Archive | December, 2012

“Meaningless” Gangnam Style

4 Dec

To follow-up yesterday’s post, here’s a quick interview about “Gangnam Style” between talk show host Bill O’Reilly and Fox News psychiatrist Keith Ablow, who asserts:

I think what this fellow [Korean rapper PSY] is tapping into… is the fact that people don’t want any meaning right now… The most popular music is that without intelligible words to some extent… It doesn’t try to convince you of anything… It is just is sort of like a drug and that seems to be what most people seem to want right now. Not reality, not feeling, not meaning (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/28/bill-oreilly-gangnam-style_n_2203882.html?utm_hp_ref=media).

First question: is Ablow aware that Korean is a language?

Granted, he may be using the word “people” to refer to “English-speaking US Americans,” but I like to think of “people” as inclusive of folks the world over, some of whom speak Korean, and others of whom seek translation if they don’t know the language.

Yes, certainly, “Gangnam Style” and PSY’s horse dance are surreal. And that’s a popular stylistic choice for satire, along with absurd, over-the-top and dry (a la Woody Allen). So there’s actually something to be said for the feeling and meaning that are conveyed through seeming silliness.

And while Ablow’s critique seems more directed at “people” than at PSY, he ends up demeaning the artist and his work without, apparently, any understanding of the lyrics (see yesterday’s post with the link to the Atlantic article), let alone any comprehension of musical tropes and other technical artistic devices.

All of which leaves me wondering: what do Ablow and O’Reilly think “people” tune into The O’Reilly Factor for? I guess not reality, feeling, nor meaning.

**Thanks to my colleague NC for the link.

Racist Gangnam Style

3 Dec

I am over the “Gangnam Style” frenzy. I am glad for PSY, and I am glad for the South Korean economy, in whatever way the popularity of the song and video have been a boon.

But the attention the song has drawn is overwhelmingly uninformed. Now, I’m all for a good dance moment. Several, even. But the funny round Korean man on youtube is a little too reminiscent of the dancing black man of old minstrel shows, in my opinion. And that coverage of this phenomenon is almost entirely devoid of any mention of the social import of this satire (because, yes, satire is social–often serious–commentary) really bums me out. (For one glimpse past the horse dance, check out the Atlantic’s “Gangnam Style, Dissected: The Subversive Message Within South Korea’s Music Video Sensation,” which I posted on earlier: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/08/gangnam-style-dissected-the-subversive-message-within-south-koreas-music-video-sensation/261462/.)

The latest “Gangnam Style” cover makes me sigh particularly deeply. The popular musical TV show Glee had to do a version, of course: http://www.toofab.com/2012/11/29/glee-gangnam-style-psy/?adid=sugarnetwork. And in doing so, they validated writer Ian Fortey’s conclusion that Glee is one of “the 5 most bafflingly racist shows on TV right now”  (http://www.cracked.com/blog/the-5-most-bafflingly-racist-shows-tv-right-now/), which I also posted on earlier. Forgive me for what may appear to be redundancy. I consider it necessary reminding.

While solos on Glee rotate among its ensemble cast, by no means is the rotation even. So it is quite noticeable that the Asian-American character Tina Cohen-Chang (played by Korean-born and NY-raised Jenna Ushkowitz) get this one, even “[t]hough she rarely has solos,” according to pop culture site TooFab (who would know better than I what is rare on Glee).

Cue Fortey, who wrote (in August, well before this episode aired):
[O]n the surface, Glee looks like a damn musical U.N. of shit I’d never watch. But it also looks like they have someone from almost every ethnic background available on the show and dammit, they’re all so full of song. But then it was pointed out to me that every non-white character is such a non-white character that it’s like the producers had actually just come here from an albino world and were so taken with the novelty of people who weren’t white that they had no time to look into or care about their cultures at all.
Yes, it does seem like that.
I can’t help but compare the show’s handling, in general, of LGBTTQQ identities and issues with its engagement (intentional and not) around race. In the former, Glee‘s writers display some groundbreaking insight, humanity, forward-thinking and ease. Yes, they seem more comfortable writing for and about LGBTTQQ characters than they do addressing race, in storyline or song. With race (and this is admittedly based on my watching the show only sporadically), it seems Glee sometimes stalls out or even goes backwards, reinforcing racist conventions, like only giving the “ethnic” solos to “ethnic” people.
And so, Ushkowitz gets this spotlight because there’s a Korean pop culture moment. Although I suppose her job includes representing anything emerging from anywhere within the Asian continent, to bring the authenticity.