Thursday, January 3, 2013

"Gangnam Style" Megahit Turning Point for International Culture?

Hunter Communications recommended reading from:
Financial Times

Link to article:
Gangnam Stylishly Debunks US Myth

For generations, the starting point in international pop culture was American style.  English language, and American accents, references and idioms were the common ground that guaranteed a foot in the door to international success. But after this year's MASSIVE breakout hit by Korean popster Psy, "Gangnam Style" may be blazing a new trail for international success that doesn't need to look to American standards.

Excerpt: "Why have Americans so dominated the globalised part of popular culture up till now? Despite complaints from France and elsewhere, it was not a matter of “cultural imperialism”. The US has little in the way of cultural infrastructure abroad, like Germany’s Goethe Institutes or the British Council. And that should not matter because, to repeat, the culture we are talking about is not American culture – it is an international culture in which Americans have played the leading role.

The US has benefited from intangible advantages. It uses the lingua franca, the cultural equivalent of printing a reserve currency. It is easier for authors to get translated from English than into English, and the same principle holds for movies. US corporations have the longest familiarity with the relatively new business models used in cultural markets. For instance, iTunes is an American invention. This magnifies US cultural advantages because the market into which artists from other countries must sell is often abysmal. A superb report by Youkyung Lee and Ryan Nakashima showed how little Psy has made from Gangnam Style in his native South Korea: about $50,000 from CD sales and $61,000 from 3.6m downloads.

Their home audience may be the pivotal advantage US artists have. As the writer Todd Gitlin put it years ago: 'By the time it leaves our shores, US popular culture has been ‘pretested’ in a heterogeneous public – a huge internal market with hybrid tastes and a tradition of juxtaposition and recombining disparate elements, melting them down into a Hollywood melange.'

But you could as easily say “dumbing down” as “melting down”. Culturally speaking, the diverse US audience giveth and it taketh away. An American artist who wants to appeal to a variety of US cultural communities does so not by mastering the cultures of others but by stripping away those elements of his own that might require explanation. US society is indeed diverse, but for that very reason American popular culture is homogenous. It deals in universals: it’s wonderful to fall in love, it’s sad to grow old. This kind of US culture is accessible to all, but it is hostile to more elaborate cultures. That is why people abroad resent it even as they buy it. "

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