Is PSY’s new video promoting the art of being obnoxious or a piece of clever commentary decrying how people treat each other? Or, is just PSY doing what he’s always done –pushing society’s buttons as we pay to watch him do it? Either way, a billion hits, here he comes.
BUSAN, South Korea — When I first heard PSY’s new song, “Gentleman”, I thought, “Meh, nothing special… not bad.” It will appease the big fans and is impressive enough for me that I won’t turn the dial when it comes on the radio.
And then I saw the video this morning and my take on the new tune went a bit deeper. While it’s very well produced and complements the catchy song, it did leave me unsure of the intended message. In a nutshell, the “Gentleman” video is basically 3:54 of PSY being randomly obnoxious to innocent bystanders, comprised overwhelmingly of women, as well as a group of kids on a soccer pitch.
Aside of it being interlaced with choreographed “Butt Dancing” in dozens of locales, the primary theme of the video is PSY playing the trickster with no regard for consequence. From “catching” a fart and throwing it in a stranger’s face in the library, to yanking off the top of sunbathers by the pool, it is an ode to obnoxiousness from near beginning to end. Is this trope a bit of clever satire or a validation to be obnoxious? Or is it simply PSY just being funny?
Aside of the obvious play on irony with the title “Gentleman”, no matter what the creative team behind the video might say it all means, we are only left with the imagery that we perceive as viewers and what we walk (or Butt Dance) away from it with.
The response on YouTube has been positive thus far, with 464,460 “likes” and 62,829 “dislikes” at this writing, and looking well on its way to being another big hit for the 35-year-old rapper whose made his name in the ROK, for better than a decade, by pushing society’s more envelope through the vehicle of infectious tunes.
What message, if any, is PSY trying to get across?
We could ask how will this play in a male-dominated culture. For better or for worse Korea ranks 108th on the Global Gender Gap index sandwiched between two bastions of progressive liberalism, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Be it the wealthy Korean national who told a Canadian divorce court last week about “an old saying that a woman before marriage will obey her father, a woman after marriage will obey her husband, and after giving birth to a son and the son is old enough, then a woman will be obedient to her son,” to the 2010 Korea National Survey of Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence that found “53.8 percent of respondents had experienced spousal abuse in the previous year,” and how 18 percent of the time police didn’t bother responding to the call.
Suffice it to say that abuse and discrimination towards women around the world is a pressing concern that vexes most of us to seemingly no end. A music video will certainly not remedy this, but the imagery of picking on women for laughs certainly doesn’t help.
It is interesting to note how, at the very beginning of the video, we see several much older Korean men on what is obviously a “girls’ day out” shopping. They carry brand name shopping bags through the store, they are finely groomed and manicured and they all end up sipping expensive caffeine in an outdoor cafe.
Or is the whole thing just a music video and I have wasted several minutes of your time for what might well be nothing more than column inches for commentators such as myself? Up to you, but it’s a worthy discussion topic considering PSY’s fame and influence now rivals icons such as Eminem, Chris Brown and others who catch hell for their portrayal of how people treat each other.
Will this induce more men around the world to more often be rude to others? Who knows, except that, sadly, it’s nothing new. Is this a chance for parents and peer groups to say, “Hey, douchebag, cut that out!” Hopefully so.
There is also the well publicized issue of bullying in South Korea where, in some cases, continued abuse at the hands of classmates has led to suicide. It’s become such a pressing issue that the current and previous president both vowed to aggressively address the problem. Bullies generally aren’t too bright, so they are unlikely to blame a music video in the principle’s office as a rationale for thuggish acts. But the obvious case is there if they wanted to make it after throwing a fart in a classmate’s face.
Perhaps PSY’s saving grace in this debate is that he is simply a really nice guy. If you’ve ever seen him interviewed, his demeanor and character are one of a humble and gracious man who, by all outward appearance, is a dedicated husband and father who would unlikely approve of the behavior in the video within his own circle. And there’s the wash. Why glamorize it, then? That’s not a question any of us can answer.
During one interview, as “Gangnam Style” was blazing across the planet, an English talk show host commented that PSY was wearing, those “little, tiny, what we call ‘lady socks’”.
To which PSY coyly replied, “You know, I don’t know why, but some lady things really fit for me.”
Oh well. Enjoy the video for what it is, which is entertainment, take from it what you will, which is what you would anyway, and by all means please, be nice to the ladies and to your classmates, OK?