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A casual defense of the ‘Harlem Shake’

Last month, when Duluth Mayor Don Ness officially killed the Gangnam Style meme, northern Minnesota’s response to a national trend came nearly a full year after its emergence. But one cannot help but notice that Gangnam’s successor, the Harlem Shake, has not only emerged, but peaked, filtered to the small markets and died out at a much higher speed. With a debut of Jan. 30, the meme fully matured in less than two weeks. Now, not even a month later, it’s fully saturated the market.

For an example of the Harlem Shake form, here is the Duluth Shake:

The speed of the meme’s spread has created some unique problems. Students at Mound Westonka High School in Minnesota were suspended after attempting to record a Harlem Shake video at lunchtime. The vice principal had no idea what it was, called the cops. The cops and school administration had to review the video to figure out what it was. They ended up suspending the students, obliterating the school’s hopes for a state hockey tournament appearance and infuriating the community and student body in the process.

Honestly, it seems to be a case where the meme traveled so fast among internet users that it utterly dumbfounded those out of the loop. I’m a pretty connected guy, but I didn’t catch the thing until Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert spoofed it — marking the decline of the novelty.

This thing won’t be around much longer, but can I just add something? Most would use this space to argue the stupidity of the Harlem Shake. I dissent.

The 30-second format of the traditional Harlem Shake video and the “required elements” (masked solo dancer, dispassionate group for first :15, jump cut to pandemonium in second :15) makes for a sort of visual poetry. What is a haiku, a sonnet? Merely the expression of art in prescribed formats, right? A good Harlem Shake video is more than just the duplication of dance moves; it’s high order choreography that relies on people, place and theme. A lot of Harlem Shake videos are boring and repetitive. Good ones stand out.

For Harlem Shake videos from regional colleges, check below the jump:

UM-Duluth Shake:

College of St. Scholastica Shake:

UW-Superior Shake:

This post was written by Aaron J. Brown and originally published on Minnesota Brown. Follow Aaron on Twitter: @minnesotabrown

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