Clink! People at the party raise their glasses to celebrate the night. As the loud music is pumped out of the speaker, their blood flows faster and their heartbeat speeds up. They freely dance on stage, swaying their bodies along with the beat. It is one of those usual days at a club where people put all their tasks aside and relieve their stresses. Suddenly, a man is punched to the ground, helplessly dragged out of the place. But no one seems to mind, and the man disappears from the scene in a blink of an eye.
A recent alleged violent attack at the club—Burning Sun—has been the main news in South Korea. Kim Sang-kyo, a 28-year-old man, pleaded to the public that he had been physically assaulted by Burning Sun security guards, who are supposedly hired to protect patrons, and had been unfairly arrested by the police. With Seungri, a famous Korean singer of the boy band Big Bang, being the senior director of this club, the scandal has gained more attention. The incident is under the full glare of the public, and the club culture is now going down the drain.
Kim claimed that he tried to help a woman who seemed to be in peril but he ended up being assaulted by the club’s employees. With Kim’s disclosure, public outrage was aimed at the club managers and their lukewarm attitudes toward their customers’ safety. An online petition on the official government website, Cheong Wa Dae, was signed by more than 250,000 people, requesting a full investigation into the club to reveal the truth. Controversies regarding the case are continuously surfacing, even numerous unverified rumors about drug use and sexual violence in the club. The incessant discussions are acting as a catalyst to generate interest among the public, revealing the problems within Korean club culture as a whole.
Appearance and Appreciation of Music – Any Links?
The Burning Sun case has definitely triggered the public’s interest and awareness of the problem of club culture in Korea. Unlike many other countries, Korea maintains its own unique management structure centered on youth and appearance only. According to Lee Mu-Yong (Graduate School of Culture, Cheonnam National University), a club is a complex cultural space where people listen to music, dance, congregate and communicate to share their tastes and relieve stress. However, clubs in Korea set a limit to that definition by allowing only a selected circle of people to enter that space. Instead of aiming for a healthy play culture, clubs put great emphasis on two special factors—codes of behavior and age group.
▲ Gaby Pino ('15, International Studies). Provided by Gaby Pino
While clubs in other countries also have certain codes of behavior, those existing in Korea differ greatly. At clubs in most countries, people who are extremely drunk or use violence are denied entry. Yet, Korean clubs propose additional conditions, such as wearing a certain style of dress. This does not indicate a dress code for the clubbers to fit into a certain party theme, but a dress code to solely satisfy the visual pleasure of patrons. “Whereas a club is a place to spend some time with friends for Latinos, it is usually considered as a place to hit on people for Koreans,” commented Gaby Pino (’15, International Studies). Security guards at Korean clubs simply scan through people and only allow those considered attractive to enter the club; appearance is what matters, not the internal purpose to enjoy the music.
Moreover, clubs in Korea set a specific age group to access the club. While foreign clubs such as those in Barcelona also have age limits, restricting people below 18 from entering due to safety reasons, clubs in Korea have an age limit for elders as well. Although the specific age is not clearly stated, people over 40 are implicitly denied by gatekeepers who judge guests without any precise standards. Most of the clubs are limited to those in their 20s and 30s, whereas people above that age remain passive observers, deprived of their rights to freely spend leisure time.
Only for the Selected Ones?
Oddly, Korean clubs propose an appealing dress code and alienated age group to the cultural space where anyone who wants to enjoy the music should be freely able to enter. This causes a significant problem as it helps to gradually form a society where only young and beautiful people have rights to appreciate pleasure, diminishing the original purpose of the clubs. Consequently, marginalization of a specific group of people turns the space into another place where people do not simply come to listen and dance but to conduct acts that remain unknown, leading to incidents such as the Burning Sun case.
▲ Logo of Partyproviders. Provided by Partyproviders
Despite this, attempts have been made to produce a space where diverse people can appreciate the music. For instance, Partyproviders, a student-led organization in Korea University (KU) that plan and host parties by themselves, promote regular projects to break out of the original club culture in Korea. While the current culture merely emphasizes getting drunk and following a dress code, Partyproviders is conducting parties that are open to anyone who is simply ready to enjoy. “Members plan out each activity according to a certain theme so that people who are interested in those particular areas can join the party with clear a purpose”, mentioned Lim Yeong Jae (’15, Materials Science and Engineering), the Vice President of Partyproviders. Unlike the original club, Partyproviders provide a space for anyone to come and enjoy their time.
While new approaches to managing cultural environments in Korea are continuously being conducted, revolutionary changes are still needed to fundamentally transform the intrinsic club culture in Korea. Whereas the genre of music is the keyword that appears on the search engine for foreign clubs, dress code or appearance are the words that generate the feed for Korean clubs. This shows that there are still stereotypical images that clubs in Korea are for well-ornated people to show off their beauty, not to simply listen to music. Dress code may be one of the factors to consider for the appropriateness of guests, but it should not be the main element to sort people out. Beauty is not the key to everything.