So one day, when I heard that the "Harlem Shake" had come to Wisconsin via a University of Wisconsin something-or-other --I don't know what it was, as I am no more up on college things now, at age 44, then I was in college, when I didn't have time or money to get into college things because I had to work to buy food and pay rent. College is a lot more fun, I imagine, if you do not have to do those things, but the future value of learning to paint one's face and mimic a trombone while screaming obscenities at a hockey player for an hour before going to do Jell-O shots is questionable, at best.-- anyway, the University of Wisconsin students in our city recently went to something-or-other, and there they did the "Harlem Shake," which was novel enough, I learned, to make the local news, which announced this event by saying "the Harlem Shake has come to UW," but I was trying to sleep at the time and so I didn't open my eyes to see what the "Harlem Shake" was.
SPOILER ALERT: It's not really anything. But I didn't know that yet. Later on, when I got curious about whether I'd really missed something -- maybe even a THING -- and so I looked it up, and, having spent a few minutes several weeks ago reading a blog on NPR's site, and having also made a reference to the "Harlem Shake" in not one, but two separate jokes at the office this week, I have now reached the level of expertise where I can explain to you what THIS THING:
The Harlem Shake
is all about.
What THIS THING is, in a nutshell: It is almost a dance.
The "Harlem Shake," the way it is practiced right now, goes...
I was going to explain it in words, but why? This is the Internet! We've got access to music! Video! 3d imagery that implants memories right into your mind*
*except in the US, where our woeful commitment to building up tech infrastructure is only made worse by our decision to deregulate internet service providers so that the only real high-speed bandwidth is controlled by cable companies, which remain committed to requiring that at least 17 hours of "Myrtle Manor" be broadcast every day and so we cannot take full advantage of the Internet at present, here in our country. But did you see those funny people in the trailer park! HA! I laugh because deregulation destroyed my future.
and so I will show it to you:
And that's it. One person dances for 15 seconds or so, then everyone else does. But they don't all do the same dance because that would be stupid.
How I, and Maybe You, Heard About THIS THING: Well, I heard about it from our local news, which means by the time I heard about it, everyone else in the entire world had heard about it, because local news is always the last to get every story, aren't they? What are those production meetings like?
PRODUCER: Ok, what've we got for tonight's show?
ANCHOR: Did you know people are moving into things called "Suburbs?" Apparently the return of soldiers from Europe in World War II is spurring something of a housing boom on the outskirts of cities.
PRODUCER: Sounds sketchy. We don't want to scare people awake.
ANCHOR: We could do the llama thing.
The only people who get a story about a THING after the local news are me.
But other people HAVE heard about this "Harlem Shake" thing, possibly from one of these little-known sources:
The Today Show
The Jimmy Fallon Show
The Daily Show
Or Stephen Colbert, but I couldn't find that last one.
I didn't watch any of those videos. I'm just saying that if you know where to look, and/or were alive in the past two months, you probably saw "The Harlem Shake."
When did THIS THING start? For once, the experts agree: it was created by an accidental collision of the Higgs Boson with a "5 Hour Energy drink" that was left inside the CERN particle accelerator. (I have only skimmed the news stories this week, so I'm kind of making some inferences here.)
That, or, this iteration of "The Harlem Shake" was first uploaded by a group calling itself "The Sunnycoast Skate," some kids from Queensland, Australia:
Huh. I would've expected more kangaroos. Or poisonous spiders. Or poisonous kangaroos. Now, THAT would be a menace!
The kids from Queensland (or "queenskids") uploaded that on February 2, 2013, so THIS THING hit the big time at record speed. The velocity at which this meme traveled is so high, it is probably responsible for the rest of the universe slowing down and therefore seeming older than we expected. (That is what 'scientists' refer to as 'dark energy.')(Again: I only skimmed the stories.)
That video above has been viewed, as of this writing, 23,935,978 times since it was uploaded on February 2, which means that as of this exact moment
10:52 a.m. March 23, 2013
it has averaged five views per second since it was uploaded. FIVE PER SECOND.
But then again, only 0.3% of the world has seen it yet. So there's a lot of room for improvement.
When did THIS THING officially pass into pop culture?
As far as I can tell, instantaneously. You know how 'scientists' hate it when you ask them what created the Big Bang, where all that energy came from, and how they want to pretend it could just happen spontaneously, like one second there was nothing and the next second there was a Higgs Boson that exploded and eventually became the kind of universe where Twinkies exist and then don't and then maybe they'll come back again?
This "Harlem Shake" thing gives credence to that theory. One second it did not exist, and the next second, it was simultaneously EVERYWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE, even RIGHT BEHIND YOU LOOK OUT!
Whew. That was close.
But truthfully, the passage into our collective consciousness probably happened when The Washington Post, which doesn't have much else to cover, being out there in the hinterlands of Washington, D.C., did a write-up that helped explain why you all like it so much:
Is it any wonder Harlem Shake videos have gone viral? It’s all in the jump cuts, which add that little jolt of magic. Plus, the song’s beat is hypnotic, the setups are quick and the routines only last half a minute.
Which is to say: you have no attention span. Also, apparently the Washington Post hadn't actually watched any of the videos to that point, because the ones I watched had just the ONE jump cut. But that may be a lot to a culture writer at the Post, where I imagine they are used to only watching movies that feature no cuts, whatsoever, just one long panning shot of a desolate eastern European city while that music that This American Life uses over every story set in New York plays mournfully.
(You know the music; it's the piece that kind of sounds like it should be playing over a Jewish wedding scene in a movie nobody watched.)
The Post article also gets to the bottom of the mystery behind the University of Georgia swim team's Harlem Shake video:
I didn't know there was a mystery, but the Post went after the real story with a vigor that would make Bob Woodward roll over in his grave if he wasn't so busy making up pretend threats from the Obama administration:
If you’re wondering how they managed to stage this impressive underwater floor show,
NOTE: Nobody was.
clustered in what looks like a human coral reef of sinuous legs and flailing arms, turning flips and jogging in place with assorted props (sleeping bag, bike, broom, table and chairs), well: There wasn’t much to it.
NOTE: at this point, The Post might as well have said "but we need to fill up two more inches of space on this story.
“We just brought a bunch of crazy stuff to the pool,” says Conor Sweeney in an interview on the team’s website.NOTE: The part of the story that is omitted is this: "Sweeney added, 'honestly, are you asking me how we got stuff underwater in a pool?"
He’s the clip’s solo aqua-dancer with the hard-working abs, wearing a “Star Wars” stormtrooper mask repurposed from Halloween."And in my fan fiction, he is also crazy in love with a Washington Post reporter doing a story about him. After the story is published, he reveals that he is a billionaire with a penchant for bondage. I call my story 'Fifty Shades Of The Old Gray Lady.' We... I mean, the fictional reporter who is not based on anyone in real life, get married and have a bunch of kids. One of the kids is named "McKinley."
“We were just like, ‘Go underwater and hold your breath and do something crazy for 20 seconds.’”Remember what I said about the future utility of things you learn in college? This guy is going to be the Secretary of Defense some day. "I was just, like, 'go invade something for 20 years'."
Adds swimmer Jameson Hill, “There wasn’t really a whole lot of logistics. It was so last-second.”And yet it looks planned to the minutest detail! you even remembered water in the pool!
Back to the reporter's intrepid reportage:
There you have the secret of the Shake. Simple. Silly. And don’t overthink it.
"I never overthink things. Do you suppose I came on too strong about that guy's abs? I hope he didn't notice that my shirt is a little tight. Why did I have that bagel for breakfast? They always leave me bloaty! CARBS, am I right? Do you think I should text him? My liberal arts degree is really paying off."
Is THIS THING still going on?
No. Miley Cyrus' twerking overtook it.
But we can look forward to next week, when the Washington Post breaks down why we all love Matt Lauer's twerking abs so much.
Can you sum up the Harlem Shake for people who just skimmed this and want a quick takeaway?
Am I famous yet?