Body snarking, Gangnam-style

A SYTYCB entry

Everybody keeps calling PSY, the global phenom behind “Gangnam Style,” chubby.

If you’re not yet familiar with him, please prepare yourself:

In less than six weeks on YouTube the mind-numbingly addictive “Gangnam Style” video has been viewed nearly 53 million times. [I myself have contributed at least 4,000 views.] It has inspired dozens of parodies and response videos, including those with full English translations. Nelly Furtado performed a cover of the song in Manila. Katy Perry, T-Pain, and Josh Groban have tweeted their fixation on Gangnam. Even the Biebs wants a piece — he and his manager are apparently discussing a collaboration with Park Jae-Sang, the Korean rapper and entertainer behind the song.

Park, who goes by the monikor PSY, has also inspired commentary lauding the “global rise” of K-pop and surprising “embrace” of this Korean pop star by American audiences. Mainstream reporters and bloggers alike attempted to analyze the cultural relevance of the song as social satire [which of course must be an art Park learned in the U.S.] and its place in a South Korean climate that celebrates wealth and ostentation while offering little in the way of economic advancement for young people.

There are a lot of problems here, but let’s ignore most of them.

Let’s not talk about the South Korean economy.

Let’s set aside the tricky issue of American press continually assuming that because something is not popular in the U.S. that it is not successful everywhere else in the world. Examples: Korean pop music, dance, and film.

Let’s not bother with the assumption that PSY, because he is Korean, is somehow representative of all of K-pop, when he himself says he has never fit into the mold of Korean pop stars and, unlike most Korean entertainers, he writes and produces his own music, choreographs his own videos, and has been the subject of controversy for the language and content of his songs. At 34, he’s also really old for Korean pop. Rain, Korea’s most successful international pop culture export, largely refocused his career on acting and producing when he was 25 years old, because he already knew the end was nigh.

Let’s even ignore the atrociously reductive term K-pop itself. What is K-pop, anyways? Is it solely to distinguish from Japanese J-pop? Then however will we distinguish between Cambodian pop stars and Chinese pop stars?


I want to talk about how Park is being called chubby by American media, like ABC News and The Associated Press.

They’re not calling him fat. They’re not celebrating his bigness, even though he himself does. They’re not even saying, “Look at this big guy, he’s been enjoying too much gangnam style!”

Instead, the language is infantilizing. It’s diction that desexualizes and emasculates Park, softening the blow of his sharp social satire — which, uh, guys, is poking fun at cultural fixations on body and style — even as it applauds his commentary. It perpetuates the harmless Asian male archetype so embedded in U.S. media, in which Asian men [minus the samurais and ninjas, of course] are stripped of their physical presence and power. Don’t forget that the last Asian man to capture America’s attention was also body snarked: After Taiwanese-American Jeremy Lin and his glorious 6-foot-3, 200 pounds of lean musculature scored an unbelievably dominating 38 points against the LA Lakers, Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock felt the need to tweet about Lin’s couple inches of pain.

Asian men have small penises get it??? Oh god Jason Whitlock is so funny.

Park is also engaging in a joke — but it appears this is one that some reporters aren’t getting.

Amy S. Choi is a journalist in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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