Episode 242: The Harlem Snake is Eating Its Own Harlem Tail

The Overthinkers tackle the Harlem Shake.

Peter Fenzel, Jordan Stokes, and Matthew Wrather overthink the Harlem Shake, the semiotics of the drop, and the production & meaning of electronic music and viral videos.

Apologies in advance to Phish fans.


→ Download Episode 242 (MP3)

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13 Comments on “Episode 242: The Harlem Snake is Eating Its Own Harlem Tail”

  1. Anthony Abatte #

    I’m surprised the latest Die Hard wasn’t the focus of this week’s episode. I was wondering if the Overthinkers were going to discuss The Expendables’ succes vs the individual, aging action stars new releases.

    In regards to the Harlem Shake, I wonder if anyone on the panel is aware that the original Harlem Shake was a hip hop dance in the early 2000s and that none of the viral videos have had anyone perform the actual dance.

    Of course, I’m posting this Sunday night before I listen to the episode, where I predict, most of these topics will pop up. Or ,the return of Harvey Firestein.


    • babybiceps #

      I’ve read the original Harlem Shake (dance) to be even older, from the early eighties. Bringing it back to the viral videos, that use the song by Baauer called Harlem Shake, which supposedly is one of the first songs in the trap genre, a blend of dubstep and early crispy hip-hop beats.

      Dutch music site 3voor12 has a nice list compiled on the subject:


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      I asked the other Overthinkers to push back our discussion of Die Had for a week because I was traveling and didn’t get a chance to see it. Don’t worry, we’ll definitely talk about it on the podcast.


  2. Nick #

    To bring things full circle-ish, the video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has sections that are like a pep rally where everyone’s bored, and then parts where a mob is moshing on the stage with the band, even stealing their equipment. So it’s not like this is a new idea, but maybe just having 30 second installments and putting it to something that sounds more regimented like dubstep where you’re supposed to feel the drop coming so you know what to do is some variation on the theme.

    Also, in one of their Moments Of Zen last week, The Daily Show had Jon Stewart in a motorcycle helmet and a mumu dancing the Harlem Shake while his crew were just hanging out on set, presumably on break. When the drop hits, everybody but Stewart DISAPPEARS, and he lifts his visor, looks around, sees nobody’s there, and continues dancing.

    Lastly, it feels sort of like the Harlem Shake is setting a new record for feeling played out. Maybe because Jon Stewart has actually heard of it already.


  3. Chris #

    To make amends to Phish fans, might I recommend the periodic Earwolf podcast Analyze Phish, wherein devoted Phish fan, Parks and Rec writer, and Humblebrag creator Harris Wittels tries to convince noted comedic presence Scott Aukerman to like Phish. Although, after doing that for a few episodes Analyze Phish now features different people and is about the movie Jaws. Also, you don’t have to like Phish to enjoy that particular podcast. I dislike them, but I found it a worthwhile listen.

    It is a credit to the podcast that you guys managed to put together an episode I enjoyed even though it was about a bit of tedious internet ephemera I have zero interest in. I did see the Daily Show thing, though, but I was only interested in seeing if Elliott Kalan and Dan McCoy from The Flop House podcast were on the screen.

    Lastly, my one trip to Culver City did not correlate to Wrather’s description thereof. It seemed only navigable via automobile, and it was also the only time since living in LA that I had to pay for parking. I’m sure it is probably because of different neighborhoods within the area.


    • Chris #

      I figured I was safe leaving my comment with a mew few minutes left on the episode. I was wrong. First, and most importantly, Carl Weathers doesn’t get a stew ON. He gets a stew GOIN’. Although, now I don’t feel completely confident that he always says that. I feel like he may have said “on” when he was getting a stew goin’ with Lucille 2. Have I become everything I’ve ever hated?

      Second, you could have gone with Carl Spackler from Caddyshack, or Carl Carlson from The Simpsons. Maybe maneuvered from Carl to Cal and brought in Cal Ripken Jr, and then somehow brought in Billy Ripken and his infamous baseball card. All I’m saying is that there was probably another good hour of content available to you.


  4. L33tminion #

    I thought the amazing thing about the Harlem Shake meme is just how self-referential it is. Note that I’m talking about this video and its descendants, this video is clearly a precursor, but I thinkit’s missing a crucial element.)

    The structure of the video goes something like this:
    1. Guy in a helmet is puts on some music and starts dancing, while people around ignore him.
    2. The music commands: “Do the Harlem Shake.”
    3. Suddenly everyone is dancing crazily.

    Assuming you take this as the sort of narrative where things happen for a reason, the individual in the helmet is a trend-setter. People ignore them at first, but are compelled by the power of the Harlem Shake to join in. So it’s a viral video about how “the Harlem Shake” is this viral thing, like the subliminal message of the video itself is “make more Harlem Shake videos”.


    • JosephFM #

      OMG! How did I not see this? I actually know the guys in Team Jaguar. They DJ a club night in Tallahassee every Friday.

      Of course, they did a Harlem Shake video too.


  5. tawsifhc89 #

    On the topic of the real Harlem Shake, here are some reactions from folks in Harlem to the meme: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGH2HEgWppc&feature=youtu.be

    It’s interesting how even young people (some of those kids look like they’re teenagers) share the feeling of insult the older folks do. What does that say about a culture’s need to “defend” those things it considers its “own?” Haven’t thought this out thoroughly, but I’m interested in hearing what others think about these reactions.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      Well, for one, it raises the question of how the person making the video chose the clips to include in the video. I suspect it is not a random sample.

      For another, while the videographers claims they included everyone, the way in which every person on the street responds in the same syntax implies they are responding to questions or suggestions from the videographers which are not included in the video, such as “Does this look like The Harlem Shake to you?” “Are these people offending you?” It is not hard to do this kind of push polling and get the response you want.

      For another, the three Harlem shake videos they chose to show the people are all pretty homoerotic — all men in bedrooms, with two of them having men stripped to their underwear humping stuff, and the third with men touching each other in spandex. It isn’t clear whether shock or offense on behalf of the people in the video is because they are co-opting the dance move inauthentically or because they are associating it with homosexuality. If these people are bothered because they are using the Harlem Shake name to do gay stuff, then I am not troubled by that. Let them be bothered.

      For another, this feels sort of like people complaining that Wham! wasn’t actually doing the Jitterbug. I mean, sure, Wham! is silly and inauthentic. Point taken.


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