Okay, I’ll admit being a little slow to learn about the Gangnam Style meme that has spread around the world—including 530 million views of the original “Gangnam Style” music video by the artist PSY on YouTube (but thanks to the latest episode of South Park—a show that tracks the pulse of the consumer culture so well—I am now up to date). And I admit also to immediately enjoying the “Gangnam Style” video and the beat—it’s funny, and energetic, and as I was told, a satire of the lifestyle of the Gangnam District, an elite, wealthy, consumeristic section of Seoul. However, the more I watched and read about it, the more it became clear that the video was not a criticism but an actual celebration of hyper-consumerism—from horseback riding and fancy cars, to fashion, and even yoga (in its materialistic form filled with fashionable accessories—thanks lululemon). PSY, himself, has even stated that Gangnam Style “is not a critique, just FUN!”)
And I’m sure that even if “Gangnam Style” was designed as a satire (and PSY is only now covering that up in order to keep the favor of the hundreds of corporations that are surely courting him with product placement deals), most of the 530 million viewers did not see it that way, but just enjoyed the over-the-top celebration of the materialistic good life, which does look pretty damn wonderful in this video (thanks lululemon!).
So while this wasn’t a satire, there have been some popular spoofs of this video that are trying to use its popularity to draw attention to a cause, like the version by Chinese Artist, Ai Weiwei, in which he draws attention to government censorship and repression.
But with this meme at its peak, I think there’s an opportunity for a better spoof, one that truly critiques consumerism, and I know the perfect spokesperson and lead singer—Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Mahatma Gandhi, if he were alive, would have probably been game to make his own spoof, like Weiwei, to draw additional attention to the Indian Independence movement. But even now, he continues to be a symbol of political activism, nonviolent resistance, and a non-consumer lifestyle so this new video—“Gandhi Style”—would still make for an incredibly powerful message.
Imagine: the same beats as PSY’s original song but with a much improved set of lyrics and images. Instead of Oppa Gangnam Style, Oppa Gandhi Style (oppa still works as it means literally big brother, as well as sexy older man—and honestly, who is more sexy than a man willing to live and die for what he believes?)
And instead of “Hey Sexy Lady!,” how about “Hey Satyagrahi!” The same number of syllables but what a meaning—this is a person who practices satyagraha, the nonviolent resistance Gandhi promoted and inspired future leaders around the world to use.
The images could be just as rich as the original. Instead of dancing in front of horses in a stable, Gandhiji could be dancing in front of horses topped with British colonial soldiers (conveying resistance to authority with levity and humanity even in the face of violence)
- Instead of sexy women dancing yoga, how about sexy women spinning cloth (showing economic resistance by making one’s own clothes)
- Instead of confetti blowing in PSY’s face, how about salt from Indians’ defiant efforts to make their own salt blowing in Gandhi’s and fellow dancers’ faces
- Gandhi could also be dancing toward the sea as he does his Salt March to the sea.
- And instead of singing from a toilet, how about Gandhi singing from a toilet? But with a rag in hand. (Gandhi, after all, required all those in his ashram to clean the public toilets to break down the barriers between castes.)
And instead of being under someone dancing in an elevator, Gandhi can be under someone dancing in a prison cell—a location Gandhi willingly spent time in in order to further his cause.
- The explosions could stay—with some of his fellow satyagrahi getting shot and killed by the British.
- As could the dance scene with the sexy redhead, who in this case could be garbed in a flowing sari, and portray Mother India (a personification of the free country Gandhi was fighting for). And instead of a subway train, the classic Indian train would be perfect.
- And of course at one point, Gandhi could don a blue tuxedo jacket and black bow tie—but a homespun version, made from his own spinning wheel.
- There could even be a few points where the original beats give way to sitar and tabla. As this archival video on the Salt March shows, these instruments would work very well in keeping a sweet beat.
The hope would be that this video—amusing, educational, and inspirational—would convey a very different style, one that encourages not unthinking consumerism but political activism, civic action, resistance, and a very simple lifestyle devoted to social and global change. Is that too much to ask from a music video?
PS: If anyone is inspired to put this together, I imagine archival Gandhi footage, some clips from film and documentary versions of Gandhi, and a few staged clips could bring this together pretty cheaply. Happy to help think it through further if someone has the video skills and desire to make this happen!
This post was originally written by Erik Assadourian for the Transforming Cultures blog in October 2012.