International Treasures


It has been a long time since the release of the chart-topping “Gangnam Style.” Yet today, every thirty seconds someone somewhere is still commenting on the video (not counting the spam comments). This surprising statistic begs the question: how exactly has a song that many of us cannot even understand become the most viewed video on YouTube? Or, to look at the broader picture, why is foreign culture, in general, so appealing?

The simple answer is that foreign cultures are different. When commodities are scarce, they become more appealing; it’s the simple function of supply and demand. Here’s an example. How often are you truly happy to find out that a product that you own was manufactured in China? If you owned an eraser made in China, and another eraser made in Japan, wouldn’t you see the Chinese one as a cheap knock-off and the other an exotic piece of Japanese stationery? The Chinese eraser may be just as well-made as the Japanese one, but because just about everything is made in China, the Japanese eraser is just more appealing than the Chinese-made one. This is why we, in the United States, find Gangnam Style appealing, as we rarely hear Korean music on the radio.

This doesn’t apply just to foreign music but to nearly all things foreign. The preference for a British accent, for instance, is a prime example of the appeal of scarcity. We would readily harass someone with a British accent to talk non-stop, but can you imagine forcing anyone with a “normal” accent to talk for our enjoyment?

There are countless people even in the very halls of JP Stevens, enveloped in other worlds—or rather, other countries and their pop culture. Many of us obsess over the personal lives of the British royal family, sometimes even more so than those of the First Family. How many of us woke up at four in the morning to witness William and Kate’s nuptials? The only American thing we might wake up for at four in the morning would be Black Friday, and we certainly wouldn’t sacrifice extra sleep for anything the President might have to say. In addition, there are those of us who can name more Korean dramas than “America’s Got Talent” winners, and more “Doctor Who” incarnations than U.S. Senators. Take a look at Japanese anime; it has so permeated our society that we even have an anime and manga club in school. Our fanaticism grows to the point where some of us can hit “new tab” while an anime is playing in the background and, without the aid of subtitles, still understand what the characters are saying.

On the other side of the spectrum, when things become too different, we begin to find them disturbing instead of tasteful. Hardly anyone here finds snails delectable (indeed, escargot is an escar-no), but in France, it is considered a classy dish. It is evident that not all foreign trends are sure-fire successes in our country. Yes, anime is popular here, but Russian cartoons, not so much. It’s a hit or miss—so what really determines whether or not we fall in love with another overseas trend?

If you were to plot a graph of how “different” something is against how popular it becomes, the result would be a nice bell curve. When things are seen everyday, they become bland; when things are extremely different from what we’re used to, we find them undesirable. These are the two extremes, where any fad can be labelled as either very boring or awfully strange. But in the middle of the graph, where the subject in question (whether an accent, a song, or a food) hits just the right amount of “different,” its “likeability” immediately skyrockets. As humans, we yearn for and delight in the little quirks that make us all unique. However, at the same time, we find solace in conformity. No matter how many of us insist that we’re clearly “hipster,” we still want to fit in to some extent; in fact most “hipsters” only give themselves the title because, ironically, everyone else is doing it and they want to keep up with the trend.

When something is too different, it’s weird, but when something is at the critical balance between the familiar and the unknown, it has the potential to achieve a high level of success. Trends are ultimately defined by their ability to appeal to the masses while still making every person who encounters them feel unique.

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