Being Modern: Flashmobs

Everyone loves a mob, don't they? Well, maybe not a lynch mob. And the Mafia are kinda scary. But, ooh, that feeling of belonging if you're actually part of a mob – even the undead love it, as we saw last week in Leicester city centre. It makes you feel wanted, doesn't it?

See what I did there? I asked you a question that implied the answer yes so that you'd feel included – and so would I, because you were agreeing with me. Mobs, then: brilliant.

Which brings us to flashmobs. Created in Manhattan in 1993 by Bill Wasik, then a senior editor at Harper's Magazine, they're organised via text or email, encouraging groups of random people to gather at a specific place at a specific time and do something random (singing, skipping, walking round like a dinosaur) for a set period of time before suddenly dispersing. Unsuspecting witnesses might join in or simply stand around, confused, adding to the joy.

Aiming to show off the power of technology, there was also an element of poking fun at the conformity of hipster non-conformists. So desperate would they be not to miss the latest trend that they'd deny their very non-conformism by joining in. What postmodern larks!

In time, flashmobs were used for so much more: political protest, silent discos (where every member would dance to the music in their headphones), mass pillow fights, publicity stunts...

Publicity stunts? Yes, and this is where it all went wrong. Flashmobs were never meant to be commercial: it would simply destroy their innate Gettysburgian notion of "of the people, by the people". Yet here were T-Mobile ads (above), pop videos (see the X Factor reject Dolly Rockers' "Je Suis Une Dolly" for a prime example) and – lord help us – shoe-shop employees dancing in Las Vegas's City Hall to celebrate the relocation of their HQ (take a look at tinyurl.com/6ff27sl and cringe).

But worst of all came with the BBC's "How to organise a successful flashmob event" (tinyurl. com/3flwp68). It's all gone a bit Proms. They even rehearse! However "nice" that might be, the high jinks have carked it.

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