The mystery and irony of Gangnam Style

The real joke: North Korea has released a parody of the viral video to attack a South Korean politician
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First Published: Mon, Oct 08 2012. 04 53 PM IST
The singer, PSY (short for “Psycho”) says that the song (and of course, more importantly, the music video) is a satire on all those “posers and wannabes” who put on “Gangnam style” airs and “are trying so hard to be something that they are not”. Photo: AFP
The singer, PSY (short for “Psycho”) says that the song (and of course, more importantly, the music video) is a satire on all those “posers and wannabes” who put on “Gangnam style” airs and “are trying so hard to be something that they are not”. Photo: AFP
Updated: Tue, Oct 09 2012. 01 02 PM IST
This is the real joke: The North Korean government has released a parody of the South Korean music video that’s gone inexplicably viral across the world.
What on earth is this Gangnam Style? This middle-aged man who can’t tell Rihanna from Justin Bieber had been seeing references and links to this mysterious global phenomenon all over social media for some time. When he asked his teenage daughter, she reacted with a facial expression that indicated that this confirmed her worst fears—she was sharing space and breathing the same oxygen as an authentic Neanderthal.
And now the whole damn West Indies team has gone and danced Gangnam style after winning the T20 World Cup, followed by Novak Djokavic after the China Open tennis title. So the Neanderthal clicked on the video with justifiable trepidation.
Well, it all seemed harmless enough, with a stocky South Korean prancing around in front of swimming pools and condos and things. The daughter, who was watching it for the gazillionth time, was in splits. Her father didn’t find it very funny at all and scratched his head. How was this better or more path-breaking than Akshay Kumar or Salman Khan prancing around in front of swimming pools and condos and things? And these guys do it in exotic locales—like Cape Town where everyone speaks Hindi, or Ireland, where they play bagpipes. What, the middle-aged man asked himself, was the deal?
So in a deluded attempt to keep a trembling finger on the pulse of popular culture, he read up on the net. The sociological significance, it seems, is that Gangnam is a Seoul neighbourhood where people are supposed to be rich, cool and classy. The singer, PSY (short for “Psycho”) says that the song (and of course, more importantly, the music video) is a satire on all those “posers and wannabes” who put on “Gangnam style” airs and “are trying so hard to be something that they are not”. OK, so it’s social comment, but not socialistic. In a way, quite philosophical: Be what you are and be cool with that.
Not that Chris Gayle delved so deep (anyway, he already exudes a near-celestial cool). It’s all about the dance. A decade and a half ago, the world was held to ransom by two 50-ish Brazilian (I think) singers, backed up by a bunch of beauties doing a fairly simple dance. That was Macarena. No one knew what the singers were talking about—for all they cared, they could be speaking gibberish, which, quite probably they were—but within a fortnight, three-fourths of the world’s population under the age of 25 who had access to a TV, had learnt up the steps. And then one day, everyone just forgot about it, and went back to playing video games or getting themselves tattooed or whatever they had been doing till then.
Gangnam has lasted three months, and my guess is it’ll last for another three. Meanwhile, it has achieved something truly remarkable. The North Korean government has released a parody of the song to attack a South Korean presidential candidate. The candidate’s father Park Chung Hee seized power in South Korea in a military coup in 1961 and ran an autocratic regime for 18 years, which saw great economic growth accompanied by, apparently, widespread human rights abuse.

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      OK, let’s just go over this step by step. A music video has gone viral across the planet, except perhaps only in North Korea, where Internet access is severely limited and monitored. Now the North Korean government, one of the most repressive regimes in the world, uses this video to attack someone about her father’s human rights abuse. North Korea is currently led by a man whose father possibly committed more human rights abuses than anyone in that part of the world, after Mao left for the Great Red Beyond. He also lived a life of insane luxury—and most probably, his son does too—that the wealthy denizens of Gangnam can never hope to afford. After all, there’s a bit of difference between buying Gucci and Chanel, and sending your chefs to Iran and Uzbekistan to buy a particular kind of caviar, to Denmark for pork, to western China for grapes, and to Thailand for mangos and papayas. Which is what Great Leader (now, posthumously, Eternal Leader) Kim Jong-Il did.
      Now that’s funny. And who’s the Psycho? The abbreviated PSY mock-horse-riding in a yoga session for the nouveau riche, or the guys across the border?
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      First Published: Mon, Oct 08 2012. 04 53 PM IST
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