Gangnam… yeah.

There’s no way to say this without sounding slightly racist, but I’m just going to say it:

“It’s all fun and games until the white people get a hold of it. Then it’s time to find something else to do.”

And I don’t mean this in the, “White people are the devil,” way. I mean this in the, “White people are the majority,” way.

Racial overtones aside, being part of a minority inevitably, to some extent, means being part of a counter/sub-culture. Whether participation in said culture is by an individual’s volition or environment varies from case to case, but the fact remains that for the most part, non-whites tend to know what it’s like to be different AND support media-worthy trends from the ethnic group (particularly as it’s gaining momentum, and before the dominant culture knows about it). It’s like an inside joke. It’s connection and bonding provided by and for the group—it’s our way of being different with everyone else amidst the chaos.

Black people always used to say, “I’m in the house” instead of “I’m here.” But then white people all started to say “in the house” so we switched it to “in the hizzouse.” Hizzouse became hizzizzouse, and then white folk started saying that, and we had to change it to hizzie, then “in the hizzle” which we had to change to “hizzle fo shizzle,” and now, because white people say “hizzle fo shizzle,” we have to say “flippity floppity floop.”

Chef, South Park

NOTE: these trends are mutually exclusive from icons and success. Michael Jordan and Jeremy Lin didn’t lose ethnic popularity because the dominant culture became fans of them, in fact the opposite; but phrases from hip-hop and fashions alike are often abandoned upon Caucasian adaptation.

Gangnam Style, the explosive hit song/video/dance by Psy is another example of this. A fun dance, catchy beat, riddled with Korean culture, commentary, and absurdity was almost written for U.S. citizens… or at least, they would adopt it as if it were. Truthfully, the song is about the contrast between daylife and nightlife in the Gangnam district of South Korea, the country’s fourth most populated district. During the day it’s hustle and bustle: work hard, wear a suit, be professional. At night it’s a whole different scene: partying, partying, partying… and dancing. In the video there’s this mash between well dressed individuals in a slew of different places, most work or commute-to-work oriented, and it isn’t really until the final scene where we finally the nightlife: a dance floor, laser lights, and a crowd dancing.

To me, it meant working for an end that only exists during a specific time—slaving to get by during the day, knowing what you really, truly want, and having to deny yourself of it until the time is right. Over-analytical as it may be, it really does speak to the mentality of the people who follow this lifestyle within the Gangnam district: they’re working but what would truly them happy is to cut loose and have fun.

Watch the video.

Where are they half the time? Parking garages, parks, crosswalks, boats (not yachts), loading garages, elevators, busses, subway trains, tennis courts, bathroom stalls etc… And they’re dancing in all of these places because that’s what they’d rather do—it’s a reflection of the mind, not the reality. The reality happens at the end, when they finally reach the nightlife. Until then they’re waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

And its fun as shit.

It’s also a signal of the growing Korean music industry. Demonstrative of the success South Koreans can achieve, this video and the high number of views captures the essence of K-pop’s business model: the synthesis of music and video first platformed on the household name Youtube, then delivered to everyone via desktops, portable computers, and smartphones. It’s competition to the U.S. record labels, an exhibition of a different music distribution methodology and proof that it works.

BUT. It doesn’t mean any of that to the U.S. culture. Here in the states, it’s a catchy song with a four-to-the-floor dance beat that fits right in with Nicki Minaj and all the other radio trash filling the air with smog. And now there’s this, “Ohhh, K-pop! This fits right in with everything we’ve been listening to, for like, ever.” Suddenly the meaning dissipates. Now the song serves as a meaningless outlet, with no aim—now it’s stupid to think it has any meaning beyond entertaining the dominant culture, that it’s nothing more than a new macarena. And the video itself is just another “silly Asian” doing silly things because Asians like to be silly.

NOW that the dominant culture has a hold of it, they get to decide what it means. If it means nothing, it means nothing. If some people actually look into what it means via Psy himself or other articles, they’re a minority, and the majority gets to hold onto their mentality that it means nothing. Even though it means something elsewhere, it’s lost in translation. It’s just entertainment. And this leads the minority to… give up, get rid of it, and find something else to like. Eventually the majority will get tired of it and wait for the next big thing to come around.

IT’S frustrating because none of the meaning gets to percolate into the majority. They don’t glean anything about us from it. And just try explaining that it has meaning, you won’t get far. “You’re looking too far into it”, “you’re over-analyzing”, “you’re creating something that isn’t there.” Think of it as if you had control over how your body absorbed nutrients by just deciding what kind of food you’re eating. If I eat broccoli but decide in my mind that I’m eating Cheetos, I get Cheetos. In this case, its as if the majority simply decides that their intake is junk-food, treats it as such, consumes it as such, and metabolizes it as such.

JUST like a cloud of locusts.

FUCKED up as this may have sounded, I’m not saying its only white people. My hypothesis is that this is the nature of any majority—any dominant demographic—and in this case it happens to be Caucasians. Regionally, it changes, but adaptation and adoption still exists to some degree or another. Cultures have a natural sense of adoration for a non-dominant culture; it’s why we have U.S. anime-kids, French hip-hop, German American Pie style parties, classic Ford Mustangs as police cars in Japan… and while it has its benefits, these are simply a few of the negatives under the microscope.

There’s good and evil in everything. I chose to look at the evil here.
Don’t shit bricks.

Source: South Korean.
Apology: Wall of text.

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6 thoughts on “Gangnam… yeah.

  1. “…the video itself is just another “silly Asian” doing silly things because Asians like to be silly.”

    I’d say that’s spot-on. While my hands aren’t clean here (the “silly asian” factor may, in fact, explain why I prefer watching “Gangnam Style” to listening to it, and why I enjoy so much those moments where the artist dances, unfazed, in inexplicable torrents of foam), I’m worried that the promulgation of misheard K-pop lyrics is bound to breathe new life into some insidious Asian stereotypes–particularly, those that revel in reminding people that Asian languages and Asian people just aren’t to be taken seriously. The substitution of “open condom style” for “Oppa Gangnam Style” (and maybe I’m also prone to “over-analyzing” here) is just one of several lines in K-pop willingly butchered (http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2012/08/open-condom-style-and-other-misheard-k-pop-lyrics/56188/) by an audience raised on Engrish and a media that (speaking, as you did, of Jeremy Lin) can’t seem to run a headline involving an Asian celebrity without cringe-worthy gaffes (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/9093426/Jeremy-Lin-ESPN-suspends-Max-Bretos-and-fires-Anthony-Federico-after-racist-pun.html).

    As to your sense that people aren’t interested in the song’s substance (and I hope you’ll indulge me here): Google Trends’ interest indices show that worldwide searches for “Gangnam Style” well outpace searches for “Gangnam Style Lyrics,” and lyrics searches, in turn, well outpace searches for “Gangnam Style English” and “Gangnam Style Meaning.” Still, the last two have enjoyed some popularity, with English reaching a quarter of lyrics’ search volume, and meaning, above ten percent (although only Houston, New York City, and San Francisco register on the american map, and Australia’s interest well exceeds North America’s in every measure).

    Great post; I honestly hope it gets some well-deserved attention.

    1. Wow. Thank you for such a thoughtful, thorough response. I’m glad to hear that I’m not drowning in deluded conjecture, and that someone else harbors similar fears of stereotype reinforcement/creation stemming from this phenomenon.

      Great links (I remember that Jeremy Lin situation made me wince/rate), and awesome feedback. I too have heard the various Americanized substitutions for the lyrics, and willfully ignorant suppositions as to the meaning of the song—all drive me batshit insane. With stuff like “Open Condom Style” I just don’t get how the rational part of the brain doesn’t stop the thinker and realize, “Wait, that’s FUCKING STUPID.” But, the willingness of the US mind to doubtlessly believe anything it creates on its own never ceases to amaze me (to be fair: I’m guilty as well and a US citizen).

      Oh I will always indulge statistical analysis! Great use of Trends, I definitely always forget about that tool, and awesome comparison of search items. I’m glad to have been statistically validated, though I’m experiencing some jealousy because I wish I had remembered to search it myself!

      Thanks for reading, please don’t hesitate to reblog.

  2. Reblogged this on Collecting Scholars' Hangovers and commented:
    Blogs come and go, frequently without more than a month’s content (as a writer uneasy at all stages of the identity-developing process known as online publishing, I’ve bastardized more than my fair share of domain names), but over the years, a few manage to survive, thrive, and, simply, hook. ChrisEatsArt.com, which, without flattery, might best be characterized as a work of impassioned social acrobatics–balancing the concise remarks and diatribes, style and incisive timing–has long managed to hold my attention.
    I hate to exile his words to a blog long unread–but, hell, it’s good stuff. Here’s to you, ChrisEatsArt. May your coattails grow ever longer and more crowded.

    1. Never has anyone written such an honest, keen review. Finally SOMEONE goes ahead and says it: I’m just here to (eloquently) bitch about stuff!

      But really, thanks. And welcome to my blogroll.

      (Coattails reference. Nice).

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