Global Glance: November 9, 2015
A quick look at intriguing international stories
By John Bostwick, Managing Editor, Radius
Welcome back to Global Glance. This week we look at:
- A killer expat writer
- Kitchen-sinking and dead-catting in the VW scandal
- A Gangnam Style statue in Seoul
Killer Expat Writer
All right Global Glancers, here’s a writer recommendation: Chantal Panozzo. Her November 1 Wall Street Journal article on how expat life changes a person’s political views left me eager to read more by that author. Panozzo, a US citizen, lived and worked in Switzerland for years and is now back in her home country. Her Journal article this month describes how she took a political left turn after her experience abroad: “Never mind that I had once voted for Bob Dole. After living for almost a decade in Switzerland, I felt more progressive than Bernie Sanders. What had happened to me?”
Apparently, Panozzo’s experience is not an uncommon one for American expats. She notes that George Simons, an American professor at the University of Finland, “believes US exceptionalism gradually disappears as [US expats] realize that ours is one country among many with both its virtues and its vices.”
In addition to three other worthwhile articles for the Journal’s EXPAT blog, Panozzo published an excellent piece last month in The New York Times. In “An Alpine Antidote to Working Weekends,” she compares working long hours at an American advertising firm to working at a Swiss ad firm, which afforded her a far greater work-life balance. As in so many articles about expat experiences, the author observes that each country’s cultural norms are not only distinctive, they’re resistant to change. While her “creativity flourished” in Switzerland as a result of her relatively abundant and carefree personal time, she has had trouble convincing US employers of the merits of five weeks’ annual vacation with no obligation to check work emails. “Americans live to work — it’s culturally ingrained. If we’re not busy, we’re not worthy. No matter how much I try to challenge American work mores, I don’t seem to make much progress.”
Kitchen-Sinking and Dead-Catting: The VW Scandal
When the VW scandal broke last month, it was front-page news in major international journals for days on end. Virtually anyone who follows any news couldn’t help knowing that VW admitted to implementing vehicle software designed to circumvent US diesel emissions testing and that the company now faces huge financial penalties and reputational damage, not to mention plunging stock prices.
It’s just quite possible, however, you might not be aware that VW is back in the news for slightly different allegations and admissions. As Fortune reported last Monday, the US Environmental Protection Agency says “the Volkswagen Group violated the Clean Air Act when it used illegal software in certain six-cylinder diesel engines to circumvent US emissions laws — an allegation that pulls Porsche as well as more Audi and VW models into the widening scandal.” In addition, as The Financial Times reported last Thursday in an article titled “VW Scandal Spills Beyond Diesel,” “the German carmaker disclosed a new issue of understated carbon dioxide emissions by 800,000 VW vehicles.”
If you’re having trouble keeping up with all these infractions and accusations, or if you’re simply experiencing VW-scandal fatigue, that may be part of VW’s PR strategy. As the Financial Times article notes, the announcement about the 800,000 VW vehicles with the understated CO emissions “could be read as ‘kitchen sinking,’ — an attempt to push out any bad news in the wake of the revelation on Monday that 10,000 more diesel cars made by VW group and sold in the US were emitting more nitrogen oxides on the road than in laboratory tests.”
For more information about “kitchen-sink” strategies, check out this April 2015 article in BBC.com, “Who, What, Why: What Is 'Kitchen-Sinking'?” The article explains: “The idea is to release all of your bad news at the same time rather than creating a drip-drip effect over an extended period of time.” This is in contrast to another intriguingly named PR strategy, the “dead cat.” As BBC.com explains, the dead cat is “where you distract people from something that is garnering a lot of attention. The idea being that, by placing a dead cat on the table, you make people look in a different direction.” According to this blog post by journalist Declan Hill, “dead cat” can, like kitchen sink, be used as a verb, though the strategy itself perhaps cannot be used in conscience.
Gangnam Style Statue in the Works
There’s a good chance that if you have access to the internet, you’ve seen the 2012 video “Gangnam Style,” by South Korean rapper-singer Park Jae-sang, better known as Psy. “Gangnam Style” now stands as the most-watched Youtube video of all time, with over 2.4 billion views, meaning that on average one in three people in the world have seen it.
If you haven’t watched the video in a while, I recommend a refresher. It’s both absurd and irresistible — something that never could have been created without American cultural influences, but something that never could have been created by an American — and it’s all held together by Psy’s charisma, which is on a towering, Jack Black kind of level. After watching it again, you may find yourself muttering something like: “I can’t believe this video of a rotund guy in shades hopping around Seoul like someone on horseback is the most popular video of all time. And yet … it makes perfect sense!”
The video and song greatly increased the global profile of Seoul’s Gangnam district. For background, check out this 2012 Guardian article, which explains that Gangnam “is an upmarket shopping area, home to the enormous underground COEX mall (where part of the video was filmed) … Seoul is the capital of Korea; Gangnam is, as Psy says, the capital of Seoul.”
Gangnam tourist authorities are now planning to honor Psy with a statue, to be placed outside the COEX mall. A BBC.com article last Friday says the large statue “will show two fists overlapped in the style of the song's ‘horse-riding’ dance move.” A local tourism director is quoted as saying “the song will play automatically when you stand” by the statue. I confess I found the idea of the statue a little ridiculous at first; but, like the song and related video, there’s something irresistible about it. And there’s no chance I wouldn’t snap a picture of my daughters, my wife and me under the statue striking a pose if I could. “Season's Greetings from Gangnam” — now that would make a good holiday card.