By now, you’ve probably seen this video:
And by now, you’re probably tired of seeing videos just like it. Apparently, Chris McGuire, the man behind Schlepp Films, is tired of them too:
That short film would be a great encouragement to put an end to the stupid Harlem Shake meme…if it weren’t completely and utterly disingenuous. Say whaaaaaat? I’ll explain after the jump.
According to Wikipedia, the Harlem Shake is a dance move that originated in the Harlem neighbourhood of New York City in the early 1980s. It rose to prominence in the early 2000s when it was featured in the music video for G. Dep’s “Let’s Get It.” This is what the dance move looks like:
And this is G. Dep’s music video featuring the dance move:
In 2012, the Brooklyn-based DJ Baauer released a track called “Harlem Shake,” which takes its name from a line sampled from a song by the rap group Plastic Little. Other than that, it has nothing to do with the dance move of the same name. Nothing at all.
In February of this year, YouTube comedy vlogger Filthy Frank uploaded a video featuring a group of people in ridiculous costumes dancing wildly to “Harlem Shake,” which I embedded above. A group of teenagers from Australia called The Sunny Coast Skate made a similar video in response, and thus, the Harlem Shake meme was born.
I should be perfectly clear: the dancing here is in no way related to the original Harlem Shake move. They’re just two things that, through a complicated chain of events, have come to share the same name. That’s it. That’s all.
So why is Schlepp Films’ video trying to paint the meme as an instance of misguided cultural appropriation? Were its creators unwilling to do the simple research that would refute their original beliefs? Or were they trying to push some weird, nefarious agenda that I haven’t been able to figure out yet? Were they so fed up with the idiotic meme that they decided to create a video that would dishonestly imply the meme was culturally insensitive? If McGuire and co. were truly honest in their intentions, then it takes a special kind of ignorance to accuse the hundreds of people who have participated in the meme thus far of mocking hip-hop dancing, without bothering to do simple fact-checking.
If this were truly an instance of caricature or cultural appropriation, then Schlepp Films’ video would be giving a voice to the voiceless, i.e. those who were mocked by the meme. But the people featured in the video were merely shown a few Harlem Shake meme clips without the proper context (the “proper context” being the origins of the meme as I described above). Because they didn’t have all the necessary information about the thing to which they were being told to react, they had no real agency; they were merely pawns in whatever narrative the video’s creators were trying to spin. This isn’t giving a voice to the voiceless; this is amplifying the creator’s voice.
Look, cultural appropriation and cultural insensitivity are real problems, even in the 21st century. It’s still all too common to see someone stealing bits and pieces of culture and using them for his or her own ends, with no appreciation for or acknowledgement of their sources. It’s unfortunate, and something needs to be done about it. But videos like Schlepp Films’ lend false support to the notion that cultural appropriation is a real problem. They actually take credence away from that notion.
Our goal should be to foster an environment of mutual respect between cultures, but such noble ends don’t justify disingenuous means. The path to that goal must begin from a place of intellectual honesty. Manipulating bystanders into spinning a false narrative about cultural insensitivity is intellectually dishonest to an egregious degree and disrespects them far more than a stupid but harmless Internet meme. It’s absolutely the wrong way to begin or continue a cultural dialogue, and any progressive-minded person should condemn it for what it is: fraudulent, morally repugnant bullshit.