Friday, February 05, 2010

The imagery game....

this is how we did it ol'skool style

So, as some of you may know, yours truly is getting hitched in Seoul soon, and I've found out a lot of about Korea(ns) in the past few days while I was preparing for stuff. First of all, I must say ALL weddings cost alot of money. The extent to which Koreans spend it, is a bit different from others, mostly due to the fact that they invite EVERYONE - here is a piece on the New York Times criticizing this. My cousin, for example, whose father has been working for the government and was then dealing with politics, had married another son of a politician, and they had 1000 + guests. Yes... 1000 PLUS. One of the ways they can have such extravagant weddings is that people do not give gifts to the bride and groom but rather money, which helps to pay for the food that they will be having at the wedding. The reason there are so many people invited to weddings in Korea, is due to the fact that in Korea weddings are not an affair of the bride and groom, but rather an affair of the parents. It is a show of power, or more like a competition of show of power(from the bride and groom's fathers) by having more guests than the other person. Thus, 1000 is easily done by those who are affiliated to this and that group. Ofcourse, this custom of inviting everyone you know actually stems from the old Korea culture, when weddings and funerals were not of an private affair but rather a community affair. This was ofcourse back in those times when extended families with the same last names lived in a closed community.

People did not expect invitations due to that you could just show up for the festivities without one, due to the fact that it was an open invitation to all. And there was even a little parade around the whole village with the groom in the front riding a donkey or a horse, a group of musicians playing pungmul, and the bride in a hand carried carriage, and the families, which was done to make sure everyone in the village knew what was going on. They would then head off to the big house of the neighbourhood- the family - with a garden (or the bride/groom's house?) where people were served with rather simple foods- noodles and pancakes and loads of drinks... a bit of chicken or other types of meat if they were lucky, and the families were rich enough. Thus, it was alright to invite everyone.

-Here comes the bride and groom..

Things are abit different these days. First of all, practically no one does traditional weddings, with the exception of those who get married to foreigners. But on top of that, the (pre-)wedding issues are an example of the predominant culture of artificiality and extravagance/materialism that exists in current society. I will not use all the space to explain the complicated customs a Korean wedding entail, including presents that is passed to the bride and groom's extended families. But more, I would like to talk about the photo/video taking culture of Korean weddings. Asians are stereotyped as photo-loving beasts, although I must say there are as many of them out there here in Europe or in the US, but it just caught up much later than in fast-speed developing Asian countries. However, what you still don't have is this studio photo taking culture... well not yet.

Anyhow, in Korea it is customary to take what is called a "rehearsal photo" - which is a studio photo shoot, in addition to having a photographer follow you around the whole day of the wedding to take photos of your wedding day, and ofcourse what we call the commemoration photo(where everyone who has been to the wedding take somewhat of a evidence photo). What surprised me is several things.
Firstly, the incredible expense. If you do both studio and wedding photo shoots, you need make up and hair done for both days, and you need to have several types of wedding dresses as well as other evening gowns etc. Now forgetting about the real wedding gown you will wear on the big day, you need to borrow the dresses for the photo shoot(which from my friends' experiences is about 3-6 gowns), this will cost about - that is makeup, hair, dresses, photo shoots,= 5,000,000won=3,200 euros. and yes this price actually is JUST for the photos!! Also, you will need a video shoot, starting from approximately 1,250,000 =800 euros if you want a video of the wedding day, and of the studio photo shoot day. In conclusion, that is 4000 euros just so you have pretty memories of your wedding.

Now this can be okay, to say that, if you have money, and as we say in Korea you if money is "attacking you"(cuz you have too much of it), or you can't stand the stink of money rotting, do what ever. Even if it is the case that, we are talking about a country where the average GDP per capita is about 28,000 dollar=20,000 euros, which means that you blow like 1/5th of your year's income on photos and videos.well 1/10 if you think you divide that among the two of you.and did I mention about 21% of its population lives under the poverty line- of 60% of the national medium wage AFTER benefits and taxes.(OECD average is about 17% and its much lower for EU-15).SOURCE

The bigger problem I have is how fake everything looks. Or more so, how it looks, to me atleast, some sort of struggle to look like something from TV and movies.

an example of "rehearsal photo" - your dream to be a the princess for a day comes true.

- "ah the sweet fake memories of being in make-believe land wearing a big white dress.."

As you can see from the photos, they make up scenes of being outside, or in some fancy European city - wearing a big white dress and a tux. and I am thinking.. really? Why? don't you rather use that money to go to that place and really take photos of it? no... cuz it won't look as pretty. What the studios offer is a fake reality, of you being the princess and the price, or in real terms, rich no need to work aristocrats who have photographers following them around to record every second.

"remember the fake house and the fake fight we had?? - oh yeah.. it was during those time I keep wearing white big dresses and you a tux.... what happened to our Tom Ford book btw?"

The same goes for the videos made... which is done only through the fake imagery of rich European society that the wedding ceremony places make.
Anyhow... the important question.. why?? Why do people do that?
Well the very direct answer would be that, because everyone does it, and it has become somehow a norm to do so. And one does not question the group norm in Korea. The other direct answer is that, well you get nice pretty photos... not minding that they are not really you, because nothing in there... even your face, is not real...due to the make up that literally makes everyone looks the same.
But really why?? I believe it is because that imagery, however fake it is, and however unreal it looks, it shows somehow, to others but also to yourself, a image of the good life one only dreams of having. The luxurious lifestyle where one dresses all the time in evening gowns and goes to fancy European cities, and is happy (and pretty- with good hair day) all the time. Even if it is fake, somehow that image makes one believe, that one is happy, or atleast did one's best to show to others that they are somewhat of the rich and famous. If not, at least not worse off than others. And that ... that alone is worth 1/5 of your yearly income...

postscript: I've just talked to a friend in the states(US), and she says how the same thing is now becoming popular there. Also, in Russia it is in fashion to pack your wedding dresses and tuxs and fly over to Egypt to take your wedding photos in front of the Sphinx or the piramids.

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