Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Psy, slowly and painfully

I had to weigh in on this eventually, right? If you haven't already, it's worth reading the articles at Busan Haps, the Washington Post and Gord Sellar.

This isn't the first time Psy has attracted criticism, as this November 16, 2001 Hanguk Ilbo article notes:
Singer Psy being investigated on suspicion of 'marijuana'

[...] Psy, the singer famous for his peculiar dancing and singing has been caught by police on suspicion of smoking marijuana. Seoul Yongsan Police caught singer Psy (real name Park Jae-sang, 25) on the 15th for violating the Cannabis Control Act, and he is currently being investigated.

According to police, Psy is suspected of smoking marijuana with a composer several times since September at a friend's house in Bangbae-dong.

Psy, who studied overseas, stated to police, "In the US I smoked marijuana all the time, and earlier this year, after becoming popular my popularity ended, and in May while working on a new album I was unable to overcome stress and smoked marijuana."
This would result in much criticism and his being banned from television for awhile, as well as apparently missing his grandfather's funeral, but in the end he escaped jail time. On January 11, 2002, the Segye Ilbo reported that Psy had been fined five million won, and quoted the judge: "Fans do not want to hear music made by relying on drugs." "Considering that the defendant is a young, first-time offender, I issued a  fine."

A Kukmin Ilbo editorial spoke of the responsibilities entertainers have:
Of course, since entertainers are regarded as 'public figures,' there are many that demand a higher morality or sense of ethics, or social responsibility, in comparison to ordinary people.
At which point I'll point you in the direction of the Metropolitician's post.

I'd tend to imagine that Psy's past anti-American performances will eventually disappear down the memory hole (President Obama eventually shook his hand the other night, though not everyone is happy), and this blast from Psy's past certainly isn't going to stop Gangnam Style from hitting a billion views (it's at 922 million, currently). In Korea, most people would hold his pot bust or his skipping out on his military service against him rather than what he sang in 2004 - unless, of course, this did become a kerfuffle in the US, in which case I can see people holding it against him for making Korea look 'bad.' Otherwise, I imagine a good many people here would agree with his views, since there are still people out there who believe a lot of dumb things about 2002 and 2008. And hey, if people could get over him skipping out on military service - and a drug bust -  I don't think there's much he could do to turn the public here against him.

As for what he sang in 2004, I can't say I personally care all that much, though I have smiled at people saying that his apology is not "sincere enough," and at the idea of Lee Myung-bak having to call the White House to express regret. And what a particularly ironic tale of comeuppance it would be if the unlikely singer who achieved the long sought-after Korean dream of success in America was undone by his past participation in the periodically fashionable nationalist frenzies that lashed out at that very same country. And all in time for Christmas! Ho Ho Ho.

There is, however, more to say about the lyrics Psy sang in the N.E.X.T. song 'Dear America,' which he performed in 2004 (and can be listened to here). The thing is, the lyrics have been translated (and widely disseminated) as seen below:
싸이 rap : 이라크 포로를 고문해 댄 씨발양년놈들과
고문 하라고 시킨 개 씨발 양년놈들에
딸래미 애미 며느리 애비 코쟁이 모두 죽여
아주 천천히 죽여 고통스럽게 죽여

Kill those —— Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those —— Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully
The problem is, though, some things have been left out in that translation. While there's lots of profanity in the description '씨발양년놈들,' there's no outright '양키'('Yankee') to be seen (though it can certainly be argued that its implied). Literally, though, 양놈 could mean either western (서양) bastard or foreign bastard (see definition of the hanja 洋 here). Now, perhaps 양놈 would be taken by a great many Koreans to refer to Americans, like a reversal of how '미국인' often applies to all westerners - but if it refers to westerners in general, then '씨발양년놈들' would be 'fucking western bitches and bastards.' Also left out of the translation is the '코쟁이,' a derogatory term for white people referring to their noses (think of 'big nosed' as a cousin of 'slant eyed'). Not that Koreans think westerners all have big noses or anything like that.

(From here)

So if we put this all together and take into account the fact that, in Korean, the verb 'kill' is at the end of the 3rd sentence, perhaps this works better:
The fucking western bitches and bastards who torture Iraqi prisoners,
the fucking western bitches and bastards who ordered them to torture,
their big-nosed daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers - kill them all.
Kill them very slowly and painfully.
Put it that way, and suddenly it doesn't seem to be about death wishes aimed at 'F--- Yankees' who torture (and their families) but rather more about death wishes aimed at racially defined big nosed westerners (who torture) and their families. And you know, when I think of propaganda which sees big nosed westerners - particularly Americans - as torturers (probably NSFW) and makes no distinctions between those who do wrong and all other members of their race, and I can't help but think of the Korea north of the 38th parallel. As B.R. Myers has pointed out, the beloved North Korean anti-American novella 'The Jackals,' by Han Sorya (translated in Myers' book Han Sorya and North Korean Literature) portrays even the child of the American missionary family as being evil.

And thinking of killing all "their big-nosed daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers [...] very slowly and painfully," that sounds quite a lot like taking rather brutal revenge against an enemy and all of their relatives:

Let's take revenge a hundred thousand times on
the U.S. imperialist jackals!

Today's Korea Times has an article titled "Psy, Samsung push 'brand Korea' in 2012"; one wonders which Korea's brand is being pushed (and the KT reports that "Psy rapped lyrics calling for American soldiers to be killed "slowly and painfully," leaving out the big nosed family members). But I digress. It's not like the relationship between North and South Korean anti-Americanism is particularly obscure. As for the translation, the existing one probably serves the purpose of the person who did it well enough (ie. to make Americans angry). I'm pretty sure painting Psy (and Koreans) as 'anti-American' or 'anti US foreign policy' is likely something that communicates easily and clearly to Americans, rather than having to explain to (white) people that Koreans perceive them in a racist light as big nosers or lump all westerners together as one group (this Washington Post article does a pretty good job of discussing the political aspects of Korean anti-Americanism, but doesn't bring up racial or moral perceptions). Confronting Americans with a mirror image of 'typical' contemporary US (and western) perceptions of Asians might complicate things a little too much - better to stick with 'he hates America!'

Something else worth mentioning is that there seems to be confusion over the N.E.X.T. song and Psy's antics in 2002.

According to this Chosun Ilbo article (linked to at Busan Haps), Psy and Shin Hae-chul (frontman of N.E.X.T.) performed together at the 2002 MNET Music Video Festival where he smashed a tank (as seen in the photo at the top of this post). I can't find anything saying that Psy ever performed live with N.E.X.T. in 2004, only that he recorded his now infamous rap on the song 'Dear American' on the album they released that year. The article does mistakenly claim that 'Dear America' mentions the girls killed in the 2002 Yangju incident, however, which perhaps contributed to the confusion.

As for Shin Hae-chul, he's been recording music for more than 20 years (an interview with him is here)(and he has a pot bust in common with Psy, too), though he might be better known among English speaking foreigners in Korea for his hosting of the show Damage, one episode of which in 2009 portrayed foreign English teachers as gang rapists (the show can be watched here):

Their shocking barbarity without conscience! 

 The woman in her 20s who was gang raped!

 The criminals were her foreign boyfriend's friends!

Funny how that mention of 'barbarity' by white men against a Korean woman reminds me of this:

"The entire world accuses the US Army of unpardonable barbarity
against south Korean women."

The aforementioned Chosun Ilbo article also notes that "American netizens who don't know much about the 'Hyo-sun-Mi-seon incident' are expressing anger at the song Psy sang." Forgetting the fact that the song isn't about that incident, even if it was, would an even-handed (though from the Korean point of view, probably "incorrect") perspective on the incident - that Koreans overreacted to a vehicle accident which left two middle school girls dead - help stop Americans from expressing their anger? Would reports like this and the images below help?
They also sang obscenity-laced anti-American songs and tore several huge U.S. flags to bits before unfurling a Korean flag to shouts of "We will recover our national pride."

(From here.)

Really now, trying to calmly explain anti-Americanism in Korea to Americans is just going to dig stuff up ('Fucking USA' and its ranting over a 'stolen' Olympic medal, anyone?) that will just make things worse. Perhaps the same is true the other way around. As James Wade put it in 1964:
Koreans today seem materialistic and greedy, highly factional and inclined towards nepotism and violence. Yet they cherish an inflated notion of their national morality, and a somewhat mystical attitude about their racial superiority. This makes them very sensitive and thin-skinned about accepting either criticism or advice.

Yes, the fact must be faced: the Koreans are actually "the Americans of the Orient." Perhaps this explains in part some of the frictions between the two countries, as well as their inextricably linked destinies.
In other words, never mind the bollocks; this kerfuffle will blow over soon enough, even if the sentiments which fed those lyrics in the first place still lie dormant.


hello world! said...

This PSY guy is 25 years old? Looks more like 40 o_O

matt said...

Whoops - that article at the top was from 2001, not 2011 - I fixed the typo.