The South Korean rapper Psy–whose “Gangnam Style” goofy dance moves have become the top YouTube video of all time–was once virulently anti-American. In 2004 at an anti-Iraq war concert, he rapped these lyrics written by a South Korean metal group:
“Kill those f—— Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captive / Kill those f——- Yankees who ordered them to torture / Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers / Kill them all slowly and painfully.”
Now he is apologizing:
“While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words.”
My interest is not in Psy’s anti-Americanism or his violent lyrics. I’m sure his apology is sincere. But what gets me is his reference to “how these lyrics could be interpreted.” He says to kill Yankees and the girls and women in their families. In what sense is that statement in need of interpretation? How else could those words be interpreted, other than as an exhortation to kill Americans and their families?
The notion that all language statements and assertions stand in need of interpretation and may be interpreted in many different ways–including those that contradict the explicit meaning–is wreaking all kinds of havoc. Especially when treating the Bible. Theology has often become an exercise in interpreting away Biblical statements that the theologian does not agree with.
To be sure, some language calls for interpretation, but other language is clear on its face. Some of the controversies involve questions about which is which. But even interpretation is supposed to help us understand what has been said, rather than undoing what has been said.