Don't call it the Harlem Shake
March 5, 2013 1:29 AM   Subscribe

Flashmob boogeydowns are most definitely not the Harlem Shake. This is about more than proper designation of a popular dance. It's about cultural appropriation. When communities create original art, they have a right to some creative control over its definition. (via IP Finance.)
posted by three blind mice (209 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy fucking crap, that is some seriously impressive dancing at the the end there.
posted by Dysk at 1:45 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Harlem Reacts to 'Harlem Shake' Videos
posted by Blasdelb at 1:51 AM on March 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


what the fuck to the dude hackey-sacking his hat back on to his head. that's amazing.
posted by mannequito at 1:55 AM on March 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Another example of how it's acutally done.
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:56 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


A very impressive performance, but still, there are enough distinctively different dance moves in a "proper" Harlem Shake to make it easy for dumb-ass dancers to go far afield without noticing - or caring.

Maybe we should just call the "flashmob boogeydowns" something else...

It does seem sadly telling about culture - especially AMERICAN culture, that we replaced "Gangnam Style", named for the richest part of Seoul, South Korea, with "Harlem Shake", named for the Blackest part of New York City.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:57 AM on March 5, 2013


...that we replaced "Gangnam Style"...

Possibly just temporarily. Though the rate of views on YouTube is very gradually tapering, it's still getting a lot of people watching* and a slew of Gangnam Style parody videos are still being churned out on a daily basis. Harlem Shake has the media attention at the moment, but GS hasn't totally gone away.

* checks - nearly 1.4 billion. First YouTube video to have more views than the population of any country
posted by Wordshore at 2:05 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd never heard of the Harlem Shake so this is a bit of education for me but the argument presented in the link and embodied in the second sentence of the FPP seems optimistic at best. Just as invention of a word does not guarantee that the word will continue to mean the same thing then creating a piece of culture will, once subject to the interpretation of the wider world, tend to be transformed. The argument that you wouldn't cha-cha during a waltz is not a good one. Those rules apply in a dance competition, anyone can cha-cha or waltz any time they like, and call it a cha-cha or a waltz.

These are essentially creative ideas embodied in the actions of the dancers, and ideas, once brought to a wider audience will be subject to the imagination of that audience and embellished. Now some of those additional ideas will be bad but some will be good and hopefully the cultural artefact will grow stronger for that. Thjis wider adoption does not stop the original practitioners from continuing to practice - and develop - their art.
posted by biffa at 2:06 AM on March 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


It does seem sadly telling about culture - especially AMERICAN culture, that we replaced "Gangnam Style", named for the richest part of Seoul, South Korea, with "Harlem Shake", named for the Blackest part of New York City.
Sadly?
Blackest?

What. The. Fuck?
posted by fullerine at 2:12 AM on March 5, 2013 [27 favorites]


Just for clarification - this awful meme is called the Harlem Shake not because people are dancing the Harlem Shake, but because they are dancing to a song called Harlem Shake. They may not be heeding the song's demand, but that is still the name of the song.
posted by molecicco at 2:38 AM on March 5, 2013 [32 favorites]


When Baauer made the song, I can assure you he had no intention of making it a dance craze, or of co-opting the Harlem Shake. It was just a funny sample that he liked the sound of.

If he's guilty of appropriating anything, it was trap music.
posted by empath at 2:38 AM on March 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


The videos are funny because they aren't doing the Harlem Shake.

Platers gonna plate.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:52 AM on March 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


While I'm aware he didn't intend for it to become this at all, I still think there's something really questionable and worthy of a side-eye about a bro-y nerdy white dude making a trap song called the Harlem shake.
posted by emptythought at 2:58 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks for this post, as someone from Europe I had no idea that there was a dance beyond the song and that was good to learn.

As a side note: personally this Harlem Shake thing marks the point when I'm done being excited about anything going viral. When you have media organisations, TV shows, Pepsi, and the fucking English National Ballet clambering over themselves to be 'in' on the 'craze' because some marketing idiot knows that a popular youtube video makes for excellent end of year report material about 'engagement' and 'creativity', that's when I get sad and stop caring. Because it because less about the ordinary folk making stuff and being stupid, than the big boys pretending to be hip so that they can build whatever brand they're pushing. Other cool stuff will happen for sure but this right here is overkill.
posted by litleozy at 3:08 AM on March 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


It does seem sadly telling about culture - especially AMERICAN culture, that we replaced "Gangnam Style", named for the richest part of Seoul, South Korea, with "Harlem Shake", named for the Blackest part of New York City.

Sadly?
Blackest?


Guess I was too subtle. We replaced making fun of the rich people for the traditional joys of making fun of the black people.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:12 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


While I'm aware he didn't intend for it to become this at all, I still think there's something really questionable and worthy of a side-eye about a bro-y nerdy white dude making a trap song called the Harlem shake.

That horse left the barn a long time before he made that track. By the time he made Harlem Shake, he was following a well established trap-by-white-people formula -- already mocked a bit in this track ('this song needs no trendy trap sample'.)
posted by empath at 3:13 AM on March 5, 2013


Communities neither "create original art" nor have a right to control that "art" for one real simple reason—like corporations, communities are not people. "They" don't have rights, and there's not even a "they" to have those rights. I had to laugh when she complained about cultural appropriation and said that communities have a "right" to creative control over a definition because, short of creating a domestic L'Académie française to regulate the fineries of post-relevance hip-hop nomenclature, language does what language does regardless of the stridence of people freaking out over the perceived lack of authenticity among those who don't meet her standards of "lived urban experience."

My "community" created the modern usage of the word "gay," and as much as I'd happily see folks stop saying "gay" when they really mean dorky, uncool, or challenging to their tiresome fear-based opinions on the performance of gender, that train has long since left the station.

I'm waiting for the terroristas to make a video complaining that those gosh darn people clearly aren't terroristas, either. Why isn't anyone mad about that?
posted by sonascope at 3:18 AM on March 5, 2013 [34 favorites]


I think the videos above are amazing, but those dancers are so advanced that it's hard to figure out what they are doing that is distinctively "harlem shake." This video is a much more straightforward instructional video, so if you don't know from hiphop dance (like me), you can then start to see what amazing skill the dancers in the links above are bringing to the dance.
posted by dubitable at 3:19 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Honestly, it looked like they were doing footwork/juke to me.
posted by empath at 3:22 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Communities neither "create original art" nor have a right to control that "art" for one real simple reason—like corporations, communities are not people.

"In 1935, Congress enacted the Indian Arts & Crafts Act which created an Indian Arts & Crafts Board in the Interior Department to promote and protect Indian artistic endeavors as part of tribal economic development. Amendments in 1990 granted this Board the authority to assign trademarks of artistic genuineness and quality to individual Indians or tribes, to set standards for the use of the trademarks, to charge for licenses to use the marks, and to register the marks with the U.S. PTO and assign them to Indians and tribes free of charge. The Act protects Indian works of art by creating felony criminal sanctions for, among other things, counterfeiting a Board trademark, and by creating civil causes of action for tribes, the U.S. Attorney General, and Indian arts and crafts organizations, which include treble damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, and injunctions, against anyone falsely representing that goods are Indian made. The Executive Branch has enacted regulations pursuant to this Act which extend this federal trademark protection to Navajo all-wool woven fabrics, Alaskan Native hand made products, and Navajo, Pueblo and Hopi silver and turquoise products."

AMERICAN INDIAN AND TRIBAL INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS (pdf)
posted by three blind mice at 3:23 AM on March 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


I should add that one of the great blessings of the internet is that it accelerates the lifespan of these sort of fads to the point that, while they are everywhere almost instantaneously, they die out very quickly, too. You young people today have no idea how long the hell that was the Macarena lasted—if you weren't there, you don't know, man. You don't know.
posted by sonascope at 3:25 AM on March 5, 2013 [60 favorites]


...named for the Blackest part of New York City.

Actually, if it were named for the "Blackest part of New York City" it would be called the Bedford-Stuyvesant Shake. Which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. On the other hand, if you use the popular abbreviation, 'Bed-Stuy Shake' could work, for sure.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:25 AM on March 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


making a trap song

Trap song?
posted by MartinWisse at 3:34 AM on March 5, 2013


to promote and protect Indian artistic endeavors as part of tribal economic development

When there is a Harlem Arts & Crafts Board in the Interior Department that maintains these definitions, this may be applicable. In the mean time, it's just people pissed that the name of their little "secret" dance craze ended up being applied to something completely different in the regular hurly-burly of culture in progress.

It is sort of amusing, in this context, that this details "Indian artistic endeavors" when it actually refers to Native American artistic endeavors, because India is a country on the other side of the world that produces very little authentic Hopi turquoise jewelry.

The trouble with going down the rabbit hole of tribal purity is that there is no bottom.
posted by sonascope at 3:36 AM on March 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


I didn't realize how serious this was. It's worse than the education of little tree. Is there like a march of dimes of cultural appropriation i can donate to? Should I write my senator? He's white, but he won against a black republican, which, i think technically makes him culturally more black than michael steele. this isn't just dumb kids having dumb fun, this is an all out attack on harlem's culture and it needs to stahp.
posted by stavrogin at 3:39 AM on March 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Let's not get all bent out of shape about nomenclature around stupid internet dances which are funny for 5 minutes.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:41 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I gotta say, I was most charmed by the wee montage of Harlem residents shaking their heads in a disappointed, quietly disgusted way, at YouTube clips of white people. I would probably watch like 22 minutes of that montage on a weekly basis.
posted by Greg Nog at 3:41 AM on March 5, 2013 [30 favorites]


You young people today have no idea how long the hell that was the Macarena lasted—if you weren't there, you don't know, man. You don't know.

Weird story, I went out a few months back to this kinda trendy but also kinda dying out club with a few friends. Wasn't a great atmosphere going from the start (one of those 'you wanna go out?' 'dunno, you want to?' 'yeah, okay' evenings) but inside the club is was just... dull. A bit too empty, people dancing while waiting for enough songs to end so they could go home. Then the Macarena came on. And everyone knew the moves, course they did, despite no one there being over 30, so everyone starts spontaneously dancing the macarena. Just in silence. Not just that no one was talking but that no was enjoying it. This completely robotic, completely in synch group of strangers dancing a song from another generation that they knew they have to have fun to. Like we'd all been hit with the macarena dance ray and we had to keep going until the music stopped while keeping completely smileless faces. Weird.
posted by litleozy at 3:41 AM on March 5, 2013 [26 favorites]


I had to laugh when she complained about cultural appropriation and said that communities have a "right" to creative control over a definition because, short of creating a domestic L'Académie française to regulate the fineries of post-relevance hip-hop nomenclature, language does what language does regardless of the stridence of people freaking out over the perceived lack of authenticity among those who don't meet her standards of "lived urban experience."


Ehh.

I think there's a vast excluded middle between a free for all and L'Académie française that you're lightly skipping over here. Language evolves, but that doesn't mean we can't influence its evolution. Your example of "gay" is actually one in which we've been seeing a reversed evolution, as people push back on it as a synonym for "lame" (itself not unproblematic) or uncool.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:41 AM on March 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Also of course there's nothing wrong with wanting to educate people who never knew the original Harlem shake and trying to court some controversy while doing so.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:43 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


This was good, it made a good point to millions of people who like never would have arrived at the same thought themselves. It didn't talk down to people, just pointed out the mis-labeling and how that kind of cultural appropriation has been going on with this specific community for hundreds of years.

I think every news cast should have at least five minutes of genuine, intelligent discourse on topic-of-your-choice, every night.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:45 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's just interesting that someone would be so indignant about cultural appropriation and then appeal to a notion of purity or authenticity in hip-hop, a music firmly grounded in sampling and cultural appropriation. The blending of memes and genres in American music is what's made American music great, and getting bent out of shape because a song name-checks something and spawns a brief dance craze that doesn't resemble the name-checked "original" (itself derived from a variety of cultural influences) is just silly.
posted by sonascope at 3:55 AM on March 5, 2013 [21 favorites]


Tim C's in-depth on the origin of the YouTube meme, and how it's only accidentally and twice-removed (if at all) related to any "original" Harlem Shake dance, seems required reading on this issue.
posted by progosk at 4:01 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


When communities create original art, they have a right to some creative control over its definition.

You're asserting a property right, with nobody to control the property. If such a thing ever even approached law, it would be a disaster.

What community, specifically, invented the Harlem Shake, what are the protected elements, what are the penalties for infringing on those elements, and who speaks for the community? Who gets to decide? And who gets the proceeds?

Creativity is about copying the works of others. It always has been. It always will be. Everything builds on what came before, even if what came before was only last week.

That simple assertion you make in that FPP would be a gravy-train bonanza for a bunch of lawyers, possibly a significant windfall for some semi-random people from some semi-random communities, probably some of which would miraculously spring into being to collect on their newly-created 'rights', and a complete fustercluck for society as a whole.
posted by Malor at 4:18 AM on March 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Flashmob boogeydowns" could be the worst name ever for a trend. I really hope I don't end up hearing my morning TV news people going to a commercial with "another one of those crazy flashmob boogeydown videos".
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 4:32 AM on March 5, 2013


The answer is simple: just create and legally enforce EU-style Protected Designations of Origin for dance moves. After all, it works for wine, cheese and other products...
posted by elgilito at 4:33 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it's ironic that she uses ballroom dancing as an example of a community owning a dance culture. The upper-class white people who currently make up the bulk of the ballroom dancing crowd only have the dances she name-checks through cultural appropriation. The waltz came from German peasants, the cha-cha came from the British appropriating dance styles from young Cubans, the exact same way that the Lindy Hop was appropriated from Harlem in the 30s. Unless you're a young person in the right scene at the right time, you probably aren't going to be able to do any cool dance moves (or have any cool music) without appropriating them from somebody else's culture.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:40 AM on March 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


The dance troop at the end of Harris-Perry' s segment is indeed quite talented. But that is the difference I see. All of those stupid viral videos just strike me as profoundly untalented people (white and black) doing the Harlem Shake really really badly. So I guess that is another problem with this whole "having rights" and "creative control" over a communities "original" art idea. Just because I am doing it badly, so badly that it might even be unrecognizable compared to the real thing, doesn't mean that I am appropriating the culture. Or does it?
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:40 AM on March 5, 2013


Hi, I am a part of WHITE AMERICA. Are there other videos I can watch that will STRAIGHTEN ME OUT, as this video has?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:46 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


TIL it's racist to watch internet videos of people dancing like idiots
posted by DU at 4:47 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I gotta say, I was most charmed by the wee montage of Harlem residents shaking their heads in a disappointed, quietly disgusted way, at YouTube clips of white people. I would probably watch like 22 minutes of that montage on a weekly basis."

For you Greg Nog
posted by Blasdelb at 4:51 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, to clarify:

1. Black New Yorkers invent the dance, the Harlem Shake in 2003
2. By 2004, the Harlem Shake is considered 'played out'
3. ... Almost a Decade Passes ...
4. In late 2012, A Puerto Rican techno producer includes a 'do the Harlem Shake' sample
5. Middle and upper-middle class white (and Asian-American) kids start flashmob boogeydowns to the techno tune
6. Therefore, Racism.
posted by The Giant Squid at 4:57 AM on March 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


> The upper-class white people who currently make up the bulk of the ballroom dancing crowd only have the dances she name-checks through cultural appropriation.

True: if you make the mistake of reading the comments on YouTube videos, you'll sometimes see people who dance the original forms saying "that's not a rumba", or whatever.

I generally find that ballroom dancers aren't that interested in the roots of the dances. Lindy is interesting because the original Harlem dancers are famous and revered within the community, to the extent that you hear teachers tracing their lineage back to Frankie Manning to establish their authenticity. (If you were a true SJW, you could argue that this reverence is itself "problematic", but at that point it's "heads I win, tails you lose", so I generally ignore those people).
posted by pw201 at 5:00 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Baaur Harlem Shake is not a dance craze, it is an internet meme that happened to have the same name as a dance. Two different animals. The dance made me feel awe and wonder at the limits of human creativity whilst the meme made me snort air out of my nose once on a Wednesday afternoon while surfing YouTube.
posted by weezy at 5:17 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow. I had heard of this "Harlem Shake", and dismissed it. The name sounded like something a white guy would come up with, who thought only African Americans lived in Harlem (I used to live in Harlem). To me, it just sounds like someone saying "Black people dance like this!
posted by Goofyy at 5:20 AM on March 5, 2013


Like we'd all been hit with the macarena dance ray and we had to keep going until the music stopped while keeping completely smileless faces.

That's exactly what it was like when the Macarena was new, too.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 5:21 AM on March 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


When communities create original art, they have a right to some creative control over its definition.

Of course that's not true. The only freedom artists has is in the creation of their art. How it's received or ultimately defined by others is far beyond their control and that's really the beauty of art. I create something, you take it in, interpret it and maybe it causes you to want to create more art or to try to communicate it to others with your own experiences to transform it into something else.
posted by inturnaround at 5:24 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


You're asserting a property right, with nobody to control the property. If such a thing ever even approached law, it would be a disaster.

...which is probably why nobody has suggested or condoned making such a thing law. Things can be 'wrong' or problematic without being illegal, and you can have a moral right to something (such as respect, for an obvious example) without that being legislated.
posted by Dysk at 5:25 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I suggest watching the grumpy cat harlem shake before watching any other harlem shake videos because hilariously grumpy cat makes the rest not funny. lol
posted by jeffburdges at 5:42 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Communities neither "create original art" nor have a right to control that "art" for one real simple reason—like corporations, communities are not people.

That's true enough as far as it goes, but come on. Unless you're Data but even dumber, programmed only with the most literal interpretations of any phrase, you know full well that Melissa isn't calling for some sort of legal right of ownership to be created and somehow dispersed through Harlem.

(1) Words and names mean things. If I did either the real or fad Harlem shake and said I was doing line dancing, I would be wrong. Yes, I could call it line dancing if I wanted to. I could also call it a waltz or volta, or doing my taxes, or frying bacon. I could call my dog a 1972 DeTomaso Pantera if I wanted to.

(2) If you want to know what the Harlem shake is, good people to ask would be people who are familiar with the Harlem shake.

(3) When people who are long familiar with the Harlem shake tell you that what you're doing isn't the Harlem shake, you ought to listen. When they tell you that you're being disrespectful, you really ought to think about stopping what you're doing and asking them why.

Because... come one. This isn't a case of some other group enjoying or appreciating a dance/song/film/art form that came from outside their community. This isn't clueless Anglos learning to salsa-dance or putting on Ladysmith Black Mambazo because they kinda like it. It's a case of white folks putting together a dance thing that mocks black people by saying "Look at how those crazy negroes dance! It is spastic jerking! Also it must involve dryhumping because those crazy negroes are oversexed!" Which is, yeah, kinda problematic.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:43 AM on March 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


Didn't this happen to the gay dancing subculture 23 years ago because of that Madonna song?
posted by Navelgazer at 5:46 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Voguing you mean?
posted by MartinWisse at 5:47 AM on March 5, 2013


(Still not sure what a trap song is)
posted by MartinWisse at 5:47 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


(yes that is what I mean)
posted by Navelgazer at 5:48 AM on March 5, 2013


I am having difficulty following the steps.

No matter. Tonight I shall be doing the Tooting Stagger. I'm an expert at that.
posted by Decani at 5:48 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's exactly what it was like when the Macarena was new, too.

Quick story; I was invited to a wedding party held in the former morgue of the largest funeral home in town (it was transitioning into a hotel and is now a Best Western) anyway; basement, morgue, wedding party. It's the mid-to-late 90s and It had been a halcyon summer of parties and so on; this was (I think) the first wedding party in the basement and it had also been a chapel so it was set up for an area to sit and a stage/dance area.

So it was an up and down night, some drama in the former cold room involving a guest; drunken shenanigans etc then the macarena came on and the place exploded into people having fun and dancing and having a good time. It was fun that first year it (the bayside boys remix) hit and it rapidly became "the wedding song" supplanting the chicken dance for years.


Personally; I'd love for a "Harlem Shake" dance to break out at every wedding; at least people wouldn't feel the need to do "moves" instead opting to jig about like they were performing Saint Virus' Dance; which doesn't roll of the tongue either.
posted by NiteMayr at 5:49 AM on March 5, 2013


Still not sure what a trap song is
posted by MartinWisse at 1:47 PM on March 5


I think they mean something like this.
posted by Decani at 5:50 AM on March 5, 2013


Trap music - urban dictionary, wikipedia
posted by nooneyouknow at 5:52 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Personally; I'd love for a "Harlem Shake" dance to break out at every wedding; at least people wouldn't feel the need to do "moves" instead opting to jig about like they were performing Saint Virus' Dance; which doesn't roll of the tongue either.
First I limp to the side like my leg was broken
Shakin' and twitchin' kinda like I was smokin'
Crazy wack funky
People say ya look like M.C. Hammer on crack, Humpty
That's all right 'cause my body's in motion
It's supposed to look like a fit or a convulsion
Anyone can play this game
This is my dance, y'all, Humpty Hump's my name
No two people will do it the same
Ya got it down when ya appear to be in pain
Humpin', funkin', jumpin',
jig around, shakin' ya rump,
and when the dude a chump pump points a finger like a stump
tell him step off, I'm doin' the Hump.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:53 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a case of white folks putting together a dance thing that mocks black people by saying "Look at how those crazy negroes dance! It is spastic jerking! Also it must involve dryhumping because those crazy negroes are oversexed!"

I think you are reading a bit more into this silly fun meme than is really there.
posted by DWRoelands at 5:53 AM on March 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


When folks from Harlem look at it and say "This is mocking us," I don't see much reason to disbelieve them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:55 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't disbelieve them so much as think that there's a discrepancy between intent and reception. That said, let the thing die already if people are offended.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:57 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Trap Music Movement; Where It Came From and Where It’s Going
posted by nooneyouknow at 5:57 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't disbelieve them so much as think that there's a discrepancy between intent and reception.

I can certainly imagine clueless people who've never seen the actual Harlem shake doing the fad thing without knowing that it mocks an actual dance from actual Harlem. But someone, sometime, had to come up with the "original" thing, and I'm not so willing to assume good intent there. Why come up with a thing that's a rhythm-less, crassly sexualized version of what the local black people were doing if you don't intend to mock them?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:03 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just to be clear, I totally agree with "let the thing die already if people are offended."
posted by she's not there at 6:11 AM on March 5, 2013


Lotta rules-lawyering here (not that I'm surprised). If you want to wiggle your hips and flap your arms and call it the hula, I can't stop you, but you're gonna look like a dumbass and people who actually know hula will have the right to roll their eyes at you and think maybe you're kind of ignorant.
posted by rtha at 6:12 AM on March 5, 2013 [14 favorites]


It is sort of amusing, in this context, that this details "Indian artistic endeavors" when it actually refers to Native American artistic endeavors, because India is a country on the other side of the world that produces very little authentic Hopi turquoise jewelry.

*MIND BLOWN*
posted by shakespeherian at 6:13 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


When folks from Harlem look at it and say "This is mocking us," I don't see much reason to disbelieve them.

Except I seriously doubt that most of the people making the Harlem Shake videos are aware that there's an actual dance called the Harlem Shake. The only reason the videos are called 'Harlem Shake' is because the dividing line between calm and chaos in the setup is the sound of some guy saying, "Do the Harlem Shake."

I think it's really, really reaching to suggest the people in the videos are mocking black dancing. After all, other recurring themes in the videos are a central figure in a mask, men suddenly wearing less clothing, someone dancing while doing a handstand against a wall, and a multitude of colourful props. How do any of those tie in to mocking Harlem culture?

I get not liking the meme. I even get pointing out that there's an actual dance called the Harlem Shake. But the videos are just using a song which references a dance from the 80's, nothing more. Which, I also wish they would stop saying as if that makes it a bastion of traditional culture; that's really not that long ago.

It's practically like getting offended by Rickrolling.
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:18 AM on March 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


Just call it the "Haarlem Shake" and no one gets mad about cultural appropriation.
posted by Challahtronix at 6:22 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can define whatever I want how I want whenever I want.
posted by entropos at 6:22 AM on March 5, 2013


Except I seriously doubt that most of the people making the Harlem Shake videos are aware that there's an actual dance called the Harlem Shake. [...] It's practically like getting offended by Rickrolling.

My guess is that unmeaning offense is probably still offensive.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:30 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I can define whatever I want how I want whenever I want.

Doesn't mean you SHOULD, though.
posted by Dysk at 6:31 AM on March 5, 2013


I want to see a white people daggering video craze.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:33 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is this the same kind of thing that gets people mad about Philly cheesesteaks?
posted by demiurge at 6:35 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another "the macarena wasn't all bad" story:

in the late 90s while I was at university I had a part-time job being a weddings/parties/anything DJ, which was sometimes an awful way to spend a Saturday night and sometimes totally fun and surprising. For instance, every time I hear "Killing in the Name Of" I think of the night of the school formal dance ("prom" for Americans) with 1000 leaping and grinning teenagers shouting the last verse (fuck you I won't do what you tell me etc etc) which they all thought was the best thing ever and I only got away with because somehow it was on the teacher-approved list of "safe" music... but that's not the story I want to tell.

One time, we did a show at a party for a school of deaf teenagers. Setting up a sound system for a bunch of kids who can't hear was an interesting thing to be asked to do. We hired the biggest subwoofer we could find and put it on the floor at the front of the auditorium, so the entire room trembled with the bass notes. Then I tried out all kinds of music to find out what kind of thing deaf kids like to dance to. Macarana was the hands down hit of the evening, because as well as feeling the groove through their feet they could do the easily-learned funny hand actions all together, giving them a sense of shared activity which was obviously heaps of fun, because they wanted that one track over and over again. Say what you like about it as a piece of music, but that was great to be a part of. (They also liked AC/DC, just for the record.)

That has absolutely nothing to do with original post; apologies.
posted by illongruci at 6:36 AM on March 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Australian miners lose six-figure salaries over 'Harlem Shake' video

When folks from Harlem look at it and say "This is mocking us," I don't see much reason to disbelieve them.

If they say they feel mocked I will believe them. Otherwise I think it's pretty much impossible to know what people are thinking when they make these videos. Some are fame whores trying to cash in on a craze, others are just having fun, and yes, some may be mocking Harlem, but honestly, I think most people have better things to do.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:37 AM on March 5, 2013


Offensive culture appropriation? Famous Dave's barbecue. Hell, they don't even have an outlet in either Georgia or the Carolinas.
posted by Ardiril at 6:45 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


♫ Heeeeey, Macarena ♫
posted by usonian at 6:47 AM on March 5, 2013


Guess I was too subtle. We replaced making fun of the rich people for the traditional joys of making fun of the black people.

Don't forget the other aspect. You replaced something "foreign" with something American. U-S-A, U-S-A!
posted by Chuckles at 6:47 AM on March 5, 2013


The dance "craze" at the time was best described as "white man's overbite"—if you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about.

What is the white man's overbite? I must know.

I've played music at some dance parties where the vast majority of people were white...I have mixed feelings about the whole "lol white people dancing" thing because if you spend some time watching a white crowd dance you realize that it's a bit complicated - sorting out people who genuinely can't dance, people who grew up in a culture that did not value dance and never attempted to dance much, people who can dance okay either by natural gifts or practice, people who have put a lot of effort into being able to dance actually well, people who have really stupid (and I'd argue white) ideas about dancing (thankfully I have moved past the age and social circle where a certain type of person thinks they are being impressive by doing tai chi/soft martial arts moves on the dancefloor) and people who are good dancers from white-majority traditions (Irish dance, for example) who dance well but not how one expects.

I also have mixed feelings because since most popular dance music is basically from black music subcultures, what does it mean for a white person to dance "well" to that music? Like, if I watch a bunch of videos and practice my moves, am I putting on racial "drag" to go dancing? Is that creepy?

I love to dance (and am often told that I dance fairly well - although I know that what people mean is "I am surprised that you dance fairly well for a white fat person in their thirties", not that I'm, like, the next Janelle Monae)...and that's kind of a tension for me. I think it would be weird and grotesque for me, a white person of my general background and mien, to imitate highly defined dance styles originated by black communities, so I basically have accepted that I'm going to mostly "dance white", although I try to "dance white" in more of a rhythmic and fluid way than a flailing and jerky way.

~~~

On the matter of cultural appropriation: yes, it's not cut and dried, but....I don't know, I think that white people of goodwill should take a step back on this stuff, because there's a long history of white artists ripping off black artists (and other artists of color) and it's creepy and gross, and do you really want to be part of that? I think there's a point where music and dance do pass into the "anyone can use this without it being offensive and appropriative" and that point is a little nebulous at times, but there's also some pretty clear instances of things that are not very okay. (Which I would argue is white people without any ties to Harlem, the Harlem Shake or black arts communities calling things "Harlem Shake".)

Like, there's the whole matter of bounce. Bounce is a style with a really particular regional and cultural source and it gets sort of weird when this style that's so specific to black New Orleans culture (and then there's sissy bounce, which adds another level of specificity)....well, it gets weird when, like, Big Freedia is touring and the audience is virtually all Northern white people (which I hear is what happens around here - there's apparently a bounce "scene" which is white arts kids.) And I definitely hear from POC on the internet that it's frustrating - you go to a show and it's all people who frankly can be there to hear, like, a black queer artist and still act all racist and homophobic and entitled, and a scene that used to be yours and really specific is totally messed up - and I think the proxy for that feeling becomes "look at those stupid white people trying to twerk".

When I think about this, I am reminded of seeing musicians I really liked from the sort of 90s small label/indie/post-punk/punk scenes just get destroyed as musicians (and sometimes as people) by losing their community and scene when they became famous. It's not the same thing as when you're talking about race, but it was bad enough then. Now, it's certainly someone's choice to release songs to a general audience and to tour outside their community/region - but 1. there's a degree to which it gets out of your control; and 2. it's very easy to make bad choices because you need the money or the validation is really seductive or you've signed a bad contract. Basically, I don't want to be part of disintegrating someone else's regional or subcultural scene just so I can get my kicks over one song.
posted by Frowner at 6:48 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


What is the white man's overbite? I must know.

White dudes who bite their lip when dancing.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:50 AM on March 5, 2013


(They also liked AC/DC, just for the record.)

(That insistently metronomic kick drum, which the bass spends almost all its time following exactly would possibly be it...)
posted by Dysk at 6:55 AM on March 5, 2013


I can define whatever I want how I want whenever I want.

Humpty Dumpty, is that you?

Did it take her this long to get hot and bothered about it or did the network make her wait a few weeks to broadcast her rant? Heaven forbid she should be taking shots at the Today Show hosts (including one weather guy who definitely should know better), who jumped on the nearly played out fad three weeks ago.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:00 AM on March 5, 2013


We replaced making fun of the rich people for the traditional joys of making fun of the black people.

I think the percentage of people that actually do know that "Gangam Style" is about "making fun of rich people" is vanishingly small, and that in the minds of most fans it's about "doing a horsey dance and yelling at butts."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:11 AM on March 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


Nobody wants to let anyone play on their lawns anymore. It's my lawn, dammit!
posted by Bovine Love at 7:12 AM on March 5, 2013


"Am I Krumping?"
posted by Going To Maine at 7:14 AM on March 5, 2013


Guess I was too subtle. We replaced making fun of the rich people for the traditional joys of making fun of the black people.

Just because your Harlem Shake is inadvertent cultural theft that decontextualizes something, you don't have to assume that it is making fun of said something.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:19 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dance like there's nobody watching you're considering all the racial, cultural, and socio-economic ramifications of your actions.
posted by gwint at 7:33 AM on March 5, 2013 [32 favorites]


That simple assertion you make in that FPP would be a gravy-train bonanza for a bunch of lawyers, possibly a significant windfall for some semi-random people from some semi-random communities, probably some of which would miraculously spring into being to collect on their newly-created 'rights', and a complete fustercluck for society as a whole.

Compare this with the system we have now, where, for example, the estate of Alan Lomax owns the rights to a huge number of folk songs which he neither wrote nor composed, but recorded (usually sung by African-American men). With the result that Lomax has a creative credit on Jay-Z's Takeover, a song which not only does not feature any part of an original composition Lomax created, but does not contain any part of a composition Lomax recorded.

Copyright family tree here.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:37 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


> regardless of the stridence of people freaking out over the perceived lack of authenticity among those who don't meet her standards of "lived urban experience."

Seems to me you're the one who's "freaking out" here. Melissa Harris-Perry is always worth listening to, she's thoughtful and funny and has interesting things to say. I don't always agree with her, and there's no requirement that you agree with her point here, but she makes it in a light-hearted way ("I'm not hatin'!") and I don't understand why you're running with the full-on contempt evidenced in the pull-quote above.
posted by languagehat at 7:40 AM on March 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm not freaking out at all. I just find her line tiresome and a peculiar mixture of forced playfulness, presumptive ownership of a cause, and an invocation of victimization in a case that's clearly not what she wants it to be. It's good meme time for her career, I suppose, and all press is probably good press, but I think her claim is mighty weak sauce.
posted by sonascope at 7:53 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's bad enuf that rich white people are taking over Harlem. Harlem should be known for Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, and the glorious black community there, its churches, and City College. Fuck this Harlem Shake business in the eye
posted by angrycat at 7:53 AM on March 5, 2013


That being said, the Twin Peaks Harlem Shake was pretty sweet
posted by angrycat at 7:57 AM on March 5, 2013


To paraphrase William Gibson, "The Internets find their own uses for things".
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:58 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it would be weird and grotesque for me, a white person of my general background and mien, to imitate highly defined dance styles originated by black communities

The entire 1950s and early 1960s would disagree with you, unless you believe we need to go back to Lawrence Welk and waltzes and polkas, and leave the rock-and-roll to the Black folk. Any pop song that includes the phrase "Do the ... !" is all about getting people to do a dance, often innovated by black kids and musicians. Should we have left it as a quaint folkway, a private reservation?

More, this pigeonholing sounds pretty damn odious when you start looking at it from the other direction - who are these black people trying to do ballet, don't they realize how stupid they look? Who do they think they are, trying to appropriate European culture? An asian trying to square dance, how insulting!

Culture is fluid and changing and moves as it would. Heavy Metal in Botswana and Norway. Hip-hop in Arabic and Celtic. David Hasselhoff was a pop-star in Germany, Jerry Lewis a movie icon in France, and Iron Chef is still a cult hit, with new episodes and dozens of copycats in the US decades after it was cancelled in Japan. Japanese romance manga and Tin-Tin hardbacks and Superman comic books.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:58 AM on March 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


If they say they feel mocked I will believe them.

An important lesson for many people in these threads: You can feel mocked without anyone intending to mock you.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:58 AM on March 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


I guess I'm of the school of thought that if there is a trend called "The Harlem Shake," it's naming itself after a real place, and a place that has long been a creative center. So, when I first saw these dance videos popping up on YouTube, I presumed it represented some actual dance trend from Harlem.

And, of course, there is actually a dance called The Harlem Shake out of Harlem. And, despite people in this thread for some reason claiming it was played out years ago, it ain't. That should be no surprise. People were declaring break dancing played out a few months after it became popular. Crass declared punk dead in 1978. Somebody mentioned vogueing upthread -- still with us. Cultural trends rarely die, although sometimes they go back underground.

I understand the appeal of the Harlem Shake videos. It's a simple internet meme, easy to duplicate, and very fun. But it shouldn't have been too difficult for somebody to say "Is there a real Harlem Shake? Is this the right name? Maybe we should rename this?"

I mean, if I started writing limericks and calling it Harlem Renaissance, or if I taught my kids to sing and declared that they were the Harlem Boys Choir, you would think people would think twice. Harlem Shake? Nope.

So the people making these new Harlem Shake videos may not exactly be mocking people who actually still dance the Harlem Shake, but they are showing that they can't really be bothered to ask any basic questions. They don't have to. It doesn't affect the people who make the faux-Harlem Shake videos in any way that they are mislabeling them. It doesn't matter to them that it has effectively rebranded a 32-year-old dance that is still danced and developing in Harlem, and done so with what seems to be absolute ignorance of the original song. And perhaps you can sympathize with people who think that's a bit unfortunate and insensitive.

People do have a right to assert some control over the culture they create. And people are getting all rule lawyering here, behaving as though property rights are being claimed, or some other nonsense. No, that's not how it's being done. The assertion of control is being done the same way the culture was originally created, through cultural channels, through an attempt to represent the actual dance to a large group of people through the tools we use to communicate culture to each other. Of course they have the right to do that. And it is glorious.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:59 AM on March 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


When communities create original art, they have a right to some creative control over its definition.

Like, ideas just want to be free, man.
posted by slkinsey at 8:02 AM on March 5, 2013


> I just find her line tiresome and a peculiar mixture of forced playfulness, presumptive ownership of a cause, and an invocation of victimization in a case that's clearly not what she wants it to be. It's good meme time for her career, I suppose, and all press is probably good press, but I think her claim is mighty weak sauce.

Wow, you really dislike her. I don't know why you feel that way, but I don't know how anyone could watch that video and come away with such a nasty response.
posted by languagehat at 8:02 AM on March 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Can't we just enjoy a video of a bunch of college kids/hipsters/grandmas/horse trainers/rodeo clowns/swedes/Canadians dancing like they have forgotten shame and imagine it's some form of cultural colonization. Can't something just be fun without it being perceived as something being done at the expense of others?
posted by NiteMayr at 8:07 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey all you decadent Western people! Whatever it is you do on the dancefloor to Rasputin, that is NOT Russian dancing!

Well, you're drunk at least, so maybe you're doing it half right.
posted by Kabanos at 8:09 AM on March 5, 2013


You can call it nasty if you like. All I can say is that I watched it, found her smug, self-righteous, and condescending, and I find her arguments unconvincing. Manufacture as much troll fuel from that as you like, but it is, in fact, possible for two people to see the same video and come to different conclusions.
posted by sonascope at 8:09 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


All I can say is that I watched it, found her smug, self-righteous, and condescending, and I find her arguments unconvincing.

And in what way is your opinion on her personality adding to this discussion?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:11 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mind you, that's a group of black performers. Some from the UK, some from the Caribbean. Wait, the songwriter and producer is German. I'm loosing track of who's appropriating what.
posted by Kabanos at 8:13 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yet another Macarena story: years ago me and pips were having coffee at a mall cafe just before closing time. Our table was across from the FYE which had speakers and monitors facing outward. The employees must have thought it was already closing time since they put on a video of a woman doing the Macarena. IN THE NUDE. Which caused at least one customer to go ballistic, screaming "that's a naked girl! I got kids here, dammit!

Good times.
posted by jonmc at 8:16 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Slap*Happy: Any pop song that includes the phrase "Do the ... !" is all about getting people to do a dance, often innovated by black kids and musicians. Should we have left it as a quaint folkway, a private reservation?



See also The Watusi.

[wiki: /wɑːˈtuːsi/ is a solo dance that enjoyed brief popularity during the early 1960s.[1] It was the second-most popular dance craze in the 1960s in the United States, after the Twist...See also The Batusi, a dance named by analogy to the Watusi /Tutsi, a people also known as Watutsi, Watusi, or Batutsi, whose traditions include spectacular dances]
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:17 AM on March 5, 2013


When folks from Harlem look at it and say "This is mocking us," I don't see much reason to disbelieve them.

That's because they're being trolled in a mean-spirited way. If someone from Harlem saw these videos while surfing YouTube, I doubt very much that they'd assume it had anything to do with Harlem the neighborhood. It's pretty obviously named after the song, which clearly has nothing to do with the original Harlem Shake.

But if you walk up to someone on the street, shove a laptop in their face and say, "Look what people all over the world are calling the Harlem Shake!" then yeah, they're much more likely to think, "This is supposed to be about us?!" and feel like they're being mocked or something.

It's a simple internet meme, easy to duplicate, and very fun. But it shouldn't have been too difficult for somebody to say "Is there a real Harlem Shake? Is this the right name? Maybe we should rename this?"

You're right. Someone should have stood up in the middle of the YouTube room and waved their hands and said, "Hey! Everybody! Can we rename this thing? Could we get everyone to rename their videos to Trap Song Bass Drop Dance? Thanks!"
posted by straight at 8:20 AM on March 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Wait.

You people are talking like the Macarena is now in the past. Is it truly safe? Can I come out now? Is it... over?

OH MY GOD THEY PUT A WEDDING RECEPTION MARQUEE OVER MY FALLOUT SHELTER!
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:22 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


this just in, the men in the Moon have filed suit with the estate of Michael Jackson claiming his "moonwalk" has sullied the meaning of the mating dance of their peoples.
posted by stavx at 8:22 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're going to analyze an internet meme, and especially if you're going to do so by talking about cultural appropriation, you need to treat internet culture as real culture. It seems to me that this video treats memes as some sort of localized, national phenomenon. But internet culture is international. People from all over the world, from all kinds of different cultures and backgrounds, are creating Harlem Shake meme videos. They do so by relating to internet culture as internet culture, completely detached from its localized origins. Many of these people may not even know that Harlem is a real place, or if they do, they don't know anything about it or the people who live there and under what conditions and what their dancing looks like. They may not even understand English, given that the concept is simple enough to understand nonverbally. Seems myopic to reduce such an international phenomenon to "you should have known better." Even if the video only addresses the American part of the phenomenon, they have to relate to a meme as internet culture, just like everyone else, and internet culture is international and largely decontextualized.

Whether that is good or bad is another matter, but it is what it is.
posted by simen at 8:32 AM on March 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


And in what way is your opinion on her personality adding to this discussion?

I have no opinion on her personality. Don't know her, don't know anything about her, and am not a particularly big fan of this sort of TV commentary, but I can talk about this video. I do have an opinion on her presentation, and specifically on this presentation as cited in the FPP. I'm responding to being called "nasty" when I am not, in fact, being remotely nasty, and I have further responded by expressing why I take issue with her, which, if you don't think it belongs in the conversation, I have to wonder why, since you're so concerned with being the moderator of tone here, you would even bother to mention it.

I find the correspondent's presentation to be neither informative nor particularly worthy. She opens with a sort of withering attack on a straw man (The sample "let's do the Harlem shake" does not inherently mean that anyone listening is compelled to do an authorized version of a sort of collection of named regional dance moves from the last thirty-two years), claims that she wasn't going to say anything (of course, she was, or she wouldn't have), and goes on to make sure we know that this is not, she repeats, not the Harlem shake. From there, it's just one little jab and smug point after another in rapid succession, until she gets into a lets-get-serious indictment of a cultural wrong that has nothing at all to do with this meme (Really? She's comparing the Harlem shake meme to the Cotton Club? That's not a giant overstatement?), which is just fine as entertainment and preaching to the choir, but I find her argument wanting and her presentation poor.

If this is worthy of conversation, why not break out her claims (as I did in my very first comment) and discuss that, rather than play this little personality game on metafilter?
posted by sonascope at 8:36 AM on March 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


Dance like there's nobody watching you're considering all the racial, cultural, and socio-economic ramifications of your actions.

I think the saying goes: "Dance like there's nobody watching. Record video of yourself and upload it to YouTube like you're considering all the racial, cultural, and socio-econommic ramifications of your actions."
posted by straight at 8:38 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


[I am in fact the moderator of tone at this time, and I'm asking you to tone it down. Please assume good faith on the part of your interlocutor(s), thank you.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:49 AM on March 5, 2013


See also The Watusi.

And indeed The Crusher, which is absolutely due for a revival.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:50 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fun fact: The term "Harlem Shake" dates back to the 1970's, and was used to describe the writhing motions of a heroin/opiate withdrawal sufferer.

The cute ethnic dance craze is just a fun, symbolic representation of human degradation and misery.

Now rewatch the videos with a greater sense of context.
posted by Renoroc at 8:54 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


In T.I.'s Trap Muzik when he says "this ain't a game, this a trap" what he means is like "the corner", where people sell drugs. For TI, trap music is music about selling drugs, that you probably listen to while selling drugs. No idea what EDM people think it is.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:56 AM on March 5, 2013


I gotta say, I was most charmed by the wee montage of Harlem residents shaking their heads in a disappointed, quietly disgusted way, at YouTube clips of white people. I would probably watch like 22 minutes of that montage on a weekly basis.

Black People Hatin' On Stuff White People Like -- with your hosts, Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Justine Bateman. Music by DJ Jazzy Jeff & New Bohemians. Premiering this fall on NBC!
posted by gompa at 8:57 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, we can all say that if I dance at all to popular music I am dancing styles originated by African Americans and therefore [reducing arguments about race, context and specifics to a flat abstraction]. But I'm still going to look and feel stupid if I try to twerk, and I'm still going to have people of color who I actually know think that it's a stupid, bad, culturally appropriative idea, even though they don't care if I'm also out there flailing away to "Tightrope" or whatever. I mean, I think this whole question is really subtle, time-bound and complex, and trying to reduce it to "people dance the Watusi in 1960 so your argument is invalid" doesn't help very much.
posted by Frowner at 8:59 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


If someone from Harlem saw these videos while surfing YouTube, I doubt very much that they'd assume it had anything to do with Harlem the neighborhood.

Ultimately that's an empirical question that's impossible to answer, so we're both just making assumptions.

But my assumption is the other way -- if I see something called "the Harlem shake" or "the Texas shake," I'm likely to assume that it's some sort of reference to the place it's named after.

And if something is called "the Harlem shake" or "the Chinatown shake" or "the Reservation shake," I'm also likely to assume that it's a reference to the predominant race or ethnicity from that area.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:59 AM on March 5, 2013


When I first heard of the meme, I assumed it was some dance video out of Harlem. But as soon as I saw it, it was immediately obvious that "Harlem Shake" was just the random bass drop phrase from the song.
posted by straight at 9:04 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I saw her presentation as being a bit tongue in cheek, and a bit of smokescreen to provide a bit of context for putting a bunch of awesome dancers on what is normally a serious news show. I;m sure it was a slow news day and they had some time to fill, and what the hey, this'll be fun.

And while we're all aware that culture is fluid, and most of the time the intent behind cultural appropriation is harmless.(I'm sure despite all appearances to the contrary, the creators of Olive garden don't hate Italians)The fact still remains that as a person of color in a dominany white society, you're constantly navigating a minefield of misguided appropriations of your culture that span the range from humorous to mildly embarrasing to downright offensive. Everything from shitty attempts at accents, to racist "compliments", and being forced to watching some drung frat boy start "breakdancing" just because he noticed a there was a black person in the room, and then come up and attempt s a clumsy soul brother handshake to show how down he is. Seriously, that has happened to me so many times that I can actually spot the dude who's going to do it, before he even knows it's about to happen.

These things aren't offensive in a "you're crushing my civil rights "way. It's more of a simple I was having a good time, and now you're making it awkward, dude. Sometimes we like to make it awkward right back, by pointing and laughing and saying "hey, dumbass, you're doing it wrong"
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:05 AM on March 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Fun fact: The term "Harlem Shake" dates back to the 1970's, and was used to describe the writhing motions of a heroin/opiate withdrawal sufferer.


I know cit. req is bad form, but I would counsel caution about these etiologies without a solid attestation. The first use of the term to describe a dance move was apparently by Al B in the early 80s, but the inspiration for the steps is variously credited to Ethiopia, Egypt, alcohol...

INAE, but I'd like a solid historical example of heroin withdrawal being called the "Harlem Shake" in the 70s.

(Meanwhile, from our good news desk, nobody is watching Harlem Shake virals produced by ad agencies. There is a God.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:07 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Culture is fluid and changing and moves as it would. Heavy Metal in Botswana and Norway. Hip-hop in Arabic and Celtic. David Hasselhoff was a pop-star in Germany, Jerry Lewis a movie icon in France, and Iron Chef is still a cult hit, with new episodes and dozens of copycats in the US decades after it was cancelled in Japan. Japanese romance manga and Tin-Tin hardbacks and Superman comic books.

This is a naive argument, though, because it presupposes both that, first, the fundamental actors in cultural interchange are cultures and not people, and second, that art is a privileged, enlightened space where the usual power imbalances between groups fall away and we're left with a purely egalitarian exchange of ideas. I think both of those presuppositions are wrong. It's also worth noting that none of your examples operate in the mode of cultural appropriation, wherein something practiced by a culture on the disadvantaged side of a power imbalance is adopted by a culture on the advantaged side.
posted by invitapriore at 9:15 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


INAE, but I'd like a solid historical example of heroin withdrawal being called the "Harlem Shake" in the 70s.

I did a little search for this, and the only reference I found is vaguely mocking comments on YouTube videos by people who associate it either with heroine or crack addiction; it seems less like legitimate slang from the 70s and more of a way for people to mock the dance. I have a book called "Drugs from A to Z," from 1974, which is about as comprehensive a list of drug slang as I have ever read; it doesn't list "Harlem Shake," but I suppose it is possible the phrase came later.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:17 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I first heard of the meme, I assumed it was some dance video out of Harlem. But as soon as I saw it, it was immediately obvious that "Harlem Shake" was just the random bass drop phrase from the song.

Wayl, it made me uncomfortable the first time I saw it. I suppose I can't see the phrase as random; it didn't just fall out of a markov chain. And I suppose I think people, especially congregations of white folks, ought to think a little about what they call the Harlem anything, or other names that are pretty much unavoidably racialized.

Or: if the random phrase for the bass drop were "do the Rez shake" or "do the teepee shake," would it still be funny and harmless?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:21 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty blind to internet memes and viral videos, but I'd imagine the main problem is the usage of "Harlem Shake" without any consideration for what that label might mean. If Wikipedia is to be believed, the examples of the Harlem Shake (or "albee?") is noticeably different than what's going on in the current meme, and it does not appear to be in any shape or form an evolution of a past style to a contemporary one.

Perhaps it is a bad example, but I liken it to how some folk do not take issue with modern Kabuki plays performed in English with non-Japanese actors because at its heart, it follows the form and structure of traditional plays.
posted by CancerMan at 9:27 AM on March 5, 2013


Fun fact: The term "Harlem Shake" dates back to the 1970's, and was used to describe the writhing motions of a heroin/opiate withdrawal sufferer.

You may be thinking of the Jake walk, a.k.a. Jake leg.
posted by Etrigan at 9:58 AM on March 5, 2013


I strongly suspect that, for nearly everyone, this was just a meme that came out of nowhere, with no context. The people putting up videos probably had no more intent to mock black people than they meant to mock Koreans by putting up all those Gangnam parodies. They just saw a fun thing, and wanted to play too.

The original thing is, after all, a decade old, and fairly obscure, apparently. Considering how long this counter-video has taken to show up, the number of people that knew about the original must have been a tiny fraction of the total audience. If there was actually any kind of broad racist intent here, someone would have cried foul much, much sooner.

I can't speak to the mindset of the original creator, but I think the overall spirit of the mainstream audience is best described as Gangnam, not blackface.
posted by Malor at 10:04 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to plant a flag, but focusing on intent rather than consequence seems to be focusing on whether the offenders are bad people rather than on how we can reduce offense.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:13 AM on March 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


the inspiration for the steps is variously credited to Ethiopia, Egypt, alcohol...

For the original "harlem shake" I'd say Ethiopia, or the Eskista Dance. (Surprised no one mentioned it.)

What's interesting is that Melissa Harris-Perry doesn't mention "Al B" ... who pretty much invented it, no? Here is a 2003 Interview.

On preview, I agree the intent doesn't matter. But is the offense the song or the meme? I dunno. I'm not a fan of the "meme" as it were, but I don't have much of a problem calling it "the Harlem Shake" b/c, well, that's the name of the song. I can understand the offense, but I'm not taking any. I'm not much of a fan of cultural appropriation, but I don't care much about authenticity either. *triple shrug and head shake*
posted by mrgrimm at 10:17 AM on March 5, 2013


Thank God some white MeFites have declared it A-OK to continue misappropriating cultural capital from African Americans, especially because hip hop.
posted by klangklangston at 10:20 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I am glad that the morning after our online coms dude suggested an office-wide Harlem Shake video, the yutzes on Good Morning America did it and we were able to declare the meme dead.
posted by klangklangston at 10:22 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I, for one, barely knew it was alive
posted by jonmc at 10:26 AM on March 5, 2013


It's also worth noting that none of your examples operate in the mode of cultural appropriation, wherein something practiced by a culture on the disadvantaged side of a power imbalance is adopted by a culture on the advantaged side.

Well, first, you're wrong - New York in the late '30s was a much nicer place to be than Japan or Belgium in the late '40s. White metalheads in Norway are far more affluent than the Black jump-blues acts in Memphis from which rock, the progenitor of Metal, came from.

Secondly, I'm not at all convinced there is an inherent moral component to cultural appropriation dependent on a careful measuring of who-has-power-over-who: unless it's deliberately exclusive or damaging in its appropriation (whitewashing asian roles, for instance), it's unnatural and itself immoral to use a baloney "moral scale" to dictate who gets to participate and who does not, or how they interpret and re-use the human experience in their own way.

You're arguing, in essence, that Apotheosis' recontextualization of "O Fortuna" is acceptable culturally because the Orf estate had more money for lawyers, whereas Baauer's recontextualization is unacceptable because he's a Latino from Philly and not Harlem? Or, worse, Apotheosis is acceptable because those listening to it were middle-class urban kids instead of wealthy urbanites, and Baauer is not worthy, because it's popular globally and across strata, and not restricted to those cultural groups with the exact same advantages/disadvantages to those living in Harlem?

It's a convoluted calculus not really worth paying any attention to unless real harm is done (propaganda, whitewashing, stereotype reinforcement, etc.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:27 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


That being said, the Twin Peaks Harlem Shake was pretty sweet

Oh, no it wasn't. You made me look it up and now I feel bad for Kyle McLachlan. He has a great career!
posted by mrgrimm at 10:29 AM on March 5, 2013


Not to plant a flag, but focusing on intent rather than consequence seems to be focusing on whether the offenders are bad people rather than on how we can reduce offense.

Given that some would argue that the best way to "reduce offense" would be for the offendees to develop thicker skins, I do think that it makes sense to focus on getting people not to be bad people in general.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:43 AM on March 5, 2013


Interestingly, G Dep, who's 2001 video Let's Get It is shown in the OP video, has been on Metafilter before.

Comparing Harlem to a reservation, the whole "reservation shake" thing, makes me feel kinda odd, I'm like 10 blocks from 125. Of course in New York geographical distance loses a lot of it's meaning. Do I have grounds to chime in on the harlem shake, all the old timers think I live in harlem, or am I one of the forces of gentrification.

I've tried to argue before that we should be sensitive about appropriation when dealing with artforms, such as rap, that started out as fundamentally expressions of non-white experience in America.

That being said, I'm not so sure doing a dance badly, not badly on purpose as mockery, but badly through incompetence, should be viewed as an insult. But how do we determine the intent of the dancer? We can't really. So you better do it well or not at all.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:44 AM on March 5, 2013


Well, first, you're wrong - New York in the late '30s was a much nicer place to be than Japan or Belgium in the late '40s. White metalheads in Norway are far more affluent than the Black jump-blues acts in Memphis from which rock, the progenitor of Metal, came from.

This is really, really reaching. Manga didn't really have a foothold in the US until the 80s, so taking about Japan in the late 40s is a bizarre non sequitur, and ignoring how many genre-transformational steps there are in between Memphis jump blues and the first American metal bands makes that a similarly irrelevant comparison, not to mention one area being "a much nicer place to be" is a straw man version of how one might actually characterize inter-group power dynamics.

As to your next paragraph, the point of labeling something as cultural appropriation is to place it in a context of the perpetuation of the power imbalances it depends on, which is a concrete harm even if it's more subtle than any of the more obvious examples you cite of "real harm." Also, this straw man about anyone "[dictating]" anything needs to stop. Pointing out that something is problematic is not the same as ordering people around. It just isn't.

I'm ignoring your third paragraph because you just made that argument up and attributed it to me, and my point isn't that reasonable people can't disagree about whether any particular art object constitutes an instance of cultural appropriation but that, by your formulation, cultural appropriation just doesn't really exist and isn't ever something to worry about and I think that's plainly false.

Finally, you flatten "the human experience" into one undifferentiated space that any artist can pick bits from at will, but I think that conceptualization of how art works is one born of privilege. A privileged borrower doesn't see how their appropriation takes a practice out of its cultural context and turns it into a caricature, or how the widespread adoption of that practice on the part of the dominant culture crowds out the already compromised voice of the originating culture. I'm not saying these things happen in every instance of cultural interchange, but they do in some, and absolving yourself of the responsibility to decide which is which by casting the whole process as some sort of implacable force seems lazy to me.
posted by invitapriore at 11:10 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would like to see this conversation fully rounded out by someone doing a copypasta of three or more paragraphs from an article in lieu of actually typing something themselves to make a point.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:30 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't the real yuck factor is that the Harlem Shake requires talent to do it well, and the new Harlem Shake requires nothing but iMovie and a bunch of cohorts? Thereby Harlem Shake becomes a punch line?

I dunno, I love Harlem. There's still great pockets of poverty. And so much life. It irks me greatly to have such a silly thing representing, in the minds of many, Harlem, thereby obscuring both the wonders and hardships of the people there.

A bit like today's Tea Party agenda obscures what was going on with the historical event. Although I have so much hate already for today's TP I give 0 fucks as to what they call themselves.
posted by angrycat at 11:34 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Regarding dancing: "So you better do it well or not at all."

Fuck. That.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:40 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Regarding dancing: "So you better do it well or not at all."

Fuck. That


That was about appropriating, not dancing. You want to be eminem, not vanilla ice. I doubt this would be an issue if all the Harlem shake videos on YouTube were as good as the the dancing in the OP video
posted by Ad hominem at 11:47 AM on March 5, 2013


Am I the only one that sees this as primarily a reaction to electronic music? Especially the masks and jump cut after the bass is dropped. The outfits in the videos are often remarkably raceless (I mean, I can't tell if a person in a motorcycle or chicken suit or whatever is white or black or what) and a lot of the moves aren't really reminiscent of imitating hip-hop dancing.

And if something is called... "the Reservation shake"

I kind of feel this doesn't work, because I can't imagine a song being called "the reservation shake" without being intentionally racist, or at least being a commentary on life in a reservation. In contrast, Harlem is a place prominently mentioned in hip hop songs, which are often sampled in electronic music. If there were tons of electro songs that sampled reservation songs I would feel differently. I honestly think the meme would work just as well if it were the "Electro shake" or the "Sockhop shake" or whatever. I might be biased though, because I find the videos inexplicably hilarious (I think it's that the mere incantation of the Harlem shake instantaneously induces everyone into a ridiculous party mode).

I will concede that I don't read youtube comments, and I'm sure someone has taken the Harlem shake to a place of racial hatred, just like youtube comments take videos of adorable bunnies to places of racial hatred.
posted by fermezporte at 11:57 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was about appropriating, not dancing. You want to be eminem, not vanilla ice. I doubt this would be an issue if all the Harlem shake videos on YouTube were as good as the the dancing in the OP video

The idea that whether a video is offensive or not is based on whether you're a skilled dancer is completely appalling. As is all too often the case, conversations about appropriate behavior reveal themselves as mere aesthetics policing.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:59 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well what I said is what I think makes it offensive is whether it is done in a mocking way. The op video and the Harlem reacts video primarily point out that it is being done incorrectly. Is it being done incorrectly because they are mocking the Harlem shake or are they doing it incorrectly because are ignorant of the Harlem shake or are simply bad dancers? So yeah, I think it partly comes down to aesthetics, if the people on YouTube had done the dance in a way residents of Harlem considered correct, I don't think this would be an issue.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:07 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Finally, you flatten "the human experience" into one undifferentiated space that any artist can pick bits from at will, but I think that conceptualization of how art works is one born of privilege

I refuse to be called lazy by someone who privilege-checks. I think you just dropped the p-bomb without knowing the slightest bit about me, my experiences, education or upbringing. Rummaging around other people's invisible backpacks is rude.

A privileged borrower doesn't see how their appropriation takes a practice out of its cultural context and turns it into a caricature

This is an assertion you will need to go a loooooooong way to prove as a universal.

how the widespread adoption of that practice on the part of the dominant culture crowds out the already compromised voice of the originating culture

Yeah, this is easily countered by a gajillion examples of where that isn't the case. At all. Poor urban kids still rap. Poor whites still line-dance in honkytonks long after Billy Ray Cyrus left the spotlight. Aboriginal musicians still use the didgeridoo long after Phish stopped touring. Urban kids still tag, even though when I was in middle school all of the white, middle class suburban jocks had a "tag book" where they scribbled down their designs with markers. "Def Poetry Jam" didn't do much to stifle slam poetry, despite the hysterics in the community at the time that it would. It's simply not true in most cases.

I'm not saying these things happen in every instance of cultural interchange, but they do in some, and absolving yourself of the responsibility to decide which is which by casting the whole process as some sort of implacable force seems lazy to me.

You need to re-read. I specifically called out real (not imagined) instances of harm - you appear to want me to decide that "nebulously bad in some way we can't define" is harm.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:07 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I first saw these on YouTube (the silly videos), they made me smile because they were so fun, and the people involved are clearly filled a kind of ridiculous, uninhibited joy.

The news report and reaction video has completely shut that joy down for me. I didn't know it was based on anything, borrowed from anything, insulting anything. I don't think 99.9% of the people involved in the videos knew, either. I don't think there was any malicious intent, but once that's perceived and publicized, that's that. Fun's over.

I have to take issue with whoever said that "if people are offended, by all means, shut it down." I don't think this is a good policy, in general, because lots of people are offended by lots of things, which would leave nearly everything "shut down."

I come from two different nationalities/cultures, so I understand the need for respecting culture, and I understand how something that everyone is innocently laughing at can be unintentionally insulting (but still: insulting). Yes, yes. Still, this whole thing makes me sad.
posted by MoxieProxy at 12:19 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I didn't say it was born of your privilege -- it's certainly possible to adopt an idea that relies on privileges that you yourself don't benefit from, that particular conception of art is pretty fairly widespread, and I wasn't making any assumptions about you in particular when I said that, so I'm sorry I phrased it that way. As for the rest of it, I say in that last sentence you quote that those scenarios I posited specifically aren't universals, and when they happen they are exactly instances of the "real harm" you talk about. The point is that in your argument against considering the Harlem Shake meme as an instance of cultural appropriation you actually preclude the possibility of labeling anything as cultural appropriation on the basis of it doing real harm, because that's just how art works and we can't do anything to stop it, or at least that's how it reads to me.
posted by invitapriore at 12:21 PM on March 5, 2013


You guys are putting way more thought into this than the guys who made the video or the song did. This wasn't the production of a massive marketing machine who was trying to figure out how to tap into the big "Harlem Shake" dollar. There was no "Harlem Shake" dollar. Black people are not uniquely capable of inventing dance music genres or stupid dance trends, and white people don't entirely depend on black people for innovation. EDM is a giant, global phenomenon where everybody steals from everyone. This was one guy who was barely on a record label with a soundcloud page and four kids on in New Zealand who downloaded and decided to make a dumb video with the last song that came up when they hit shuffle on fucking iTunes. Save your outrage for some shit that deserves it.
posted by empath at 12:29 PM on March 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Just because no money was made, and because this was a product of obliviousness, does not mean it is not worth discussing this as an example of cultural appropriation. In fact, this seems like a very good sample to discuss.

I mean, if you disagree that this is not an example of cultural appropriation, that's a discussion that can be had. If you don't think this is worth discussing at all -- well, there really are a ton of other threads on the blue today. There probably is something in one of those other threads that you might enjoy discussing.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:33 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Monetizing the Harlem Shake
posted by exogenous at 12:37 PM on March 5, 2013


You guys are putting way more thought into this than the guys who made the video or the song did.

Well and maybe that's the problem.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:46 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean, if you disagree that this is not an example of cultural appropriation, that's a discussion that can be had.

I'd say that producing a commercial electronic dance song and naming it "Harlem Shake" is a fine example of cultural appropriation ... however, Baauer lived in Harlem for a few years. Does that give him any "moral authority" (fwiw, I don't believe in that notion) to write a song using the name of the geography and the dance? Dunno. I'd say he doesn't need that authority anyway.

I'd say that the viral-video fad that has sprung up around said song is not cultural appropriation. The reason that it is called "Harlem Shake" is because of the song name, not the dancing.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:48 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a funny review of the phenomenon in Charlie Booker's Weekly Wipe. It's a short piece that runs from about 7:04 to 10:00.
posted by who squared at 1:01 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


You guys really know how to kill a fun thing.

I'm admittedly a white girl from the SW. I don't know jack about Harlem (is it NYC? or another city?). I'm also apparently completely ignorant and offensively perpetrating a racial attack because I enjoy silly people dancing to a sound clip I'd never heard before. I didn't know it was naming a dance move. Hell, I didn't know that dance moves HAD names beyond dorky coordinated stuff at weddings.

Seriously, there are office/Russian/Egyptian/firefighter/military/everycollegeever/dog/Google versions that are just silly enough and just short enough to perk up my day when I get home.

But that's all over now. It's a real shame that we can't try and educate people before we accuse them of evil. Or maybe just forgive them for participating in a meme instead of trying to ascribe some deep, underlying meaning.
posted by Vysharra at 1:58 PM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's a real shame that we can't try and educate people before we accuse them of evil.

I just command-F'd "evil" for this thread and guess where it was used precisely once.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:00 PM on March 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


You guys really know how to kill a fun thing.

Don't worry. The chances that anyone who posted a video also reads this thread are virtually nil.
posted by Ardiril at 2:05 PM on March 5, 2013


I just command-F'd "evil" for this thread and guess where it was used precisely once.

You don't think appropriation and stereotypes are evil? Guess that's just how you roll...
posted by crank at 2:15 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Time to report to the dance reeducation camps, folks.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:16 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know jack about Harlem (is it NYC? or another city?)

Absolutely, completely serious question (to you or anyone): is the Harlem Renaissance not a required part of the English curriculum in all high schools? It was covered in literally every English class I took between 6th and 12th grade but I have no idea if that's because I went to school in NYC or not.
posted by griphus at 2:18 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just command-F'd "evil" for this thread and guess where it was used precisely once.

I think that "racism" and "racist" are spelled a little differently, but they mean precisely the same thing.
posted by Vysharra at 2:23 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


He didn't appropriate anything from Harlem. The music is as much Dutch House as it is trap, which was also not from Harlem. The "harlem shake" vocal sample is from an indie rapper from Philadelphia.

You guys don't understand the cultural context that produced the song, you have only seen the stupid videos.

Go to any party at the Paradox in Baltimore where you have black kids and white kids dancing together to this music and Baltimore club and rave music at the same party, and you'll see that it's not at all what you think. You guys are fighting battles from the sixties. The EDM scene that's making this music is integrated and there are as many black producers as white producers making it together and throwing parties together. Making this about race is fucking ridiculous.
posted by empath at 2:25 PM on March 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


I think that "racism" and "racist" are spelled a little differently, but they mean precisely the same thing.
As an aside, I think there's an essay to be written about why any accusation of a racial offense is so often reduced to 'Are you a racist?' It would be as if my wife said, 'You forgot to check Samori's homework' and I responded, 'I'm not a bad father.' -- Ta-Nahisi Coates
posted by shakespeherian at 2:32 PM on March 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


I kinda doubt most of the people doing YouTube videos understand EDM, Baltimore house, indie rappers from philidelphia or any of that either. Those are what the OP video, and most of this debate, is about.

My mind is now blown when I consider there may be people who don't even know Harlem is a real place. I'm going to have to reconsider my entire worldview, perhaps New York is not the center of the world after all.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:38 PM on March 5, 2013


Gah! So you thought Harlem was, like, some weird dude's name? I mean, for real. I mean, I couldn't point to Nashville on a map, but I fucking know it's a fucking important cultural place.
posted by angrycat at 2:40 PM on March 5, 2013


It's a real shame that we can't try and educate people before we accuse them of evil.

Yeah, that's exactly what the posted video does. It educates those who may not know that there is indeed a dance called the Harlem Shake, and provides a context for why a certain group of people care that it's currently being mislabeled. That's it. Any notions of attack or evil are entirely up to individuals to determine on their own. I can personally guarantee that Al Sharpton will not be picketing anyone's house over this.

This topic reminds me of when I learned that in some Italian American communities, what the rest of us call "spaghetti sauce" is called "gravy". Learning this didn't mean what I think of as gravy is now some sort of slight against an entire group of people. It just meant that when I have dinner with my Italian friends, I have some context that helps us all get along better, and also gets me more gravy.

Griphus, I would imagine that's probably just a NY thing. Otherwise you'd have to pretty much be in schools with a heavy focus on Black history as a prominent part of the curriculum. Which sadly is not a widespread thing.
posted by billyfleetwood at 2:41 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I apologize for the vehemence. Angrycat is having an angry day. 'though, damn, I thought everybody knew where roughly Harlem is.
posted by angrycat at 2:42 PM on March 5, 2013


You guys don't understand the cultural context that produced the song, you have only seen the stupid videos.

I'd bet money that this applies to at least 90% of the people who made the diy videos, too. Bunch of people in an office making a video of their co-workers dancing like people dance in the original video? Yeah, they mostly don't know anything about the EDM scene either.
posted by rtha at 2:45 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


damn, I thought everybody knew where roughly Harlem is.

I know where it is! But... you've misspelled it!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:52 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Griphus, I would imagine that's probably just a NY thing. Otherwise you'd have to pretty much be in schools with a heavy focus on Black history as a prominent part of the curriculum. Which sadly is not a widespread thing."

Stuff like this is always surprising to me. I went to school in Michigan, to a set of progressive schools, yeah, but still we got the Harlem Renaissance, as well as more Richard Wright than was necessary and a shit-ton of LGBT folks to boot. And this was over a decade ago! It's so weird for me that California is still in apoplectics over teaching about Harvey Milk and I keep having to check myself because I just assumed everyone learned about that.
posted by klangklangston at 2:52 PM on March 5, 2013


I was taught about the Harlem Renaissance in my high school in New Hampshire, but then, in New Hampshire... they teach you... everything.

*eyes begin to bleed*
posted by Greg Nog at 2:59 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


LONGER THAN YOU THINK, DAD, LONGER THAN YOU THINK
posted by shakespeherian at 3:03 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


As someone who's never even set foot on the same continent as Harlem, and had not a single history lesson on the Harlem Renaissance (or anything else Harlem), it boggles my mind that there are people IN AMERICA who don't know where Harlem is.
posted by Dysk at 3:03 PM on March 5, 2013



damn, I thought everybody knew where roughly Harlem is.

I know where it is! But... you've misspelled it!


Funnily enough, when the Dutch colonized Manhattan, they were only hanging out at the southern part of the island, with natives occupying what is now Harlem. There were conflicts, of course; one when a NA killed maybe a settler or two and the Dutch retaliated in a major fashion, cutting of the heads of the then-Harlem residents and giving them to their Dutch women to play soccer or football or whatever the Dutch do with balls on the ground.

Harlem is always getting the shaft, is what I'm saying.
posted by angrycat at 3:05 PM on March 5, 2013


I also went to school in New York, I don't know that we covered the Harlem Renaissance specifically but we certainly covered some authors associated with it. We must have covered some of the history of Harlem because I remember we covered Strivers Row.

Aside from Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Langston Hughes both of which are pretty closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance we covered Beloved, Sula, Invisible Man, Autobiography of Malcolm X, Black Boy and a few others I can't remember.

It wasn't till college we covered Audrey Lorde.

I hope everyone reads at least a couple of those books, if not, they are really missing out.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:06 PM on March 5, 2013


So we've established that the producer didn't steal anything from Harlem, and that the people who are making the videos don't know what the Harlem shake is, then how is anything being appropriated here?
posted by empath at 3:07 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think for a fruitful conversation to be had about this, or the like, the real understanding should be about implied/casual racism, and the arguments for and against whether that happened should probably be clearly laid along those tracks.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:23 PM on March 5, 2013


I think Greg Nog and Shakespherian just appropriated The Jaunt by Stephen King.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:46 PM on March 5, 2013


Harlem is always getting the shaft, is what I'm saying.

Shaft lived in the East Village.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:47 PM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Here's where someone reminds you that not everyone on Metafilter is American, so expecting your cultural knowledge to be shared across the user base is presumptuous. I mean, I know where Harlem is, but practically speaking Haarlem is just as important to me.

Also, it's been stated already, but a large number of the Harlem Shake videos are, similarly, not American.

That being said, I think it's deeply problematic for people to be saying that Al Roker should know better than to be in a Harlem Shake video, or to suggest that only black people can really come from Harlem.
posted by gadge emeritus at 4:05 PM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


It would be as if my wife said, 'You forgot to check Samori's homework' and I responded, 'I'm not a bad father.'

I don't understand that analogy. If you forgot to check your child's homework every day, yes, you would be a bad father. And a father who forgets to check his child's homework once is a worse father than one who never forgets (everything else exactly alike). No?

is the Harlem Renaissance not a required part of the English curriculum in all high schools?

I'd say most high schools do not cover it. I went to a private school and took a whole quarter on black/African American literature and the only Harlem Renaissance writer I could probably name would be Langston Hughes ... (unfortunately, I also bailed on Their Eyes Were Watching God in college ... I'll have to make that one up) ... got much much more (too much) of Richard Baldwin, enough of Richard Wright and never enough Amira Baraka. I could probably do much better on the musicians (Fitzgerald, Ellington, Holliday, etc.). They're more famous ...

posted by mrgrimm at 4:24 PM on March 5, 2013


I think Greg Nog and Shakespherian just appropriated The Jaunt by Stephen King.

Maybe King got it from me but then took a shortcut with Mrs. Todd.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:25 PM on March 5, 2013


"is the Harlem Renaissance not a required part of the English curriculum in all high schools?

Nope. I've heard of it, I've heard some of the names associated with it, I may have read a short story or novel excerpt once or twice in school but in essence no.
posted by MikeMc at 5:17 PM on March 5, 2013


Shoot, I went to high school in rural Alaska, and we covered the Harlem Renaissance.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:17 PM on March 5, 2013


And Rock and Roll no longer means fornication.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:23 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


♫ Heeeeey, Macarena ♫

CAN I GET A TRIGGER WARNING NEXT TIME, PLEASE?

For I, like jonmc, was subjected to nude Macarena. Except it wasn't on a video...it was an entire party of drunkasses in the house across the street from me my last summer in college.

Scarred. Scarred for life, I tells you.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:24 PM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Shoot, I went to high school in rural Alaska, and we covered the Harlem Renaissance.

Oh we covered it, but it was one, maybe two class periods. This is who, what, when and where, read this short story there will be a quiz tomorrow. So covered, yes. Devoted any significant amount of time to it, no.
posted by MikeMc at 5:55 PM on March 5, 2013


Ah, well by that standard we didn't devote time to *anything* except Shakespeare. He got two weeks.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:09 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


For the original "harlem shake" I'd say Ethiopia, or the Eskista Dance . (Surprised no one mentioned it.)

Interesting data point, but I must say: that video loses some credibility as a traditional, not-influenced-by-western-culture Ethiopian dance when the dancer in a Nirvana tee turns up.
posted by charlemangy at 7:19 PM on March 5, 2013


Cultural appropriation works both ways.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:49 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


10 LOAD $CRAZE
20 GOSUB BEANPLATE
30 WAIT 86400*7
40 GOTO 10
posted by crapmatic at 10:33 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


shakespeherian: It would be as if my wife said, 'You forgot to check Samori's homework' and I responded, 'I'm not a bad father.'

mrgrimm: I don't understand that analogy. If you forgot to check your child's homework every day, yes, you would be a bad father. And a father who forgets to check his child's homework once is a worse father than one who never forgets (everything else exactly alike). No?

To continue the derail - why would any father (or any parent for that matter) have a need to check their child's homework? If it was simply to check they'd done it, then fair enough, but if the parent is combing through and correcting their child's homework before they hand it in, then the teacher has no way of telling whether the work they're being asked to mark belongs to the child or to the parent, so they can't tell if the subject is something that the child needs more help with. Which ultimately ends up depriving the child. It's artificially inflating the child's current school grades at the expense of them having the chance to learn something.
posted by talitha_kumi at 5:24 AM on March 6, 2013


Absolutely, completely serious question (to you or anyone): is the Harlem Renaissance not a required part of the English curriculum in all high schools?

It wasn't in mine. At least, not in the Honors-level English classes I took. (Eastern Connecticut, 1980's.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:35 AM on March 6, 2013


I don't understand that analogy. If you forgot to check your child's homework every day, yes, you would be a bad father. And a father who forgets to check his child's homework once is a worse father than one who never forgets (everything else exactly alike). No?

Could we get a definition of "checking your child's homework"? Otherwise this sounds kinda strident.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:36 AM on March 6, 2013


Fun fact: The term "Harlem Shake" dates back to the 1970's, and was used to describe the writhing motions of a heroin/opiate withdrawal sufferer.

The cute ethnic dance craze is just a fun, symbolic representation of human degradation and misery.

Now rewatch the videos with a greater sense of context.
posted by Renoroc at 4:54 PM on March 5


Cool! Now we can get all offended about it for another reason!
posted by Decani at 5:45 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, did we just see a derail about Ta-Nehisi Coates being a bad father?

This does not feel to me like a refutation of his suggestion that people raise the stakes like crazy around this stuff...
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:50 AM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't understand that analogy. If you forgot to check your child's homework every day, yes, you would be a bad father. And a father who forgets to check his child's homework once is a worse father than one who never forgets (everything else exactly alike). No?

The point is that instead of answering the question or addressing what may be a specific one-time problematic behavior, you're immediately jumping to a character defense, which derails the situation. 'I'm not a bad father' doesn't answer the question of whether you checked your kid's homework, and asking whether you checked the kid's homework is not looking for an answer as to whether you are a bad father. Yet time and again in situations where someone points out problematic racial implications of a situation the response is 'I'm not a racist,' as though that addresses the issue.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:54 AM on March 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Well, duh, I get the point. It's just a shitty analogy. Charges of racism are much more potentially damaging than being called a bad father. Nobody gives a shit of you're a bad father (see: Bing Crosby).

Harlem Shake is the #1 song in the country for the 2nd week in a row. It's pretty amazing how YouTube determines pop music success these days.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:12 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Could we get a definition of "checking your child's homework"? Otherwise this sounds kinda strident.

I was taking as an accepted law of this hypothetical universe that a good father checks his child's homework every day. It was an arbitrary rule used to define "good father" for the purpose of refuting the shitty analogy.

Personally, I do not believe a good father needs to check his child's homework.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:15 AM on March 6, 2013


It was an arbitrary rule used to define "good father" for the purpose of refuting the shitty analogy.

...Maybe the fact that it was a shitty analogy was kind of the point?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:18 AM on March 6, 2013


Charges of racism are much more potentially damaging than being called a bad father.

So? The point is that one is moving from addressing a specific problem to assuming the question was actually about one's character, as though that can be defined apart from specific problems. It shifts the goalposts into theory and hypotheticals.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:18 AM on March 6, 2013


Harlem Shake is the #1 song in the country for the 2nd week in a row. It's pretty amazing how YouTube determines pop music success these days.

As noted in that link, Billboard just started including YouTube views in its charting algorithm. I can't link to it from behind my work firewall, but there's a good Grantland story about the phenomenon: "'Harlem Shake,' 'Thrift Shop,' and YouTube's music revolution."
posted by Etrigan at 10:25 AM on March 6, 2013


Billboard Cover Story: "Literally unbelievable"
posted by mrgrimm at 10:40 AM on March 6, 2013


Is It 'Fair' That Baauer Gets The Proceeds From Harlem Shake Videos, Despite Having Little To Do With Meme Popularity?

An interesting discussion on a fundamental copyright flaw (totally aside from the fact that Baauer didn't pay for the Plastic Little sample ...)

Wait, no one has mentioned the Plastic Little sample yet?!?! Huh. That seems fairly critical to this conversation, no?

Here it is, around 3:55.

Regardless of the distinctions between "racist" and "racism" and how racist actions are often poorly defended, I'm having a hard time seeing anything racist in this whole thing (other than the racism that's inherent in our culture, i.e. the fact that Harlem is famous for being a black neighborhood and that distinctions between races exist.)

The cultural offense is misappropriating Al B's dance, (I think) but then the only offender there is Plastic Little, correct? Or is Baauer offensive too for not considering the possibility that his EDM song would become a viral dance hit and that many people would think this new novelty dance was actually the Harlem Shake ... We're getting into trademark defense territory here. I mean really.

Or I suppose the offense comes from Filthy Frank, who denigrated black dance culture (albeit from Al B) by associating a classic dance step with frantic flailing? I guess I could see that, but I don't agree.

Something like Ice, Ice, Baby, the offense is obvious. Here I don't think any of these behaviors or actions are racist (again, other than the inherent racism in our media culture that showers much more attention on things white people do than on other races.)
posted by mrgrimm at 10:55 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


there's a good Grantland story about the phenomenon: "'Harlem Shake,' 'Thrift Shop,' and YouTube's music revolution."

Here it is.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:06 AM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Harlem Shake" is latest battle between secularists and Islamists in attempts to shape Tunisia's identity.
posted by Rangeboy at 12:36 PM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


nor does it mean that "Thrift Shop" isn't the most irritating song on the charts at the moment.

He obviously doesn't listen to Top 40 radio, or he would know that Swedish House Mafia's "Don't You Worry Child" is still No. 10.

If "Friday" came out today, Rebecca Black would have a no. 1 record.

I was just thinking about that the other day. I heard a new song I could have sworn was Rebecca Black. Maybe ke$ha? YEAH. If I'm not mistaken, that song is modeled on Friday.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:55 PM on March 8, 2013


No one can convince me that Ke$ha is not a parody of pop music. Tik Tok is a hilariously dead-on skewering of almost every terrible pop cliche of the decade.
posted by straight at 6:38 PM on March 8, 2013


Royal Opera House Harlem Shake
posted by memebake at 1:18 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


griphus: I don't know jack about Harlem (is it NYC? or another city?)

Absolutely, completely serious question (to you or anyone): is the Harlem Renaissance not a required part of the English curriculum in all high schools? It was covered in literally every English class I took between 6th and 12th grade but I have no idea if that's because I went to school in NYC or not.
Nope, not required. It's dangerously naive to assume that all US education is the same. I once dated an intelligent woman who'd never read Shakespeare; her high school did not require reading even Romeo & Juliet, to my amazement.

(For the record, I did not mean to appropriate English culture or demean them in any way when I read it out loud in class.)
posted by IAmBroom at 1:29 AM on April 2, 2013


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