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Pop Culture Across Cultures


Context & Description

South Korean pop artist Psy’s smash hit single “Gangnam Style” is more than just a song. It is a cultural phenomenon. The video has gone viral on YouTube, garnering over 600 MILLION hits in just three months, becoming the third-most viewed video on the website ( YouTube.com). “Gangnam Style” has been remade and parodied by hundreds of people all around the world. Psy’s popularity has crossed over from South Korea to many countries including the United States. He has granted interviews to the Today Show and the Ellen DeGeneres Show, danced “Gangnam Style” with Britney Spears, and become one of the most popular Halloween costumes of 2012. And through this buzz in the United States, one thing remains the same: the song is sung in Korean (not English). 


“Gangnam Style” is one of the many K-Pop (Korean Pop) songs in what Chinese journalists called the Korean wave (韓流), “a phenomenon that refers to the onslaught of South Korean entertainment in Asia and, more recently, in other parts of the world” (Valerio). Despite differences in language, Psy’s song is now a mainstay in popular (pop) culture in the United States and beyond.  However, Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is definitely not the first K-Pop song to exist: groups like 2NE1 and BIGBANG are certainly popular in Korea, but they did not make as big of a splash as Psy’s hit. What was it that made “Gangnam Style” so popular? Why Psy? Why now?  Is it Psy’s appearance? The dance associated with the song?  The music itself?  The lyrics? The splashy, fun music video? Or is it the catchy concept, “Dress classy and dance cheesy”? And what might be the influence of this song on K-Pop music in the US in the future?


The purposeof this project is to explore the nature of popularity by examining a transnational flow of pop culture--a situation that requires the negotiation of different values, assumptions and tastes. What makes a popular artifact from one culture “cross over” to other cultures? What makes the artifact popular in the first place? Why are people drawn to artifacts from certain countries? Why do people seek alternatives from other cultures? What ideological, social, cultural, political, economic, and/or historical factors affect the popularity of an artifact in different countries? What makes one artifact internationally appealing while other artifacts from the same country do not gain the same kind of popularity? How does the success of one artifact open the door for other artifacts from the same country?


Write a magazine article in which you analyze a transnational cultural artifact: a song, music video, user-created video, movie, blog, book, fashion style, celebrity, etc.In preparation for this project, explore the criteria that help explain what makes a cultural artifact popular in one context and consider how the same criteria may or may not apply to another context. Then, identify a pop culture artifact. It may be something that has crossed over the national boundary or one that you think has the potential of becoming a transnational phenomenon. Alternatively, you can choose an artifact that has no hope of becoming accepted beyond its original cultural context.


Once you have identified your artifact, explore the literature to find out what has been said about the artifact and its reception--both within its original cultural context and in other countries. The literature may include various media, including newspaper and magazine articles as well as blogs, parodies, comments on interactive websites. You may even find articles about the artifact in academic journals.


Then, using the sources you have identified as well as your own analysis of the artifact, write a magazine article that describes the artifact and explains why it has become the international success that it has, why it has the potential for such success, or why it has no hope of becoming one. You may also consider how the artifact has been and can be adapted to audiences in different locale. Based on your analysis, also consider its implications for transnational pop culture as a whole, for other pop culture artifacts from similar cultural contexts, or for the future of the artifact that you have examined.


Learning Objectives

Through this project, you will learn to:


  • Use discussion with peers to explore and develop ideas
  • Synthesize ideas and information from multiple sources
  • Engage in research in multiple venues, such as the library and internet resources
  • Explore an idea from multiple dimensions
  • Analyze an artifact (object, concept) by developing or exploring criteria
  • Present your ideas and analyses
  • Consider the implications of your analysis



For this project, your audience will be readers of an entertainment magazine. You could choose a publication that is specific to the type of pop culture artifact you are examining (e.g., movies, video games, or music). You could write for an audience that appreciates pop culture in general that cuts across different kinds of artifacts. You might choose an audience that is specific to the imagined magazine or publication that is specific to the particular culture where your artifact originated. Or, you can write for an age-specific audience, such as a publication that targets college-age readers. Your readers could include music lovers, movie buffs, or video game fanatics. Or, they might be members of a mass audience who are curious about, interested in, or surprised by the shift in today’s pop culture scene.



Genre of a Feature Article

There are several specific steps you should take to complete the final written copy of this feature magazine article. First, create an opening to identify your chosen cultural artifact and to explain its transnational status. Next, provide a detailed description of the artifact and how it has been received in different cultural contexts. Then, write an analysis of what makes the artifact popular (currently or potentially) or not so popular. You may follow with a discussion of how it may be adapted (if applicable). Finally, include a discussion of the implications--what the artifact says about transnational pop culture in general or about pop culture from similar cultural contexts, or about the future of the artifact under consideration.


Paper Format:

Your essay should have one-inch margins (top, bottom, right, left), be double-spaced (without the extra 10 pt. spacing between lines), use the Times New Roman font throughout, including in the header and footer for wherever you paginate, and have a 12-point print size. Paginate each page except the first in the top right corner. Your title should be at the top of your first page (one inch from the top), centered, with your first paragraph double-spaced below it. Do not italicize, bold print, or place your own title under quotation marks. Handwrite your name, my name on the back of the last page of your essay. Your essay should also be at least 1400 words long. Again, no paper will be accepted if it does not follow this exact formatting.

Also, use MLA parenthetical citation of quotations from the readings you include in your essay. Failure to do so constitutes plagiarism, which is no bueno. Also, there should be no free-standing quotations, so set up each quotation with your own words. For instance: In “The Cult of Ethnicity,” Schlesinger states, “The new American nationality was inescapably English in language, ideas and institutions” (63). If a quotation is longer than four of your one-inch margined lines, indent it one-inch on the left (not on the right) and set it up like a shorter quotation, with your own words. Consult the Purdue Owl Online for any further questions regarding MLA format. Also, you must include four sourcesfor this assignment.



Valerio, Anna Patricia. “Catching the Korean wave.” Bworldonline.com. Business World Publishing Corporation, 20 Sep. 2012.  Web.  29 Oct. 2012. < http://www.bworldonline.com/weekender/content.php?id=58793>.


Suggested Readings

Chu, Michael.  “Youthful voice: ‘Pop culture equals globalization.’” Nwasianweekly.com.  Northwest Asian Weekly, 26 Aug. 2012.  Web.  29 Oct. 2012. < http://www.nwasianweekly.com/2012/08/youthful-voice-pop-culture-equals-globalization/>.


Delaney, Tim. “Pop culture: An overview.” Philosophynow.org.Philosophy Now, 2007.  Web.  29 Oct. 2012. < http://philosophynow.org/issues/64/Pop_Culture_An_Overview>.


Feki, Shereen El. “Pop culture in the Arab world.” Ted.com. Ted talk, July 2009. Web. 23 Mar.

2013. < http://www.ted.com/talks/shereen_el_feki_pop_culture_in_the_arab_world.html>


Ho, Erica. “‘Gangnam Style:’ Is Japan immune to PSY mania?” Newsfeed.time.com.Time, Inc., 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2012. http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/10/15/gangnam-style-is-japan-immune-to-psy-mania/


Ivey, Bill and Steven J. Tepper. “Cultural Renaissance or Cultural Divide?” Chronicle.com. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 May 2006. Web. 1 Nov. 2012. http://chronicle.com/article/Cultural-Renaissance-or/6435/


Kim, Jea. “KOREAN LANGUAGE: What is Oppan (Opa) in Gangnam Style?” Mydearkorea.blogspot.com.25 Aug. 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2012. http://mydearkorea.blogspot.com/2012/08/korean-language-what-is-oppan-in.html


Koshikawa, Kazuhikio. “‘Cool’ Japan-Japanese pop culture goes global.” City University of New York. City University of New York Graduate Center, Long Island City, NY. 12 Dec. 2003. Web. 5 Jul. 2012.

< http://www.ny.us.emb-japan.go.jp/en/c/vol_11-5/title_01.html>.


Lapin, Joseph. “Why the hell is Psy so popular?” Blogs.ocweekly.com.OC Weekly, LP, 24 Sep. 2012.  Web.  29 Oct. 2012. < http://blogs.ocweekly.com/heardmentality/2012/09/psy_gangnam_style_k-pop.php>.


“Off Book: ‘The Worlds of Viral Video.’” Video.pbs.org.Public Broadcasting Service, 27 Jul. 2012. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. < http://video.pbs.org/video/2261116168>.


O’Neill, Megan.  “What makes a video ‘Viral’?” Socialtimes.com.  WebMediaBrands Inc., 9 May 2011.  Web.  29 Oct. 2012. < http://socialtimes.com/what-makes-a-video-viral_b61409>.


Zuckerman, Ethan. “What to make of Ai Wei Wei’s ‘Gangnam Style’?” Ethanzuckerman.com.  Ethan Zuckerman, 25 Oct. 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2012. http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/topics/media/?submit=view 


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