That is the video that started the internet meme “The Harlem Shake.” It was a response to post from a video vlogger “Filthy Frank,” but that hardly matters as what is important is what followed. The Harlem Shake went on to be one of the most viral internet memes of all times, spawning thousands upon thousands of imitations in every sort of context imaginable. The short duration, the simplicity, an infectious 30 seconds of music, the ease in which you can reproduce it, and the ability to be understood across by just about any culture all combine to show just how effective a piece of independent media can be on an international scale. The fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with the original dance called “The Harlem Shake,” (The Harlem Shake originated from Harlem and was popular with members of the hip-hop community. It is based off an Ethiopian dance called Ekista) didn’t matter at all, as it’s popularity caused to it hi-jack the term and become the dominant meaning.
As people across the globe reproduced The Harlem Shake, several interesting scenarios began to be reported. 2 Isreali soldiers received prison sentences after they performed the Harlem Shake around a cannon, 15 miners in Western Australia were fired for performing the Harlem Shake in a mine, The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had to investigate a Harlem Shaking during a commercial flight, a religious education teacher in Wales was suspended when he Harlem Shaked with a cutout of the pope, and The National Coalition Against Censorship have reported that over 100 students have been suspended for Harlem Shaking across the US. The Harlem Shake was used as a form of protest outside the headquarters of President Mohammed Morsi after 4 students had been arrested for dancing in their underwear the previous week.
No one could resist making their own Harlem Shake, and almost every type of organization possible got in on the mix, from the Miami Heat, to college sports teams, to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, to the WWE. In the context of International Media however, I think the most interesting aspect is how this meme managed to reach almost every inch of the globe, even the areas affect by extreme poverty. You can even see videos of Ethiopians reproducing the Harlem Shake, more than likely completely unaware that it somehow morphed from a native dance from their own culture, into an iconic American hip-hop dance, into an internet meme that has made it back into their culture, looking nothing like what it sprang from.
The internet is an example of international media that can affect the global community in ways we quite don’t understand yet, and I think the Harlem Shake is an example of it’s potential to affect behavior on a global scale that has not quite yet been tapped.