SEOUL – A rural South Korean town is getting roasted over its video ad on garlic that some farmers say stinks of obscenity and has even sexually objectified the agricultural product.
The controversy surrounds a 30-second video that had been posted on a YouTube channel for Hongseong County, a small central-west South Korean town of about 100,000 people known for its local “Hongsan” garlic, for about two years.
The video shows a woman touching the thigh of a man named “Hongsan” with a full garlic head mask and saying words like “very thick” and “hard” to apparently describe the quality of the local garlic. It's also a parody of a famous scene from a 2004 hit Korean movie titled “Once Upon a Time in High School.”
The spicy ad, which reportedly generated about 190,000 views, had been largely kept underground, but began to take root in the larger public when it was aired on electronic billboards at a Seoul express bus terminal and a downtown street in the central city of Daejeon last month ahead of the garlic’s release.
One farmer who saw the video notified some farmers’ groups, while South Korean media also began reporting about it, leaving a bad taste in people's mouths.
“We can’t repress our astonishment,” said a joint statement issued by the local branches of two major farmers’ organizations — the Korean Peasants League and the Korean Women Peasants Association. “The video offended the people who watched it and dealt a big blow to the image of the agricultural product that farmers have laboriously grown.”
Calling the video “suggestive” and “inappropriate,” the statement said it "sexually objectified” garlic.
The farmers’ groups asked Hongseong to apologize, punish those responsible for the video production and formulate steps on how to prevent similar incidents. Shin Ji Youn, an official at the Korean Women Peasants Association, said the farmers’ groups asked Hongseong to respond to their requests by Aug. 10.
Hongseong officials said Wednesday they’ve withdrawn the video from their YouTube channel and had stopped airing it on the billboards last week. The county hasn’t issued any official statement on the issue, and officials said they are discussing how to respond to the farmers’ requests.
County officials said they formally changed the name of their local garlic to “Hongseong” after their county name in January.
Many South Koreans believe garlic, one of the essential ingredients in Korean cuisine, boost stamina. Some think it can improve men’s sexual functions as well.
During the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the country’s women’s curling team earned the nickname of “Garlic Girls” — four of the team’s five members came from another rural town known for its own famed garlic — as they had a fairy-tale run to win the silver medal.