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Burberry-man 바바리맨

Burberry-man (바바리맨)—or pabari maen, to more properly romanize it—is the Korean word for flasher.

In Korea, the prototypical Burberry-man is middle-aged and unattractive, wearing a trench coat and shower or dress shoes, perhaps with trouser socks, and nothing else. He jumps out from nowhere, unfolding his coat like a bat’s wings in the face of passing females.

The Burberry-man is a trope in Korea, appearing in movies (like the scene from Mongjŏnggi 2 above), dramas, comedy shows and music videos, like the Wonder Girls’s 2008 hit “Tell Me,” in which Wonder Girl saves her classmates from a Burberry-man in their gym locker room (around 1:43):

There’s even an arcade game in which you try to hit a Burberry-man who’s plying his, uh, trade on the subway, without hitting any of the other riders:

In perhaps more doubtful taste, B-list actors Ko Myŏng-hwan (고명환) and Im Ji-ŭn (임지은) used the concept in their wedding photoshoot:

burberryman wedding photo
Classy… Source.

So yeah, it’s a thing. But why are flashers in Korea called Burberry-man anyway? It all has to do with the coat.

Burberry (pabari) came into Korean through Japanese as a word for trench coat (Ramsey 2006), as Burberry are the makers of a popular line, the way Kleenex became synonymous with “tissue” or Xerox with “copy” for many Americans. I’m not sure if it also came fully packaged with the “man” to mean flasher, or of that was added later in Korea, but it references, of course, the trench coats, Burberry and otherwise, favored by the stereotypical flasher.

This bizarre anti-Burberry-man ad from the Seoul Yongsan Police (my old district!) raises . So many questions.
This bizarre anti-Burberry-man PSA from the Seoul Yongsan Police (my old district!) raises some totally new issues: What’s with all the goch’u (hot pepper, and also a slang word for penis) under the Burberry-man’s feet? Why is the police officer creepily cradling the two young ladies? Is that a second flasher behind that column, or a satisfied mother pleased for her children’s safety? So many questions…

The earliest newspaper reference I found on KINDS is from an August 2008 piece by editorial committee member Im Pyŏng-ho (임병호), about how even though flashers are portrayed in the popular culture as harmless or funny (as in “Tell Me” and Mongjŏnggi 2), they’re actually sex criminals, and the problem should be taken seriously.

That same year, in April, Burberry-man was the subject of a poem, “Pabarimaen kwa sonyŏ” (바바리맨과 소녀, “The Flasher and the Maiden”), told from the perspective of a teenaged girl who’s been flashed (강기원 2008).

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience for teenage girls, as Burberry-men apparently (at least according to received wisdom) prefer to lurk near the entrances to girls’ middle and high schools. (Many secondary schools are single-sex in Korea.) Burberry-man is not an official category in the criminal statistics, but in 2015, 2,112 incidents resulted in bookings on the charge of public indecency (“공연음란,” 박지호 2016).

Pabarimaen. Source.
Pabari maen. Source.

Officially, public indecency merits a punishment of up to one year in jail or a fine of less than $5000 (조원일 2016, “1년 이하의 징역 또는 500만원 이하의 벌금”), but since the de facto penalties are low—four of five people caught for “excessive exposure” (“과다노출”) get only a fine of less than $50, according to one investigation (손덕호 2015)—there’s not really even a strong message that this is particularly bad behavior.

I guess that leaves it up to the girls? This video suggests ways girls can handle this apparently inevitable phenomenon:

(The real message of the video, as the text at the end says, is to not be ashamed or flustered if you see a Burberry-man, but report it to the police.)

Thankfully, I never experienced a Burberry-man in Korea, unless you count daily sightings of taxi drivers who’d pulled over to urinate near Namsan 2-ho Tunnel. The only times I’ve ever been flashed were by my coworker at a Barnes & Noble Café back in The Day in Mississippi … but that’s another story!

 

A note on spelling and romanization: McCune-Reischauer’s system would romanize 바바리맨 as pabari maen; Revised Romanization would have it as babarimaen. I prefer to use English spellings for English-derived words in this blog because it makes it easier for most people to read.

Sources

Ramsey, S. Robert. 2006. “Korean in Contact with Japanese.” Korean Language in Culture and Society. ed. Ho-min Sohn. pp. 57-62. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

강기원 (2008). 바바리맨과 소녀 외 1편. 서정시학, 18(1), 177-179.

박지호 (2016). “검사, 경찰, 운동선수까지…한국에 ‘성도착 범죄’ 많은 이유는.” 연합뉴스. 2016년7월23일. 인터넷. 2016년8월29일.

손덕호 (2015). “‘바바리맨’ 주로 40~50대…대부분 범칙금 5만원만 부과.” 초선일보. 2015년9월6일. 인터넷. 2016년8월28일.

조원일 (2016). “바바리맨도 알고 있을까 ‘성범죄와 경범죄 사이.’” 한국일보. 2016년3월11일. 인터넷. 2016년8월29일.

임병호 (2008). “바바리맨.” 경기일보. 2008년4월25일. KINDS. 2016년8월16일.

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