Manly Colors: Masculinity and Mobility among Globalizing Korean Men


  • Alex Jong-Seok Lee



South Korea and its mobile citizens provide a fruitful point of entry for observing how US-based racial hierarchies shift and circulate through and against transnationally and locally inflected ideologies of race, nation, gender, and sexuality. This article explores how the Korean state’s aspirations for global significance and regional dominance express themselves as staged presentations of ostensibly superior Asian masculinity at home (in Asia) and abroad (in the West). Against the backdrop of the South Korean state’s zealous globalizing efforts, cisheteronormative Korean men increasingly assert aspirational Korean masculinities within a transnational field of ranked races and nations. Korean males’ complex and contingent proximities to whiteness demonstrate how state efforts to transform the image of South Korea from a notoriously inhospitable “backward country” (hujin’guk) to a welcoming “advanced country” (sŏnjin’guk) play out in diverse everyday contexts. In making this claim, I follow recent scholarship on men in contemporary Asia that stresses the need for analyzing masculinity through the lens of sexuality and desire. Additionally, this article extends the analysis of practices that transgress the socially constructed boundaries of heteronormative masculinity (e.g., homosocial bonding) beyond the realm of sexuality-defined gay masculinities.