Evan Osnos has a post up about the “Kung Fu Panda problem,” namely, why is it that China is so bad at marketing it’s local culture. His conclusions are political.
In China, culture and the arts develop under the watchful eye of the government, and anything too hip or interesting gets either shut down or bought up. In Korea, by contrast, artists and entertainers thrive in a space that is highly commercialized but also pretty much free of the heavy hand of the state.
This is all in reference to the satirical music video “Gangnam style,” which is pretty amazing. You should probably watch it (again) right away.
Done? Good. Now watch this nearly equally amazing music video.
Did you see it? The PSY guy might do a slightly better horsey dance than Jay Chou, but Jay Chou was riding a pink horse, and he was doing it 2007. So that’s pretty awesome.
Jay Chou is Taiwanese but he is still primarily making music (and hilariously campy music videos) for people living in Mainland China, and he moves fairly fluidly through the media markets of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China. He’s kind of a figurehead of what one might call a Greater China media market, which theoretically encompasses 1.4 billion people (or whatever percentage of those purchase media). It’s a market that South Korean K-Pop singers care about considerably more than the American media market, and to an extent are also influenced by.
Chinese comedy is also known for the popularity absurdist satire, with the catch that, it’s very vebal and a lot of the jokes are untranslatable. The 2006 film Crazy Stone made a 900% return on investment in its initial run, with jokes that played off the differences between Chongqing, Hunan and Hong Kong slang.
None of this is to question k-pop’s superiority in the realm of dancingness, it’s more to say that it’s a bad idea to judge a country’s cultural product by what’s popular in America.