Sunday, October 21, 2012

With Every Psy Comes Another *Sigh*

As I sit here typing this, I open up another tab on my browser and search for "Gangnam Style" on YouTube, curious to see how many more views Psy has accumulated since yesterday. Psy has garnered over 510 million views on YouTube and captivated the world with its crazy horse riding maneuvers making appearances on The Today Show, Ellen, VMA music awards, etc. Thank you America for being so openminded to embrace someone like Psy to run the US airwaves even if it does end up being a flash in the pan. Strangely enough, with all of the fame and fortune that coattails with Psy comes another *sigh*. 

Whether you like the song or not, you have to give it up to the guy for cracking the American market and becoming a cultural icon in less than a month. Psy's comical infectious horse riding dance is too hard to resist and not laugh at, which is where the controversy around the "Gangnam Style" begins. When will America embrace Asian males as sex symbols for the female population and not just as comic reliefs?

As happy as I am for Psy cracking the US market, my whole contention and consternation with his current popularity status is the mere fact that he's all satire, not sex or sizzle. Don't get me wrong. Psy is an entertaining and respectable guy in Korea, but his onstage goofy, flamboyant persona reinforces a long-lived stereotype where ethnic male minorities are constantly being made a mockery of having to be laughed at or laughed with (as if this is any better). It isn't as if he's viewed any differently by the Korean population, but the irrefutable difference is, in Psy's homeland of Korea, there are other Korean male celebrities who do serve as bona fide sex symbols for the female audience.

There were several blogs that I read recently which compelled me to write about this. The first is from Psy And The Acceptable Asian Man, on Racialicious. The author does a fantastic job summarizing all of the moments in American entertainment history where the Asian male leads did not get the girl, and were once again pigeonholed into stereotypical roles: the asexual martial artist, the clown, the geek, the villain. And yes, I made a premature prognostication that K-Pop boy band Big Bang would dominate the world music scene before Psy would take the world by storm, because as the author of the blog argues,
...the potential threat of Asian male sexuality is clearly not and, therefore, for heterosexual Asian and Asian American men to see mainstream success, it genuinely helps not only to fit one of the pre-ordained acceptable Asian male roles (nerd, martial artist, gangster, and clown), but also to avoid any positive displays of sexuality and presenting yourself in a manner that can be seen as desirable to heterosexual women.
Then again, it's not just Asians who've had to struggle with this type of systemic racism issued by the white-dominated mainstream media and entertainment. Blacks have dealt with this for generations being typecast as comics and still do to a certain extent unless your name is Will Smith or Denzel Washington. See Spin's response in the bottom Comments section of this article.

This mentality transcends the realm of entertainment by bleeding into the mindset of, sadly, too many non-Asian males. Ben Efsaneyim writes about his discovery of INP's blog who describes in great detail her dating experience as an expat in Korea, and the unfortunate flack she receives from Western males for dating the locals. Wow! You want to be envious and discriminatory in your country, that's one thing, but to go to a foreign land by where the males of that country rule and roam, and to behave the same envious racist way is absolutely asinine. See Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch douchbaggery here.

Thus, I'm not surprised why Tiger JK would go on a rampage like he did the other day chewing out those stupid foreign white hecklers for rudely interrupting his performance on stage when he was spittin'. Some say Tiger JK's response was akin to Michael Richards, AKA Kramer, when he went on a diatribe calling black people the n-word repeatedly. Nothing could be further from the truth! First off, Tiger JK is not a comic, he's a raw emcee. Tiger JK grew up around Los Angeles, CA as an Asian-American and most likely encountered all kinds of racism for his ethnicity during his youth when humans are probably the most psychologically vulnerable. Second, never mind that the hecklers were being disruptive and disrespectful to begin with, but their comments were fueled by racism. Had the hecklers yelled out cries of generic "boos" only, then by all means, Tiger JK should be found guilty, but that was not the case. They provoked him with racially motivated heckling. Amy argues this perfectly in her Seoulbeats article (yes, I'll assume Amy is female),
The burden of being on the receiving end of racism — whether obvious or invisible — is not something that is negated because he cursed out a couple of white hecklers and then went on to curse a group of people (“white boys”) and a system (Hollywood). These people and that system are at fault for creating an image and upholding racist beliefs that give those white hecklers the idea that they are entitled to demand the horse dance from Tiger JK. It is because of those white hecklers’ white privilege that they think they have the right to repeatedly interrupt JK’s set, that he stop what he’s doing to do the horse dance.
Tiger JK, who has nothing to do with Psy, who has nothing to do with “Gangnam Style,” who has nothing to do with anything related to this phenomenon, other than the sole fact that he is Asian like Psy is Asian. And in the minds of those hecklers, JK and Psy are probably interchangeable because of they are both Asian, and that is racist. They probably didn’t have any intention of acting like racists, but just the act of expecting certain things from JK because he is X like Psy is X, or conflating the two, is racist. People of color have to deal with these subtle acts of racism in disgusting frequency because the actions of people who happen to be their race are equalized as being the actions of entire races.
I applaud Tiger JK for standing up for himself, and all Asian males for that matter, who are sick and tired of being plagued by the same, ongoing Asian stereotypes popularized by similar racist "white boys". I also applaud Amy for standing up for the Asian community coming to Tiger JK's defense. Try to argue against Tiger JK all you want for lashing out, but from my understanding of the situation there weren't any Koreans in the audience who were crying out to Tiger JK, "Do the horse-riding dance!" Just like I don't go to a NaS concert and yell out, "Teach me how to dougie!" when he's is about to rip the mic, they shouldn't have either, because the two are completely independent individuals and musical genres.

I was bit irritated by the whirlwind of news around Psy recently, but now that I've put it down on paper electronically, I'm also pretty happy, because Asian and Asian American males are viewed as a threat to the hegemonic power structure. This is flattering to be quite honest. In spite of all of this negativity, I shouldn't forget the progress Asian and Asian-American males have made within the last decade. I guess my sigh can now be one filled with more relief.
  • Jeremy Lin, NBA and The Rockets
  • Steven Yeun, The Walking Dead
  • Tim Kang, The Mentalist
  • Far East Movement, Cherry Hill Records
  • Daniel Dae Kim, Hawaii Five-0
  • Yul Kwon, Survivor
  • Eliot Chang, Comedian (and gets the ladies)
  • BIGBANG, See my previous blog posts on the K-Pop group
  • Justin Lin, Powerhouse Hollywood Director
  • Tony Hsieh, CEO of
  • Asian Playboy, ABC's of Attraction
Shall I keep going?


  1. I hear ya. At the same time, I appreciate his dedication to humor when it comes to his Gangnam Style song. He says he wanted to do something that would provide his Korean people a reason to laugh in the hot summer time, so he made that song and video. He did what he intended to do, and he did it well. That it spun out of control in other countries around the world, had nothing to do with his intentions and I don't think we should hold him responsible for it.

    However, NOW that he IS a global icon as a Korean artist, I think he should take that into account. It doesn't mean that he has to make over his entire artistic identity, but he does have a lot more options to contend with, including racial issues which are commonplace in the US but not necessarily in Korea, his home audience and home place. I think he has every freedom and prerogative to say F IT, I'm KOREAN, GET WITH ME OR GET OUT. I know a lot of artists do. Madonna, Britney Spears, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, so on and so on. Some "make it" and others "fade out." Sometimes, staying true to principle says more about their integrity as an artist than catering to the concerns of the world.

    Of course, if PSY decided to rebrand himself as a sex icon, he might change the entire game of reproduction. A man approaching or already at middle age, structurally rotund face, and structurally stocky body. That might really let the dogs out. And if you think about it.. that might actually be a bigger satire than the satire he currently released. So in a very twisted way, it is a possibility for him. But at the end of the day, the choice remains with him. I think he's at a point in life where he does not play puppet easily to others. That last sentence may be wrong, but that is the impression I got from interviews I saw and read.

    1. Word up. I'm not saying a dislike Psy. I think he's an awesome, real dude who is also saddened by the hollowness of Korean contemporary culture focusing so much on brands, image, fashion, money, etc. It's an excellent satirical song that pokes fun of this "gangnam" community which I'm also not very fond of.

      My hope is that Psy serves as a stepping stone for other Asian and Asian Americans to break into the mainstream as more than just comedic entertainers.

  2. PSY is a boss and any Asian guy who feels embarrassed by him is way too wrapped up in their own insecurity and desperate desire to see themselves validated by some kind of Asian male avatar savior in American media.


    It is a problem if ONLY Asian men like PSY are allowed to succeed in America. However, I don't think this is true. While people may hold racist beliefs about the lack of Asian male masculinity, they quickly learn to shed such beliefs when the proof is laid out before their eyes. Jeremy Lin is the most obvious example: after people saw him explode, everybody loved him and wanted to see him succeed, and only the biggest haters doubted his game.

  3. Id like to see Psy used as a stepping stone for more AA performers to break big time but the reality is that the racist western agenda only want to continue to skewer our image which is why after a long time of invisibility was an asian male performer suddenly allowed to slip through the net in the first place. billion youtube hits? mainstream tv? cmon.catchy tune but theres one hit wonder and then theres blatantly obvious manipulation.

  4. Jeremy Lin was a phenom but because he is a one-off, and the other 'next jeremy lin's are trickling through, theres not enough momentum ( ie quantity of sportspeople and celebs that are visible enough) for the cream of the crop to break through. lets just say that in the last 12 + years, asian american male media celebration isnt as promoted as widely it ought to be given the amount of AA demographics etc. That Jeremy Lin is a phenom at all , given the above circumstances make his appearance all the more astonishing, but also the lack of support and 'voice' of asians which is a combo racist media and no real grassroots foundation for AA culture, will mean that even flash in the pan phenoms like lin will come and go, until we do have one.

  5. Lin is not a flash in the pan, unless you're one of those ignorant pseudo-fans who thought that he would average 25 pts and 10 assists in his first year as a starter.

    Lin has proven himself to be a capable starter in the NBA. I never really thought that I'd see an Asian-American starter in the NBA, unless he was maybe a genetic freak at 7 ft. tall.

    Every year, there's some unexpected Asian male breakthrough. The guys at Aziatix just got signed to a deal. I have no idea who they are, but I just listened to one of their songs and it's pretty good.


Free your mind. The rest will your fingers.