Gangnam, an affluent neighborhood in Seoul where trust funds are as common as credit cards.
As U.S.-based Korean blogger Jea Kim recently explained on her site, My Dear Korea, "In Korea, there's a joke poking fun at women who eat 2,000-won
(about $2) ramen for lunch and then spend 6,000 won on Starbucks coffee. They're called Doenjangnyeo, or soybean paste women, for their propensity to crimp on essentials so they can overspend on conspicuous luxuries, of which coffee is, believe it or not, one of the most common."
Gangnam is the most coveted address in Korea, but less than two generations ago it was little more than some forlorn homes surrounded by flat farmland and drainage ditches.
The district of Gangnam, which literally means “south of the river,” is about half the size of Manhattan. About 1 percent of Seoul’s population lives there, but many of its residents are very rich. The average Gangnam apartment costs about $716,000, a sum that would take an average South Korean household 18 years to earn.
Gangnam Style" signals the emergence of irony in South Korea, meaning that the country has reached the final stage in any state's evolution. If you don't think that irony is a measure of eliteness, think of how annoyed you were the last time you were accused of not having any. Americans have told me that Asians have no irony; in Europe, where I last lived, I was told that Americans have none.
South Korea had no irony when I arrived there. I can say that as plainly as I can say that it had no McDonald's (it arrived in 1988, in Gangnam, of course). The Korean language has no word for irony, nor for "parody," which is why the Korean press has been using the English word "parody" to describe Gangnam Style.
The district of Gangnam, which literally means "south of the river," is about half the size of Manhattan. About 1 percent of Seoul's population lives there, but many of its residents are very rich. The average Gangnam apartment costs about $716,000, a sum that would take an average South Korean household 18 years to earn.
"Gangnam inspires both envy and distaste," said Kim Zakka, a Seoul-based pop music critic. "Gangnam residents are South Korea's upper class, but South Koreans consider them self-interested, with no sense of noblesse oblige.
Gangnam, you see, is Seoul’s richest and flashiest neighborhood, what one commenter describes as the Korean equivalent of “Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Beverly Hills, Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Miami Beach all rolled into one.”
In 2010, the average household carried credit card debt worth a staggering 155 percent of their disposable income (for comparison, the U.S. average just before the sub-prime crisis was 138 percent). There are nearly five credit cards for every adult. South Koreans have been living on credit since the mid-1990s, first because their country’s amazing growth made borrowing seem safe, and then in the late 1990s when the government encouraged private spending to climb out of the Asian financial crisis
With 432 million views since its July 15 release, “Gangnam Style” has catapulted well into YouTube’s list of 30 most-viewed videos. Psy’s Korean electronica dance hit cracked the top 10 this week at number nine.
The clip previously broke the Guinness World Record for most YouTube “Likes.”
The North used the video to score a propaganda point, making fun of a South Korean presidential candidate. But one thing was still clear: While ordinary North Koreans are unlikely to have seen the video (access to the Internet is severely limited), Gangnam Style is a big enough hit that even reclusive apparatchiks know of it.