It's been almost a week now since the whole Harlem Shake phenomenon began to reach critical mass. Before shit got completely ridiculous and ubiquitous, Chris McGuire of Schlepp Films in New York made a video and posted it online. Sensing a viral trend taking shape, the filmmaker and his friends filmed a thirty-second clip of themselves spazzing out to the song. McGuire has since posted a new video on YouTube that he filmed earlier this week, featuring the varied reactions to the craze from actual Harlemites. We tracked McGuire down last night and asked him to share what he learned from the experience and how his perspective has changed as a result.
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Like most of the people who eventually hopped on the bandwagon, McGuire says he wasn't aware that the Harlem Shake had genuine historical and cultural connotations rooted in Harlem. Soon enough, he discovered the naivety of his ways. "I read a post about how it wasn't the 'Harlem Shake' and how it was bullshit," recalls McGuire. "So I thought, 'Let's go to the source.'"
And so that's exactly what he did. Heading to the heart of the New York neighborhood, McGuire and a friend set up within a stone's throw of the famed Apollo Theater, where they attracted folks to weigh in by holding up signs. Once the two found some willing participants, they showed folks the videos and then filmed their reactions. The consensus: Whatever you want to call this spastic mating ritual being currently passed off as the Harlem Shake, it most definitely didn't originate in Harlem, and it scarcely resembles the dance that did in the '90s.
To his surprise, many of the folks had not seen any of the videos, and after screening some of them, they ended up being more offended than humored. And McGuire can totally see why. "In my opinion," he says, "it strikes me that, yes, it's a fun thing, and America is a driving force for stuff like this. But it also strikes me as one of these kinds of things where, once again, whitey stole rock and roll."
Americans in particular, he points out, tend to have a knack for attaching themselves to these trends with such fervor that they often disregard the cultural implications that come with the ignorance of not knowing the history, and this is true even with something as seemingly harmless like the "Harlem Shake." "The authentic dance has a meaning to a culture," notes McGuire, who's treated to an especially animated demonstration of the original at the end of the latest clip. "You have to understand it's an art form that deserves respect."
In the past week, the Harlem Shake has obviously caught fire all over the world, inspiring countless throngs to make their own Harlem Shake videos. For his part, McGuire's perspective seems to have shifted entirely thanks to his trip to Harlem and the people he spoke with. "The state of our society and civilization is crumbling," he concludes, taking on a more beleaguered tone. "The rich are getting richer and the poor is getting poorer, but yet here we are just taking off our shirts and humpin' our friends."
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