The Harlem Shake-Down?

by Brendan James

Kevin Ashton claims the meme had “nothing to do with community and everything to do with commerce”, noting that one of the first imitations of the original “Harlem Shake” videos was from a company called Maker Studios trying to promote itself, and that soon after the song’s record label, Mad Decent, got in the game as well. Then came the advertisers and media companies:

[T]hese companies started posting and promoting their own “Harlem Shake” videos. They included College Humor, a website owned by IAC, a publicly traded company that also owns Newsweek; Vimeo, a YouTube rival also owned by IAC; and BuzzFeed, a viral content website that promoted its video with a story subtitled “If you haven’t done one yet, you better get on it right away!” (The Huffington Post also ran a story, “The Harlem Shake: A ’00s Classic, Having Another Moment“). Thousands of “Harlem Shake” videos were uploaded during the week of Feb. 11, many of them from businesses with something to sell.

This is abnormal. “Single Ladies,” “Somebody That I Used To Know,” Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe,” and Psy’s “Gangnam Style” were made by professionals and first imitated by professionals–Saturday Night Live in the case of “Single Ladies,” indie Canadian band Walk Off The Earth in the case of “Somebody That I Used To Know,” and Justin Bieber in the case of “Call Me Maybe”–then later by fans and amateurs. “Harlem Shake,” was a meme made by an amateur, George Miller, but its rapid replication was driven by media and marketing professionals, led and orchestrated by three companies: Maker Studios, Mad Decent, and IAC.

Leor Galil yawns:

It’s an interesting theory, and Ashton has a great handle on the evolution of the “Harlem Shake” meme from its beginning … through its viral comedown, but the underlying statement is loaded in a way that skirts certain details—like the fact that fan-made “Harlem Shake” videos amassed several hundred thousand views, a number strong enough to be considered “viral,” prior to any “corporate” involvement in the meme. Ashton also goes to great pains to point out the corporate ties for some of the outlets responsible for contributing to the “Harlem Shake” meme that directly benefited from its popularity while glossing over the fact that the meme, like many before it, got its footing through corporate-funded channels: Maker Studios got wind of the meme after employee Vernon Shaw discovered it on uber-popular social site Reddit, which is owned by monolithic media empire Advance Publications, and all the fan-made videos were largely uploaded to a hugely popular corporate entity, YouTube. While Reddit and YouTube foster unique digital communities and everyday contributors have the ability to affect every denizen that doesn’t negate the fact that they are corporations.