The Life Span of a Meme: Harlem Shake

They say the stars that shine the brightest, flame out the fastest.  Or, as is the case with internet memes: the tire fires that stink the worst, pollute most quickly.

The internet meme is a freak phenomenon that can’t be predicted or controlled; and one that, by design, is engineered to live fast and leave a good looking corpse. Most memes have a life span of only around 21 to 23 days, or about the gestation period of the average sewer rat. That’s how the Bubonic Plague “went viral.”

Using the recent internet sensation, the “Harlem Shake” video as our example, let’s examine how the internet consumes memes, metabolizes their empty calories, and poops them out into tidy little piles.

Stage 1: Genesis

The song, “Harlem Shake” was uploaded to YouTube by electronica/trap music producer Baauer way back in August of 2012, or in meme terms, 100 years ago. On the internet, your thing is not a thing, until somebody else takes that thing and does something similar with the thing.

Baauer’s thing became a thing when video blogger Filthy_Frank of DizastaMusic uploaded this video to YouTube, the original “Do the Harlem Shake,” in early February.

Stage 2: Viral Stage

“Whoa! Cool video, bro,” said the internet ironically when Youtubers TheSunnyCoast and PHL_On_NAN made several parodies of the Filthy_Frank video that went viral. 300,000 hits on this one within just 24 hours:

Within a few days everybody was making “Harlem Shake” vids. The internet rejoiced.

In an office!

In a dorm room!

In a nursing home?

Stage 3: Creative Perversion

The internet is made for perverts, but not just the sad, pseudo-sexual kind. In this next stage the internet begins to pervert the concept of the original parody into “parody of a parody,” or, as the Germans say, “Schaden-meme-a.”

Charlie Brown!

Lego Batman!

Stage 4: The Re-Memeing

At this stage of the meme’s lifecycle, the internet is already beginning to tire of the meme. The internet will now re-appropriate past memes to comment on this new meme’s burgeoning overexposure.

willy wonka harlem shake

grumpy cat harlem shake

This stage is the beginning of the end, and rolls right into…

Stage 5: The Backlash

“Sorry, meme. You and I both knew this couldn’t last,” says the internet earnestly. At this stage, the snarkiest of your Facebook friends will begin to post about how lame and annoying the meme is. Alas, ‘tis better to have memed and lost, than to never have memed at all.

Your EXTRA snarky friends may even post a Someecards on the subject:

someecards harlem shake

Stage 6: Your Mom

Weeks, or possibly months, from now you will get an email like this from your mom’s account.



R.I.P. Harlem Shake, 2013-2013

– John Mangan



One thought on “The Life Span of a Meme: Harlem Shake

  1. Pingback: It’s Not You, It’s Meme. -

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