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The federal case against the 'Harlem Shake' craze
The YouTube-spread dance party meme is getting plenty of backlash. Now the FAA is getting involved
One lone dancer starts off the in-air performance before others join him.
One lone dancer starts off the in-air performance before others join him. YouTube
T

he "Harlem Shake" social dance craze has gotten so out of hand that, thanks to the hundreds of thousands of versions on YouTube, a once-obscure dance track by Bauuer has been the No. 1 song on the Billboard charts for the past two weeks. Predictably, the meme has met with some blowback: It's a cheap knockoff of a real Harlem dance, it's causing schoolchildren to get suspended or even cited by the police, and prompting mayhem on public transportation, it's been done to death, or it's just plain dumb. But it took this version of the "Harlem Shake," organized and shot by members of Colorado College ultimate Frisbee team, to get the feds involved:

On Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration said that it was looking into whether having passengers dancing in the aisles and seats of a jetliner mid-flight violates federal safety regulations. The FAA didn't cite any specific rules breached — "That's why we do investigations," a source tells The Associated Press — and both Frontier and the Colorado frisbee players say the viral stunt was cleared with the crew and other passengers, at a time that the fasten-seatbelt sign was off. But aviation experts are siding with the FAA on this one.

Having passengers gyrate wildly at 35,000 feet is "ridiculous," retired airline pilot Jim Tilmon tells CNN. "A commercial airplane in flight... is not a dance hall, it's not an entertainment stage, it's not any of those things.... It may seem cute but you cannot tell me it is safe to have that number of people up out of their seat jumping up and down." At the risk of being "a bureaucratic kill-joy," concurs Steve Wallace, a former director of the FAA's Office of Accident Investigation, "I think there is a safety issue here. Turbulence injuries are the most common type of injuries, and they are virtually eliminated when people are in their seat belts." Other self-described buzzkills warn about giving cover to hijackers or simply impeding flight attendants from doing their job.

Doing the Harlem Shake on a passenger aircraft may in fact be just "harmless fun, in an awful sort of way," says Taylor Berman at Gawker. "But to be on the safe side, let's all agree to stop making 'Harlem Shake' videos, in the air or anywhere else."

Here's the thing: The Harlem Shake may be turning into an annoyance here, says Gabriel Bell at Refinery29, but it's "becoming somewhat of a cri de coeur in Tunisia and Egypt." On Feb. 23, police in Egypt arrested four pharmaceutical students for making a Harlem Shake video in their underwear, an homage to a popular Australian version, and the Tunisian education minister has vowed to investigate and hold responsible the people behind a Harlem Shake video filmed at a local high school last weekend that poked fun at Islamists. In response, Tunisian students are skipping school and have clashed with ultraconservative Salafists while making copycat versions. On Thursday night, about 400 protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo:

So roll your eyes at the Shake craze, but the simple defiant act of filming the dance "could have real, dire legal consequences" for these people, says Refinery29's Bell. "It's a weird world we live in folks, one without enough liberty, compassion, and justice." And "as honestly dumb as the fad may seem around here," the "stakes are strikingly high" for young people in Arab Spring nations. Sometimes freedom hinges on small acts of "apparently inconsequential" rebellion.

Gandhi's trip to the seashore to collect a few handfuls of banned natural salt became a watershed moment in the Indian self-rule movement. When African Americans sat where they pleased at lunch counters and on buses, it changed the national conversation on race.... Just something to keep in mind the next time one of your friends turns on a video camera and starts thrusting his hips to the beat. [Refinery29]

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