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The real story of the “Harlem Shake”
March 28, 2013 11:52 AM   Subscribe

How memes are orchestrated by companies for profit (Harlem Shake made it to mefi on Feb 7, eight days after its origin. Another related post.)
posted by desjardins (109 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Apparently this is the new thing? Probably a ploy to sell Japanese schoolgirl uniforms.
posted by oulipian at 12:02 PM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


oulipian: that's soooooo earlier this afternoon.
posted by komara at 12:05 PM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


the last harlmen shafke video you'll need.
posted by boo_radley at 12:07 PM on March 28, 2013 [25 favorites]


This is the most ridiculous sentence I've read all day: The vice president of global media and consumer engagement at Mondelēz International (parent company of Oreos), B. Bonin Bough, boasted that his tweet “not only shows the power of real-time engagement, but also the sheer importance of understanding the overall media ecosystem.”
posted by chavenet at 12:10 PM on March 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Hail Corporate: The Increasingly Insufferable Fakery of Brands on Reddit
posted by Rhaomi at 12:16 PM on March 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


That unanswered tweet at the end was strangely affecting. The meme denies its maker, or something.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:16 PM on March 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


I got a weird vibe when I did a search for the original video, and all the results were "$COMPANY_NAME does the harlem shake"
posted by hellojed at 12:16 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is the most ridiculous sentence I've read all day

That sentence makes total sense? What's not to get there? He's saying you can get people to distribute your ads for you if you make funny jokes at just the right time.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:18 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


The article kind of oversells the point. The original videos were made by amateurs. Some media companies hopped on the bandwagon, and mad decent linked to them after the were already popular, because duh, free publicity. There's no evidence it was orchestrated. I certainly wasn't paid to link it on metafilter. I saw it on the front age of reddit.
posted by empath at 12:19 PM on March 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


The company I work for just did one. But to be fair, they didn't do it for profit so much as 4 the lulz and in hopes it might attract some positive attention for recruiting purposes.

That sentence makes total sense? What's not to get there? He's saying you can get people to distribute your ads for you if you make funny jokes at just the right time.

Well, the way that statement is stretched euphemistically beyond all recognition into what almost sounds like Science!™ is pretty damn silly.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:21 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


And of the ones I linked in the original post, only one of the four was made by a media company.
posted by empath at 12:21 PM on March 28, 2013


The saddest one, and the one that I'm pretty sure marked the definitive beginning of the end*, was the Simpsons one.

How the mighty have fallen.

And, I mean, it misses the point ("Hey everybody, let's all take two minutes to do this spontaneous fun thing for fun!") by a million miles, perverting it into, "Hey Korean animators, spend a week working on this useless piece of lost-cause marketing for no good reason!"

*By the way, THANK YOU
posted by Sys Rq at 12:22 PM on March 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, the astounding speed with which basically everybody in the mainstream media got "hip" to the Harlem Shake was when I started to suspect that there was something weirdly astroturfed about the whole thing. That and the fact that it was almost completely content- and context-free, even by the standards of internet memes.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:22 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Companies big and small love memes like this. It's dumb, and inorganic, and sad that lame corporate types kill stuff by trying too hard, but whatchagonnado? Which would you rather have: companies that have to be fun (or try to be fun) because they can only get people to pay attention to their products in real time on how much fun they are, OR they push info at us on the 4 channels that they control? Kind of a toss up I guess, but this kind of thing never works that well. We remember the harlem shake of the firefighters, or the guy and his kid... who gives a shit about Maker whatever they're called after the initial chuckle?

This article should be titled: Keep Trying Corporate America, You'll Figure It Out Eventually, Sike.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:23 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


All things will be co-opted.

(♒_♒)
posted by boo_radley at 12:23 PM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


That story contains the following phrase:

On Jan. 30, a Japanese-American college student named George Miller, ...

That just looks so weird to me. I've got no particular vision of our multi-ethnic future that I want to advance, but what the "Japanese" is doing in there I just don't know. I guess it's similar to when news stories about our previous Secretary of State thought it important to mention her hair style.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:24 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's not that it was astro-turfed, its that the meme lends itself easily to be shot with whatevers on hand, and makes a great recruiting video. "Here's our sales team doing the harlem shake aren't we fun!"

This is like Fritos having a hippie in a magazine ad in 1974.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:25 PM on March 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


I call shenanigans on much of this article. First, there's the description of the song and artist behind the "soundtrack" to these clips:
Miller’s movie began with 19 seconds of “Pink Guy,” (a character where he is mime in a pink body suit who dances and pratfalls) and three friends dancing in Miller’s bedroom to an obscure piece of electronic dance music: “Harlem Shake” by a little-known DJ called Harry Rodrigues, or “Baauer.”
Obscure? He's associated with Mad Decent, a pretty well known label in dance music circles. And you sound preposterous talking about pop culture phenomena by referencing artists real names. No one says "Oh shit, did you hear the new Harry Rodrigues track?" But let's continue.
Rodrigues and his record label Mad Decent immediately started promoting the video. Rodrigues, using his stage name “Baauer,” record label owner Thomas Wesley Pentz, and Chicago deejays Josh Young and Curt Cameruci, signed to Mad Decent...
Again with the real names. It's like the author is trying to be more academic or professional in talking about pop culture. Let's simplify this part of the story by saying that Flosstradamus, stage name for "Chicago producers/DJs Josh Young and Curt Cameruci, and Diplo, aka Thomas Wesley Pentz" .... And then we get to Al B.
The “Harlem Shake” originated with a drunken man named Albert Boyce dancing at Harlem’s Rucker Park basketball court in 1981
The article links to a story from Al's mother. I previously found a more positive story, possibly a gloss-over of reality, but from Albert Boyce himself, who claimed the dance was a drunken-mummy dance, inspired by "Egyptian jazz."

Oh, and there's the enlightening quote from Forbes, on the “Super Bowl of real-time marketing.” Dude, of course companies are going to spin PR whenever they can. Why are you so surprised that Walgreens, Oreo, and Tide have twitter accounts that respond to major events in ways to further promote their product.

Or better yet, why are you so surprised when a record label and the people on the label promote videos featuring a song that is on that very label? There is no sad attempt to remind people of Oreos during the Super Bowl black-out. Harlem Shake features a clip from Baauer's track of the same name, but most people know it for the ridiculous dance clips. For the related label to not try to capitalize on that is dumb.

benito.strauss, that's just one fine example of awkward attempts at making a piece on pop media sound more elevated than "here's a crazy video from some guy who makes a bunch of crazy videos, and it went crazier from there! But thanks to companies!"
posted by filthy light thief at 12:26 PM on March 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


What I want to know is . . . how does one make a milkshake that tastes like Harlem?
posted by IvoShandor at 12:27 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know a meme is over when my mom has heard of it.
posted by desjardins at 12:27 PM on March 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


The saddest one, and the one that I'm pretty sure marked the definitive beginning of the end, was the Simpsons one.

Wow. I had no idea there was a sub-Today Show level of meme death.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:27 PM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is like Fritos having a hippie in a magazine ad in 1974.

Ah, this is why I'm so annoyed at the article. There is no effort to really tie the rise of the Harlem Shake to (big) companies. The 2nd video was posted to Reddit, which has a HUGE readership, yet that step is discounted, instead highlighting the companies who jumped on board.

Of course Fritos will incorporate hippies into their ads the 1970s - that's the current culture. Should all ads feature the people from the ad agencies, or professional models in obviously artificial settings? No, ads are tailored to appeal to people's interests, trying to jump onto current trends and fads.

Sadly, with the rise of viral videos as news-worthy topics, more companies are jumping on the current memes, even when they make no sense beyond getting the brand out there. But it does get more people to pay attention to the meme.

Viral videos are not cultivated solely by companies. There are still venues for honest viral transmittal of ideas (Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc, etc, etc.)
posted by filthy light thief at 12:32 PM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


All things will be co-opted.

(♒_♒)


The only solution is to never like anything ever again.

Or hate anything, for that matter.
posted by Copronymus at 12:33 PM on March 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


well, now I know why my seven year old proudly showed me his rendition of the Harlem shake. gengham style was getting old.
posted by davejay at 12:37 PM on March 28, 2013


prize bull octorok: "Wow. I had no idea there was a sub-Today Show level of meme death."

it's like those worms that feed on whale bones after other things have stripped off all the flesh and sinew
posted by boo_radley at 12:41 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


> The only solution is to never like anything ever again.

Or make your own things: music, gifs, wood carvings, parties, mittens, plays, code, litcrit, gardens, internet comments, more gifs, etc..
posted by postcommunism at 12:41 PM on March 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


postcommunism: "Or make your own things: music, gifs, wood carvings, parties, mittens, plays, code, litcrit, gardens, internet comments, more gifs, etc.."

Eponysterical.
posted by Apropos of Something at 12:42 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I disagree with the article's stance that corporations "orchestrated" the meme, even though I think we can all agree that they were trying to get in on the meme. The fact that corporate entities are now becoming web-media savvy and are showing hyper-accelerated times to market so that they can respond to viral phenomena before they're completely played out just shows adaptation to a changing marketplace, not sinister plotting.

The article states:
Through Wednesday Feb. 6, the five “Harlem Shake” videos (three featuring Miller, two featuring the Australian and American longboarders imitating him) received several hundred thousand views. It was what happened next that made it viral. It had nothing to do with community and everything to do with commerce.
I call BS - at this point, the five videos had racked up several hundred thousand views over the course of 3 days. How many shticky Youtube videos trend like that without going viral? I'm sure the early corporate participation accelerated the growth, but that's basically saying "people that made Harlem Shake videos and posted them to Youtube made the Harlem Shake meme go viral", which, well... duh.
posted by hot soup at 12:42 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wonder how horrible the life of a brand manager assigned to the reddit beat is.
posted by griphus at 12:43 PM on March 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


My best friend just got his first song signed on a tiny German label, and he spends all day searching for it on Google and tweeting and posting on Facebook every time someone mentions it, plays it on the radio or puts it on a mix cd. That doesn't make him some kind of marketing Machiavelli. It's just common sense. If someone does anything even marginally notable with a song you made or released, you're going to post about it on twitter.
posted by empath at 12:45 PM on March 28, 2013


I'm sure the early corporate participation accelerated the growth, but that's basically saying "people that made Harlem Shake videos and posted them to Youtube made the Harlem Shake meme go viral", which, well... duh.

I think you are severely understating how much of a hand they had in this. They didn't pull it out of thin air, but they did turn it from a reddit sized thing to a superbowl sized thing in a matter of days, and in such a way that benefited corporations over content creators.

The point of the article is that the classic division between the haves and have nots in cultural capital hasn't gone away just because it is so easy to publish media these days.
The technology may have changed, but the money still flows the same way: to creators of contracts not creators of content.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 12:52 PM on March 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


> The fact that corporate entities are now becoming web-media savvy and are showing hyper-accelerated times to market so that they can respond to viral phenomena before they're completely played out just shows adaptation to a changing marketplace, not sinister plotting.

Yeah. It's anecdotal, but all the web 2.0 people in my office space were talking about how to leverage Harlem Shake (and playing it incessantly) the week after I saw it on Reddit.

It was a pretty business-ready meme, though. Simple, short template that you iterate with $WACKY_DANCERS depending on $BACKGROUND_LOCATION. As distinct from something that spreads because you can invert it or riff off of it like the guy in boo_radley's link does.
posted by postcommunism at 1:01 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Beyond the way this plays with the facts in bizarre ways... the article has no underpinning in a reasonable theory of causes. It doesn't have to be either a corporation or an organic movement. It can be both.
posted by Jahaza at 1:02 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know a meme is over when my mom has heard of it.

As I age and I see pop culture receding in the rear-view mirror, I am finding memes are over by the time I have heard of them. So, that Rebecca Black song is pretty bad, huh?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:08 PM on March 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I disagree with the article's stance that corporations "orchestrated" the meme, even though I think we can all agree that they were trying to get in on the meme.

Yeah, a story about how an indie record label promoted a video that contained a song that was on that very record label is not exactly "corporations! turned this into a meme! and you were being marketed to all along!" There's nothing insidious or Pepsi Blue-ish about "hey check out this video that has my song in it".
posted by capricorn at 1:09 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Shit, Rhaomi, I should've written that article two years ago when I was working in social media. It's right on target but it doesn't go far enough. Though it's not explicit and no one will ever admit it, the moderators of Reddit aren't "overwhelmed" by anything, they're complicit in the behavior of brands. They're monetizing. They've got proposals they send to companies to solicit this service. Marketing is gross and it's not paranoid to be cynical of it.

David Foster Wallace discusses the dangers of this behavior, wherein corporations take advantage of the authentic in the form of "art" in order to sell a product, in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, found in .pdf here. Discussion starts on page 285.
posted by sibboleth at 1:10 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


so, do I need to feel bad for enjoying this meme (and others) or not?
posted by vespabelle at 1:11 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Folks if you don't know what the thing is you can Google the thing. Please let us know if you need help with your Google.]
posted by jessamyn at 1:11 PM on March 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


vespabelle: "so, do I need to feel bad for enjoying this meme (and others) or not?"

Yes, but not for the reasons discussed here.
posted by boo_radley at 1:11 PM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Anyone remember the ad they saw when they watched a Harlem Shake video on YouTube?
posted by i_have_a_computer at 1:12 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


It bothers me that these things are called "memes" when they fail so miserably at the self-perpetuation that Dawkins considered an essential characteristic when he first described the phenomena. But what should they be known as?
posted by fredludd at 1:19 PM on March 28, 2013


But what should they be known as?

Supposedly Fun Things We'll Never Do Again?
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:24 PM on March 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


My Harlem Shake brings all the brands to the yard and they're like its more viral than yours. Damn right its more viral than yours, I could teach you but I'd have to charge.
posted by humanfont at 1:27 PM on March 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


> Anyone remember the ad they saw when they watched a Harlem Shake video on YouTube?

I think the argument here is that Harlem Shake itself is the ad because companies/institutions were putting out their own versions with their brand in the title. They therefore had an interest it its increasing popularity. However, from a quick youtube search I don't see any of those awkward "dancing with my coworkers here at company X!" that were coming up a couple weeks ago. In fact, Baauer's full song is the third hit now, and it was impossible to find at first.

Unfortunately, I can't get the QZ page to load again except for the sidebar, so I can't go back and double-check the guy's claims.
posted by postcommunism at 1:36 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


vespabelle: "so, do I need to feel bad for enjoying this meme (and others) or not?"

Yes, but not for the reasons discussed here.


I'm sorry but if Issac's lip-dup proposal is wrong, I don't want to be right.

And I say that as someone who's barely even a YouTube user.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:37 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


In addition to George Miller, Harry Bauer Rodrigues can may also have a case for viewing the phenomenon in a bitter-sweet way: "The Harlem Shake" used samples from Hector Delgado's "Maldades" ("Con los terroristas") and Plastic Little's "Miller Time" ("Do the Harlem Shake!") - both without asking permission. The ensuing legal dispute is an interesting story in itself - it seems like a situation where marketing people media outlets and lawyers are all happy while the people who started everything get not much.
posted by rongorongo at 1:49 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


For the record I hated it from the first video, but I also think this article is over-reaching. If anything it shows how whatever cultural cache that Internet memes ever had (did they?) isn't really a thing any more. Your Mom is on Youtube, and if she isn't then CNN regurgitates the Frito Lay version of memes there for her.

As an aside this is the only funny Harlem Shake video.
posted by codacorolla at 1:50 PM on March 28, 2013


I wonder how horrible the life of a brand manager assigned to the reddit beat is.

I'm a imagining something like a guild navigator from Dune but just a huge thumb that hits refresh every four picoseconds.
posted by The Whelk at 1:58 PM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Potomac Avenue: "This is the most ridiculous sentence I've read all day

That sentence makes total sense? What's not to get there? He's saying you can get people to distribute your ads for you if you make funny jokes at just the right time.
"

Oh, I understood it perfectly. That's not what makes it ridiculous.
posted by chavenet at 2:07 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, my company did one (a Harlem Shake) too, like five weeks after the fact. And I assure you it wasn't part of some global marketing masterplan. It was for the same reason companies say "proactive paradigm" and "agile" and "scrum:"

Because companies as entities tend to be incapable of original thought, and instead take laughably late hops onto bandwagons and buzzwords, to the detriment of everyone involved.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:50 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Folks if you don't know what the thing is you can Google the thing. Please let us know if you need help with your Google.]

man. even the mod staff has sold out to corporate interest.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 3:12 PM on March 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


I was so glad when the Today Show killed the meme, since my boss wanted to get our office to do it for April Fools.

On the other hand, if you guys have some snappy memes that haven't made the Today Show yet that our non-profit could use to seem hip to the kids, send me a link.
posted by klangklangston at 3:15 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm one of those who have not seen a Harlem Shake video. A bunch of people doing some sort of cookie-cutter crowd dance, no thanks. Come up with something better, Internets.
posted by crapmatic at 3:28 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


drjimmy11: "Because companies as entities tend to be incapable of original thought, and instead take laughably late hops onto bandwagons and buzzwords, to the detriment of everyone involved."

"Kanban board".
posted by boo_radley at 3:33 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I want to know is . . . how does one make a milkshake that tastes like Harlem?
posted by IvoShandor at 12:27 PM on March 28 [+] [!]


I could teach you... But I'd have to charge.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:41 PM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Even if this article'a premise were true, I have a hard time feeling bad about the exploitation of something inherently worthless.
posted by signal at 3:51 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am reminded an article from a few years back about someone - Annalee Newitz, maybe? - testing out some company that would hype your link on digg. (I seem to remember the test case was some wonderfully badly written blog about crowds.)
posted by rmd1023 at 3:53 PM on March 28, 2013


I have a hard time feeling bad about the exploitation of something inherently worthless

I would feel the same way if I weren't convinced that the inherently worthless things being exploited are us.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:05 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Kanban board".

I thought this was gonna be a reference to some new viral thing (board, plank, some kind of planking dance?) so I looked it up. According to Wikipedia:

Kanban is one method through which JIT is achieved.

You know how in Lovecraft stories when somebody reads a passage from the Necronomicon or whatever and they go a little insane from discovering horrible cosmic secrets man was never meant to know? That's how I feel whenever I accidentally learn about some new management concept.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:08 PM on March 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


I guess I was struck most at how people seemed to think (after the initial couple ittirations) that "Harlem Shake" was translated as "I can't dance" instead of, you know, shaking and krumping and whatever the kids do today(tm).

"What do we call these things we're now calling memes" is an interesting one, though, since technically a meme can be any point of data, not just one which propegates quickly via imitation and sharing.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:41 PM on March 28, 2013


So the consensus on reddit is that all the Doritos and Taco Bell posts are social media marketing.There are just an absurd amount of them over there, but there are quite a few here as well. I swear, I've seen the same thread with the same comments about how gross Taco Bell is like 10 times. It leads me to believe they are operating over here as well, but they don't know their audience very well.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:47 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would feel the same way if I weren't convinced that the inherently worthless things being exploited are us.

I recall in a recent MeFi thread, someone said they'd never seen Gangnam Style and they consciously made an effort to avoid ever seeing. Me too. Then someone accused the viral avoider of being a snob, trying to be superior somehow for avoiding pop culture.

Hey, this is is MeFi, the source of the quote "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer, you're the product being sold." I refuse to be an active participant in my own commoditization.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:52 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


What if I own the means of my commodization? At the very least a peice of the t-shirt sales?
posted by The Whelk at 4:54 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Again with the real names. It's like the author is trying to be more academic or professional in talking about pop culture. Let's simplify this part of the story by saying that Flosstradamus, stage name for "Chicago producers/DJs Josh Young and Curt Cameruci, and Diplo, aka Thomas Wesley Pentz".

Indeed, I've been listening to Diplo's output since 2002 and didn't even know he had a real name.
posted by winna at 5:06 PM on March 28, 2013


As I age and I see pop culture receding in the rear-view mirror, I am finding memes are over by the time I have heard of them. So, that Rebecca Black song is pretty bad, huh?

Then someone accused the viral avoider of being a snob, trying to be superior somehow for avoiding pop culture.

I tend to look at any viral thing as an ad of some sort. I don’t want to play. And I’m 99% positive that if I do see it it’s not going to have a fraction of the entertainment value that’s claimed.
posted by bongo_x at 5:10 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I recall in a recent MeFi thread, someone said they'd never seen Gangnam Style and they consciously made an effort to avoid ever seeing. Me too. Then someone accused the viral avoider of being a snob, trying to be superior somehow for avoiding pop culture.

Hey, this is is MeFi, the source of the quote "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer, you're the product being sold." I refuse to be an active participant in my own commoditization.
"

Wait, how does avoiding Gangnam Style — which itself is a parody of hyperconsumerism — keep you from being commodified? Is this one of those "I don't own a TV" things?
posted by klangklangston at 5:11 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wait, how does avoiding Gangnam Style — which itself is a parody of hyperconsumerism — keep you from being commodified? Is this one of those "I don't own a TV" things?

It's a 'parody of a consumerism' from a K-Pop star with other K-Pop stars in the video. It's a dumb pop song, and just because NPR wrote an article about it doesn't make it subversive. There's nothing wrong with dumb pop, but don't pretend it's some subversive anthem.

Harlem Shake is dumb, but I'm annoyed the article got Gotye's first name wrong. It's 'Wally'.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:16 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Upon reading an op-ed in my school's newspaper where a student wondered why the university was wasting time on already outdated memes when there were actual student issues that needed solving, I felt my hope for future generations rise.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:18 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is this something that I'd have to own a computer to understand?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:18 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wait, how does avoiding Gangnam Style — which itself is a parody of hyperconsumerism — keep you from being commodified? Is this one of those "I don't own a TV" things?

It's a good and difficult question, one that (in a more general formulation) is becoming increasingly more important to ask ourselves, I think.

I don't know. Some days, for my part at least, it's just easier to let it all collapse down to 'the only winning move is not to play.'

I'm not sure at all that that's a good response to the Consumer Culture Program in all its manifestations (and meta-manifestations, for that matter), though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:18 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The harlem shake made it to a video shown at CHURCH a couple of weeks ago. (We do video announcements, and let's just say people get....creative.)

I might have been the only person over forty who had some idea what was going on.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:22 PM on March 28, 2013


"It's a 'parody of a consumerism' from a K-Pop star with other K-Pop stars in the video. It's a dumb pop song, and just because NPR wrote an article about it doesn't make it subversive. There's nothing wrong with dumb pop, but don't pretend it's some subversive anthem."

It's a lot more complicated than that, and yeah, it actually is pretty subversive within the context of K-pop. Or is this one of those things where the intensity of your opinion is inverse to how informed it is?
posted by klangklangston at 5:26 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


The "Are these not really memes?" truck got me thinking about this.


A computer virus replicates but you wouldn't call it a meme because its dominant form is not mental. Even if it required human action like clicking on a link in order to spread, you wouldn't call clicking the link a meme that's transferred via the computer virus.

A lot of these internet memes are kind of like this. The most substantial part of them is not within the mental realm. Even if everyone who uploaded a "Harlem Shake" video forgot about it 5 minutes later, the video would still be there.

The Memegenerator website lets you create what it calls "memes" which in this case is an image template stored on a computer that other people can use by filling in the text to generate new images.

The article mentions the choreography in Beyonce's Single Ladies was playing off the Mexican Breakfast routine by Bob Fosse, and then SNL goofed on it. But there's a reason you didn't see a pile of companies doing their own Single Ladies dance. The barrier to entry is a little higher: the routine is more complex, not everyone wants to show off their legs, etc.

Harlem Shake got as popular as it did because the barrier to entry was so low, even if you aren't talented or creative or could dance, you could still make the video. And Memegenerator is all about lowering the barrier to creating these artifacts.

But if you lower the barrier to entry enough, then you've got a virus that spreads when you click on a link.
posted by RobotHero at 5:49 PM on March 28, 2013


I was just about to put forth my own theory about Gagnam Style.

My Theory is that is is actually more subversive than even metafilter gives it credit for. It is not just about consumerism but about how reality does not match our expectations. Even a cursory watch of the video shows this, the beach that is actually a sandbox, the wind that is manufactured by giant fans, that also blow garbage, the fake show that gets in Psy's mouth and eyes. It would be easy to say this applies to a certain part of Korean culture, but in fact it applies to all of us.

Then I wondered why I even had a theory. I was forced to conclude I was engaging in some sort of self trickery to set my self apart from normal consumers who just like the song because it's awesome. I had concocted an elaborate reading to justify my like of a pop song.

Seems like there are only two ways to set yourself apart from the mass of consumers. Refuse to play, try to avoid the song at all costs. Concoct a theory, We among the millions of people in the world understand the true genius of Psy's work

Maybe Psy did intend for that reading, and I am putting forth a no theory theory to set myself apart from those with a theory. A sort of enlightened third path where I've seen through everything.

In conclusion, Gagnam Style is a land of contrasts.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:53 PM on March 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


It is not just about consumerism but about how reality does not match our expectations.

Yeah, thats exactly what its about. Its satirical.
posted by lkc at 6:07 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is the dumbest fucking article I've ever read.
posted by fungible at 6:18 PM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


"It would be easy to say this applies to a certain part of Korean culture, but in fact it applies to all of us."

There are a lot of really Korean specific jokes in there too, from the hot coffee girls to the fact that "horse style" there is the equivalent of "doggy style" here.
posted by klangklangston at 6:30 PM on March 28, 2013


A few hundred thousand views and the front page of reddit means the viral meme-boat has already sailed. His point about companies jumping on very quickly nowadays is certainly true though.
posted by stp123 at 6:53 PM on March 28, 2013


Gangnam Style is, by my profoundly-ignorant-of all-things-Korean-that-are-not-kim-chi-and-even-that, informed by my reading of Right Now. Now, bear in mind that I speak no Korean whatsoever and don't even have a laptop with working sound, but the visuals for that video seem reminiscent of nothing so much as this (NSFW) perennial Metafilter favorite about office worker rebellion.

Long story short, I like Psy. Never seen Harlem Shake.
posted by stet at 6:55 PM on March 28, 2013


The real story of the “Harlem Shake”

Not so much. This is "the real story" of the Harlem Shake so long as Metafilter has become the History Channel.
posted by Mike Mongo at 7:00 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I found a technoish-dubsteppy song that I like from a K-Mart back-to-school commercial, and I'm kind of looking forward to any new Rebecca Black song, should she choose to release one. I'd like to claim that I've gone so far into de-commodification that I've popped out the other side, but seriously, I think I just don't give a fuck any more.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:03 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Threads like these always make it hard to say "I like [whatever it is]"

At least when I was younger. Now I don't care as much as I used.

I like [whatever it is] because [whatever it is] is pleasing to me. I don't know if it's a commercial or if it's subversive and I honestly don't care.

I don't mind someone telling me "Oh hey, that's just a commercial for x product" but what is really irritating is people who say "That's just a commercial for x product and you should feel bad for liking it."

Screw that. Everyone's in such a hurry to be cranky about everything it makes me sad. Whatever happened to just being entertained for a few moments? My favorite part of Harlem Shake videos is not the dancing or the costumes or anything like that. My favorite part is the fact that in most cases everyone making the video is having so much fun. It's fun watching people have fun.
posted by M Edward at 7:08 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is "the real story" of the Harlem Shake so long as Metafilter has become the History Channel

I can't wait to see the Hitler Shake.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:09 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Whelk: "What if I own the means of my commodization? At the very least a peice of the t-shirt sales?"

Look, man, I worked it out with Matt a few years back. I get points based on your front end and back end. Y'all need to think ahead, boyo.

(And, not related to my shellfish taunting, THIS is the only Harlem Shake I liked. (NSFW. Seriously.)
posted by Samizdata at 7:10 PM on March 28, 2013


My favorite part is the fact that in most cases everyone making the video is having so much fun. It's fun watching people have fun.

Yeah, this aspect of it is kind of neat. Some of the lip-dub videos out there (which tend to be much more elaborate and cleverly, if not slickly produced) are really kind of amazing for the wide varieties of people you see putting on these amazing performances just for a lark.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:18 PM on March 28, 2013


If the Harlem Shake doesn't meet the official definition of meme, could it just be called a fad?

To me, that seems like an accurate description, but the word "fad" doesn't seem to get used all that much these days. See also: craze.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 7:39 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


fads and crazes are pretty much textbook examples of memes.
posted by empath at 7:47 PM on March 28, 2013


I feel has for Bauuer, who's got an Australian tour booked. I hope people show up. Psy just played some festivals, but we have enough k-pop fans that he did well.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:16 PM on March 28, 2013


I feel has for Bauuer, who's got an Australian tour booked. I hope people show up.

Bauuer is a really talented DJ who was gaining a following even before this happened, and trap music is the hottest thing in EDM right now, so yes, people will show up.
posted by empath at 8:31 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


fads and crazes are pretty much textbook examples of memes.

Are they? I'm thinking that they lack the "self-replicating" characteristic said to be necessary for a meme; they need to be fertilized by some sort of hype. OTOH, if fads and crazes are by definition memes, then it would follow that the Harlem Shake is one, too.

(Not trying to split hairs or be oppositional here just for the sake of it - I'm genuinely curious as to how people perceive these to be the same, or different.)
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 9:46 PM on March 28, 2013


If I see you do something, and then I copy it, that is a meme. A meme is a unit of culture.
posted by empath at 10:05 PM on March 28, 2013


A meme is a unit of culture.

That's true, definitely, but I think equally important to the concept (which has been hijacked to an extent by common usage lately) is the way it is conceived of as the notional equivalent of a virus, that survives and spreads by replicating itself in new hosts.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:44 PM on March 28, 2013


Yes, but that is exactly what happens in a fad or a craze. I'm not sure why people think it doesn't.
posted by empath at 10:49 PM on March 28, 2013


Fad or craze describe them as high-growth and short-lived. And is actually more specific than calling it a "meme" really, since the only way for something to not be a meme is if you think it up yourself and then nobody ever imitates you.

Obviously, all these people didn't independently decide they were going to create Harlem Shake videos.

Phonebooth stuffing was before my time, but I read about it in Mad Magazine. That was basically the "planking" of its day, right?

But the difference is now, you couldn't just stick people in a phonebooth, it has to be about the photograph or the video, because those are the fads that spread, ones that involve creating some kind of media and posting it to the internet.

If there's a need for a new word, it's to address that emphasis on media. You didn't see someone do the Harlem Shake and copy them. You saw a video on the web of someone doing the Harlem Shake and decided to make a video of you doing the Harlem Shake and post it to the web.
posted by RobotHero at 11:23 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


It doesn't matter how you saw it or what you did. A meme is any behavior or idea transmitted from one person to another. It encompasses pretty much anything human beings do.
posted by empath at 11:39 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Then it would be nice to have a word for this particular subset of things that human beings do.
posted by RobotHero at 11:47 PM on March 28, 2013


And that's the thing, "meme" isn't a good word for describing any subset of human culture, it's good as a framework for how you look at it.

And so my thing was looking at other frameworks that makes sense.

Like a chain letter could be seen as something where the meme is copying the chain letter, and the letter itself is the conduit by which that meme is spread to new people.

Or you could think of the chain letter as the primary object and the human activity is the conduit to the letter's spread.
posted by RobotHero at 12:04 AM on March 29, 2013


all your base are belong to us.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:30 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't wait to see the Hitler Shake.

I can't wait to see how Hitler reacts to the Hitler Shake.

"Everyone who doesn't know how to do the authentic Harlem Shake, please leave the room!"
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:43 AM on March 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Wait, do people take the concept of "memes" seriously? My impression of the whole concept is that it was something that Richard Dawkins proposed as a rather unsupported theoretical model that hasn't really gained any respectable traction by the social and behavioral scientist who actually study human behavior.

I could very well be wrong on this, but isn't it just a classic case of engineer's disease?
posted by graphnerd at 7:44 AM on March 29, 2013


I take it as sort of a "stoner philosophy" level of seriously.

Yes it doesn't provide a rigorous predictive model, but I have an emotional bond with the "woah" I had when I grokked how looking at things in this framework could transform your perception of all of human knowledge.
posted by RobotHero at 9:16 AM on March 29, 2013


> Wait, do people take the concept of "memes" seriously?

Maybe the popular use of "meme" makes sense to a lot of people because it imagines culture as discrete "object" which are replicated and passed from person to person, rather than culture as a collection of shared rituals and mythology which we inhabit and extend, and we're slightly more predisposed to imagine culture as material objects because our experience of culture is, at the moment, weighted to the material and mass-replicable.

Not sure I really believe that explanation, though. Plenty of previous culture was experienced through discrete physical objects too, and a lot of memes are mini-rituals. (Although people are pretty loose with the term overall. For example, image macros are not memes - the creation of image macros is. Yet folks call the resultant objects memes, not the act.)
posted by postcommunism at 9:35 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, what would go into a Hitler Shake? I nominate cilantro.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:00 PM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember back in the 1970s when memes were really subversive.

yeah right.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:26 PM on March 29, 2013


Wait, do people take the concept of "memes" seriously?

Depends on what you mean by 'seriously'. Me, I think memetics is a fun, interesting, and useful set of ideas. Don't take it seriously, though, any more than anything else in the realm of ideas.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:10 PM on March 29, 2013


[Comment deleted. If you seriously think someone is astroturfing here, let us know -- otherwise, linking to an offhand comment by someone not even in this thread as an example of same is not cool.]
posted by taz at 5:42 AM on March 31, 2013


Well, there's a rule I didn't know about.
Sorry about that.
posted by Mezentian at 6:48 AM on March 31, 2013


One meme to rule them all: YouTube's ready to select a winner
posted by homunculus at 2:00 PM on March 31, 2013


Vadering’s a Prime Example of an Internet Sin
posted by homunculus at 2:33 PM on April 3, 2013


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