Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A List of Things I Used to Not Like But Now I Think are Okay

If the title of this post doesn’t make sense to you, go listen to this song, then come back.  I won’t go anywhere.

So if you’ve been following this blog since its inception (in the actual dictionary-definition sense of the word, rather than the something-inside-something-else or blanket-term-for-anything-really-confusing sense that the Internet has slapped onto it since the movie), you may have noticed that a lot of the cynicism has kind of died away.

What can I say?  I was an angry teenager.

I don’t mean to invalidate any of the opinions or views that I expressed in some of my earlier posts.  I’m also not saying I’ve changed my mind about all of those things.  I still think a lot of people are morons, but since I don’t work directly with the public anymore, I don’t have to deal with them.  Actually, that last bit might explain a lot about why I’ve mellowed out.

I also started college, which has humbled me a few notches.  I haven’t undergone this grand reevaluation of life, the universe, and everything that a lot of adolescents seem to when they sort of set out on their own.  (I haven’t set out on my own yet, but that’s beside the point.)  But I got a little forced perspective.  My university’s student body is ten times the population of the town where I went to high school.

Big fish, small pond.  You get the idea.

But I didn’t ask you here today to tell you about my growing experience as a person.  In fact, I didn’t ask you here at all, and yet here you are.  I appreciate that.  I really do.

The problem I now face is this:  I have a lot less to write about.  It’s tough to sit down and enumerate all the ways in which life has been fair to me lately.  And it’s boring to read.  But I’m betting I’m not the only one who’s dealt with a little fresh perspective, and so what I am going to do is enumerate some of the things that used to annoy me that don’t anymore.

  1. Pop music - In high school, I was a band geek, and hung out with the band geeks.  Most of us moonlighted as music connoisseurs, or thought we did.  (I just spelled the word "connoisseur" right on the first try, and would like you all to know that, because I couldn't believe it.)  We scoffed at people who listened to Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.  If the only White Stripes song you knew was "Seven Nation Army" that didn't count as "liking the White Stripes."  I've since come to appreciate that sometimes the goal of music is not to be intellectually stimulating or to provide social commentary.  Sometimes the only claim a tune makes is to be fun to listen to, and that's okay.  And it's okay if you listen to it over and over and over.
  2. Action movies - Explosions are cool.  Big explosions are very cool.  Explosions don't win Oscars, but if you only go watch movies that are going to make you cry, you're going to have a sad life.
  3. Dogs - This explanation is not as deep.  I have long considered myself a cat person.  I love my cat.  But I no longer think you have to choose a side.  I think it's okay to like cats and dogs.
  4. Justin Bieber - I know, I said pop music already.  But this is more along the lines of the Bieb being a cultural icon.  His music is not art.  Maybe he doesn't "deserve" to be famous, but he's a talented kid who got a lucky break and I think we should be happy for him, instead of casting him into the same pop-cultural blunder category as, say, the Twilight franchise, which is genuinely horrible.
  5. Onions - Maybe it's an acquired taste.  I used to hate onions.  I don't anymore.  You won't catch me eating them raw, but throw a few on my smoked salmon bagel and we're good.
  6. High school - Whoever said "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" was wise indeed (that was Shakira, right?*).  I couldn't wait to get out of that place the entire time I was there.  I felt trapped.  When I graduated, the feeling of freedom lasted until I started college, where it quickly morphed into abandonment and then apathy.  I had almost enough rope to hang myself.  Had enough to fail a couple classes, anyway.
  7. Twitter - When I first started hearing about Twitter, I never understood why people would use it, or why anyone would ever follow anyone else.  Like, who cares?  Now I don't know what I would do without Tom Hiddleston's daily nuggets of insight.
  8. Tom Hiddleston - No, who am I kidding?  I had a crush on Loki the minute he appeared in Thor.
*I'm joking!! Also, I really like footnotes.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Global Style

image from
I was headed to dinner with my Dad and siblings, with one of the NOW CD’s in the player (what number are they up to now?  78?), when the song “Gangnam Style” filled the car.  My brother and sister have both memorized patches of lyrics and sang along wherever they could.  Even I played, doing a seated approximation of the now-ubiquitous dance.

If you don’t live on the Internet (and also don’t have cable or satellite or FM radio), “Gangnam Style” is an electro-pop hit by a Korean artist who goes by the name of Psy.  The song gained international fame when the YouTube video went viral last year.  In fact, the term viral may not sufficiently encompass what happened.  The music video for “Gangnam Style” is the first YouTube video ever to reach one billion views.  To put that into perspective (and to throw some cool numbers at you in an effort to bring some originality to this post instead of just rewriting a Wikipedia article), if you played the video, which is four minutes, thirteen seconds in length, one billion times without pausing, it would take more than eight thousand years*.  That’s eight thousand years human society as a whole has lost to a single video.

But what have we gained?

It’s not a new sensation for a song that’s popular in one country to spread across the globe.  Even the language barrier has been trampled before.  Will Smith told Ellen Degeneres about kids in Japan who’d learned the words to the Fresh Prince theme song, even though they couldn't understand them.  Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” went international, but was actually translated into several languages.  It’s not unheard of for English hits to become popular with non-English-speaking cultures.  But this is the first time that the language barrier has really been crossed in this direction.  At least, it’s the first time it’s happened on this scale.  I still remember a time when the Black Eyed Peas were a decent hip-hop group, and appreciated their international flavor (their tracks “Bebot” and “the Apl Song” are almost entirely in Filipino).

Now, given that “Gangnam Style” was, in fact, record-breaking, we could say that this is the first time any song has become so internationally known.  The aforementioned scale may just need to be recalibrated after a hit like this one.

I think it’s great.  It’s amazing that YouTube, and, by extension, the Internet has made popular culture into one humming conglomerate consciousness.

Globalization has been going on ever since worldwide trade became a reality.  We see McDonald’s in Hungary (har har) and Audis on Route 66.  But it’s hard to ship an idea overseas on a barge.  For that, you need the speed provided by the Internet.  For many pop stars, fame is a flash in the pan, and if you blink you’ll miss it.  Now, the only things holding us back are popup ads and buffering spinners.  We can share concepts and culture across the world via webcams and wifi.

And when “Gangnam Style” exploded onto the pop scene, the whole world danced at the same time.

*Feel free to check my math.  It could totally be wrong.  I did it on my computer’s calculator late at night in a moment of hypnagogic inspiration.