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K-pop star Psy has made an enormous impact on American popular culture with his viral video for "Gangnam Style." From the Today show to Ellen to SNL, Psy has been thrilling American audiences with his catchy tune, original dance moves, and intense energy. His video has received more than 200 million hits on YouTube and scored the number one spot for downloads on Apple iTunes. Indeed, it just earned a place in the Guiness World Records as the most "liked" video in history at around two and a half million. But perhaps the most interesting fact about this phenomenon is that the song has inspired so many parodies and flash mob imitators.

I typically think of the word "mob" as a negative one. The news has recently been inundated with images of such unruly mobs attacking American embassies throughout the Muslim world in reaction to another YouTube phenomenon - the much maligned film Innocence of Muslims, which insults the prophet Muhammad. The anger and hatred directed toward America is palpable - even through the television screen - culminating in the destruction of property, injury to many, and death of a few - such as Libyan ambassador Chris Stevens.

In a world of global divisions including mistrust, bitterness, resentment, terrorism, and war, it's truly heartwarming to see music building bridges among cultures. In this case, we find that a South Korean artist has connected with and inspired many Americans across the nation. From parodies by the Navy cadets, El Monte lifeguards, and Oregon Ducks to flash mobs breaking out everywhere from Old Town Pasadena (in southern California) to dowtown Chicago, young people have come together, rehearsed, filmed, edited, and posted their collective efforts.

Collective: to work together to advance a common cause. Am I the only one who finds this inspiring? I have to admit I was moved to tears watching some of these videos on YouTube. Many of them show extensive time and energy has been applied to the endeavor. Planning, scheduling, organization, choreography, rehearsal, filming - in some cases costuming - connecting the performers and other support personnel not only with South Koreans and Psy but also with the myriad viewers worldwide of the flash mobs' efforts.

It never ceases to amaze me - the power of music to bring people together, and, of course, this music is distributed through the media. The same media that distributes Innocence of Muslims - creating divisions and violence - also has the power to distribute the work of an artist who has united many people of diverse racial, ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds (similar "Gangnam Style" performances have been filmed in such places as Singapore, India, Australia, and Germany).

These two recent viral phenomena have reminded me that the media does matter - that it has incredible power to impact people and spur them into action - either negative or positive. In the context of global division, it's refreshing to see a K-pop song reach out its hand to unite us all.


October 2012


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