The concept of culture is a very curious thing. What may be deemed a practice steeped in rich tradition to some, can seem barbaric or outright odd to others. One man’s meat is another man’s poison and all that.
Nowhere was this idiom more obvious than during a trip to the Korean peninsula.
That Psy country should be one saturated with brash colours and window displays overflowing with splashes of synthetic Barbie Doll-like clothing was hardly surprising, given the singer-cum-cultural ambassador’s propensity for all things flashy. Not to mention (and yes, here I am stereotyping) that most Far East societies seem to have a penchant for “all things plastic”.
The lengths to which the Korean youth in particular will go in a bid to westernise themselves, however, did come as something of a shock. That pop culture – essentially American mores – have wound themselves into daily life throughout much of Asia is nothing new, as experienced first-hand during previous excursions to the continent.
But Korean society’s admiration and emulation borders on obsession.
Psy is just a singular example of what’s come to be called the K-Pop scene, which is witness to a plethora of mass-produced boy and girl bands mostly selected for their looks rather than their singing prowess. Again, nothing new.
That said, there’s something altogether jarring about seeing already-childlike young women gyrating Sasha Fierce-style (or trying to, anyway), while parading around in (what’s meant to be sexy) lingerie and with blonde-/red-/ orange-/purple-coloured tresses that makes them look like school girls who raided their mothers’ wardrobes.
It was the kind of unsettling experience that left me wondering if Western men with a proclivity for the “me love you long time” Asian female didn’t have some sort of inherent paedophilic tendencies.
Perhaps it’s that I have always believed women from the Far East and their doll-like features to be exquisitely beautiful, so to see them bastardised in this manner seemed sacrilegious.
Likewise, their male counter-parts were obviously intent on eradicating any trace of their Korean-ness, opting instead for bizarrely chopped locks, piercings in every possible place, chunky chains à la American hip hoppers and mismatched, multi-coloured outfits even Nicki Minaj couldn’t hope to compete with.
As for their vocal abilities… well, let’s just say that although the local crowd was going gaga, visions of scruffy alley cats came to mind. Besides, a Justin Bieber or Beyoncé song sung with a distinctive non-American accent just doesn’t pack quite the same punch.
The street scene in terms of culture and entertainment was much the same, disappointingly so.
Were it not for the Korean writing above the door to the Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins, Krispy Kreme and McDonald’s outlets that populated every street corner, one could just as easily have mistaken South Korea’s capital for another American metropolis.
And the saddest aspect about this fixation with a culture other than their own, is that it has resulted in a city seriously lacking in S(e)oul…