Fired for Doing the ‘Harlem Shake’

Axed for doing the “Harlem Shake.” Fired over “Gangnam Style.” Kevin Fallon on the memes that are NSFW.

When does a meme officially jump the shark and reach its expiration date? Is it when your parents catch on to it? Not quite. When it’s featured on an episode of Glee? Almost. More recently, it seems that the warning siren that it’s time for a meme to end is when well-meaning partakers lose their jobs over it.

According to the Associated Press, there are now 15 unfortunate miners in Australia who will be forced to tell future employers that they were once fired for doing the “Harlem Shake.” The “Harlem Shake,” of course is the ubiquitous smash by DJ and music producer Baauer, which took off thanks to the do-it-yourself popularity of the spate of videos it inspired. As seen in versions created by airline passengers, the Miami Heat, and countless web-savvy YouTube users around the world, the “Harlem Shake” finds one person, usually disguised in a strange mask, bopping to music while those surrounding him ignore him. Then, “the beat drops,” the camera shot cuts, and dozens of people crowd the frame dancing like lunatics.

As the meme skyrocketed in popularity, fans continually upped the ante, challenging themselves to “Harlem Shake” in increasingly unusual places. Up there with the wildest “Shake” locales is the Agnew Gold Mine in Australia, where eight men donning hard hats and safety gear performed their own version of the spastic dance last week. However, the miners’ bosses didn’t think the video was all in good fun, as the performers and at least seven employee spectators were sacked, as the stunt was deemed a safety hazard and a breach of the mine’s “core values of safety, integrity and excellence.”

Sure, memes can get annoying. But ruin livelihoods? It’s not the first time.

In September, 14 lifeguards at a city pool in El Monte, Calif., were fired after creating their own version of Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” titled “Lifeguard Style.” The gauntlet to the group’s jobs inspired enough outrage to turn the lifeguards into something of folk heroes—many were college students using their income to pay for tuition—and after much debate they were rehired a month later.

Dancing isn’t the only viral act that’s lost people their jobs. A Starbucks barista was fired after a song he wrote ranting about the chain went viral. A group of Wal-Mart employees were given the pink slip last fall after a video of them vandalizing the store’s iPad stock made the rounds. A snowplow driver got the axe after posting a video of himself gleefully dumping snowdrifts onto cars earlier this winter.

The lesson to be learned from all this: Though the prospect of viral stardom may be intoxicating, avoid seeking it out at your place of work. Otherwise, you could be Harlem Shaking your way to the unemployment office.