Shake, Shuffle, Falling Short




When is the line crossed, the line that resides between commodification and commodity? How do you judge that battle between turning something commercial against inappropriate acquisition of intellectual property?

These questions arise from the recent (or not recent) Harlem Shake phenomenon. The Harlem shake is (or was) a dance, popularized by African Americans and Hip Hop in the early 90’s. The rapid rhythmical movement of the upper body and shoulders to match bass lines found in rap songs in Harlem, and then spread across the nation to become an aspect of popular culture.

Currently, it seems as if the Harlem shake has been processed, packaged and repurposed into a meme that lacks rhythm, or reason. This Harlem Shake has become a viral video production that progresses from a singular person doing a dance (that is not the Harlem Shake) to a group of people dancing (again, dances that are not the Harlem Shake) to a song created by music producer Baauer. This Connecticut born music producer named Harry Rodrigues, created a song and titled the work “Harlem Shake,” this allowed for the commodification of the song; giving rise to the video placed on YouTube and creating the Harlem Shake commodity.

The ingenious pop culture phenomenon is an exciting thing to witness, to see how one creation can spark creativity and lead to a new. But it is when the mother of invention is lost, and unappreciated. Harlem Shake, the dance is what African sculpture is to cubism. Much like the packaged food we eat, they may start as corn, but quickly become sweet syrup. When the character and culture of this Hip Hop dance move became over shadowed by remixed techno tones and flailing bodies, or further confused with David Bowie’s Harlem Shuffle, no matter how cleverly packaged, it should makes us all cry a little.

…..and, this is reason #652, why we should vehemently celebrate Black History month.