… In Which America Learns Something Interesting about Psy (and South Korea)

After years of South Koreans asking me, “Are you American?” and then acting all relieved or happy when I tell them, no, I’m Canadian, I can’t help but be amused at the newest news report on Psy. Apparently some journalists in America have realized that he’s expressed raging bigotry in his songs performances in the past, to the tune of:

이라크 포로를 고문해 댄 씨발양년놈들과
고문 하라고 시킨 개 씨발 양년놈들에
딸래미 애미 며느리 애비 코쟁이 모두 죽여
아주 천천히 죽여 고통스럽게 죽여

Here’s a more representative translation of those lyrics, by the way:

Kill those fucking Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those fucking Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill all their their big-nosed daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers
Kill them all very slowly and painfully

It’s someone else’s song, sure, but he performed it. The three words I’ve added to the translation I’ve seen all over the net matter: all, for its extremism; big-nosed, which is a Korean racial slur for white people–like Yankee, it’s a slur on the order of kike, kraut, or polack, I’ll note, because “big-nose” doesn’t seem at face value to be a particularly offensive word to most Americans; and very, for its sadism.

Of course, Psy was simply pandering to his audience, like so many in the entertainment business. There’s context, of course. And it’s that context that I wish Americans would realize. Hating on America is not just acceptable in South Korea: it’s acceptable in the mainstream, it’s not considered rude, it’s in fact an easily-distinguished component of South Korean entertainment.

(And that’s in a society where any negative criticism from an outsider turns a lot of people outright histrionic.)


Paradoxically, some South Korean entertainers are at once complacent to cash in on the hate and outrage the public feels for America, and yet also feel a fervent, obsessive desire to make it big in the American entertainment business. They want their cake and they want to eat it too. And they think you’re too dumb or ignorant to catch on, even.

That’s the paradox of the Korean entertainment business: many entertainers realize it can be profitable to exploit the widespread anti-Americanism in Korean audiences, but meanwhile they’re obsessed with making it big in America. Little do they realize this kind of thing can come back to bite them in the arse. That, you see, would involve long-term thinking, which in my experience is even less common a skill in Korea than in North America.

For what it’s worth, I’m amused, in a sort of darkly hopeful way. I’d love for the American media to ask Psy a few uncomfortable questions:

  • Do you still feel that the Yangju Highway Incident was a killing with malicious intent by the driver? Or do you feel that South Koreans overreacted to the incident, and that a trial by court martial, as according to the SOFA, was the best choice?
  • Do you think America has been a good ally to South Korea, or not?
  • We sympathize with you in your refusal to render compulsory military service in the South Korean army. Do you think other young men should be free of this ridiculous, onerous, destructive burden, or only rich kids like you?

In other words, I’d love it if they asked him questions that would force him to choose between offending his new American audience, or pissing off all the nationalists whose rage he cashed in on, back in South Korea.

Because frankly, even normal, sensible responses in an American media context would probably be enough to render him persona non grata in the Korean media. (Sort of like how American politicians are not allowed to speak common sense on a number of issues to the media–Republicans can’t speak sensibly on evolution and climate change, and Democrats can’t talk sanely about, for example, marijuana or atheism.)

Maybe Psy could construct answers that would appease both sides… but maybe not, especially if the questions were carefully constructed. And I’d pay money to watch that. Not because I think that someone who does something once, a long time ago, deserves to be punished forever about it, of course.

It’s just that watching him squirm his way through answering questions in that kind of interview? Now that’s what I’d call entertainment.

(Not that it’s likely to happen. It seems Fox News and the right-wing side of the media is leading the charge. That is just going to discredit any discussion at all. Too bad, it could have been really fun to watch.)

7 thoughts on “… In Which America Learns Something Interesting about Psy (and South Korea)

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  4. Psy actually wrote the lyrics. Does psy realize that if everyone dodged the military like he did, korea would really need more Americsn troops?

    1. Jujube,

      Where do you get your evidence that Psy wrote the lyrics? A link to a creditable source would be nice. (I haven’t seen anything about that; only references to it being someone else’s song.)

      If everyone dodged mandatory military service in South Korea, then the government would have to actually make reasonable expenditures for its own national security. They would have to properly train a smaller force, and invest in creative R&D to supplement their small army with enough technological assistance to mitigate the disadvantage.

      Meanwhile, a generation after the end of mandatory military service, a massive liberalization of workplaces, a lessening of sexism in the job market, and you’d have a generation of young men whose university education wasn’t interrupted for two years of misery and indoctrination, and whose creativity might still, at least in shreds, remain intact. There might actually be an arts scene, or a more vibrant literary scene. There might be more creativity in all fields, and less copy-and-pasting someone else’s creations. And life might actually improve for South Koreans in areas where it really hasn’t in a decade or more, such as in their working lives, which are clearly influenced by the militarization of South Korean culture.

      Mandatory national service may not be a bad thing, but mandatory military service, I suspect, always is. As an educator, I’ve seen eleven years’ worth of students returning back from military service with their brains basically crippled, whether temporarily or more long-term. And having taught six years at the same university, the hardest part is seeing young men who were once bright, thoughtful, and creative return completely different, almost hollowed out.

      It’s pretty horrifying, and no argument about the cost of national security is ever going to convince me that South Korea’s leaders couldn’t find a better way if they wanted to. (Of course they could; it’s just easier to maintain the status quo when you’re systematically sabotaging your populace’s minds.)

  5. Dear Gordsellar,

    Regarding Psy writing the anti-American lyrics, it was said by The Korean in AskaKorean blogspot. He stated that he has the N.E.X.T. CD and the CD jacket states that Psy actually wrote the lyrics to that song (even though N.E.X.T. was the first to perform it). I think the Western media has no idea about this because everyone is reporting that Psy only sang someone else’s song.

    As for the line of questioning for Psy, I would like to add the following: Mr. Psy, you don’t want American troops in Korea and yet you didn’t perform your mandatory military service. So who do you think should be guarding the DMZ and in case of an attack by North Korea, who do you think will be equipped to fight for South Korea?

    The only solution to the problem you bring up is for the Korean government to pay a lot of money to Koreans to voluntarily enlist. And the government is unwilling to do that.

    1. Jujube,

      Huh, I wasn’t aware of that. Interesting. But since it’s mostly been right-wing nuts reporting on the incident, I doubt most of the US will care.

      Your question very neatly ties together the paradox of his behaviour/attitude, except for one thing: the fact that he didn’t do his compulsory service doesn’t mean he feels others should be able to skip it. I imagine privately, like most Koreans, he realizes that South Korea has never done the adequate work to fend off the North, and that the US presence is (at least currently) necessary for security… I think that’s where so much of the resentment comes from, in fact. Dependence rankles.

      Governments are often unwilling to do things they ought to do, and very eager to do things they ought not to do. Government willingness is not an issue… it’s getting people to realize what the government ought to do that is the difficulty. Once you get the populace up to speed, then the government necessarily follows. But getting a populace to see a problem from outside the box when it is so deeply ingrained is next to impossible, and the thing is: I suspect South Koreans actually accept the necessity of the US military presence, deep down… resentfully, sure, for some people, but the resentment doesn’t outweigh the certainty that it’s the only way for now. (Meanwhile, the military has a major hard-on for robotics, because they’d rather be running the show themselves.)

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