Hey, that's a joke!

Recently I watched the "Gangnam Style" video, which has become something of a Internet sensation. Watching it was kind of an odd experience. I have a really hard time laughing at people who aren't trying to be funny. I'll do it--I'm only human--but I feel odd about it, and I don't make a habit of seeking out stuff that's really bad or unintentionally campy when I feel like having a good laugh.

So the first time I watched "Gangnam Style," it really perplexed me. Then I read the Wikipedia entry on it and twigged that, oh, it's supposed to be funny. Psy, the South Korean rapper who created the song, is making fun of people who are trying way too hard to be classy, so he runs around terrorizing the upscale Seoul neighborhood of Gangnam with his silly dance. The odd-looking and -acting men in the video are Korean comedians. They're not trying to look cool--they're trying to look like people who are trying to look cool and failing miserably.

And then I watched the video again, and I laughed and laughed. Because it was OK.

I'm not the only person who responds this way--Mel Brook's The Producers is about two guys trying to create a Broadway show that is sure to fail so they can make off with their investors' money. But they do too good a job, and everyone assumes that their awful show, Springtime for Hilter, is a hilarious parody of the Third Reich. The show becomes OK for the audience, they laugh and laugh, and the hapless producers have a monster hit on their hands.

It's also interesting to see situations where there's a joke (the histrionic "I am NOT drinking any FUCKING Merlot!") and people don't realize that it's not meant to be taken seriously (sales of Merlot fall). One of the funny things about Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is the level of effort they went to in order to ensure that the whole thing looks and sounds like a crappy low-budget '80s TV show--one of the actors even went through and re-dubbed all his lines so that they don't quite match up with the movements of his lips. But the problem, of course, is that some people didn't understand that it wasn't really a crappy '80s TV show. You also see this in some responses to Richard Ayoade's movie Submarine, which is deliberately pretentious, because it's about an adolescent, and adolescent pretension is funny, see?

I think this is where is helps to have a brand (and to also make sure a humor book is actually filed under humor and possibly has "humor" or "comedy" or "parody" or "It's OK, you can laugh at this" on the cover)--when Koreans see Noh Hong-chul doing what Wikipedia calls "his trademark 'lewd dance,'" they're expecting it and find it far less baffling and unsettling (What is that guy DOING!?!) than I did the first time I saw it. If you don't realize that Ayoade is a comedian, and one with a special interest in visual world-building, then the pretentious French New Wave-style cinematography of Submarine just seems like...pretentious French New Wave-style cinematography.