Food Carts of Gangnam

Hey ya’ll- squeezing in an entry on Prof. Lee’s last lecture. It was a big twist to realize that the “Gangnam Style” music video scenes were not just ridiculous scenes but an intentioned satire of the affluence in Gangnam. In thinking about the beauty and money culture there, I was reminded of a Gangnam civic issue that erupted last February that I thought would be an interesting mention to what we learned about…

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Last February, the city of Gangnam hired “workers” (more so mob members) to destroy the food carts on the street in order to “clean up the look” of the city. The food vendors who are mainly older, low wage citizens, were pushed aside or held back as their carts were upturned and destroyed. They sought help from the police officers that stood idly by. The Gangnam District Office called the incident a “special crackdown of illegal stalls” since the food carts and tents “threatened public safety” by blocking the sidewalk (I totally get this because it’s so hard to walk to class with all the halal and coffee carts in my way).  After destroying the food carts, the city government then said that they would charge street vendors with criminal prosecutions for assaulting mob members, I mean, workers hired by the city.

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Gangnam’s district office said this was necessary because it gets a lot of foreign visitors and is expecting more. The mayor, Shin Yeon-hee, explicitly said that the streets needed to be “cleaned up” in order to make the city more “global” and “foreigner friendly.” It makes sense for her to expect tourists since South Korea is one of the most rapidly developing nations in the world in the past decade, but I do think something as “trivial” as a music video had some influence in recent city government planning.

I know it’s a stretch to say that the three or four times we watched “Gangnam Style” by Psy when it first came out is a result of the food cart catastrophe, but considering a trickle-down effect…wouldn’t a city that changed Youtube’s view counter to accommodate more views (2 billion), be expecting more tourists and visitors because of that video? Especially if they are already the go-to place for plastic surgery in the nation (and arguably, the world.) Since 2011, it has been against the law to do business on the streets of Gangnam but there hasn’t been a crackdown until the year after “Gangnam Style” came out…hm.

Beauty permeates all aspects of Gangnam: the video that put it on the global map, the plastic surgery shops stacked on top each other, and the streets of the city itself, have something to say about beautification whether it’s biopolitics or urban upkeeping. This makes me see the city itself as a body and reminds me of what Susan Bordo said about the bodily relationship to culture.

“The body, as anthropologist Mary Douglas has argued, is a powerful symbolic form, a surface on which the central rules, hierarchies, and even metaphysical commitments of a culture are inscribed and thus reinforced through the language of the body. The body may also operate as a metaphor for culture.” (Bordo, 309)

In conclusion, here is the other “Gangnam Style” video you should see:



One thought on “Food Carts of Gangnam

  1. What you said about seeing the city as a body really interested me. it’s almost as if the mayor wanted to give the city a “face lift” to make it more presentable for the world to see. But with taking away the street vendors and food carts they are taking away so much more, they are taking away the culture of the city. A lot of the arguments made by individuals who have gotten plastic surgery is to look more “normal” to not stand out– and cities across the globe are now starting to do that as well, take away small stores and symbols of their home and put in strips and strips of H&M, Prada, and Ralph Lauren. We are homogenizing the world and putting on a good new face with glowing features to hide all of the social and economic problems we are struggling with behind it.


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