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“Myŏngnang” and “Vulgarity” in Comedy Films from the Late 1960s

Sun Young PARK 1

1고려대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This study focuses on the point that comedy films were classified into two categories—“myŏngnang” and “vulgar”—in the 1960s, when the national agenda of “myŏngnang” (joviality, brightness) regulated popular culture, yet they also played a huge role in blurring the boundaries between the two categories. In particular, comedies from the second half of the 1960s had been placed within the ambiguous language of censorship—“vulgarity” was tolerated because it was featured in comedies, yet certain comedies were not tolerated because of their “vulgarity.” Comedies were utilized to construct a “myŏngnang” society, yet they also had to be eradicated in order to maintain a “myŏngnang” society. The ironic position of comedies in the Korean society came to light through censorship. The two categories of censorship on comedies had been first proposed for radio shows in the 1960s. In the center of the controversy was Sŏ Yŏngch’un, who received the most cautions and warnings from the Broadcasting Ethics Commission in the 1960s. However, his comedies, considered “vulgar” to the censors, created a fandom. Bolstered by the popularity of his radio shows, he entered the film industry and became a star actor who could carry a film on his shoulders with the success of Woman is Better (Kim Kip’ung, 1965). This thesis studies the process that Sŏ Yŏngch’un‘s comedy is classified into “myŏngnang” and “vulgar” through the authority‘s censoring of three films: Woman is Better, Grandfather‘s Bokdeokbang, Mine are Better. And by studying the mechanism of distinction(being vague by its nature), this thesis tries to find out the context of “seditiousness“ of his comedy. Sŏ’s comedies had been considered “vulgar” for featuring drag queens with questionable sexuality, a laborer from the countryside (who speaks a dialect), obscenities and expletives, use of vulgar language with sexual nuances. At the same time, they generated the pleasure of violating the “public sentiment regulations” of “myŏngnang” and “soundness.” Sŏ Yŏngch’un’s “grotesque body” and the vulgar and vivid language of the low-class men were “liberating” from “the holy, the feared, authority, and governing system.” At the same time, they brought laughter to the audience as they became Sŏ’s seditious partners-in-crime. Broadcasted through capitalistic media, Sŏ’s “vulgarity,” as regulated by censorship, created a different type of “myŏngnang” from the government agenda of “myŏngnang.” In this way, his comedies, which had been based on the pleasure of violation and grotesque laughter, were able to coexist with the national agenda of “myŏngnang.”

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.