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“Little PSY” Stirs Cultural Tensions Between Vietnam and Korea

As “Gangnam Style” continues to pulsate from speakers all over the world, controversy surrounding Hwang Min-woo, or “little PSY,” has engulfed the Vietnamese and Korean online communities. Woo, seen performing the “horse dance” alongside the Korean megastar at the start of the music video, is half Vietnamese and half Korean. Derogatory comments stemming from Woo’s Vietnamese roots have flooded Star Zone Entertainment's website and have caught the attention of the Gangnam Police Department (no, they don’t dance. Yes, Gangnam is a neighborhood in Seoul).

The media shit storm began on May 2nd when Star Zone Entertainment, who represents “Little PSY,” announced that they had taken action against individuals who had published racist hate speech on their company’s website. Most of the comments took issue with Woo’s multicultural background: “He’s an inferior half-breed” and “To think that people like him live here.” While the local police investigate the origin of the hateful comments, Vietnamese netizens have taken to the web to voice their reactions.

According to Vietmeme :

"Discussion on other news forums such as Kenh14and VNExpress also attracted lots of comments. Comments on these platforms ranging from dismayed: “This is a complete shock to me – I didn’t know Koreans were racists,” to indignant: “What the **** is wrong with being Vietnamese? At least we stood up and fought against the Americans” to the belligerent: “First they spoil our kids with their crappy music, now they look down on us. This is why we should hate Koreans” and “If Korean women were beautiful and smart, Korean men wouldn’t have married Vietnamese women.”

Historically speaking, Vietnam and Korea have been cut from a similar cloth. Both have been dominated by China and Japan, marginalized by colonial powers and were Cold War battlegrounds. The presence of Korean forces in Vietnam during the American War and the recent waves of Korean men seeking Vietnamese wives have left a bad taste in the mouths of many here. And, while the invasion of K-pop has acted as a cultural band aid of sorts, if peeled back a bit, an “unhealthy” trend of celebrity worship can be seen underneath:

"The Communist Youth Union is also eager to get involved in a new campaign this year to “reorient” Vietnamese young people towards the “right” kind of idol admiration and the appropriate kinds of behaviours attached with it. “Inappropriate” behaviours, of course, include those such as sniffing and kissing a Korean singing sensation’s chair after he finished sitting on it during a recent tour.”

In all likelihood, the “Little PSY” controversy will dissipate relatively quickly. However, it remains to be seen if these larger social conflicts do the same or simmer until the next blow is dealt, especially given Korea’s position as Vietnam’s 3rd largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI).

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