All posts by gracenaw

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:



Analyzing the Rise of Black Models With Albinism

 Albinism is a defect of melanin production, resulting in little or no pigment in skin, hair, and eyes.

 Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes depigmentation in various areas of the body.


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Shaun Ross is the first male model with Albinism and has been in many fashion publications, walked runways worldwide, and starred in music videos for pop icons like Lana Del Rey, Beyonce, and Katy Perry. He’s the new face of Ford Models and emblazons the campaign slogan “be Unique”.

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Diandra Forrest is the first model with Albinism to sign to a major agency (Elite Models) and is also a spokesperson for Albinism, working with organizations in East Africa that fight discrimination against the Albino community.

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Chantelle Young, is a model with vitiligo who is a contestant in the current season of America’s Next Top Model. She is also the featured model for Desigual’s fall 2014 campaign.

The rise of these three models have come about very recently.

Fashion and visual media is featuring Black models with albinism and vitiligo for the first time in history- the past five years have not only introduced these models, but created a pathway and interest for their look in magazines, billboards, and media content. Modelesque Africans and African-Americans with albinism and vitiligo have existed before, so what brings the spotlight now? It’s important to answer this question through cultural analysis rather than to accept it as another ebb and flow of the high fashion and media industry.

Black American pop culture always has, and still is, influencing and creating mainstream American culture today. We know that lots of lines are blurred when mainstream pop culture adopts what is found distinctively in Black-American culture, like when we see pop icons who teeter on the lines of minstrelsy and appropriation. At this point in time, hip-hop and rap is so entwined with mainstream (white) American culture that even a white Australian woman can rap with the pseudo sonic Blackness of a Southern black woman and top charts in America (to the dismay of many critics. And ears). Television shows about black families and black protagonists have gone from interest-based channels (or hours slotted for the African American viewers), to integration with major channels, to primetime. All in all, there are many social, cultural, and media related examples to underline that we are vying consumers for this integration.

“As with any great consumerist power, it behooves marketers to create campaigns featuring models with whom new consumers will relate. (“Selling Ethnic Ambiguity”, Jessica Clark).

Does the advent of black models with albinism parallel the height of black culture meshed with mainstream American culture, today? Could black albinism represent a sort of visual release and fantasy for mainstream America that is fascinated and entertained with Black culture and Blackness while still idealizing white beauty standards? We know that the beauty industry loves to parade around those who have overcome their disabilities or differences through beauty (this weeks readings about Heather Whitestone, Vanessa Williams, Bess Myerson) so seeing black models with albinism (and vitiligo) finally getting a shot in the spotlight isn’t all that surprising to me. What I am looking at is why now. While there could be applause for the fashion industry for relaxing its conventions…I believe this change is much more a social cue than an editorial one.