Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Harlem Shake Is Dead. Long live the Harlem Shake!

ThinkProgress has an article on the "Harlem Shake" meme as an example of the co-opting of black culture by mainstream white culture. It's an interesting read and there's no doubt that the appropriation of black culture is so pervasive that it is practically an American value (and certainly an American industry) but I think the author missed something crucial.

What we're seeing here is more than just an appropriation of one culture by another and the subsequent neutering of the idea. We're seeing an active demonstration of the Situationist concept of "recuperation". Anything that could potentially be subversive will almost immediately be recuperated by the dominant culture and stripped of its value. Frequently this is done by commodification but the memefication of cultural artifacts seems just as effective at rendering something meaningless, mainstream and regressive. I'm sure the 99 cents app or ringtone of the Harlem Shake is just around the corner.

This form of suppression crosses all race, gender and (possibly) even class boundaries and comes down to a battle of master narratives. The only means we have of resisting is by continuing to create at a rate that exceeds the dominant culture's ability to recuperate and to juxtapose and re-juxtapose extant works in ways that undermine their existing narrative.

It's a Sisyphean task. Here's to being foolish enough to believe in art, joy and revolution!

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