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Contagious culture

Updated: 2012-12-27 14:53

Chinese artists and entertainers are certainly capable of creating such pieces. What they lack is a sense of spontaneous fun. Those trained in academia tend to take the creative process as one of dissociating from the lighter side of life and focusing on the grave reality. Others with an eye for the market and profits are so eager to pander to their potential audience that they come up with works totally derivative and calculated they are stripped of any sincerity.

Of course, you can create great works by exploring personal anxieties and societal agonies. Mo Yan's books are not fun to read, but they convey something valuable about the Chinese psyche. For light entertainment to work, fun could be the keyword. In Gangnam Style, it is so infectious it does not need translation whatsoever.

Had the hit been made in China, I'm sure there would be an army of pundits who'd pillory it for denigrating the national image. "Does it represent the great strides China has made in the past few decades?" they'll ask. "Sure, the singer looks rich and well-coiffed, but shouldn't he spend his money on more worthwhile things - like charity?"

So, to spruce up the image, the out-of-shape singer would be replaced by one physically fit and technically adroit so the horse-riding dance would be more fluid and "professional". Later, he would give way to an innocent looking young woman fully decked out in folk attire so that foreigners would find the video more appealing. In terms of music, a heavy dose of Chinese characteristic has to be injected - those floating lines that resemble a lark. Another approach is to fit her out with Peking Opera regalia, complete with heavy makeup and delicate hand gestures.

Well, this is not a hypothesis. We have such music videos galore and you cannot avoid them on the tube. They do make up a satisfying part of our performing arts legacy, but they are not all. Most importantly, they are more often unable to capture the gestalt, and the pursuit of merriment so pure that outsiders can easily identify with it.

Art is a full spectrum, from the highest on one end to the lowest on the other. If Beethoven's Ode to Joy is a prime example of art at its most exalted and exultant, Gangnam Style must be at the polar opposite, jovial to the point of silliness. They both exist to satisfy human needs, which are not mutually exclusive. Needless to say, much of the latter do not possess the power to last till the next year, but they keep resurfacing in variations of forms.

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