Thursday, November 29, 2012

Clueless Caucasian Curmudgeons Critique Cute Korean Cutup

Who better to weigh in on a genuine international pop phenomenon than an angry, stupid old white guy? I have to admit that my exposure to the song Gangnam Style was pretty late in the game, and completely 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 hip, young Korean-American to break down the cultural phenomenon, but he's not really trying to understand it... this is a classic example of fostering the ignorance and bigotry of his audience.

Bill's guest Dr Keith Ablow is even more clueless than he is. 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, even though he goes so far as to write some of them out. 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 popularity in Asia 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- take your "model minority" perceptions and shove 'em. One of my favorite iterations of the song is this one, which perfectly encapsulates the "cool brainiacs" aesthetic.

Outside the Korean-American community, a lot of youth culture is otaku culture... there is a hearty embracing of Asian popular entertainment and the young consumers drive much of the popularity of web content. The incredible rise of Gangnam Style is incomprehensible to a square old fogey, much like the inexplicable resurgence of 80's pop tunes used to "count coup" on n00bz and the bizarre popularity of glorious Russian cheese among snarky youths. 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 African-Americans who are obsessed with kung-fu movies, 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, catchy English chorus and featuring 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 (don't look at me, I'm a dancing machine, most guys who like to fight are) 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 bridesmaids assemble, maybe when the garter is tossed).

Finally, 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 true melting pot 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.

UPDATE: Now, here's a real assessment of Gangnam Style by someone who knows what she's talking about.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Special thanks to zrm, who corrected my misspelling of "Gangnam". Thanks, old chum! mikey observes Bill-O's combination of racism and opportunism, which leads me to this observation... 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 dance 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. Yeah, yet another "natural Republican voter" constituency fleeing the "big tent" due to bigotry and ignorance. J. Neo Marvin compares Gangnam Style to the most important song of the 1990's, the prescient Common People by Pulp. Now, this is how to approach a song- figure out the lyrics. Of course, Bill-O and his knuckleheaded guest don't want you to be exposed to the class-critique central to Gangnam Style, it suits their purposes to portray the song as so much gobbledegook (nasty pun intended, we all know what Bill-O was thinking). The unintentional hilarity of Ablow's take on the song is that his characterization of its popularity as a symptom of a shallow American youth culture is based entirely on an extremely shallow understanding of the song.

25 comments:

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

did you leave the second N out of Gangnam on purpose? I can never tell with you clever bloggers.

I have no idea why you changed Harold to Howard, though. Afraid of infringing on "Harold and Maude" perhaps?

Bill-O can eat a big heaping bowl of salted dicks.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Yikes, I guess I'm a clueless white guy... either that or I'm trolling for hits from bad spellers.

I figure I'll have to edit this sometime, but now is not the time.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

No time for edit, Doctor Jones!

mikey said...

My instinct is to arbitrarily hate anything that "goes viral", in the same way I have always consciously tried to avoid doing anything considered "cool". Part of it is that you just have to work so damn hard to become aware of these things early enough to be something other than a victim of the "virus". There was some consideration, perhaps even expectation, that the Giants would bring Psy into San Francisco for the World Series. I was not saddened when they did not, but Bill-O has proven over time that he is a racist and a gross opportunist, chasing a particular audience with greater success than either Beck or Hannity, but always in Rush's shadow...

J Neo Marvin said...

Thanks so much for that article. That was illuminating, especially when she translates the lyrics and explains their satirical implications. It's actually like Korea's answer to "Common People" by Pulp.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

No time for edit, Doctor Jones!

I'll get around to it!

My instinct is to arbitrarily hate anything that "goes viral", in the same way I have always consciously tried to avoid doing anything considered "cool". Part of it is that you just have to work so damn hard to become aware of these things early enough to be something other than a victim of the "virus".

Every once in a while, I check out what's current... most of the time, I remain ensconced in my late 70's/80's bubble.

Thanks so much for that article. That was illuminating, especially when she translates the lyrics and explains their satirical implications. It's actually like Korea's answer to "Common People" by Pulp.

"Common People" is the best song of the 1990s... damn, it was prescient. Of course, the best album of the 90's was Hedningarna's "Tra". That being said, the casual dismissal of the song by two clueless old white guys is really hilarious. They try to make a point about the shallowness of our culture by being utterly shallow.

M. Bouffant said...

Still haven't watched it, being an old crank just like mikey, but I suspect that one of these days I'll be surfing by Mnet & see it.

Also, someone has to lift Ablow's medical license, 'though I'll bet most of his patients dumped him, explaining his presence on Fox all the time.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Your time might be better spent watching the video for Bubble Pop with the sound turned off.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

"Common People" is the best song of the 1990s

Only when done by Shatner.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Your time might be better spent watching the video for Bubble Pop with the sound turned off.

IBIMBWBPWTSTO

mikey said...

The best album of the 90s may not be something that can be decided, for the choices are too many and the category far to broad.

But I think if you factor in quality, influence, impact and staying power you'd almost have to arrive at Dookie by Greenday.

However, I'm going to go with the seminal work of The Refreshements, "The Bottle and Fresh Horses" as by FAR the best album of the 90s and one of the top ten of all time...

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Only when done by Shatner.

I dunno, Shatner should have sung the chorus as well.

However, I'm going to go with the seminal work of The Refreshements, "The Bottle and Fresh Horses" as by FAR the best album of the 90s and one of the top ten of all time...

Better than Fizzy Fuzzy Big and Buzzy?

I will still aver that Hedningarna's Tra is the best album of the 90s. I mean, what could be better?

mikey said...

Better than Fizzy Fuzzy Big and Buzzy?

They got their feet under them with Fizzy. They became something magical with The Bottle...

Smut Clyde said...

I cannot believe that Ablow has not featured at Riddled.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Dancing Fool David Gregory is how I heard about Gangnam Style.
~

Dr.KennethNoisewater said...

I was late to the Gangnam Style thingie myself and when I saw the video, I just thought, "Hey, this guy looks like he's having a shitload of fun." And it's hard not to have fun yourself. I have a real soft spot for people who don't take themselves too seriously.

Dr.KennethNoisewater said...

Thank you for the link to the explanation. It was incredibly enlightening. (Now I sound like a spambot.)

Pupienus Maximus said...

So I watched it last week, because I was curious. Back in the day I professed to not like the Beatles, just because everyone else did. Iconoclasm is deeply wired into me. Anyway, I thought it was catchy and wondered what it was about but not so interested as to actually find out. If only there was some easy way to ascertain such stuff, a global network of computers or something.

Thing is, I listen to NPR a lot and pay special attention to the music segments on whatever show is on. ATC, or maybe it's weekend edition, has the hosts of Alt Latino on regularly. (Felix Contreros has a sexy sexy voice!) Point is, lots of the music they spotlight from S. and Central America, and many other places Spanishy, is rap. The World often has someone doing rap style music from the middle east, Africa, wherever. Hip hop, rap, whatever you call it has spread around the world no less than that other iconic American music, jazz.

I've never been a fan of rap but then there are lots of music genres without interest for me. Never walked around with my pants hanging down my ass with underwear showing either. Bill O'Reilly is a twatwaffle.

Pupienus Maximus said...

So I watched it last week, because I was curious. Back in the day I professed to not like the Beatles, just because everyone else did. Iconoclasm is deeply wired into me. Anyway, I thought it was catchy and wondered what it was about but not so interested as to actually find out. If only there was some easy way to ascertain such stuff, a global network of computers or something.

Thing is, I listen to NPR a lot and pay special attention to the music segments on whatever show is on. ATC, or maybe it's weekend edition, has the hosts of Alt Latino on regularly. (Felix Contreros has a sexy sexy voice!) Point is, lots of the music they spotlight from S. and Central America, and many other places Spanishy, is rap. The World often has someone doing rap style music from the middle east, Africa, wherever. Hip hop, rap, whatever you call it has spread around the world no less than that other iconic American music, jazz.

I've never been a fan of rap but then there are lots of music genres without interest for me. Never walked around with my pants hanging down my ass with underwear showing either. Bill O'Reilly is a twatwaffle.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Thank you for the link to the explanation. It was incredibly enlightening. (Now I sound like a spambot.)

Heh, indeed! It is pretty interesting how the song is topical not only in Seoul, but worldwide. Stupid Ablow, he really punted this one.

Point is, lots of the music they spotlight from S. and Central America, and many other places Spanishy, is rap. The World often has someone doing rap style music from the middle east, Africa, wherever. Hip hop, rap, whatever you call it has spread around the world no less than that other iconic American music, jazz.

The thing about rap is that anyone can do it- it really takes the DIY approach to a whole new level.

Dr.KennethNoisewater said...

Heh, indeed! It is pretty interesting how the song is topical not only in Seoul, but worldwide

That was my thought, too.

El Manquécito said...

I guess none of y'all get the New Yorker which had a remarkably entertaining article on K-pop a month back or so (can't be arsed, etc.). I read it because I did a lot of business with Koreans this summer and found them somewhat inscrutable. Knowing more about K-pop didn't change this any.

Another Kiwi said...

I also thank 4B for this post, I had made a point of not knowing anything about this since it went viral. Is that my lawn you are on?

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Heh, indeed! It is pretty interesting how the song is topical not only in Seoul, but worldwide

Can't have a discussion about the implications of the song's meaning now, it would make plutocrats cry.

I guess none of y'all get the New Yorker which had a remarkably entertaining article on K-pop a month back or so (can't be arsed, etc.).

I'm gonna have to look this up now.

I also thank 4B for this post, I had made a point of not knowing anything about this since it went viral. Is that my lawn you are on?

That's not me, that's some clownish, alarming parrot!

jim said...

I heart the "Gangnam Seutail" very much, ergo Papa Bear is a smarmy old twunt.

I also much enjoy "Terminal Preppy" by the Dead Kennedys, funnily enough.

"Oppan Chomsky Style." = *mind blown*