The Harlem Shake & Pope Get A Facelift!

Note from the Editor: “The Artifact” is not your conventional news source—mainly because it is not a news source at all. What this weekly Sunday article provides is a platform where world events are juxtaposed with works of art, finding reflections and similarities in the often-frictional relationship between the “real world” and the “art world.” It is the case that most works of art, abstract or representative, tend to imitate life or an aspect of it. The Artifact, complementarily, seeks to find life situations that imitate works of art already made.

My Harlem Shake Brings All The Boys To The Yard

If you’re not familiar with the term “Harlem Shake” by now, double-check your surroundings because you might be living under a rock. But then again, Internet access under rocks is quite rare so I don’t blame you if you have not yet heard of the most recent meme to shake up the virtual world. The online meme that reached its viral peak during the past month of February had everyone “Harlem Shaking” in all imaginable scenarios: students in class, soldiers during training sessions, musicians at concerts, TV personalities, popular cartoons, complete unknowns––you name it, everyone was doing it (or thinking about doing it).

But where they really “Harlem Shaking” though? Of course not. Anybody that cared to do a little research would discover that the name “Harlem Shake” actually defines a dance that originated in the 1980s in Harlem, New York.

The phrase, “Good artists copy, great artists steal” is largely attributed to Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest thieves (or appropriators, take your pick) in the history of art. But it is the work of Andy Warhol—another great art thief—that echoes most with the Harlem Shake’s misappropriation fiasco. How? I can summarize it in three words: Campbell’s Soup Cans.

Any Google image search of the term “Campbell’s Soup Cans” will bring up the images of Warhol’s 1962 seminal artwork, “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans” instead of an actual can of Campbell’s Soup. And how could it not? The work of art became an icon of pop art during the 60s and brought Warhol international acclaim. After his stunt, the soup can was no longer just a tomato soup can from Campbell’s but an artwork by Andy.

Similarly, today you mention the words “Harlem Shake” and very few will associate it with a certain “Al B,” resident of Harlem, New York, who introduced the dance to the community in the early 1980s. Instead, far from any association with the original dance, you will receive one of two reactions: some people will laugh (perhaps because they have made a video following the meme or at least have thought about it) while others will look at you in disdain—those who, since its inception, have found the meme quite idiotic.