March 1, 2005

Ma-ia-hii, Ma-ia-huu, Ma-ia-hoo, Ma-ia-haha

by Nick Montfort · , 1:34 am

Numa Numa Dance Striking a blow for chair dancing and Romanian techno, Gary Brolsma’s Numa Numa Dance (recently written up in the New York Times) already seems to have eclipsed the fame of the Star Wars Kid, Badger Badger Badger, and their contemporary kin, and now seems poised to challenge that uncanny boss monster of moving pictures on the Web: The Dancing Baby.

The Times and other parties are puzzled about the popularity of this video, done by someone with (as The New York Daily News puts it) “the lip-synching talent of Ashlee Simpson and the physique of the Pillsbury Doughboy.” Why is this Flash file so compelling? Brolsma himself seems to have no idea, and commentators have done little more than note that it is amusing, makes for a convenient distraction, and is set to a catchy song.

Let us briefly consider the sublime qualities of Numa Numa Dance and its relevance to our cultural moment.

While this video has some degenerate relationship to music videos and home videos, the stronger connection seems to be to quotidian webcam footage. For the past decade, low-quality, computer-mounted cameras have most often afforded public access to a private but ordinary activity, sitting in front of the computer and working. Obviously, there are seedier uses for webcams, and the devices have come to be associated recently with personal conversation, as video conferencing has reached larger numbers of people through iChat AV, GnomeMeeting, and other systems. Overseeing the uninteresting, and indicating that the computer is attended, is still the webcam’s main function, though. The webcam is a self-surveillance camera that, whether monitored or not (Foucault explains that it doesn’t matter, of course), watches the modern corporation’s cash register, its store of value: the knowledge worker.

STFU Another singing webcam video, STFU, shows even more clearly that the tedium of office (or home office) life is what we typically see through this particular camera’s lens.

Brolsma’s video, which lacks the downbeat conclusion of STFU, shows how to flail in rapturous freedom while confined before an information appliance, how to fashion one’s own expression while following a pre-existing sound track, aided by consumer electronics and commercial software. If we’re going to dance at all these days, we’d better learn to do it in our chairs. The more interesting story behind Numa Numa Dance is not some parable of inadvertent self-humiliation. It lies in how this video, incredibly uncool as it is, gestures toward ways that we might be able to find play in the machine.

18 Responses to “Ma-ia-hii, Ma-ia-huu, Ma-ia-hoo, Ma-ia-haha”

  1. Gunther Says:

    I find the movie unendingly hilarious because it’s so obviosuly enthusiastic but at the same time not humiliating the way the Star Wars video is.

  2. josh g. Says:

    Wow, this is a phenomenon? A random friend pointed me to the original a while back, and I thought he was nuts. At least the remake got rid of the really annoying still shots (which made it feel to me like this was just a silly in-joke for the friends pictured), but I’m still shrugging.

  3. joshlee Says:

    The Numa Numa Dance video is definitely related to webcamming in that both suggest a slow shift in way panoptic institutions work, from Foucault’s carceral culture to a more exhibitionist culture. Instead of being surveilled, we put ourselves on display; instead of being shamed and disciplined by the viewers’ gaze, we consciously act out in search of our 15 minutes. Fun!

    Except that the dominant discourse surrounding Numa Numa, particularly the NYT article, smacks exhibitionism down by playing up the embarassment and attendant stresses of putting yourself on display, turning goofy fun into shameful pathology and reinforcing the carceral nature of observation. Sad.

  4. greglas Says:

    You tell em joshlee — I had the same reaction to the NYT article. Something that most people (in my circles at least) thought was a kind of fun amateur performance was transformed by the NYT into something about the need for body type shame / a smug dismissal of grassroots content production. Very sad — though this is about what you’d expect from New Yorkers, ain’t it? Maybe if he were wearing black and smoking it would be taken seriously.

    (Still, this one does not top the badgers…)

  5. mark Says:

    I don’t think the “body type shame” is something the NYT invented or anything less than central to why this is even in the news. Having been a longtime member of many forums where these sorts of internet fads get initiated and propagated, I think the “exhibitionist” take is backwards. The person in the video may have created the video, but he didn’t create the phenomenon—a zillion people create video and images of themselves and put them on the web daily, and most are ignored.

    The way the phenomena usually start is that there are a lot of bored people who sift through this nearly limitless pile of media to find things they find particularly funny. Sometimes they hit on something more amusing than usual, often with vague (or not so vague) undertones of ridicule directed at the discovered subject. I see dozens of these posts a day from people who’ve dug up something they think is funny, usually either from personal websites or some small forum that doesn’t expect outsiders to be reading what they post there. Occasionally something is funny enough to get passed around to enough people so that it reaches a critical mass sufficient to attract non-internet-dweller attention, at which point it’s labelled a “phenomenon”.

  6. Dirk Scheuring Says:


    It lies in how this video, incredibly uncool as it is, gestures toward ways that we might be able to find play in the machine.

    Perhaps you confuse the concepts of “cool” and “hip” here. Sometimes, people don’t realise that those are fairly different. In fact, that which gets attributed with both terms is a rare cat. Most cases, real cool people ain’t hip, and vice versa.

    I think it can be said that the guy in the video ain’t hip, by most definitions of “hip”, since most definitions of hip involve the element of “timeliness” as crucial. “Hip” is doing, saying, singing, wearing, exactly the right thing, at exactly the right time – to communicate a communally shared moment, a snapshot of the world, at the time of its sharing. The video’d performance under discussion here is doubtlessly characterised by a high degree of “un-timeliness”, in the sense that it’s possible to hypothesise that many viewers will regard it as silly at any time.

    Potentially, this is cool, since cool is about being detatched from the moment. It’s not meant to communicate the moment – it’s meant to communicate a style that is persistent; a style that’s so personal, so characteristic, that the character identified with it becomes a universally used symbol independent of time: an icon. James Dean, William Burroughs, Donald Duck, are that way, in their respective markets.

    The root of cool is nil admirari. Horace said it first, in Epistulae I,6,1: “Nil admirari prope res est una, Numici, solaque, quae possit facere et servare beatum.” Which translates to: “Not to be astonished is the only proper thing, my Numicus, which can make and keep us happy.”

    Therefore, I’d argue that we can’t really know yet whether this guy is cool or not. To find out, we’d have to be able to observe him right now: if he’d be unfazed by his sudden popularity, and just went about his usual business, he’d be cool. Any information out on this?

  7. mray Says:

    I agree with Mark… it’s not a new phenomenon, but for the sake of completeness I thought I would include this note.

    The Brolsma video came across my desk some time around 2 months or so ago, but I remembered seeing almost the exact same thing at least half a year earlier. A coworker of mine and I did some research and he came across this link:

    If you look at this video:

    …you will notice a nearly exact copy of the Brolsma video, with the exception that the guy actually sings, laughs maniacally and breaks a record over his head. I have also found newsgroup postings mentioning the video as far back as June 2003.

    Perhaps the most perturbing thing is the sheer VOLUME of the videos; these are (probably) rehearsed to a degree and had multiple takes. So when you get bored with Numa Numa, you have something else to watch now…

  8. greglas Says:

    I agree that it’s not new (at least no newer than the Internet), but I think the aggregation and collection of this kind of stuff is “new” in the sense that it is increasingly prevalent and reaching broader audiences than it has in the past. Perhaps the New York Times did a story on the Dancing Hamsters too — I don’t recall.

    Mark seems to be saying that the desire to see someone humiliated is what fueled the viral propogation of the video. Though that isn’t true for everyone, maybe that’s true for many of the people who forwarded this and for a great deal of viral content.

    Of course, one can counter with the Badgers or any number of counter-examples, which don’t seem about exhibition or humiliation.

  9. mark Says:

    Yeah, I didn’t mean to imply all memes are based on physical “misfeatures”, just that it’s one common way memes get passed around, and I think the one relevant to this situation. I think it also fueled the Star Wars kid one, for example, and a few days ago this MSNBC article became a mini-meme wholly based on physical appearance.

  10. greglas Says:

    Yeah, that’s interesting.

    I wonder if it’s just “Jerry Springer writ P2P” — in other words, reality tv shows like Jackass, Fear Factor, etc., are aimed at a perceived taste for “extreme” & real shock and humiliation, so there’s clearly a demand for that kind of content — and if broadcast economics is mostly about capturing male viewers age 18-30, who have fled tv for games & the internet, maybe they’re getting what TV thinks they want, but through a different medium. The only thing I’d want to note is that just because that sort of stuff may predominate in terms of total numbers (hence it becomes a phenomenon), the “long tail” (as Chris Anderson is calling it) of P2P and amateur production may be more diffuse but more culturally significant. So the NYT story, I think, mischaracterizes the effect that amateur production is having on traditional media.

    Chris Anderson’s blog here:

  11. elaine Says:

    i want 2 know the full lyrics 4 numa numa!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. nick Says:

    Pl4y th3 vide0 th4t 1 l1nk3d t0 4nd tran5cr1be th3 t3xt th4t 1s d1spl4y3d 1n subt1tl3s!!!!1!11!!1!!!

  13. anonmyous Says:

    this is one of the dummest things I have ever seen i my life.

  14. happihr Says:

    Awesome Gary! You put a smile on my face…

  15. APerson Says:

    Personally, I do not understand how a homemade video can make so much of a fuss

  16. zombiegluesniffer Says:

    a re-vision
    the first twenty seconds was rad. the eurocrap techno
    was as bad as a battery and i can’t get into to for too long.
    we are staring, docile bodies at the the videocamera as webcam on
    flashvidocomputermusic- but here is the videomusicmouth. no ideology. it’s the mouthshapes hitting beats- rocking

  17. colton Says:

    it was awesome

  18. maya Says:

    this is sooooooo funny! i luv it but! they should have more gurlz do it they have a lot of boyz but were in the world r the gurlz if i had a cam i would do it!

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