Category: In The News

(Mis) Appropriation and the Harlem Shake?

Still from YouTube Video
“It’s basically taking what we do and making a joke out of it”

In case you missed it, a new meme of Gangamtuan proportions has been sweeping social media.  The Harlem Shake memestarted by a group of teenagers in Australia, consists of videos

“…[that] last between 30 and 32 seconds and feature an excerpt from the song “Harlem Shake” by electronic musician Baauer. Usually, a video begins with one person (often helmeted or masked) dancing to the song alone for 15 seconds, surrounded by other people not paying attention or unaware of the dancing individual. When the bass drops, the video cuts to the entire crowd doing a crazy convulsive dance for the next 15 seconds.” (Source: Wikipedia)

According to the WSJ, you should either be “A) currently obsessed with, B) sheepishly late to or C) already sick of” the Harlem Shake.  This is based on the WSJ’s “tracking its evolution over three weeks.”  But the Harlem Shake did not start three weeks ago.  The original Harlem Shake dance

“…called the albee, is a dance introduced in 1981 by a Harlem resident named “Al B”. The dance was initially referred to as “albee” after his name, but later became known as the Harlem shake as its prominence grew beyond the neighborhood. The dance became mainstream in 2001 when G. Dep featured the Harlem shake in his music video “Let’s Get It”. ” (Source:  Wikipedia)

A series of interviews with Harlem residents by Shlepp Films, presents an alternative view of this meme.

Maybe the WSJ needs to add another reaction to the Harlem Shake Meme and that is; some of us are reading it as an opportunity to question the interaction between technology, participation, representation and innovation.

This is something that the  Grio has attempted to address in its article entitled ‘The Harlem Shake Meme shows how the Internet overrides race’.  According to the article,

[Critics of the Harlem Shake meme] are right to acknowledge the sordid history of cultural products being seized from, and mass-produced at the expense of, such neighborhoods as Harlem. However, their reaction begs the glaring question of whether the new age Internet lives by their rules of race and cultural categories. The answer to that question is simply no. The Internet produces and will continue to birth cultural phenomena, such as the Harlem Shake meme, that blur the lines of race and culture. (Source: The Grio)

Further reading:

Slate:  Harlem responds to the Harlem Shake Meme

Vulture: 5 videos featuring the original Harlem Shake

 

 

Online Ads and Racial Bias

Have you ever been arrested? Imagine the question not appearing in the solitude of your thoughts as you read this paper, but appearing explicitly whenever someone queries your name in a search engine. […] Appearing alongside your list of accomplishments is an advertisement implying you may have a criminal record, whether you actually have one or not. Worse, the ads don’t appear for your competitors.  Source

The above is the opening paragraph to Harvard University’s Prof. Latanya Sweeney‘s report on Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery.  According to the report

…names typically associated with black people were more likely to produce ads related to criminal activity.  Source: BBC News

Writing about how the research was conducted, Technology Review reports:

Sweeney gathered this evidence by collecting over 2000 names that were suggestive of race. For example, first names such as Trevon, Lakisha and Darnell suggest the owner is black while names like Laurie, Brendan and Katie suggest the owner is white.

She then entered these plus surnames into Google.com and Reuters.com and examined the ads they returned. Most names generated ads for public records. However, black-identifying names turned out to be much more likely than white-identifying names to generate ads that including the word “arrest” (60 per cent versus 48 per cent). Source

Though “there is less than a 0.1% probability” that these findings “can be explained by chance” the report does not explain why this discrimination occurs, partly because this is outside the scope of the research but also because more information about the workings of Google AdSense is required.

Read the full report