I know, I know, “Gangnam Style” is so 2012. If you’re like me, hearing it now makes you break out in hives, but you must admit that its rocketing to global popularity the way it did was a social phenomenon that no one saw coming. I’m convinced that it was the mixture of easy-to-learn dance steps, the easy-to-remember beat, and the easily recognizable English lyrics combined with a hilarious video. Add to that the fact that, to the uninitiated, PSY looks like an average guy you might see on any street. The whole thing is delightful, with a kind of self-satirical, shameless abandon that is as fun to watch as it is to take part in.
“Gangnam Style” transcended its Korean roots to become a global phenomenon. The countless parody videos that came out of it, many of which had nothing to do with South Korea itself, is perhaps the most prominent evidence of this. For many of us who were at least somewhat familiar with South Korea prior to the release of “Gangnam Style,” we think of it as being a fundamentally Korean phenomenon — a song about a familiar, high-profile neighbourhood and a satire on 21st-century materialism. Perhaps we thought that parodies of the video were in some way an acknowledgement of Korean media and culture — at least, that’s what I thought.
However, as the YouTube views of the original went up and up and more and more parody videos were being made, we began to see PSY’s international magnum opus applied to all manner of non-Korean-related content. The latest in the long string of these parodies that were brought to my attention represent two very Canadian entities that I feel are underrepresented in Canada’s own media. These are the Inuit communities of Canada’s northern territories (in this case, Nunavut) and the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, both of which may be considered quintessentially Canadian.
The first of the videos was produced by students of the Nunavut Sivuniksavut Program in Inuit Language, based in Ottawa. It is tasked with teaching Inuit students from Nunavut about their history, culture, language, and a number of other related areas. According to their website,
Nunavut Sivuniksavut is a unique eight-month college program based in Ottawa. Founded in 1985, it is for Inuit youth from Nunavut who want to get ready for the educational, training, and career opportunities that are being created by the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) and the new Government of Nunavut. All of its courses are accredited by Algonquin College in Ottawa.
Students in the NS program learn about Inuit history, organizations, land claims and other issues relevant to their future careers in Nunavut. They also gain valuable life experience by living in the city and learning to live on their own as independent adults.
That sounds like a very worthwhile program to me, and as for the video, I think it’s a lot of fun! The first thing you may notice is that the whole song is in Inuktitut,which is the name used for the Inuit language spoken in Canada. Also, the students have included a number of recognizable Canadian landmarks, most noticeably the Houses of Parliament, while also being sure to highlight Inuit cultural elements such as the qilaut (a wooden-framed drum), traditional clothing, and various dance steps. I’ve been really interested in the Inuit since my parents read their myths to me as a child, and it’s always nice to see people celebrating their culture. I feel that Inuit life is an endangered part of Canada’s diversity that should be preserved, not to mention that these people have over countless generations created a truly rich and nuanced culture. We wouldn’t have our iconic igloo if not for the Inuit!
The second “Gangnam Style” parody comes courtesy of that iconic Canadian institution the Royal Military College of Canada, located in Kingston, Ontario. It features the school’s mascot, the Paladin Knight, running amok around the school. It’s quite hilarious! RMC is tasked with training the next generation of military officers for Canada’s armed forces. The video shows various aspects of campus life such as cadets in classes, performing drills in everything from battledress to ceremonial uniform, engaging in extracurricular activities such as sports and Highland dancing, and, of course, horsey-dancing! Many of us think of our military as deadly serious and strictly disciplined. For me the best thing about the video is that it depicts these future military leaders as being regular human beings who obviously have a sense of humour and know how to have fun! I think that’s important.
I think it’s safe to say that when PSY wrote and produced “Gangnam Style,” he never expected it would spread around the world like this, but the way it has been used really says a lot about us humans. To me it says that music really does have the power to transcend geographical and cultural borders and can be used as a tool to bring us all a bit closer together. I think it is also interesting to note that up until recently South Korea was rather underrepresented as a global presence. The fact that a Korean song, “Gangnam Style,” has provided a voice for some other underrepresented groups is quite thought-provoking — and pretty neat!
As someone in the comment section of the NS video wrote, “I think it’s cool that Gangnam Style has become a focal point for any group to show their pride in a way that is fun for us all to watch and smile.” I couldn’t agree more! Thanks, PSY, and thanks to Nunavut Sivuniksavut and the Royal Military College of Canada for giving us something fun to watch, as well as a little more perspective!