Before there was K-Pop, there was Nam Jin

My mom, Jessica Choe, was born in Pohang South Korea in 1960. Her father was a doctor and her mother stayed at home to take care of my mom and  her six siblings. The house that they grew up in had two bedrooms and was located on the edge of the city. Back then, my grandparents preached the importance of academics to my mom everyday. Her family didn’t get a television until she went off to college, so the only forms of media that she was exposed to were the radio and newspaper.

My mom was constantly reminded by her parents, rather than the media, how to behave like a woman. My grandma would teach her on an almost daily basis how to eat, clean, cook and wash dishes like a woman. My mom had to be in the house before sunset. My grandpa explained to her that her occupational options were to be a nurse or a teacher so that when she got married she wouldn’t be completely dependent on her husband, but he impressed that she only had two options.

My grandparents were extremely strict with my mom in regards to academics, so she hardly had time to listen to the radio. As a young girl her daily routine was to go to school, go to the beach to play with friends, and then come back home to study and eat dinner. When she listened to the radio, she remembers, one man in particular stood out to her. His name was Nam Jin.namjin When I asked her if she could think of any female singers that she was interested in, she responded that she was a fan of a couple of female singers but she mostly listened to men. Similar to the  article “We Didn’t Have Any Hannah Montana’s,” my mom explained that back in the 1960s and 1970s there weren’t young female singers in Korea that she could relate to. Most of the female singers were at least 30 years old, which made it hard to relate to their songs of adult romance. Nam Jin mostly sang of innocence and young love, and that drew my mom in.

My mom would listen to Korean dramas on the radio only on the weekends. She said it wasn’t something that her family did often, but when they did they listened to a classic Korean drama that was set in the 1800s. photo145704The picture on the left exemplifies the time frame in which these dramas were set in: old, traditional, and male dominated. To give some context of the radio show my mom listened to, the video below is a modern day drama that is set in the same style and time frame. The dramas that she listened to was narrated by a male voice. The basic story is about the journey of great men traveling across the country and discovering the different parts of Korea.

The dramas that she listened to hardly featured women and when they did they were always inferior characters to the men. The women’s primary role was to take care of the children and cook for their husbands, which was very similar to the lifestyle my mom grew up in. The dynamic between the men and women in the drama coincides with Gauntlett’s observation of United States media during the 1970’s. Men were much more “adventurous and active whereas women were more frequently shown as weak ineffectual and merely token females” (Gauntlett 47).

At first this struck me as an overtly masculine radio station to listen to, but when I asked why she was interested in listening to these stories, she saw nothing wrong with her taste. “Quite frankly I didn’t even think about why I was listening to it. I listened to it because my dad and brothers were interested in it. At those times I didn’t think about gender roles and how that affected my life, I didn’t have time. I had to study, work, clean, and eat,” she said. On the weekends my mom’s family would all circle around the radio and listen to the drama much like Hains highlights media use was “family centered” around shows such as The Shadow and The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (Hains 119).

Music didn’t play a huge role in my mom’s life because she was so focused on academics, but she did mention what other girls her age were doing at that time. In high school she explained some of the “rebel” students would go into the city with fake I.D.s and go clubbing and dance to disco, in particular the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive”. My mom saw that as a waste of time and would get in the way of her studying.

My mom hardly watched any television or listened to the radio because she was taught from a young age that academics was priority number one. When she did listen to the media, however, it was dominated by men. My mom had no sense of revolt, nor did she question why the Korean media was male dominated. She saw male-dominated media as the norm because that was the way she was raised.

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2 thoughts on “Before there was K-Pop, there was Nam Jin

  1. I really liked how you talked about your mom listening to music mostly by men. When I interviewed my grandma, the music she mentioned were classics such as Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. She said they sang of “happy things and happy times.” When I asked my grandma if she enjoyed any female singers or musicians, my grandma had to think for a while and said that she didn’t listen to any females. In fact she never noticed that. She said that Sinatra and Como are still her favorites today. I think it is really interesting that the masculine music my grandma grew up with still affects her taste today, as if her media exposure can affect a lifetime.

  2. I think that so much of it has to do with romance — girls today, however independent, still love Bieber/One Direction/etc — simply because of the vision of romance they offer, not necessarily because they’re male.

    And Brian, I loved that your grandfather told your mother that she needed to find some way to be independent of a man — but, at the same time, her options were severely circumscribed. Gender roles are so contradictory.

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