Gangnam Style

I have a smattering of thoughts I want to express here, and cannot think of a more suitable title. I guess the general theme is the cultural divide from the Cold War. I use Gangnam Style as the title since it is a representative, and also it’s occurred to me that it’s better for attracting attention/marketing. It is or at least was the most viewed video on YouTube after all.

Why am I suddenly reminded of Gangnam Style? Well, yesterday somebody spoke of that Crazy Rich Asians movie that just came out, that’s in a couple weeks time gotten $86.6 million box office already, almost thrice the $30 million budget. After searching online, I learned it’s based off a novel of the same name by a Singaporean-American of Chinese descent from, predictably, quite a prominent family in Singapore. I had already learned of it, as it has been everywhere online for a few weeks, though I didn’t pay much attention to it. I was quickly reminded of an anecdote involving Gangnam Style, which is also Asian. As for the name, Gangnam is this important, wealthy district in Seoul, or something like that. It is Korean for 江南 (jiangnan), which means south of the river, I believe.

What is the anecdote? My smart as fuck Russian friend in math raised in America who identifies strongly with the Soviet era has a younger brother nowhere near as smart as him who plays video games all day. On the car, he would keep singing Gangnam Style. My friend got so annoyed with that he said,

From now on, sing that again, and I’m going to sing back No Motherland Without You, Comrade Kim Jong-il.

I have listened to Gangnam Style by the way, and my reaction was like, “how the fuck did this trashy culture-less music video in Korean become number one on YouTube? What the fuck is going on with the taste of the current generation?” I guess it’s also impressive, that South Korea can produce a video music this viral, in their own language. Korean drama is also a big thing. Samsung and Hyundai too. Koreans (in the South) are both technically and culturally innovative.

Reminds me of my unusual ABC (actually born in America) friend who’s sympathetic to the North. He said some things about them which surprised me. Now, most Chinese in my parents’ generation I’ve encountered were from relatively humble backgrounds, often first in their family to attend college. He’s an exception though. He told me that his father’s family used to own a four story building in Tianjin that he’s visited. During the war, it became Japanese barracks. After the Japanese left, they got it back, but four years later, they ended up sharing it with a bunch of poor people. He told me his grandpa was about to go study in Britain, but the Japanese invasion disrupted that plan. His mother’s dad were also highly educated in STEM, and occupied a relatively high up position there. Ironically though, he really surprised me by saying a bunch of stuff in Chinese in the likes of what you hear from people during the Mao era or nostalgic for it, like how back then people didn’t need to buy a home, because the state provided one. I concluded that he, who has spent his entire life in America, must have learned all that from his parents.

As for North Korea, I told him about how some Korean was telling me about how there’s this map of lighting of world, in which South Korea is super bright while the North is almost completely dark, which exception of a glimmer from Pyongyang, which just goes to show the sheer economic disparity in level of development. His response was,

Or maybe because while the South Koreans are being worked to death, the North Koreans are sleeping.

Inside Facebook office, there’s an analogous display.

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In this one, China is also entirely in totalitarian darkness. 😉

On DPRK, that guy was also like,

In a situation of war, the South Korean soldiers are not going to fight to the death to preserve the interests of their capitalist masters.

I spoke of how American and South Korean media talks about how the North’s army is extremely weak and ill-equipped now. Like their pilots don’t even have enough fuel to do sufficient training. On that he was like,

That’s not how the American and South Korean armies staging military exercises think.

I was like “lol okay.”

A few days ago, I finally learned of Erich Honecker and his wife Margot Honecker, who were the General Secretary and Minister of Education of East Germany respectively. They both pretty much got screwed after reunification. Erich escaped a criminal trial out of poor health to reunite with his wife in South America, who had sought asylum in Chile through the Chilean Embassy in Moscow. Margot died in 2016 and defended the GDR till her death. I had known before of the predecessor of Honecker, Walter Ulbricht, but not that he also had training Moscow from the 20s on as part of the German Communist Party. Not a surprise though, after the war, the Soviets pretty much planted those types in positions of power in East Germany. The system they established certainly had some political influence, they trained communists from all over the world, setting up schools just for that. The Comintern was certainly quite an effective political organization. Many of the old Chinese revolutionaries had that background too. I also learned of Egon Krenz, a top East German politician who actually travelled to China in 89 to thank Deng Xiaoping on behalf of the regime for using force to suppress the student protests, who subsequently published some books sympathetic to the GDR.

I’ve read before that there is quite a bit of East German nostalgia, with the so-called Ossis still being culturally different, of course, I’m not qualified to judge. In any case, it’s probably safe to assume that the stuff we hear in English about East German and the Stasi should be taken with a grain of salt. Victor’s justice after all, those part of the Stasi (an equivalent of Department of Homeland Security really), along with just about everyone high up in the East German regime, were politically disgraced after reunification.

More generally, I can sense how the political outlooks and ways of doing things still vary widely, and the legacy much persists today. The political rhetoric employed is markedly different, needless to say. Also, how those former socialist countries do those military parades, which would be naturally viewed in American mindset as distasteful and totalitarian, the style of dictatorship. Many from former those states also think that, especially ones who emigrated to the “free world,” also eventually grow to think that. They’ll say stuff like “waste of money.” An uncool way to “show how good we are.” I once said С днем победы to a Russian friend raised in America and he was like,

It’s stupid to celebrate the deaths of so many people.

My response was

So you’re saying that it’s basically, “we beat the Nazis, we saved Europe, we saved the world, we’re the best!”

And he was like, “pretty much.”

In the American political narrative, that stuff is almost always portrayed as people taking part in that not because they want to but because they have no choice under a totalitarian regime. An easy way to be dismissive of course. Expectedly, I find this perspective rather problematic. I’ve heard enough times the likes of “I like China, just not the Chinese government,” and “Remember that the Chinese people and the Chinese government are not the same thing.” The reality is that a government of a country is made up of a subset of its people, with the percentage depending on degree of government affiliation, not to mention that a government is necessarily influenced by its people, so it’s entirely unrealistic to speak of a government and its people as entirely separate.

I’ve also seen some liberal Russians here poke fun at Iosif Kobzon. They’ll say,

Oh, everybody hates Kobzon.

and

He’s ridiculous. Super pro-government. And he’s not even Russian you know, he’s actually Jewish. He’s ridiculous.

When the government routinely organizes those concerts where they sing those songs about the Red Army and crowds clap along, those guys find it either ridiculous or revolting. The thing is that the system gradually normalized that kind of activity to the point where people in that environment don’t find it strange and even enjoy it.

I do wonder how much of one’s preference on this spectrum is heritable versus shaped through experience. Necessarily, experiences shape one’s tastes and views but it is genes which largely determine how people respond to experiences more or less imposed on them as well as which ones they actively see out.