Tuesday 16 November 2010

Flash mob

On a Sunday evening back in 2009, I was watching the news on the Internet when I saw an article on a remarkable phenomenon that took place that very afternoon. Under the Louvre pyramid in Paris, a group of about 200 people gathered together to dance before everybody in the lobby. All this only lasted three minutes and then the group dispersed. The news commentator used a term I had never heard before, flash mob to describe the event then explained how professional dancers had taught the 200 people to dance together in order to advertise a charity. This term flash mob intrigued me and I turned to the search engine Google to find its definition.

According to Wikipedia, the term flash mob or flashmob means "a large group of people, who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and pointless act for a brief time, and then disperse." We can say that spontaneous or impromptu gatherings have always existed; however the phenomenon of the flash mob seems rather modern, part of the Internet age. Apparently the means of bringing a group of people together who are often strangers to one another is to use the Internet and social networks like Facebook to spread a message about the event. Readers of the message decide themselves if they want to participate. By following instructions in the message, they can gather at a particular location to participate in the "happening". The main characteristic of the event is its spontaneity.

This gathering can include all kinds of undertakings however there seems to be three major types of flash mobs: dance, pillow fight and freeze.

A dance is an event prepared in advance: the participants have all learned the same steps and the dance in question could be based on a famous video clip such as one of Michael Jackson. After the death of Mr. Jackson, there have been all kinds of flash mobs around the world recreating dances from some famous videos like Thriller, Beat It and Bad. It's a little surprising to see a crowd of people, a disorganized group, suddenly become a coherent whole, where everyone is doing exactly the same steps. The most interesting feature of the flash mob is that at one point you are facing a crowd, a disorganised group of people when suddenly, a number of them start doing the same thing together. The effect is quite startling. First, these coordinated actions leave other people who are not part of the Flash Mob a bit puzzled: it is completely unexpected to see a group of people dancing together. Slowly people clue into what's going on and it is not surprising that these same people express their approval at the end of the show by applauding.

A pillow fight is simply a hilarious battle of people playfully whacking each other that eventually ends according to some clips on the Internet with a vast quantity of feathers scattered everywhere. Paris, Madrid, Cape Town, Toronto; the Internet offers a lot of videos from all over the world where you can see strangers hitting each other with pillows in childish fun. The soundtrack suggests laughter and cries of joy; everything indicates that these people are amusing themselves. Sooner or later a pillow case breaks and we see a cloud of feathers scattered among the fighters. The scene looks like a brief moment in the life of an adult who has regressed to childhood. Very entertaining.

Freeze or a freeze flash mob party remains my favourite because of its appearance is so unexpected, so amazing. It consists of a group of people who remain frozen for a short period of time, 5 minutes depending on the examples I've seen. No matter what you are doing, reading a book, looking up, walking, tying your shoelaces, you just stop moving and remain still. Everyone freezes during a fixed period of time and then they continue what they were doing as if nothing had happened. I've seen videos of various freezes made throughout the world and I must admit that seeing all these people top moving is really amazing. At stations, in shops, in public places, a lot of people stop and not move and everybody else who is not part of this flash mob seem flabbergasted. I'm not necessarily talking about a small group; some groups have numbered in the hundreds of participants. In March 2008, one freeze attracted over 3000 participants at the Place du Trocadero in Paris!

I'm sure you, the reader, are wondering why a group of complete strangers would spontaneously come together in public to do such a thing. What's the point? Where is the logic? Is it just childishness? It's the same question I asked myself and after seeing several clips on flash mobs, I think the answer includes two ideas.

First, the word that came to mind while watching this flash mob at the Louvre is mischievousness. Like a child playing a trick on an adult, the flash mob is a group of mischievous people playing a trick on the adults. Or maybe they are playing a trick on society itself by trying to upset the status quo. Secondly, a flash mob has a sense of community: we are all doing the same thing; we're all in the same boat together. Remember that these events are organized spontaneously and they bring strangers together. You meet up with complete strangers, people you will probably never see again. In addition to a sense of community, the event may prove that we are not so different or despite our differences, we can work together for the same purpose.

Of course, it this idea started out as something fun, companies have realised its importance as a marketing tool. Several firms like T-Mobile and Peugeot have exploited this underground phenomenon as a means of advertising their products. They organise the events, gather the people, and film the event then that becomes a commercial.

Ultimately, what does this flash mob do? Improve our lives? Change the world? I think we should not try to seek an explanation as profound as that. We just want to have fun and do it together. Hats off to those who want to give us some respite from the humdrum of everyday life. We should all participate.


Wikipedia: Flash Mob
A flash mob (or flashmob) is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. Flash mobs are organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails.

Google video search: flash Mob

Google video search: freeze Mob

Uploaded on Feb 15, 2010 by ect7208
Flash Mob @ Yonge & Dundas in Toronto (February 10, 2010)

Flash Mob dance: Louvre, Paris - Nov 29/2009

Freeze Mob: Paris, France - Mar 8/2008
3,000 people freeze for 5 minutes; 20 videographers capture the event

Freeze Mob: Supermarket in England - Mar 14/2007

San Francisco Pillow Fight Flash Mob - Feb 14/2006

Singapore: Flash Mob dance: Thriller by Michael Jackson - Oct 26/2009

There are many videos of these types of events. Just type in "flash mob" or "freeze mob" in Google video.


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