Everything Bill O'Reilly got wrong about "Gangnam Style"
After months of Psy taking the Internet, and then the world, by storm, you might think we’ve heard from all the pundits, music critics, pop-cultural commentators, and Korean-culture bloggers out there about the cultural, musical, and social significance of “Gangnam Style.”
But you’d be wrong. Because we hadn’t yet heard from Bill O’Reilly.
Now that “Gangnam Style” has broken all records for the most number of YouTube views, with 800 million watches and counting, the Fox pundit has deemed it worthy of his attention. But despite all the readily available resources to help him understand the song’s critique of modern South Korean culture, O’Reilly claims to be deeply confused.
In their five-minute assessment of the video, he and psychiatrist Keith Ablow come to the conclusion that the viral hit is just a lot of jumping up and down over a catchy beat. Both O’Reilly and Ablow roundly denounce the song as having no depth or emotion. Claiming that the song is devoid of “reality, feeling, and meaning,” they imply that “Gangnam Style” represents a need for “pure escapism.” Psy is “just doing the Pony ... jumping up and down,” O’Reilly says.
O’Reilly states that the song is “without intelligible words,” and that it “doesn’t try to convince you of anything”—ignoring both the obvious fact that the words are unintelligible to him because they are in Korean, and the easily obtained fact that the music video is an intentional critique of South Korean materialism epitomized in the wealthy urban district of Gangnam.
The masses of listeners, Ablow claims, simply want to be “pushed towards a good beat that buries them in music.”
The climax of this litany of misunderstandings comes when O'Reilly contrasts Psy with a handful of British and American singers:
Elvis Presley could sing. His songs had words. He put on a show. This is a little fat guy from Yongyang [sic], and he’s jumping up and down. ... You could understand Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, even Justin Bieber. ... There’s no comparison.
Psy, who studied at the renowned Berklee Conservatory of Music in Boston before returning to Seoul (that’s in South Korea; Pyongyang is North Korea) to pursue his career, might disagree.
Having denigrated the musician and the music, O’Reilly and Ablow tack on a conclusion directed at the fans. “This fellow is tapping into the fact ... that people don’t want any meaning,” says Ablow. O'Reilly and Ablow accurately link Internet culture to Psy’s success, but O'Reilly then concludes that the Internet—all of it—is a place where people go to feel “numb.”
Ablow adds that watching “Gangnam Style” repeatedly is “the same as getting high.”
While Mediaite called the segment “hilarious,” many others, Korean and non-Korean, were none too pleased. All K-pop disdainfully remarked, “Mr. O’Reilly likes to say that his show is the “No Spin Zone” but he seems to have spun a bit of racism into his commentary. ... This was a perfect example of the disconnect between old grumpy men and the new YouTube generation.”
Amid all the outrage, we can only hope that a layer of exaggerated performance stands between O’Reilly’s playing a racist xenophobe and his actually being one. It’s a layer of nuance that’s ripe for a comparison with true parodists …
Like, oh, Psy, perhaps?
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misattributed Keith Ablow's statement that "people don't want any meaning" to Bill O'Reilly, and O'Reilly's description of the Internet as a place people go to feel "numb" to Ablow.
Photo via Mediaite/YouTube