Investigating the "Gangnam Style" Phenomenon: Global Eurocentrism, Asian Masculinity, and Psy

PART I : Contexts

Eurocentric Criteria and the Cultural Hegemony of Hollywood


In 1971, Linda Nochlin revealed the disconcerting absurdity within the age-old patriarchal justification for a male-dominated art history, posing it as a question in the title of her seminal work: “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” She unravels the tautological foundations of this reasoning—there are no women in art history books because there were no great female artists—and asserts that there exist forces external to this logic that self-perpetuate and reproduce it in order to serve the interests of those in power—that is, those who hold cultural hegemony. The explanation masks itself in an argument based on merit that many cultural realms still continue to utilize today. The American myth of merit-based success resonates in the words of Harvey Mason Jr., a powerhouse producer of the American pop industry, when he says that, “[i]n America, if the song is good, it doesn’t matter where the artist is from.” He continues: “[t]he hardest obstacle for K-Pop artists is the language and culture barrier. The connection needs to be made with the artist and the audience.” Korean pop artists fail in the United States because they neither understand nor meet American standards of good music. Mason’s words refer specifically to Korean popular music artists who attempt to cross over to the American arena. But it is difficult to distinguish clearly the factors of cultural and national difference from those of race and ethnicity: the American entertainment industry rejects not only those who are incapable of “connecting” with the audience because they are non-American, but also Americans of Asian ethnicities.


In 1965, the U.S. Congress passed an Immigration Act, which expanded the émigré quota limits for major countries from 100 to 20,000 a year. Despite the increased number of Asian (American)s in the United States since then, the American entertainment industry grossly under-represents the Asian population. According to the 2008 Casting Data Reports of the Screen Actor’s Guild, only 3.8% of actors cast for television and theatrical roles were Asians and Pacific Islanders, in comparison with 6.4% Latinos and Hispanics, 13.3% African Americans, and 72.5% Caucasians,23 whereas the U.S. Census reports that, as of 2011, 5.2% of the population identify themselves as Asian or Pacific Islanders, 16.7% as Latino or Hispanic, 13.1% as Black, and 63.4% as non-Hispanic White. Considering this, as well as the generally stereotypical or “token” roles given Asians, there must exist a reason that lies beyond simply “not being good enough.”


Pierre Bourdieu writes that every field—literary, political, economic—is a site of “struggles which aim at transforming or maintaining the established relation of forces.” Domination and subordination are not stable realities but a relationship that constantly fluctuates depending on the players’ interactions; cultural hegemony occurs when those who possess the force—the capital, cultural or otherwise—succeed in maintaining it through a variety of actions. One important strategy in this maintenance of power is the act of delineating the limits of the field. The “symbolic exclusion” guarantees power over all capital, including those held by other producers: [...T]hrough the imposition of a definition of legitimate practice, it is the rule of the game which will most favor the trumps that they hold which tends to be imposed on everybody (and especially, at least in the long run, on the consumers); it is their accomplishments which become the measure of all accomplishments.


Maintaining this standard requires the establishment of canons, in which “classics” of a given American industry act as the ideal cultural representatives of the national identity. Itamar Even-Zohar explains canonization in literature as a socio- cultural institution: by ‘canonized’ one means those literary norms and works (i.e., both models and texts) which are accepted as legitimate by the dominant circles within a culture and whose conspicuous products are preserved by the community to become part of its historical heritage. On the other hand, ‘non-canonized’ means those norms and texts which are rejected by these circles as illegitimate and whose products are often forgotten in the long run by the community (unless they change their status). The process of upholding the canon requires challengers from the non-canonized strata; the successful rejection of illegitimate practices serves not only to affirm the power of the dominant, but also guarantees its evolution. One particularly effective rejection of illegitimate practices—whether domestic subcultures or foreign cultural products—lies in complete indifference; a lack of response does not even acknowledge the existence of what is rejected and thereby rendered invisible to consumers of mass culture.


-to be contined






고캔디는 뉴욕에 거주하는 글작가, 그림작가, 번역가 및 활동가다. 학부에서 조각과 문학을 공부했고, 미술 비평과 글쓰기로 석사 학위를 받았다.

Candy Koh

Candy Koh is a writer, artist, translator, and activist based in New York City. She studied sculpture and literature as an undergraduate and later received an M.F.A. in Art Criticism and Writing.

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Tony Toscani
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