I admit to a bit of fascination with the viral Korean pop video, Gangnam Style. My fascination stems from the following:
- It has nearly 400 million views on YouTube. Some kind of record.
- I have been going to Gangnam 4-8 times a year for at least 15 years. It’s the wealthiest and trendiest part of Seoul and of Korea, but there really isn’t a lot of there there and that is what I see as the theme of the song/video.
- I am a huge fan of Korea and whenever people talk of the China miracle, I start talking about the Korea miracle. Korea was the second poorest country in the world in the 1950s and it is now a wealthy developed country. In addition to its economic miracle, it also has become a full-fledged democracy. I can remember ten years ago walking through parts of Busan or Seoul that had open sewers. No more. I was in Busan a few months ago and what struck me was how everyone seemed to be at least middle class. Korea deserves credit for having “made it.”
- I think a video like Gangnam Style almost has to come from a country that has made it and has confidence in itself. I can remember ten years ago having only one Korean friend who I felt was truly honest about Korea — both its good and its bad. My other Korean friends were overly protective of their country, refusing to admit it had any real faults. That sort of protection is disappearing and I see that as a good thing.
But what about China? I just read a really good piece by Evan Osnos, a top-notch China journalist for New Yorker, on how China is just not capable of producing a video like Gangnam Style. Not because China doesn’t have tens of thousands of very creative people, but because it is just not there yet in terms of being able to poke fun at itself. The article is called “Why China Lacks Gangnam Style” and I recommend that you check it out. Whether you agree or not, it certainly makes for an interesting read.
But do you agree? Is Osnos right that China could not produce such a video, or is he selling China short?