Clueless Caucasian Curmudgeons Criticize Korean Cutup
Marindenver’s previous post, with its link to the “Mitt Romney Style” video has convinced me to post a “tightened up” version of a post I put up at my eponymous blog about the appalling, unintentionally hilarious, critique of Gangnam Style by Fox’s Bill O’Reilly and “Pyschology Contributor” Dr Keith Ablow.
Who better to weigh in on an international pop sensation than an angry, stupid old white guy? I have to admit that my exposure to the song Gangnam Style came pretty late in the game, and was entirely due to a post by Interrobang. My knowledge of K-pop is slightly more substantial than bubbles but less substantial than rain. Of course, being ignorant about a particular subject may cause me to eschew criticism of said subject, but Bill O’Reilly has no such qualms about flaunting his dumbassitude. Yeah, Bill just had to weigh in on Gangnam Style and, in a masterstroke, brought on somebody even more ignorant than himself to contribute his two cents. Bill could have brought on a smart, perceptive Korean-American to break down this cultural phenomenon, but he’s not really trying to understand it, he’s merely stoking the bigotry of his audience.
Bill’s guest, Dr Keith Ablow, is even more clueless than Bill is. He attributes the popularity of the song to a shallow youth culture looking for an “opiate”, but his assessment of the song can be chalked up to a shallow approach to his subject matter. Let’s unpack some of Ablow’s idiocy regarding the song. Here’s the “Heart of Dorkness”, so to speak:
For Americans, at least, most of the lyrics of Gangnam Style can’t be understood, since they are in Korean. Here’s a sample: “Na je nun ta so ro un in gan jo gin yo ja . . . ” Psy himself performs (like many entertainers) under a pseudonym. His real name is Park Jae-sang.
The great sin here is that Ablow states that the song can’t be understood, yet he makes no attempt to understand the lyrics. he goes so far as to write some of them out, but does not seek out a translation. It’s so much more comforting to foster the prejudicial view that the song is gibberish… would such bullshit fly if Ablow were discussing Nessun Dorma or In Fernem Land? If Ablow had decided to scratch below the surface and do his homework, he would have discovered that Gangnam Style is actually a slightly subversive satire of a stratified society. Here in the ‘States, we need more such satire.
Of course, the popularity of Gangnam Style is international- any discussion of the song’s impact has to take this into consideration. South Korea, with its population of just under fifty million has internet usage of 82.7%, making it the 17th “most wired” nation on Earth (the United States comes in 27th place with 78.3% connectivity). Trying to shoehorn the popularity of the song into an “Americacentric” model is plumb dumb.
As far as the popularity of the song outside of Korea, I imagine much of the song’s resonance in Asia (it is apparently very popular in China) is due to the fact that fans are drawn to “PSY” because they can relate to him better than, say, to a Taylor Swift or a (shudder) Ted Nugent. Bill-O, of all people, should realize that people enjoy seeing folks who look sorta like them represented in the media.
Moving on to the Western World, there are approximately 1.7 million Korean-Americans in the U.S. Korean-Americans have long labored under the stereotype of being a model minority, composed of hard-working, wonky brainiacs. Gangnam Style, much like the “Howard and Kumar” movies, shatters this stereotype. Here we have a thirtysomething Korean guy who is a jokey, yet savvy, party animal- an unspoken message of the video is “take your ‘model minority’ perceptions and shove ‘em”. That being said, one of the best iterations of the song perfectly encapsulates a “cool brainiacs” vibe… these students grind on the dance floor as well as the study hall.
Outside the Korean-American community, a lot of youth culture is otaku culture… much of the popularity of web content is driven by young people who embrace Asian popular entertainment. The incredible rise of Gangnam Style is incomprehensible to an old fogey, much like the inexplicable resurgence of 80’s pop tunes and the bizarre popularity of 70’s Russian cheese. The very concept of “cool” in the 21st century involves syncretism, it’s a blending of cultures low and high, east and west, meatspace and web… the cool people are kung-fu obsessed African-Americans, Canadian muppets, and glorious mutants. Who would be more appealing in today’s pop culture melting pot than a not-so-young Korean guy, surrounded by pretty young women, singing a piss-take of a song, rooted in an African-American musical style, with a brief English chorus and a hilarious video?
Gangnam Style works on many levels- it’s a satire, it’s a physical comedy, it’s an easily learned dance craze (like other inexplicable hits). Hell, even a clumsy galoot can hit the floor when this tune plays… expect to hear the song played at weddings for years to come (my prediction is that the “Hey, sexy ladies!” part will be played while the single ladies gather for the garter toss).
Gangnam Style lends itself to the DIY/mash-up culture, and has spawned a plethora of videos, including some truly inspired ones. Gangnam Style, far from merely being the most popular Youtube video of all time, is actually a good microcosm of the Internet itself- it’s a mish-mash of styles and themes from across the planet. It’s no wonder that a couple of fuddy-duddies, addressing an audience of grumpy old fogies, can so spectacularly fail in their assessment of this cultural phenomenon.
I think the main reason Bill’s ass is chapped by the popularity of Gangnam Style is that it represents the primacy of “hip-hop culture” worldwide. In Bill-O’s world, Asians are supposed to be the model, “almost white, well behaved” minority. To see a Korean guy performing a rap number must make Bill-O’s head feel all assplodey. Remember when America’s Racist Uncle decried the fact that young Latinos identify with “rap culture”? Well, now even the “nice” non-whiteys have succumbed to the beat. Combined with the overwhelming support for President Obama by Asian-Americans, expect to see a lot of Asian-bashing in the conservative media in the coming years. Once again, another “natural Republican voter” constituency flees the “big tent” due to bigotry and ignorance. In light of this, one would think that a conservative pundit would be leery of dismissing an enormously popular song by an Asian artist as nothing more than incomprehensible gibberish. Ah, who am I kidding? It’s a lot easier to rile up the dead-ender base. Now, how about another video of a tuxedo-wearing Korean guy singing a song with lyrics that are incomprehensible to most Americans?