135.

56. Lynn Joyrich, “Queer Television Studies: Currents, Flows, and (Main)streams,” Cinema Journal, 53 (2) 2014: 133-139, 134.

57. Lisa Duggan, “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism,” Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics, eds. Russ Castronovo and Dana D. Nelson, 175-194, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), 179. 

58. Becker, “Prime-Time Television in the Gay Nineties: Network Television, Quality Audiences, and Gay Politics.”

59. “Noona” is a formal way of addressing an older sister or an older sister figure.

60. Miller, 108.

61. Jack Halberstam, Female Masculinity, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998), 59.

62. Ibid, 6.

63. Richard Dyer, Stars, (London: British Film Institute, 1979), 63-64.

64. John Fiske, Television Culture, (New York: Routledge, 1987 2011), 90-91.

65. For the protection of the interviewee and per her request, “Ana Park” is a pseudonym.

66. Ana Park, in-person interview by author, Feb. 7, 2018.

67. For more on cronyism politics in Korea, see Joanna Elfving-Hwang, “Aestheticizing Authenticity: Corporate Masculinities in Contemporary South Korean Television Drama….” Asia Pacific Perspectives, 15:1, 2017, 55-72; Judith Irwin, “Doing Business in South Korea: An Overview of Ethical Aspects,” Occasional Paper 2, (London: Institute of Business Ethics, 2010).

68. Ana Park.

69. Cultwo is a popular variety radio program on SBS that’s been on air since 2006 hosted by variety talk show hosts Jung Chan-woo and Kim Tae-gyun.

70. Ana Park.