Junk Drawer File: Non-canonical Work and the Harlem Shake

As an addendum to my last post, or a couple of shiny objects that distracted me while I was writing it, I submit the following.

Sherlock Holmes, in the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle canon, never uttered the famous phrase, “Elementary my dear Watson”. Did you know that? Me neither.

It turns out, there is no consensus as to when or how this got started, but some think it was popularized during stage adaptations of the original work. For a full rundown check out this link on Snopes.com.

The Holmes character has been adapted a hundred ways in a variety of mediums, and has recently taken on a life of it’s own that is far beyond Doyle’s original conception. If you’ve never read the original material, you may have no idea how the Holmes phenomenon began. In some cases, the source material may be almost unrecognizable when viewed through the adaptation lens.

Still, interest in the character is extremely robust, and I’m certain it hasn’t hurt sales of the original Holmes books.

I just cannot help wondering how Doyle would have felt about an action figure Holmes, as played by Robert Downey, Jr.?

These days, with the ubiquity of the internet and availability of technical tools, any  piece of music, film, literature, or even news footage can be quickly appropriated by other artists or the public at large for a variety of purposes. Fan fiction, YouTube, Auto-Tune the News, Memes, Carly Rae Jepsen Lip-Synching, Psy Parodies, Hip Hop Sampling; it seems that almost everything is scooped up into the public domain and processed into other forms.

Lately, I am fascinated with the Harlem Shake phenomenon. I have never heard the original song, am not sure who performs it, and am unsure who made the original Harlem Shake YouTube video (turns out it’s someone called Baauer). For those who are uninitiated, it goes down like this:

Somebody uploaded a homemade music video set to maybe 25 seconds of the song. It starts out with a few people in a room, going about their business, seemingly not noticing one person in the room dancing (if you can call it that) to the music, usually with a strange hat, helmet or mask on. When the song hits a certain point, the film cuts to a wild, frenzied scene of dancing, as well as other bizarre activities, some silly, some pretty profane. Suddenly there are more participants, frequently dressed in costumes: aliens, superheroes, lots of them feature underwear for some reason. I think the idea is to show a mundane scene devolve into a bacchanal on a dime, like the thin membrane of civilization has been instantly removed.

There are literally dozens of versions of this theme on YouTube. The same 25 seconds, with different interpretations. It’s a mad act of absurdist theater. Some call it flash mobbery. I have no idea. But it’s fascinating, sometimes a little disturbing.

And it’s another case of an original work taking on new forms in the hands of others, for better or worse. Most of the people who came to the song arrived at it via one of these ridiculous videos. So, it’s free marketing for Baauer. I’m sure downloads of the song are way up. I saw that the song had hit #1 on the Billboard chart, ever since the magazine began including YouTube data in their formula. Just a few years ago, copyright lawyers would have been released, killing the fad before it could take root. But the landscape is changing.

Therein lies the difference. Baauer is a part of the YouTube age. Likely, the song was designed to go viral, on some level. And for artists that are not household names (Baauer?), the attention is welcome, even if the original creation has been usurped by a bunch of kids with video cameras and Stormtrooper helmets.


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2 Responses to Junk Drawer File: Non-canonical Work and the Harlem Shake

  1. Julie Manders says:

    Here’s hoping you are a Baauer.

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