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Friday, September 21, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: Wait! PSY's Gangnam Style Video Gets Propaganda Treatment?


After reading this New York Times (NYT) article, "Viral Video Gets Propaganda Treatment," written by Su Hyun Lee, an NYT reporter, I have to wonder what he/she is talking about.

First of all, the entire article does not live up to its title.  Did Lee want to criticize the North Korean propaganda levers to ridicule a South Korean presidential candidate or South Koreans' "inferiority complex"?  His/Her article lacks coherence, not to mention fairness.

Secondly, I found the last two paragraphs of the article perfectly ridiculous:


NYT article written by Su Hyun Lee (9/20/2012)


One, no South Koreans I know in the United States or South Korea consider PSY to be less than refined. Of course, there must be some others including the writer himself/herself who think like that, but most of the people with sanity appreciate the aesthetic value of his originality/creativity and respect his artistic endeavors of 12 years. I don't think Lee is aware that PSY has been always serious about his music and the messages it conveys; and it's really unprofessional for him/her to make strong assessments solely based on his/her shallow and biased knowledge.

Two, South Koreans are not hungry for "exposure"; it's just amazing and quite fun (or even funny) to them how PSY has gained global fame "without really trying" to promote the song or himself to the world market. On the other hand, if Lee and Dafna Zur are talking about Korean-Americans living in the U.S., like myself, it may hold some water as most of them are happy to witness the course of his rising stardom as if he were their own son.  Why am I happy for him?  Maybe it's partly because I'm one of the ethnicities that are still treated as foreigners while living in this country of immigrants; or partly because one day I feel respected and treated fairly for who I am, then the next day I feel discriminated against only because of my appearance, living in this country called the "Melting Pot"; or simply because I'm just lonely living apart from my parents, siblings, and old friends and happy to see this guy from my motherland live on TV. Whatever the reason is, I wouldn't call it "an inferiority complex."  Even when I feel discriminated against, I never feel inferior 'cause it's their fault not mine. Lee and Zur may insist that feeling discriminated against stems from my "inferiority complex" but as we all know, women or blacks fought for equal rights not because they had "an inferiority complex" to men or whites but because discrimination in any place, in any form, is always unacceptable.

And Lee is not even talking about Korean-Americans; he/she is talking about South Koreans living in South Korea which is no longer a poor, war-torn nation suffering from "an inferiority complex" if there was any. And they are so used to getting the international attention (for nearly 20 years now) thanks to the Korean Wave (aka, Hallyu), even before this PSY craze. Plus, contrary to Zur's belief, no South Koreans (I'm not talking about celebs here) think "any publicity is good publicity." Rather, they highly resent being misrepresented or misinterpreted, and who wouldn't?

And lastly, but certainly not leastly, I found Zur's “inferiority complex” remark the most offensive since Maureen Corrigan's 2011 jibe of “Kimchee-scented Kleenex” in her review of Shin Kyung-sook's Please Look After Mom. Seriously, she didn't even bother to employ political correctness when accounting for a country and its people and culture other than hers. I wonder if she will ever dare to use exactly the same phrase describing, for example, the African-American people and their culture. If she does, I'll be in awe of her audacity.


Other Reads: PSY Craze and My Blog
                      My Blog Cited in the Atlantic Article

22 comments:

  1. Let me share you my experience. A a good friend of mine (not Korean, of course), recently asked me what makes Gangnam Style so popular. Obviously he didn't get it and granted he has different music tastes. I don't listen to Gangnam Style on repeat either, but I do
    think it's great in its own way.

    Franky, i don't know exactly why either, there are a lot of funny fresh meaningful songs out there that doesn't get this much of craze. He knows about the satire, but still doesn't get why people worldwide would like it so much. Just as you've said in your other posts I gave him these answers: it's fresh, also he looks average-y so people can relate, he's not some godly handsome figure, the dance is funny, etc.

    Then my friend started saying, if that's the formula, isn't he like William Hung? Frankly, I think it's an insult to Psy to be compared with W. Hung. I said Hung hasn't got that talent, while Psy is pretty solid. My friend just laughed my reply off. (Perhaps thinking that Psy doesn't have that much of talent anyway).

    I left it at that and did not try to push my point, as I didn't want to sound like a crazed fan. I realize though, that to a lot of people, they can't see the difference. Probably the reason why that insulting article was written. Some see him just as a gag man, and gag mans are not to be taken seriously, and or they are not classy.

    I think some people like that writer and the person quoted, think themselves as 'above' and has much 'classier' tastes. Well, their loss!

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  2. W-imo, thanks a lot for emphasizing with me. :) BTW, the crucial difference between Psy and Hung is the professionalism. Even Psy's absurdity is intentionally calculated not to mention the music and the dance moves. He's a real musician and performer with 12 years of stage experience in the Korean music industry.

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  3. I agree with you, even though I haven't known about him for long, it shows in his MV, and his concert videos. I wasn't able to put my finger to it and articulate it as well as you just did to my friend, but I think you've summed it up very well.

    Obviously these 'classy' journalists and so called experts of asian culture did not even bother to look up his works.

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  4. W-imo, but you know what. The writer of this article is Korean.

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  5. Oops. Correction in my comment @9:05 PM: emphasizing => empathizing.

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  6. Just a slight correction Onsemiro, it's "African American" not "Afro American" :-). Otherwise good article.

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  7. Thanks, E TiE. I made a correction accordingly. :)

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  8. Tiger JK went off!!, on a rant, @ The Creators Project Event, about some of the fans wanting him to do PSY's dance! It's the same thing that happened to hip hop music before it became prominent in the US. Racist individuals during that time, referred to it as primitive, unacceptable, and rejected it, but look at it now. Children all over the world are trying to break-dance, pop-lock, jerk, & krump dance. People love Gangnam Style, whether it's viewed as comedy or real music. The world knows who he is now, so i hope he can weather the storm, and stay on top. You have to have the negative & positive to stay there...


    http://www.allkpop.com/2012/09/tiger-jk-apologizes-for-racist-rant-at-the-creators-project-event

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  9. kpopantz, thanks for the link. And as Eli commented, I think I can understand why Tiger JK is angry even though his racist remarks are not acceptable. It's like people think every Korean can do Taekwondo; but just like not every one of them can do this martial art, so not every one of them can do the horse dance. And just like American music boasts various genres and artists, so does Korean music. Even though PSY is not everything about Korea or Korean music, again, it's not his fault. As you just mentioned the emergence and prevalence of hip hop music in the US, it will take time for non-Korean consumers of pop music to get to know more about Korea and its music. Yet, it was really rude of the non-Korean audience there @ The Creators Project Event to force a professional musician like Tiger JK to do something when he had no intention of doing it. Period. But at the same time, I think he overreacted a bit; he could've shown his frustration in a better or more mature way.

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  10. I read that news too. I think it is understandable to be upset when his songs are cut short, but the way he said it made it seems as if he's saying he's a class above Psy. As in, he's not going to stoop 'low' and do the horse dance. I don't think people laugh at Psy, I think people laugh with him.

    A lot of other celebrities did it when requested. SNSD did it in some fan meet or whatever i don't know but I caught a glimpse of it. Lots of others did it, not because they want to ride Psy's popularity, but I can see that they actually really liked the music and the dance. They are as affected as other normal people are and didn't need to remind themselves how they are different than Psy.

    None of the other celebs are in that same genre as Psy, and they don't look as if they are ashamed to do it, which I think is what JK feels about doing it.

    Well my conclusion to it was that not everyone is brave and egoless enough to make fun of themselves.

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  11. No one can know what was in his mind when he said it but my guess is that he was ticked off that the non-Korean (that is White in his words) audience had no respect for his music and/or Korean music per se. But I'm not really sure why he said so 'cause I wasn't there and don't know what kind of atmosphere was created there at that time.

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  12. You're right, Onsemiro. Well, it's not the worst thing that a celeb has said or done. So I'm sure it'll pass.

    Back in my country, we do the most horrible things with westerners. There's this show where they hold competition between random expat westerners, we make them wear our traditional clothes, do ridiculous dances, drop them on the streets and tell them to attempt conversation in our language with passerbys or ask some things knowing that English is not generally well known in the country. All so that we can laugh at how 'stupid' these westerners are. I didn't enjoy the show, since it can be quite demeaning, but strangely the expats didn't seem to mind much.

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  13. Wahyimo, I may be wrong but the expats don't seem to mind 'cause it's one of few ways for them to make money (or extra money) in foreign countries? Some of the Korean celebs working in Japan or Korean-American celebs in the US (even though they are not expats) also have done such ridiculous things for money and fame and South Koreans consider them so demeaning too.

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    1. I could be wrong since I've not seen it myself, but the expats may not mind at least partially because they understand that American/Westerners are stereotypically considered to have inflated egos, & they understand it can be very funny watching someone completely foul up another country/people's culture & language. Especially if you can see they are sincerely trying. It is too hard to take yourself seriously all the time.

      It's the same as why Psy has taken the world by storm; you can tell he has talent, but this song is instinctually & inherently ridiculous, but also easy & fun, as is the dance. But, when done sincerely, with respect, class, & levity, we all laugh *with* him instead of *at* him.

      I am Native American. So, I invariably watch Caucasians butcher my people's customs & manner constantly. Depending upon the person, whether they have obvious respect for my culture or not, & if they don't take themselves too seriously, it can be very endearing & funny (laughing with), instead of being either ridiculous & embarrassing (laughing at) or disrespectful & cruel (not laughing at all). Just my two cents, so to speak.

      Thank you for your English translations & blog. I appreciate them both! Take care.

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  14. I just read a news article about Tiger JK's "racist" remarks. It turned out the news articles were written poorly due to the reporters' lack of understanding the hip hop culture. Here's my translation of the article:

    Tiger JK tweeted (9/26/2012), "Please be easy when you title your news articles. Days ago, at the concert, I had to stop performing just after finishing the first verse. That kept happening for 'five' songs. There'd been constant shouting from the audience, 'Shut up and show us the horse dance!' I got upset and stopped my performance and 'dissed' them for 10 minutes."

    He added, "My fans or those who are used to my performance already know about my aggressive and peculiar stage manners. But I thought those articles might have misled others (so I chose to tweet on this happening). Of course I'm not making an excuse that there's nothing wrong with what I did or anything. But you must understand there're plenty of unexpected episodes (happenings) while performing on stage."

    He said, "When you read the news articles or just the titles, you might think, 'PSY is making it big now and Tiger JK didn't accept the cute requests from the audience to show them the PSY dance but instead, he got mad and bombarded rough words and then apologized.' And it's scary and that's never what happened. Right after my 10-minute-long diss, I wrapped up my performance with 'Monster' and 'Get It In' in a favorable atmosphere."

    http://tvdaily.mk.co.kr/read.php3?aid=1348659972392880010

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  15. BeatriceBlue, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I think your comment was one of the most thoroughly thought out and very well written. Thanks again.

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    1. Well, that was very kind of you to say! Thank you!!

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  16. Dafna Zur is simply put, an ignoramus. She may speak Korean but she certainly doesn't know how her shallow comments make her look. I'm going to drop her an email. Who wants to bet she'd say she was "misquoted"???

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  17. Visitken, exactly! Seriously, she needs to break with the old paradigm if she really meant it.

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  18. I just wanted to chime in here, although I'm late. I had the honor of taking a class with Dafna Zur and I can most certainly assure you that she was misquoted. She gave an hour-long interview to the NYT, and they chose that select quote, which was absolutely out of context.

    Zur has the utmost respect for Korea and its culture. She would never intentionally demean the nation or its people.

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  19. I don't understand how people can take quotes like this so integrally when we're provided less than sufficient context! Who are we to say she *wasn't* misquoted? This woman has adopted the Korean life as her own and I don't think she'd say something like this,within the frame of the interview, with intents to bash Korea as a whole. People responding in such a manner with what seems to be a lack of logical reasoning just doesn't make sense to me. #TeamZur

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  20. John and Anonym, I'm sorry if you felt offended by my responding in such a manner with what seems to be a lack of logical reasoning but could you possibly tell me exactly how she was misquoted so that I can put it right?

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