August 23, 2005 18:40
Two handsome men in their 20s are sitting at a table face to face. A caption reading "same-sex couple" runs across the screen. The two feel each other's hair, asking "Did you have a haircut?" They speak in a whisper and caress each other's necks. Soon the sentence, "We subscribe to a couple rate plan to save on phone bills" pops up. It is a commercial for a mobile telecom provider that has recently gone on air.
No great mystery there. The producers, of course, point out that the couple rate plan was worked out so that mixed-sex couples can subscribe as well. But the commercial signals that in Korea, too, same-sex relationships are making it into the media mainstream. No longer confined to the nudge and the wink, gay characters on TV are coming out of the closet, be it Lee Kyun's vampire in "Hello, Francesca" or the camp antics of Kim Nul-me in SBS late-night comedy "People Looking for Laughter."
Internationally, shows such as "Queer as Folk" and reality show "Freshmen Diary" lead the way, while in "Sex and the City" it is a given that any modern single woman needs comfortable gay friends.
On Korean terrestrial TV, attitudes have yet to change dramatically, with gay characters usually played for cheap laughs. Last May, MBC drama "Pounding Heart" featured singer Harisu as a transgender character, but the responses from viewers were decidedly weak.
For the producers of the couple rate commercial, the surprise was the lack of surprise among viewers. "It made us think our society has changed." Proof positive, perhaps, that a country's sense of respect for others has improved if it can look without aggression on sexual minorities.
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