Converting economic supremacy into cultural dominance

With Asian economies on the verge of accounting for the majority of the world's output, it may be a matter of time before economic dominance is converted into cultural dominance

Is 'Gangnam style' a sign of things to come?
Ghaffar Hussain
On 28 December 2012 13:48

Unless you've been on a different planet for the past 3 months, or don't have children, you would know what I am referring to when I say 'Gangnam Style'. PSY, and his catchy tune, is an international phenomenon that, through the power of You Tube, has reached virtually every computer screen and living room in the world. It is the first video ever to have been viewed over, a staggering, one billion times.

The idea of a South Korean pop artist having the entire world singing along and dancing to a song in Korean seemed unthinkable until the latter part of 2012. In fact, the idea of people on the other side of the world singing and dancing to songs they don't understand has always been a privilege reserved for English language-speaking music artists.

But the Gangnam Style phenomenon may be about a great deal more than an annoyingly catchy tune accompanied by a hilarious dance-craze.

The Asia-Pacific region accounts for around half of the world's population, contains many of the world's fastest growing economies, and accounts for around half of the world's economic output. China is forecast to overtake the US as the world's largest economy in the next four to five years, India and South Korea are continuing to overtake traditional European powers, and Thailand and Indonesia are registering impressive growth too. And I've yet to mention Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Singapore.

These changes have not gone unnoticed in Washington D.C. either. The Obama administration is currently in the process of pivoting towards the Asia-Pacific region whilst scaling back from the Middle East. Efforts to repair relations with Burma and improve ties with Vietnam and Indonesia are signs that the US is looking to the future and that it is aware of how the tables are turning.

Industrial, technological, and economic revolutions in the West were followed by cultural ones. From the music of Beatles and Michael Jackson to the films of Steven Spielberg, the West did a great job of transporting it's cultures and values around the world through art. Even today, 'Desperate Housewives' is the most popular TV programme in Saudi Arabia.

The proliferation of western cultures around the world through art, especially from the English speaking world, contributed towards creating value and prestige for all things western, and still does. It made people want to visit the west, eat western food, play western sports, wear western clothes, and speak English. All of these things feed back into western cultural dominance and have economic side-effects.

With Asian societies now on the verge of accounting for the majority of the world's economic output, it may be a matter of time before this economic dominance is converted into cultural dominance too.

Japan already makes an impressive amount of high quality films every year, as well as Manga comics and Anime cartoons. South Korea also has a very sophisticated film industry that churns out high quality action and horror films. In fact, a reasonably large proportion of Hollywood Horror films are Japanese and South Korean re-makes. Thailand also has a growing film and music scene that is starting to export talent abroad.

Art and creativity, however, also require freedom. It should come as no surprise that most of the artistic output from the Asia-Pacific region comes from it's democracies, namely Japan and South Korea. The challenge for countries like China is to follow economic reform with meaningful political change too. If this can be achieved, then Gangnam Style may just a sign of things to come.

Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator. Follow him on Twitter @GhaffarH

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