Harlem responds to the ‘Harlem’ Shake


I had been thinking about posting about the Harlem shake meme videos — I was going to talk about the Waka Flocka Flame effect of enjoying music that makes you dance and have fun — considering the bodily invitation of Baauer’s nice tune.  I was thinking about mapping how many ways we are constrained in movement and how nice that these videos offered a chance to have fun and simply go dumb (Rest In Power Mac Dre).

But of course, the reason why people feel so seemingly liberated is that there is a script to follow — the dances are mapped quite carefully.  Check a couple of the internet meme videos and you’ll see the similarity in the costumes, poses, the points in the song where people are ‘allowed to dance,’ the invitation to unique foolishness is certainly there — but it is a copy of a copy of a copy. . . .

And in that copying is the insult for people who live in Harlem. The mockery and lack of respect for an actual dance form is central for many of the folks interviewed.  I bet most of the people who are in Harlem shake videos would respond by saying: ‘I didn’t know about the history and the ties to the location.”

Which is precisely the difficulty with internet meme videos — the absolute disconnection from context at precisely the time that we are inundated with thousands of replications of the image, each one loving re-embraced by the local players who perhaps (put new text around a much loved image) or (prepare to do the Harlem shake with their buddies arguing over ‘who get’s to wear the mask?’).  In most cases, the internet teaches us that what was once singularly owned or identified can be swept into the internet-o-sphere and assimilated, free of context or culture to become a clever short-term joke.

Thanks to Okayplayer who had the best coverage on this subject including a how-to on a slightly more authentic Harlem Shake.

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Filed under art, communication, cultural appropriation, funk & soul, hip hop, learning, media, music, representation

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