In my last blog post I mentioned viral videos, parodies, and Gangnam Style. And while there are many parodies of Psy’s video (which currently has 1.8 billion views in case any of you are wondering), here is a parody that I am guessing many of you have not seen…
That’s right — my man Ai Weiwei parodied Gangnam Style and took a shot at the Chinese government with what he calls “Grass Mud Horse Style.” Ai Weiwei posted this cover about a year ago, and even though Youtube is blocked in China, it was also posted on Chinese video-sharing sites like Tudou. It quickly spread and tens of thousands of people saw it before it was censored and deleted by the government. Today it has about a million views on Youtube, but these views are from people outside of the Great Firewall and most likely outside of China.
Grass Mud Horse?
Although this video is poorly made and pretty silly, it very creatively criticizes the Chinese government. Ai Weiwei did not title his video “Grass Mud Horse Style” because of the horse-galloping dance moves that go along with the song – he called it “Grass Mud Horse Style” to bash the government. A grass mud horse is an alpaca-like creature that was made up in the form of a meme by Chinese bloggers in 2009; in Chinese, it sounds very similar to the phrase “f*** your mother” and has become a way for dissenter-bloggers to mock Chinese censorship on the web. It has become a symbolic meme and phrase in China, as well as one that is now heavily censored by the government.
Ai Weiwei has incorporated the grass mud horse into his other works too. He recorded and posted a video of himself singing along to the Chinese viral video of children singing about these mythical alpacas (if you search for this video the English subtitles are likely to be inappropriate). He also shot a nude photo of himself covering his groin area with a grass mud horse plushie doll. And with his Gangnam Style cover, he uses the grass mud horse in his title to point out the absurdity of Chinese government censorship.
At 0:55 in the video, Ai Weiwei further insults the government and pulls handcuffs out of his pocket. He told the NY Times:
Handcuffs have recently become very familiar, almost daily objects; they should belong to law enforcement but in many many cases in China people are arrested or taken away without any formal charge.
These handcuffs not only symbolize Weiwei’s arrest and time in jail, but also the many unjust arrests that happen in China everyday. Weiwei swinging around these handcuffs is his way of pointing out the local government’s abuse of power.
Despite China taking the video down, there has been a lot of talk about the Ai Weiwei Gangnam Style spoof. It got me thinking about other political parody song covers that have spread like wildfire on Youtube. Mitt Romney Style by CollegeHumor racked up 50 million views and the government shutdown/Miley Cyrus parody We Did Stop quickly went viral on Youtube after it aired on SNL; both of these videos satirically cover famous songs, but more importantly the music videos of these songs both went viral on Youtube.
Without a doubt both of these videos would have been censored in China, but in the US these videos, and many others like them, have gone viral. Is parodying a viral music video is an effective way to get your political criticisms out? Is it a good way to bring about change and get conversations started?
Ai Weiwei believes so, but he also hopes that these conversations can come about before they are cut off short on the internet.