Avoiding the “Shake” Like the Plague

A couple of months ago, I started seeing the words “Harlem Shake” out of the side of my eye at an increasing rate. Natural, mindless curiosity — which creates the “viralness” of a cyber phenom — would usually have me clicking to see what this thing

If you follow pop culture with any consistency — like those of us in the media who use that as an excuse to read an endless stream of news and social media feeds instead of actually working (it’s research and promotion!) — there are certain things you are going to know about whether you want to or not. 

The endless explosion of information regularly lances us with shards of minutia, allowing many of us to accidentally come to know what a Kardashian is, how to Dougie and how to spell “Gangnam.” 

We are now bombarded by water-cooler chatter via our PCs, laptops and other devices, at an insane rate. In the ’70s, a “very special” Mary Tyler Moore show on TV would be your water-cooler chatter the next day. In our breakneck age, that’s a blip in the morning, at most marked by a funny/smart A/V Club essay or “Top 7 Co-Workers Best for Mary to Marry” from Buzzfeed. At worst, it’s a boring AP tweet without a link.

These asteroids of mind-sucking trivia (and I don’t judge; I’ve had them in my mind orbit since I was a small child) are getting bigger. Harder to ignore. More difficult to dodge. 

Unfortunately, there’s no prominent “spoiler alert” protocol for, “This current meme or Internet trend is totally fucking stupid — don’t waste half a second thinking about it.”

A couple of months ago, I started seeing the words “Harlem Shake” out of the side of my eye at an increasing rate. Natural, mindless curiosity — which creates the “viralness” of a cyber phenom — would usually have me clicking to see what this thing — … song? … dance? … video? — was all about. 

But nothing about it seemed like something that would offer anything more to my life than hearing “Gangnam Style” or “Who Let the Dogs Out?” once did. Or seeing someone Dougie. Or watching talking dog videos.

So I decided to see if I — a person who keeps an eye on feeds and, um, researches online several hours a day — could avoid the “Harlem Shake.”

Though I’d stayed a way for a week or so, on Feb. 18, I officially decided I would go as long as I could without knowing of this “Harlem Shake” mystery. 

I wouldn’t call it hard to avoid the “Shake.” I like to think I have a fairly good knack for finding things that I like and mentally discarding most of what I’m fairly certain isn’t for me — the junk mail. 

Let’s just say I never reached a moment during my “Shake”-free run where I was remotely tempted to click on a “Harlem Shake” link of any kind. 

But sometimes when something is “everywhere,” it eventually gets to radio and TV, at which point it loses its cred with people who were into it, like, 11 days ago. 

So I admit I had more than a couple of incidents where I had to jump across the couch to change the channel because the “cool kid” on the local news crew slipped it under the school closings or a late-night monologue started ambling in that direction. 

I was like the Superman of avoiding the “Harlem Shake.” A few clues had seeped in, but any guesses I had were fairly off base. I was pretty sure it was another “Gangnam Style,” a stupid song. I suspected perhaps, given the name, there was a silly dance involved. I did at some point come to realize people were making their own video “versions” of “Harlem Shake” — I assumed that meant it was some form of easily replicable viral video meme. 

It turned out I was off in my predictions. And also spot on. Just a little jumbled. So basically — perfect Internet culture moment. 

In the course of 30 minutes or so, I found out all of the secrets of this “Harlem Shake” meme all the kids were talking about for, oh, a week and a half. You probably know, so I won’t regurgitate too much. Or spoil it for cave-dwellers or the blissfully ignorant (they’re not reading anyway). In a nut shell: Club track gets used to comedic effect in silly, easy-to-recreate joke videos featuring groups of varying sizes going bonkers and dancing. Hundreds of thousands of homemade “Harlem Shake” videos are made. They’re mostly ridiculous, but worth one good “What the fuck!?” chuckle. One.

David Wagner wrote “The Harlem Shake Meme Is Dead” article on The Atlantic’s website on Feb. 13 after The Today Show staff made idiots of themselves, like they always do, and attempted their own “Shake.” (Edgy! Hip! Young!) The whole “phenomenon” lasted just a little longer than a loaf of bread. And we shall never speak of it again.

The end result of my experiment is that I’d like all of my meme interactions to be like this in the future — wake me up when it’s over and let me watch a two-minute recap a few months later. 

CONTACT MIKE BREEN: [email protected] or @CityBeatMusic

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