Respones to Cultural Appropriation


I think the Harlem Shake parodies are hilarious. I also understand that within the meme, cultural appropriation is occurring. A meme is essentially a parody of some element of culture. The “Harlem Shake” meme in of itself is a parodic response to a parody of the song Harlem Shake by Baauer.

I enjoy the excellent, correct, scientific, wonky and scholarly explanations of the origins of the Harlem Shake dance devised by Albert Boyce and originally called “The Al B” and the incongruence of the meme to a dance from Harlem and native to Hip-Hop (seriously, read them all!). These are facts that needed to precede a healthy discussion of Hip-Hop culture. I didn’t as much enjoy watching the disappointed, mildly disgusted and sometimes angry reactions of Harlemites to “Harlem Shake” parody videos. It felt the parodies were themselves presented without appropriate context in seeing the anger in some of the reactions.

But all Harlem Shake parodies are not equal and Hip-Hop culture, which birthed the “Harlem Shake”, remains a guerilla cultural appropriation of American life through the expression of breakdancers in the parks, boomboxes blaring music at basketball courts, graffiti tagged walls, bridges and subway trains and uncleared samples of every genre of music rapped over by emcees at parties. In this, people harken back to white artists that would take black artists music, dances and showmanship and then filter them for mass consumption and profit. The difference is today, the Hip-Hop movement has access to all the tools that made the “Harlem Shake” parody so popular: YouTube and people willing to start dancing in front of the camera.

In light of that I feel the folks, despite the undemocratic usage of a professionally remixed Hip-Hop version of the Baauer song, NY Radio station Power 105.1 were closest to the Hip-Hop appropriate response. After all: wouldn’t the best rejoinder to the culture appropriation of the “Harlem Shake” parodies be a “Harlem Shake” parody where dancers firmly rooted in Hip-Hop culture actually do the real “Harlem Shake”?