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Psy’s Gangnam parody in Penang: Oops, joke is on BN elites

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Psy is actually making fun of people who are so materialistic and obsessed with a worldy life-style while being cut off from the rest of society. Doesn’t that remind us of our ruling elite, asks Anil Netto.

Gangnam District in Seoul: The epitome of the materialistic, consumerist life-style
Gangnam District in Seoul: The epitome of the materialistic, consumerist life-style –  Photograph: Wikipedia

On Monday, 11 February Psy is due to perform his signature Gangnam song-and-dance routine at a BN-organised event in the Han Chiang School in Penang before a crowd of 60000 people. BN leaders are obviously hoping this large crowd – and the spillover effect – will translate into votes for the BN in Penang and beyond. But little do they realise the joke is on the BN!

For many of us, Gangnam is just a fun, catchy song-and-dance that makes little sense. But scratch below the surface and you will find a biting social critique. Few realise that Gangnam is actually a parody of the materialistic life-style which the BN elites are known for.

Gangnam is actually the name of an affluent relatively new district of Seoul, south of the Han River. It is the choice location for the headquarters of some of the leading global brands, and some 7 per cent of South Korea’s wealth can be found in this 40-square-kilometre area. This ‘Johnny-come-lately’ part of Seoul is thus where many of the country’s richest ‘one per cent’ of the population congregate – including those who have wholeheartedly embraced the materialistic, consumerist life-style. Many others aspire to this same high-flying life-stye – even if it means racking up their credit card debt (South Korea’s credit card debt has soared).

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The closest Malaysian equivalent I can think of is Bangsar. Like Gangnam, Bangsar sprouted with earnest from the 1980s and is today the place where people hang out to see and be seen. It is the epitome of the kind of materialistic life-style which many Malaysian yuppies and others aspire to.

Bangsar by night: Op-Op-Oppa Bangsar- style
Op-Op-Oppan Bangsar-style – Photograph: asiawebdirect.com

If we were to translate “Gangnam-style” into “Bangsar-style” (nothing personal against you Bangsar residents out there!), we might get a better understanding of what Psy is singing and prancing around about. The local equivalent for “Oppan Gangnam-style” would be something like “Abang (is living) the Bangsar life-style” i.e. materialistic, consumerist, superficially trendy (you know, the life-style of the BN and other elites) but in hindsight somewhat empty and often just a mirage. (For examples of this mirage in the Gangnam music video clip, please do read this blog on Korea that details the real meaning and illusion behind Psy’s rendition of Gangnam.)

Here, the English subtitles to the Gangnam song shed more light on the real meaning of the song:


The Malaysian equivalent of this life-style would be one where people think nothing of splurging huge amounts of money on unbelievably expensive flashy cars, top-of-the-range designer handbags (ahem!), diamond rings (ahem again!) – not to mention paying a small fortune to sip fancy Italian coffee in style (certainly not in your local kopi tiam).

Psy is thus poking fun at people who are so materialistic and selfish, who only care about their own economic self-interest while being cut off from the rest of society. And isn’t that precisely the situation of the ruling BN elites in this country – who enjoy a lavish, materialistic life-style and who go on shopping sprees (whether for designer handbags or fancy submarines). They are cut off from the rest of the struggling masses, who can only look on in disgust or amazement at the BN elite’s extravagant life-style. Other envious ones may even aspire to that same life-style. On top of all that, we also have “Oppa corruption-style”!

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So if you happen to attend the Psy event at Han Chiang School in Penang on Monday morning, enjoy the joke at the blissfully unaware BN elites’ expense. And to think they paid good money to bring him in. (Or is it us who will ultimately foot the bill?)

Oh, the other joke going around is that if a certain person with a penchant for designer handbags and diamond rings starts prancing around with Psy in a duet, it could bring the stage down! Oops! Oppan Bangsar-style!

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