3 Reasons the Harlem Shake Sucks as a Form of Protest


It has become apparent that the Harlem Shake dance meme isn't going away anytime soon -- in fact, thanks to the recent arrests of four Egyptian students performing the "dance," it has now become a symbol of protest in the Middle East.

But hey, expressions of protest come in many forms -- just look at the flower-wielding mud ghosts of your parents in the 1960s and '70s. Only here's the thing ...

It's Not Going to Get the Message Across

Here's an image: It's the 1970s, and angry young men and women show up to protest the Vietnam War. In an act of defiance, they all line up and begin to flap their arms like chicken wings while stepping in place, or perhaps they bring out the big guns and "do the hustle."

Go CLUCK Yovuryelf, LBJ!
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"Take that, war!"

Not only is the Harlem Shake already being plundered by ad agencies, it's also fucking meaningless in terms of message. The media understand it as much as your elderly uncle, with a few news sites assuming that the people must wear the giant Mickey Mouse heads to protect their identities from persecution.

3 Reasons the Harlem Shake Sucks as a Form of Protest

"They'll never find me in here ..."

In the States, like all memes, it's a meaningless novelty, like the Macarena or condoms. Now take the novelty and bring it over to the Middle East -- see how much the world will care then.

You can only imagine what the Muslim Brotherhood must think when a conga line of humping mascots is formed outside their headquarters.

3 Reasons the Harlem Shake Sucks as a Form of Protest
Gianluigi Guercia / Getty

Above: Democracy.

But hey, at least a conga line is a form of dance ...

It's Not a Dance, It's a Symbol of Time-Wasting

Sure, it involves dancing, but the Harlem Shake is to dancing what "planking" is to sleeping. In fact, much like planking, the Harlem Shake will at best kill someone.

3 Reasons the Harlem Shake Sucks as a Form of Protest
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"No, seriously, you guys -- this is gonna be fucking hysterical."

It's already sent two Israeli soldiers to jail for almost a month, because that's kind of what happens when you shoot a music video around a tank and post it on YouTube instead of doing whatever the hell you should be doing around a tank.

The problem is simple: A flash mob dance is a coordinated public dance designed to surprise and delight the public. The Harlem Shake is a funny edit point that takes an afternoon to set up and execute. In fact, it's the same funny edit point each time.

Try to picture the moment between those two edit points -- you know, when the guy stops humping the air and everyone has to put their Kermit the Frog outfits on in the middle of Santa's Village at the mall -- how delighted do you think the public is going to be? Now replace the mall with a fucking airliner.

3 Reasons the Harlem Shake Sucks as a Form of Protest

The guy on the bottom left is just happy to make human contact.

"Hey, everyone, I know you really want the plane to take off, but just give me and my friends a second to put on this Nixon mask and banana suit real quick for this funny thing we're doing for the Internet! Also, if everyone could dance while I hump around, that would be great ..."

There's a Reason Why People Are Getting in Trouble

Here's a question: When that Harlem Shake flash mob broke out on Frontier Airlines Flight 157, do you suppose the FAA got involved because of silliness?

In the same way a picture meme gets overly caricatured and exaggerated with each new telling, the Harlem Shake dares people to get stupider and stupider with their location of choice.

3 Reasons the Harlem Shake Sucks as a Form of Protest
Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images News/Getty Images

"... and I can't believe you guys don't think an active war zone is the perfect place for this."

A recent news story that covered a student arrest in Queens even described the school officials as acting like the "dance-banning town folk in the movie Footloose" before going on to mention that it led to a giant food fight in the cafeteria and not two freaking "dance-offs" in two different locations.

In fact, most of the recent trouble has very little to do with expression and more to do with the fact that people are taking out huge disruptive chunks of time to elaborately film a dress-up dance session.

When 15 Australian miners were fired for performing the Harlem Shake in a goddamn gold mine, it wasn't for any oppressive anti-fooling-around shaking of the finger; it was because they were in a fucking mine. When those Egyptians were doing their thing before being silenced, they were in their underwear, dry humping a neighborhood block. That's the kind of thing that should get someone arrested in any country.

The point is: When you choose your symbol of revolution, make sure the symbol doesn't involve an assault rifle being used as a dance baton.

3 Reasons the Harlem Shake Sucks as a Form of Protest

In fairness, it does add to the ironic hipness.

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