It did not seem possible that there would be something more mindless than the Gangnam Style popularity which has swept popular culture recently, but here comes the Harlem Shake phenomenon which pervades cyberspace via YouTube primarily.

Initially, I had the impression that it was a direct East vs. West response to Gangnam Style since the first word of the popular phenomenon both referred to geographic location but as I tried to search for the original music video I kept coming across Internet memes with strange masked people shaking their booties in a room of “normal” people going about their business and within a few seconds the strange gyrations of the lone masked person seems to infect the room and everyone starts bobbing about in a manner which resembles a mass epileptic seizure of strange characters and most notably a person in a pink costume and a person who is wiggling around on the floor like a worm, and a person in a gas mask or motorcycle helmet. Versions characters seem to appear in the different video memes.

Now, why is the Harlem Shake so popular and despite its being more mindless and seemingly more pointless than the choreographed Gangnam Style dance craze it seems to be even more viral. I think it works because unlike choreographed danced movies which have to be learned to be involved in a Gangnam style video, no dancing skill level is required to participate in a Harlem Shake video–simply a willingness to leave one’s inhibitions at the door and let loose and have fun and in some instances, a chance to act crazy and enjoy oneself anonymously behind a mask and/or a costume.

It is participative and entertaining because of the humor in seeing a stranged masked person dancing in a costume or doing strange movements seemingly invisible to the rest of the people on the scene who are portrayed initially as doing mundane boring daily activities. It appeals to our unconscious desire to uninhibitedly let lose in a mundane daily routine group setting, which is not usually the case under typical daily scenarios. The contrast pulls our attention and further amuses is when everyone finally gives in and have fun with no differentiation or discrimination of wiggling, gyrating, shaking, or dancing styles. It allows everyone to happily be themselves and yet belong in a group/community. Isn’t this one of the basic human psychological needs? And strangely enough, without meaning to, this popular Internet video meme Harlem Shake addresses and allows it.

That’s why it works.

(c) Niconica 2013

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