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March 5, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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Oppose Gangham Style

We’ve all heard of it, and few of us are immune to the catchy beat and mesmerising clip of K-Pop Psy’s Gangnam Style.

The YouTube hit made by the South Korean clocked a record one billion views last December and has become the latest cultural phenomenon. It has inspired countless parodies, ranging from ‘Obama Gangnam Style’, in which impersonator Reggie Brown jives with the ‘first lady’, to ‘Kim Jong Style’ poking fun at the North Korean leader, portrayed shouting orders at imprisoned citizens and stating that “the national pastime is to be oppressed.” In New Zealand, ‘Gangnam Style’ was the first foreign song in three decades to reach number one, leading to incidents both embarrassing and epic. (John Key attempted the dance on The Edge and the Silver Ferns made a stirring entrance to the Fast5 final, no prizes for guessing which one was embarrassing.)

But for thousands around the world, the familiar horsey dance is serving another, hugely important purpose – it is giving people creative new ideas for political protest. On the Human Rights Day in December last year, hundreds of Cambodians gathered outside Phnom Penh’s National Assembly to hand over a 40,000 signature strong petition demanding an end to forced evictions. Massive land development projects have forced tens of thousands of poor Cambodians off their land and into even more impoverished conditions. “We want land rights!” the Cambodians shouted as they danced in unison.

On the Gaza Strip, young Palestinians donned bandannas, leapt about the sand and rode on donkeys while singing ‘Gangnam Gaza Style’. Filmed solely with a mobile phone, the remake had a serious undertone, as the Palestinians profited from the tune’s international publicity to draw attention to the lack of fuel and employment opportunities under Israeli blockade. In China, artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, who had been arrested by authorities in 2011, posted a video of himself singing the famous song handcuffed. The next day, the video was blocked, yet in the space of 24 hours it had been viewed by thousands of Chinese. In New York, protestors dressed up in enormous Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar al-Assad heads and danced outside a UN General Assembly meeting.

Coincidentally, Gangnam Style can be read as social satire, poking fun at the affluent lifestyles of those who live in Gangnam District, South Korea’s version of Khandallah. You could reach the conclusion that happiness comes not from lavish spending, but from creating one’s own fun. Although he asserts that he is a ‘Gangnam style guy’, his ridiculous dance and habit of frequenting unsophisticated places like playgrounds, public baths and subways— even popping up on the toilet—make him, and, by extension, inhabitants of Gangnam, look a trifle foolish.

However, to most people, 2012’s best horsey dance was simply a winning combination of pop and hilarity which quickly captured the public imagination. Once it got enough publicity, it went viral. As Psy insists: “it is the people who made the success.” Due to this success, ‘Gangnam Style’ has had an enormous influence in all walks of life. The great majority of its parodies and performances are designed solely to amuse, but a few have some greater cause in mind, whether it be a political interest, or a concern for social justice and human rights. It is definitely worth a browse on YouTube if you have the inclination.

 

Emily Watson

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