Friday, November 30, 2012

Dear Bill O'Reilly and Keith Ablow

Dear Bill O'Reilly and Keith Ablow,

You sat down together on national television to talk about the popularity of Psy's "Gangnam Style" video.  It's hit a landmark number of views on YouTube, and you wanted to figure out why.

If I squint, it seemed like you started to touch on a conversation about the nature of pop music and whether or not the escapist qualities of the Internet and pop culture are harmful.

But in essence, all I really got was five minutes of nonsensical racism.

A few choice moments:
The most popular music apparently is that without intelligible words to some extent. 
So it means nothing but it's got a nice upbeat to it. 
The meaning is that it has no meaning. 
Elvis Presley could sing, he had a good voice, his songs had words.
You don't understand Hangul.  That doesn't mean that the entire language is without meaning.  Psy isn't babbling nonsensically in made-up words.  He's speaking his native language.  The song itself has meaning; you just don't understand it.

Is there a larger discussion to be had about the massive popularity of a song in a language that much of its audience doesn't speak?  Yes.  Did you really have that conversation?  No.

You emphasized the point that "Gangnam Style" is popular on (and largely because of) the Internet, but you didn't think about the fact that people can look up translations of the lyrics?

Look, here's an article from a place you're probably familiar with:
Gangnam is a wealthy neighborhood in the South Korean city of Seoul where young people go to party. In the song, Psy describes the kind of guy he is and the kind of girl he wants, painting caricatures of the ostentatious culture of people who hang out in Gangnam. 
As The Atlantic pointed out in an in-depth article last month, behind the flashy costumes and killer dance moves in Psy's video, there's a subtle commentary on class in South Korea. 
It roughly means something like 'Your man has Gangnam Style.' 'Oppa,' which literally means 'older brother,' is an affectionate term girls use to address older guy friends or a boyfriend. It can also be used as a first-person pronoun, as PSY does here — in this case, he's telling a woman that he has Gangnam style.
Look at that, The Atlantic did an in-depth article!  It's almost as if there's some sort of substance to this song that might be relevant to the video!  As if Psy isn't merely babbling out meaningless nonsense!  Wait, this song has lyrics?  Fascinating!

Then you bring out this lovely line:
This is a little fat guy from Pyongyang or someplace, Seoul.
Maybe you're not familiar with world history.  Or even with national history.  But assigning just any Asian person to just any Asian country is racist.  Further, assigning someone from South Korea to North Korea is culturally insensitive.  They're very different countries, as someone who earns a living commenting on politics might need to know.
There are like sixteen guys named Sy on Long Island that I could tell you about, they don't look like him.
Now you're mocking his stage name?  Laughing over the fact that people of Asian ethnicity don't look like people of Italian ethnicity?  "Ha ha, he has a stage name, ha ha, he's Asian, ha ha!"  Fantastic political commentary, there.

You spend some time talking about Elvis Presley.  You end up arguing that Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Justin Bieber are real musicians with real music, while "Gangnam Style" is utter nonsense and Psy makes meaningless music.  As if the popularity of "Gangnam Style" marks some historic turn where pop culture deteriorates from talent and substance to nothingness.

This kind of pop music: interesting, meaningful
That kind of pop music: nonsensical, meaningless, potentially harmful and dangerous to civilization as we know it

This kind of pop musician: talented, can sing, can dance
That kind of pop musician: no talent whatsoever

This kind of pop music: in English
That kind of pop music: in Hangul

This kind of pop musician: white, American/English/Canadian
That kind of pop musician: Korean

You spent five minutes saying racist things during a discussion predicating on the idea that "Gangnam Style" is a song without meaning.  Are you also upset that Shakira randomly lapses into garbled babble-speak as well?  Are you also worried about the sanity of those deluded opera-goers who are so fond of meaningless babble-music?

It's not in English!  I don't immediately understand what it means!  Therefore it is devoid of all substance!

It's not in English!  Therefore it is nonsense!

I don't understand it!  Therefore no one else does, either!

The two of you are not the center of the universe.  A wonderful and vibrant world exists beyond you.  Some people speak Hangul.  Some people like Korean pop music.  Some people know how to look things up on the Internet.

If you want to talk about pop music as escapism and whether or not Facebook is bad for society, have that discussion.  Leave the racism out of it.

With love,
Frank Lee

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