Kevin Nguyen makes a stab at some interesting points over on Bygone Bureau, talking about the Harlem Shake meme as divorced from the actual Harlem Shake dance:
The internet has decentralized the influence of culture. This is good in many ways, but this extreme decentralization of cultural influence is susceptible to inaccuracy and insensitivity.
I feel like there's so much more to be said about this - how can a culture stake ownership over a meme? It's impractible at best. Should it even try?
How? By experts coming in and outlining history - problematic in itself - or by an emphasis on authenticity, which might drive more people to learn about the originating culture?
I don't think the question is whether it's offensive - that's too subjective, and requires an intermediary (media, experts) to make the decision that it is or isn't. The interesting question is who cares if it is? How can the cultures that are being borrowed from (and the people that are offended) assert themselves in such a fluid space as the web?