Jacob Zinn :: journalist + photographer

Married to the Flash Mob

Posted in Observations, TV & Film by Jacob Zinn on June 6, 2009

In promotion for MC Hammer’s reality show Hammertime, A&E has made a viral video… just watch.

A gathering of a large group of people to perform an odd or unusual public act falls under the term “flash mob.” The idea is that someone gathers as many people as they can to go out and do something strange and bizarre together in hopes of getting a reaction from people.

A&E’s stunt wouldn’t be the first time a flash mob has been in advertising. A T-Mobile advertisment from the United Kingdom features an obviously well-choreographed and rehearsed dance number at a train station.

But flash mobs are supposed to be spontaneous with very little planning. Someone gets the idea, calls their friends, they call their friends and meet up somewhere shortly after to carry out the idea.

A seemingly popular flash mob is simply known as bang. This video from Stockholm shows the idea; participants gather in a large crowd in an open space, such as a mall. Two people, ones who likely planned the event, approach each other, then each pretend to draw a pistol using their hand with the index and middle finger pointed like a gun. The rest follow and everyone is at gunpoint until one of the first two yells, “Bang!” and shots ring out, leaving everyone dead on the floor.

But some flash mobs don’t turn out very well, mainly because they are made on such short notice. Even ones planned well in advance can fall flat.

Enthusiasm is key from all participants–if they really don’t want to be there, or if you can’t count on them, chances are they won’t show. Most people don’t share the mob mentality needed to successfully pull off a flash mob. Often, the well-planned ideas work the best, and look better on video.

If you search “flash mob” on YouTube, one of your first results will likely be from Improv Everywhere, an improv group that performs a number of odd public displays. They distance themselves from the term “flash mob,” calling their stunts “pre-planned missions” instead. Simply put, their YouTube channel banner reads “We cause scenes.”

Watching their documented performances can’t nearly be as trippy as seeing one in person. It seems the crew is trying to mess with your head with its Frozen Grand Central Station and Human Mirror.

But some of their displays have a message: one saw 111 shirtless men enter the Manhattan Abercrombie & Fitch store, which has a shirtless male model at the door.

However, most don’t have any message. Just zombie walks, conga lines and poorly-played air guitar. This might be a trend or the next biggest thing in pop culture, but it’s hard to tell.

Here are some links to a few flash mob videos.

Library Rave
Where’s Waldo?
Poke
Pillow Fight

Also, my journalism classmate Mitch Thompson (@mitch_400iso) made an audio slideshow of the silent SkyTrain dance party in Vancouver. Have a look.

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