Webcomic artist ‘Kian 84’ and his webtoon ‘Bokakwang’ have recently come under fire on social media for misogyny for suggesting a female character in his story secured a job at a top company by sleeping with her manager, a man 20 years her senior. The problem is not limited to this one storyline. Other webcomics being criticized are Park Tae-joon's ‘Lookism’ and Sak's ‘Helper 2: Kill Veros’. As a result, some citizens have called on companies to “stop publishing webtoons.” However, their agency Naver Webtoon has not taken any action. Rather, a company spokesperson said the webtoons “deal with social phenomena as they are” and “it is already applying strict standards to their work.” Unlike broadcast media, webtoon content does not adhere to any legal regulations. The self-regulatory committee of webtoons only delivers complaints about webtoon to publishing companies such as Naver who says, “Because of unclear regulations, the demand for content modification may offend the writer, so we are cautious about out approach.”
|▲ Webtoon site provided by Naver. (Photo from Photo News)|
The debate around the portrayal of such raw and offensive content boils down to freedom of expression versus the misogynistic portrayal of women, and violence against women and children. One netizen who posted a message on the Blue House website said “As much as Kian84 is gaining popularity, his webtoon will be seen by readers of all ages. There are many comments that women get a job by having sex with top officials to enter the company being a satire of society. It has raised many controversies from the past.”
Webtoon artist Park Tae-jun drew a distorted picture of misogyny and violence against women in ‘Lookism-first love’. The Main character Lee Tae-seong developed an inferiority complex towards handsome men and as a result, hit his girlfriend when he believed she went on a date with his friend. He said, “it was the start of his hatred towards women.” Violence against women is rationalized in the content because ‘women have affairs’ and avoidance and hatred for women are distorted into a general disgust of females.
The Dankook Herald interviewed a sophomore in the department of Political Science and International Relations about the portrayal of hatred towards women in webtoons. She said “I was shocked when I first saw this webtoon.” She wondered why the author was targeting women? She said, “While it is important we guarantee freedom of expression, if someone’s choice of expression excessively brings harm to another, that freedom should no longer be guaranteed. Also, writers should be mindful of the influence of their work because webtoons are enjoyed by people of all ages.” She also added that since there have been a lot of controversies over the portrayal of women in their content, they should naturally be more concerned about it.
‘Bokakwang’ and ‘Lookism’ are the most popular webtoons published every Wednesday and Friday. Many people criticized writers for a lack of social responsibility. Using vulgar language, depicting the hatred of women, the beautification of violence, and the sexual objectification of their female characters can exert a bad influence on teenagers, so we need to react appropriately.
Naver launched their webtoon service in 2005 and it quickly grew to the number one platform in Korea. The company eventually launched its own separate body, Naver Webtoon to address the growth and importance of this new market. However, there are no regulations regarding the content of webtoons. While there is a difference of opinion between those that support freedom of expression an those that prioritize women’s rights, we need to remember that webtoons are enjoyed by people of all ages, the ripple effect of this kind of violent messaging should be taken seriously. Webtoons are a large part of mainstream culture nowadays and they play a major role in the socialization of teenagers.
With the repeated exposure to misogynistic messaging on popular webtoons, opinions are divided on whether or not clear regulations on webtoon content are necessary. It is impossible to define what opinion carries more weight, but regulations on webtoon content should be more specific and should be made with an effort to maximize the writer’s freedom of expression. More transparent guidelines will go a long way in quelling this debate.
김민경, 정소연 email@example.com