Making Sense of the Media
2:10 pm
Sat February 23, 2013

Making Sense of the "Harlem Shake"

"Harlem Shake: Office Edition, one of thousands of video memes uploaded to the internet in the "Harlem Shake" craze.
Credit labs.ebuzzing.co.uk

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense Making Project" talks with WUSF's Craig Kopp about the significance of the "Harlem Shake" video phenomenon on the internet.

If you haven't seen the "Harlem Shake" videos sweeping the internet, that says something about how plugged in you are to the World Wide Web.

That's the conclusion of Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense Making Project."

If you are completely unplugged, here's a a brief explanation of the Harlem Shake.

These are 30 second videos of people dancing crazily to a tune by New York DJ Baauer.

At the beginning there's one person dancing -- usually in a motorcycle helmet -- while those around this person are seemingly oblivious to the action. Then, when Baauer intones the words, "Do the Harlem Shake," everybody in the video dances wildly until the action hits slow motion as the music fades out.

This nonsensical meme was the brainchild of some teenagers in Australia, who uploaded the first Harlem Shake video at the beginning of February.

And that was the inspiration for thousands of other people to make their own Harlem Shake meme and post it. At one point, 4,000 Harlem Shake videos a day were being uploaded.

"By the middle of February -- the 9th, 10th, or 11th -- the videos started hitting college campuses in the United States," McBride said. "By Valentine's Day, the staff at the "Today Show" did their own version of the Harlem Shake and it had officially gone mainstream."

So, what can we learn from the Harlem Shake phenomenon?

"When you first heard about the Harlem Shake says a lot about how tuned in you are to a very specific segment of the internet community -- young people," explained McBride. "And, young people have a lot of influence on internet trends."

But, McBride said the Harlem Shake fad is nothing really new. It's just like fads of days gone by -- just with a new delivery system.

"In the 1920's there were a lot of fads and radio was the dominant technology that was spreading ideas and enabling people to participate in the creative culture. In the 1950's there were a lot of fads and television was playing that same role. So we have a lot of fads now and it's because we are all immersed in this digital internet technology."