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Monday, October 1, 2012

"Wegwa Bang" or "Magic Meshroom"? The gimchi hit the fan anyway

If Korea's obsession with plastic surgery is not really new, the madness has clearly reached bubble status*. And just like with real estate, we'll have to live for decades with a pervasively disfigured city. Literally.

Twenty years ago, eyes and noses already sold like pancakes (I mean like cosmetics, another flourishing industry here), and girls already disregarded natural Korean beauty. They wanted Western volumes, manga-size eyes, and the fabled "double eyelids", probably the silliest vanity of all.

Now it's a complete Face Off they want. Boys and adults as well as girls. Except that instead of trading John Travolta for Nicolas Cage (or your wolf face for Droopy's - boo), everybody gets the same k-pop emoticon of the month. And now, I just can't stand watching Korean TV: it's a permanent masquerade, without any single human face in sight. But a sad masquerade, not like in "Brazil", Terry Gilliam's hillarious satire. And a 'sleek' one: not like in a low-cost sci-fi flick from the sixties, rather like in a more recent dystopian movie, where "beautiful", brainless clones roam aseptic, eugenic labs. Actually, I can't tell who's Korean anymore since everybody jumped on the lunatic bandwagon across the region.

Pick up any celeb (and not necessarily the odd mickeyrourkish train wreck):  the timeline may not look as spectacular as Michael Jackson's, but you'll notice a small change every six month. Consider those as "soft hardware updates". In Korea, not everyone is running on Android 4.0, and that's the same: sometimes, the gimchi hits the fan during a major update, between say Kim XY 2.3 and Kim XY 3.0, but in general, you'll get masses stuck with features from 2008 or 2010 k-pop icons, those who can afford several upgrades, and the happy few who splurge on custom designer services and holistic anti-ageing treatments.

So you'll find everything between exclusive institutions designed like 7 star hotels, and two-room 'clinics' for bballi bballi services. I call the latter "wegwa bang" (a surgery bang equivalent to PC bang or norae bang), and the former "magic meshrooms" (the complex technical centers where 60 year old ajumas who look 20 get backhauled while chatting with their chakra concierges). 

My favorite ad for plastic surgery (picture taken last year near Ewha, a wegwa bang hotspot)
Of course it's not about beauty but about image. Brands, glossy magazines, the film of yourself you're projecting in your head, even as you're watching the mirror, even as you're watching somebody else watching you... any artificial distance you can put between you and your own self.

Like tatooing among soccer players, plastic surgery has become if not the norm at least a standard. Remember the origin of the word "standard": tatoos are not taboos anymore, and everybody you know knows you've gone under the scalpel. No one cares if Miss Korea is actually Miss Plastic, everybody does it. Like paying a fortune in "hagwon". But hagwons can't guarantee you a top university and here, someone else does the work for you, and you always get what you paid for. Not satisfaction, of course. Not even an exterior sign of wealth (even if you need it as much as you needed that Vuitton bag). Simply this message: "You've been updated", you're not lagging behind. Eventually, your body is like your handbag: yet another fashion accessory that will become obsolete next season. Yet another must-have-must-see-must-do in Korea's absurd arms race. With a nice a brand tag on it.

And a nice price tag as well. No wonder so many surgeons open their own "wegwa bang", much more lucrative than day to day operations where fees are severely controled and reduced to the minimum. That's why you see overqualified physicians mechanically "treat" twenty patients every hour like armies of robots, and give up for plastic surgery before they screw up like Chaplin in "Modern Times".

Android rules. Over smartphones as well as over dumbhumans.

Seoul Village 2012
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* can you hear the sound of "K-popping bubbles"?

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