By now all right-thinking pop culturists have watched Psy’s new video Gentleman:
If not, it’s been out for five days, so where have you been? While lacking the novelty value of Gangnam Style for foreign audiences, the video remains a delightful romp through the food tents and grand boulevards of Seoul. While the lyrics are inconsequential, Psy spills drinks, kicks chairs, dances with rice noodles and acts like a jerk throughout.
That part is important, because Korean society remains status-driven and hierarchical. The roots of Confucianism have deftly adapted to neoliberalism, putting formal respect and deference to work for capital. Korea has the second-longest working hours in the OECD, while young people are expected to be well-placed in their careers before turning 30. As a result, Korea suffers from a rash of education- and work-related suicides, not to mention some of the highest depression rates in the developed world.
I would argue that Psy’s domestic success is due to the gap between social expectations and social reality; faced with a system that not only exploits you, but which you’re supposed to be deeply loyal to, being a prick and breaking social conventions becomes quite funny. This is different than slapstick: Psy isn’t falling into a pool, he’s treating other people badly, and being treated that way in turn. His dance is a big f*ck you to a society that demands social cohesion without the accompanying rewards of security and stability. This gap is particularly acute for those under 30, his main audience.
Finally, my girlfriend pointed out that the dance, and the lead dancer, is a copy of Brown-Eyed Girls’ Abracadabra:
The fact that Ga-In (가인) appears in Psy’s video should put to rest claims of plagiarism. That was supposed to be my big scoop for this blog, but Billboard provides more details. Sorry.