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Lifeguards who made 'Gangnam' parody video want their jobs back

September 12, 2012 |  8:58 am
El Monte lifeguards fired

A "Gangnam Style" parody video that went viral on YouTube has cost 13 El Monte city lifeguards and their supervisor their jobs, but even the mayor admits the video "is a very good parody of a very popular music video."

The video titled "Lifeguard Style" is a takeoff on the YouTube sensation "Gangnam Style" by rapper Psy. The lifeguards and their manager were fired for making the video spoof of the widely popular South Korean pop song.

In an email, Mayor Andre Quintero told The Times he has seen the video and lessons can be learned from the experience.

"If these employees wanted to produce a video for their own enjoyment and memories, they could have asked for permission and shared the video with their family and friends using a medium that is less public," he said.

"Fortunately for them," he added, "the video has received positive attention, but it could have just as easily received negative attention."

The video’s creators, however, said they just “wanted to try something fun.”

Michael Roa, a University of La Verne student who worked at the El Monte Aquatic Center for seven years, edited and posted the group's performance Aug. 26.

"We were trying out some dance moves," he said. "We didn't think we did anything offensive."

Roa and his co-workers, college-age students, are getting offers of legal help in their quest to win back their jobs. But they say they will hold off until Sept. 18, when they intend to make a direct appeal to the City Council.

The video is one in a small barrage of "Gangnam" spoofs that are bombarding the Web, with everyone from Britney Spears to the Oregon Ducks mascot and friends shaking up in their own version. There's even a Mitt Romney parody.

"Gangnam Style" leapt to No. 1 on the iTunes music video chart, the first time a South Korean artist has ranked that high. It has received more than 149 million YouTube views.

"It's comical, it's catchy. News anchors dance to it. People hum to it. It came up on my screen on Yahoo News this morning. It's just so insane," said Shiloh Jin, 24, who along with her parents runs a wholesale shoe business in downtown Los Angeles.

With the popularity of the lifeguard spoof, some of the fired employees say city officials are missing a golden opportunity to use their video to market the city — rather than bask in negative publicity.

A Facebook page the fired workers launched, "Bring Back the 14 El Monte Lifeguards," had won the support of more than 11,000 fans as of late Tuesday.

"There was no due process in terms of what happened to us," Roa, 22, said.

The lifeguards and their manager, all part-time employees, earned $9.54 to $14.20 an hour, according to Robert Alaniz, a city spokesman.

Last week, supervisors in El Monte's Parks and Recreation Division called in Roa and the others, including the manager who did not appear in the video, and asked them to review pages from a staff manual before being terminated, according to Roa and lifeguard Yvonne Tam, a UC Santa Barbara student.

In a statement, city officials said the lifeguards made an "unauthorized video" while using city resources without permission, namely their distinctive red swim trunks and the city pool.

"I understand we broke policies," said Tam, 20, an economics and accounting major, "but we did not vandalize or damage property. Maybe they would consider suspension or a write-up so we don't have it on our resume for the future."


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-- Anh Do

Twitter: @newsterrier

Photo: Ten former El Monte lifeguards are among those seeking to be reinstated after being fired over the "Lifeguard Style" video. Credit: Christina House / For The Times