The Universal Shake


Robert Katz, web editor

I’m not entirely sure of the origin of “shaking.” I’m not 100 percent sure it is a choreographed gesticulation that, in actuality, originated in the Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem, a district also known for its Globetrotters. At this point, however, that doesn’t matter. The Harlem Shake has taken the entirety of present human civilization (as well as, by all accounts, several tangential solar systems) by storm, a hoard of lions growling across the universe, and brought people across the planet together, if just for a moment.

What’s the scenario? One person wearing some sort of face-obstructing helmet dances to the club banger “Harlem Shake,” by Baauer, amidst the pacified masses. Bass drops, everyone’s into it. It’s the ultimate release. The sedated prisoners of society are liberated from the chains of their regular lives and dance like they’ve gone brilliantly mad. That’s the Shake.

It’s also ridiculously popular. Requiring little more than 30 seconds and almost no understanding of video editing, a Harlem Shake video is one of the easiest massive cultural sensations to join. Accordingly, hoards of sports teams, army soldiers, office workers and students have rushed to birth their own variant of the phenomenon before its expiration date. You almost certainly have at least one or two friends that have participated in their own 30-second tantrums. The Associated Student Body rushed into the Harlem fray, and on Feb. 15 a school-wide bout was hosted. Modestly put, the Harlem Shake is everywhere.

The Harlem Shake is, at its essence, a silly fad about doing a silly dance to a silly song. But, really, that’s not all internet sensations ever really are. Internet memes are, for all their cookie-cutter lack of imagination, one of the premier unifying devices of the 21st century. Offering creative license to anyone with an internet connection, image macros and video crazes connect the entire globe. Any emotion or thought can be unleashed upon the web almost instantaneously with a couple clicks and a handful of words. It’s expression distilled down to the bare essentials, the Newspeak of our generation.

Ridiculous as Harlem Shakes, meme pages, planks and other web fads may be, they bring us together like no other medium can. The effort may be akin to a decently-written wall post, but the impact is astronomical. One post – just one post! – can be the seed crystal to a burst of responses by millions, as a community of sand, rising and falling with the waves of time. For a brief instant, a funny post about something we can all relate to (“Hey, teachers really do say that a lot!”) brings hundreds of students eye-to-eye, regardless of grade level, GPA or social circle. Just the same, a group of friends doing a silly dance to a funky electronic song brought the entire planet together for about a week. It didn’t matter where you lived or what you did for a living or even how much money you had. All that mattered was that you shake.