After years spent chipping away at Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and morning medicine shows, mixed martial arts has worked its way out of the shadows and into the light of mainstream American culture. Which is to say that fewer normal, “decent” people recoil in horror when professional fighters show up shirtless in an insurance commercial.
Still, every once in a while, a mixed martial artist will appear in a car commercial in, say, Russia or on a bizarre variety show in, say, Brazil and show the English-speaking world how far it still has to go before we’ve really welcomed the sport into our hearts and minds--before we allow it to fully spoil our innocence. And since in America (and Great Britain and Canada), innocence is still embodied in our boy bands—those paragons of asexualized, sanitized, market-tested wish fulfillment—and since we rely on them to transport us back to a simpler and, most importantly, safer time when young girls could fall in love with boys born seemingly without libidos and transmute their lust into consumption, until our boy bands and our mixed martial artists start playing well together, MMA can’t really say it’s welcome in the purest chambers of our hearts, which is where so many of us keep our wallets.
In Korea, however, the co-mingling of teen idols and cage-fighters is in full swing, and the results are equal parts sweet and violent, saccharine and bloody, sanitized and bizarre. It’s messy, in other words, which is not a trait we look for in the teen boys we let our tween girls fall in love with.
The latest video from Korean boy band My Name, "Baby, I'm Sorry," is an epic eight-minute soap opera of betrayal, violence, and lost innocence. The impossibly sweet band members, with their adorable One Direction-style haircuts, start out frolicking on a beach and end up dead in a warehouse. In between, they become enforcers for the mafia, jewelry-crazed materialists, and paid assassins. And when they spill blood, it really spills. Say what you will about violence in American culture, when it comes to music-video gore, we’ve got nothing on the Koreans.
So, fine, it’s a bit strange for American (or British or Canadian) audiences to get their heads around the idea of a spit-shined boy band coming out of the losing end of a knife fight in a public bathroom, but kids love martial arts and love to fantasize; this video is just a million-dollar version of cowboys and Indians, moved from the backyard to a soundstage. But My Name take the whole fight-fantasy thing one step beyond by hiring two Asian UFC stars to join them in their treehouse. Japanese MMA legend (and power balladeer) Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama plays the mob boss who is the first both to hire a My Namer and to kill one. Korean UFC welterweight contender Dong Hyun “Stun Gun” Kim plays Akiyama’s bodyguards and may be the first man to ever use high-level judo throws in a gunfight.
So, in Korea, teen idols and mixed martial artists work together, which, we can only assume, means that mixed martial arts is an established part of the cultural mainstream and nothing to be fussed over. Five years from now, when we catch up and “Rampage” Jackson and Rory McDonald show up in a music video for the next Next Big Thing full of floppy-haired teenagers, we’ll all look back on “Baby, I’m Sorry” and laugh that we ever thought it was odd. For now, though, our guard remains up. Even as we become more comfortable with professional fighters appearing on our sitcoms, we still seem to want to keep them from our most cherished and innocent possessions: our children. They shouldn’t have to worry about the dangers and horrors of MMA, not when there’s so much mobbing and stampeding to be done.
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