Saturday, May 19, 2012

V is for Vendetta?

Dear Korean,

Why do Koreans throw up the peace sign whenever they take a picture?

Sparkle


You mean, like this?
(source)

And like this?
(source)


And like this?
(source)
Oops, maybe not like the last one.

At any rate, it is true that when taking a picture, Koreans very commonly throw up the "V" sign. But why?

Truth is, Koreans themselves are not particularly sure. It is a habit that is practiced without much thought behind it. It is not as if Koreans care much more about peace than any other people in the world, as Koreans generally know the sign as a "V" sign, rather than a "peace" sign. When pressed, some Koreans may give an answer that the "V" sign was popularized by Winston Churchill to signify "victory," and simply caught on thereafter. While the explanation may be plausible (as Churchill did popularize the "V" sign,) this explanation does not reflect that reality that Koreans are hardly thinking about "victory" when they are taking a picture.

In fact, Koreans are not really trying to convey any meaning as they throw up the "V" sign. If one really tried and forced a meaning behind the gesture, it would be:  "Yes, I am aware that I am having my picture taken, and I am mildly happy that I am doing so."

Then why do it? The best answer might be -- why not? When taking a picture, particularly while standing still, what to do with your hands always presents an awkward dilemma. Might as well do something with them, and a "V" sign is as good as any. It's something, and it kind of looks cool. This explanation may be unsatisfying, but given that Koreans hardly assign any meaning to the "V" sign as they are taking a picture, it may be the only possible one.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

18 comments:

  1. This gesture is also common in Japan, which means there's a possibility that it spread to Korea from Japan. I can't say that I've heard a good explanation for the origin of the practice in Japan though.most girls will say they do it because it looks cute, I think.

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  2. I am guessing that it originated in Japan too, though it had a Western inspiration. A Vietnamese teenager who stayed with my parents for a year did it too. My ethnically Chinese cousin from Australia did it when he was four and might still do it five years later. Neither of them could explain why.

    I think of it as a meme, no different from planking, except less dangerous. And why are people expected to smile in photographs? Even when I am happy, I have never been able to properly smile for photographs unless I am laughing. Throwing the peace sign is probably easier, though I don't do that either.

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  3. http://neojaponisme.com/2009/10/26/peace_sign_in_japanese_photographs/

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  4. I always thought it came via Japan, and having lived there I can say without a doubt it is way more prevalent there. Japanese have told me that the photograph and cameras were less ubiquitous until after WW2 and most people did not have casual photos taken. The personal camera was therefore regarded as a foreign originated device, so the people looked to how foreigners pose for pictured. Perhaps no man was associated with the Japanese idea of a foreigner than McArthur at the time, and apparently he held up the V for Victory pose frequently (copying Churchill perhaps). I am not sure, but I don't recall this gesture being so common on my visits to Korea in the 1980s. I think that it probably started in the 1990s once the ban on Japanese pop culture was lifted. I could be totally wrong though.

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    Replies
    1. Definitely remember this happening long before 1990s. All of my childhood pictures (taken in the 80s) have the same "V" sign.

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  5. I remember reading once an explanation regarding this "V" sign, but it was about those photos where they hold the hand in front of the face, not next to it like in the photos you posted. Apparently, when they hold the "V" sign so that it frames the face, they do it to make the face look smaller. I guess it has to do with all those "ideal" beauty standards about small face and everything...

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    Replies
    1. "V" sign long pre-dates the concern for smaller faces.

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    2. It does predate that for certain, but like everything else, it has taken on additional meanings. My Uni students are absolutely clear that one reason they do it (in certain poses) is to achieve the V-line... I think James at Grand Narrative has tracked this, but I may be wrong..

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  6. The girls here say they do it because it makes their face look smaller. But we don't call it the "V" sign, but rather "kimchi fingers" for some reason

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  7. Although the V-sign started a longgg time ago, however nowadays the reason that Korean girls use it (and various other hand gestures) to hide parts of their face so to make it appear smaller.

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  8. I have lived in Korea and now Thailand. Throughout all my travels in Asia, there is ALWAYS someone throwing up the V fingers in a picture, not just Korea. It is an epidemic!

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    Replies
    1. In Hong Kong and Singapore as well!

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  9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GLJRzuodKo

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  10. The answer is very simple:
    - they think it's cute. ^^

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  11. Evey-time I go to Taiwan, my sister-in-law and her daughter does that stupid sign when they get their picture taken.

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  12. I don't know if it is just me, but I thought this was hilarious. 빵 터졌어요.

    "Yes, I am aware that I am having my picture taken, and I am mildly happy that I am doing so."

    Thumbs up! TK.

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  13. I think I found the answer.

    http://british-chinese.blogspot.com/2009/01/why-do-we-make-v-signs-in-photographs.html

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  14. LMAO third pic fufufu

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