A family with cultural capital? Didn’t have it. Stability in the home? Nope. Extra curricular activities? Only if shoving quarters in arcade games counts. A lot of freedom and time on my hands? One rare thing I had in spades. That’s why, growing up, media was the world to me.
I learned everything from TV, newspapers, and magazines. I thought Bill Cosby was the coolest dad. The Keaton family hugs blew me away. I read every magazine I could get my hands on from cover to cover. Muchmusic was my life’s blood. I wanted to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band.
The only thing media couldn’t do for me was help me make sense of being in the skin of diaspora. In fact, it exacerbated my insecurity and disorientation. I wanted to be a white kid with flowing, dirty blond locks, not a brownish boy whose house smelled of garlic. When I went over to my friend Seth’s house and had Kraft Dinner with a squirt of ketchup on the side, I thought it was the height of culture. I always remember that evening because it symbolizes the hegemony I was immersed in.
You can imagine what someone like myself thinks about Psy’s Gangnam Style. I always picture having some warped dream where I end up speaking to my 12-year-old self to tell him:
When you are a middle aged bloke with a family and a minivan (pause to laugh hysterically) there will be a dude that looks like your uncle who dances in a silly fashion and raps in Korean. Yes, you heard right: Korean. He will take the world by storm.
Incredulous would not cover it.
Of course, there was no internet. What’s more, I think most would agree that the Gangnam phenomenon does not occur in the media landscape of my childhood. MTV could not have acted as a successful agent for Psy’s little 1-2 step. And even if they had, I wonder how much of its success would be based mostly on irony and implicit racism. No. It could only occur virally. It’s the lack of contrivance that makes it all the more special to me.
This is by no means an original or hugely revelatory statement, but I really feel as though we are experiencing a watershed moment for the Asian immigrant experience. You could perhaps argue that my feelings about Psy, in fact, serve to support the marginalization of the other. You might even say that the seeking out of global, external fame is exactly what we hope to avoid in self-realisation and empowerment. But, since an academic, cultural deconstruction rarely ends up on the side of mainstream euphoria, I just want to let my FIFA World Cup lizard brain tell you how I really feel.
I’m proud of the little guy, and I’m even more exalted by the fact that I (and especially my children) live in a world where the kids at school think it’s kinda cool to have slanty eyes.