When it was first reported that Obama would meet “Psy” (singer of Gangnam Style), I wondered if this was another example of stories from The Onion being reported as fact. But it turns out that they really did meet. Briefly.
The discovery of Psy’s 2004 song — the one that denounced Korean civilian deaths in Iraq by calling for the slow beheading of Yankees — caused a controversy that even the Stargazer-in-Chief seems to have considered radioactive. So, when they met face-to-face, it isn’t surprising that Obama muted his usual fawning to just a handshake. (In fairness to the singer, Psy has publicly apologized for that song. You can weigh the authenticity of that well-documented apology for yourselves.]) That topic has been discussed by others. My view is that this meeting is newsworthy for a completely different reason.
By now, you know who Psy is, don’t you? He’s the South Korean music sensation that knocked Beiber out of top spot for most-ever YouTube views last summer. He’s already made the rounds on daytime talk shows, and even did his trademark dance with Hugh Jackman while they both wore Wolverine claws. (A sad day, that.) One columnist described his dance as something like MC Hammer riding a horse. If you’ve never seen it, that depiction comes pretty close.
Since the “famous for being famous” theme has also been beaten to death already, let’s not go there, either. Instead, I’ll mention this meeting because of what two worlds intersected in that handshake.
First, there was the President of the United States of America. Whatever you opinion of the guy currently holding that Office might be, he is the President. That once meant something. Since the Second World War, the guy in that Office has spoken as an unofficial voice for Western Democracies, and those values we share in common.
Next, there is Psy himself. When I first heard about him, it wasn’t through a Facebook link, or a late-night pop-culture show. It was the business section of a major Canadian newspaper. That’s right. The business section ran a column on him; not a piece about leveraging social media into personal or corporate success, either. It focused on the content of his lyrics.
If you’re thinking of Psy’s song as some South Korean equivalent to “Call Me Maybe”, you’ve missed the point. His song is explicitly a parody of its own genre. According to the article I mentioned, he’s making fun of his own culture’s significant failings. What failings do I mean?
You can see it in the music video. It opens with a tight camera shot of Psy lounging on the sand, wearing shades. Clearly, he’s somewhere exotic, right? When the camera pans out, he is in sandbox in some local park. “Gangnam Style” relates to spending money you don’t have to project an image you can’t afford. Taken in that context, this particular handshake becomes interesting.
Think again what both men represent. One holds the office previously known as “Leader of the Free World”. The other is a pop culture icon with a patently ridiculous dance that will eventually — for those who’ve done it — be an even more embarrassing memory than the Macarena.
So clearly, the smart man in the room ought to be the World Leader with his towering intellect, the Red Phone and the Nuclear Option, right? Well, you’d like to think so, but reserve your judgment for just a moment.
Think about the relevance of Psy’s message. In South Korea, people are drowning in debt. J.D. Considine said it this way, “[the song addresses] the elephant in the room for Korean society: aspirational debt. Household credit-card debt in Korea averages 155 per cent of disposable income, surpassing the 138-per-cent peak Americans racked up before the recession. The humour in Gangnam Style stems from the absurdity of Psy trying to look rich and stylish.”
At the very point in history that US consumer debt has risen to a record $2.7 Trillion, while Detroit is crying bankrupt, and California (once the world’s 5th largest economy) is imploding, President Obama’s stated objective is to increase spending.
This naturally means more borrowing — the Federal equivalent of living on Payday Loans. Ironically, Obama was elected based on his promise to do precisely what Gangnam Style warns its listeners against — spend money the Treasury doesn’t have on a lifestyle Uncle Sam cannot afford, consequences be damned.
More astonishing still – this seems to be the majority opinion of an increasing number of Western Democracies. In some sense, POTUS is still speaking as the voice of Western values.
Leave aside for a moment the polished look of the Ivy League grad, and the campy charm of the South Korean pop star. Focus strictly on the financial message presented by both men. Now ask yourself… which man is truly the serious thinker?
Image: Psy in Sydney; 6 October 2012; source: Flickr; author: rubenerd; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license