Stop the Harlem Shake


Americans have fallen like a sap for the latest dance crazy, the Harlem Shake, and they need to stop. (Image from brooklynvegan.com)

Nate Sanchez
Senior Staff Writer

From the nation that fell like a sap for Gangnam Style comes the latest dance craze that’s sweeping the Internet: the Harlem Shake.

Americans live from stupid dance craze to stupid dance craze just like Arsenio Hall lives from paycheck to paycheck.

Thankfully we can now look into society’s rearview mirror and see Gangnam Style, galloping into irrelevancy. Unfortunately, while we were looking behind us, we ran head on into something far, far worse.

For those who haven’t seen the Harlem Shake videos, just go check YouTube. In a matter of weeks, the number of video results that would come up for “Harlem Shake” skyrocketed from 220,000 to 14 million. Everybody and their brother is making one and it needs to stop.

The modern version of the Harlem Shake that we see broadcasted on the Internet shares a similarity with the “Rocky” movie franchise: if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. The 30-second clips feature a single person dancing until the bass drops, at which point any number between three to 300 people appear out of nowhere and “dance” for the remainder of the video.

To the untrained eye, it’s a hilarious half-minute of YouTube glory. To the rest of the world, it’s a bunch of absent-minded people with nothing better to do than to pretend to fall into a fit of epileptic rage.

What’s shocking about this whole craze is that it’s not the real Harlem Shake. The modern dance craze is based on a song by artist (if you want to call him that) Baauer. The song has been around since May of last year, but it’s caught mainstream success as of late, celebrating its second week atop the Billboard Hot 100.

The original dance has its roots in New York City in the ’80s. During halftime at basketball games at the legendary Rucker Park in Harlem, a man named Albert Boyce would perform his dance, a more precise and fluid dance with heavy involvement of his hips and shoulders. The dance became an instant hit among the residents of the borough and was – and still is – considered a precious art form special to the people of Harlem.

Sandra Boyce, Albert’s mother, told “The New York Times,” “He would dance, and twist his shoulders to every rhythm and every beat, every song.” The “Al B.” from then on was known as the Harlem Shake. Her son, the creator, died in 2006 at the age of 43. It’s probably a good thing that he wasn’t able to see the corruption of his creation. His fellow residents of Harlem are not as lucky as he is.

In a YouTube video titled “Harlem reacts to ‘Harlem Shake’ videos,” actual residents of the Manhattan neighborhood share their thoughts and first impressions of the video. For some, it’s a strange glimpse into yet another dance that white people managed to screw up (see also: The Macarena). For the rest, reactions are mixed between anger and embarrassment. Allow me to share some of their comments.
“They’re dry-humping the air.”
“I feel like they’re disrespecting us.”
“That’s just kinda bugged out. That’s not the Harlem Shake.”
“That’s not the Harlem Shake. That’s ‘humpin’ and that’s not the Harlem Shake.”
“It’s an absolute mockery.”

Mockery. That about sums it up. It’s a mockery to both your own intelligence and to the residents of Harlem who hold the dance as an art form and a means of self-expression. To the people of Harlem, doing this new “Harlem Shake” is like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa with a sharpie.

The fact that the Harlem Shake has infiltrated our society makes me sick to my stomach. To be honest, it amazes me how so many people could get caught up in something so stupid. For some, getting involved with the Harlem Shake could cost them their jobs.

A few weeks ago, five Australian miners shot a Harlem Shake video while they were down in the mine. They were fired immediately. I think it was warranted. What employer wants to see their employees make fools of themselves just for the sake of being on the Internet, especially if they’re handling extremely heavy machinery hundreds of feet below the surface of the earth? Since then, a Facebook page has set up, petitioning for their reinstatement. I think we all know how well Internet activism works. Remember when you all caught Joseph Kony last year by sharing that video?

The sad truth behind our fascination with something so stupid stems from a need found in society that contains an unquenchable thirst for attention, even if it’s just for thirty seconds on YouTube. Let’s hope this blows over and we learn from this before our society falls completely into a state of cultural decay.

One thought on “Stop the Harlem Shake

  1. It seems to me that you and yours need to do a version of the Harlem Shake. What you propose as a result of ‘absentmindedness’ actually is a collaborative effort of a group of friends (sometimes strangers) to have a bit of fun. Now I want you to back off from the realm of judgement and criticism and try to understand “WHY” such an insane mockery of the Harlem Shake went viral across the Nation. People enjoy a break from the norm. A chance to derail the ordinary enough so that they can keep going with their overwhelming responsibilities. Its a more effective version of ‘casual friday’ and its resonance will be the topic of many conversations, thus bringing life to an otherwise boring workday. From what I can tell it seems there is bit of competition at who can be the most crazy / random, which likely is the reason why the newer ones are much less appropriate than the original.
    Now Ashley… you seem mad, possibly uptight, and upset at being so. So much that you write an article that brings down people who are trying to have a little fun which goes against what you see as an appropriate means. You go to a Commuter School and look down hawk nosed at the lesser Americans who group together in a get-together for a bit of dumb fun. Which is not the best thing for a journalist to do, and brings me to my first sentence in saying that you should try it with you and your office. It will be stupid, embarrassing, possibly a failure, but in the end I promise you will have a good time hanging out with your friends / classmates / co-workers in a much more comfortable setting then the office. It will make them more like family, and all around more comfortable to be around. Try it! and don’t forget to youtube it!

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