YOU’D have to have been living in a cupboard for the last few years not to have noticed the phenomenon of the flash mob.
They are described as ‘a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire.’
I’m not sure what is so touching and fascinating about them, but I just love hunting them down on YouTube.
My favourites to date are the classic Antwerp Station Do Re Mi and the Chorus Niagara’s ‘spontaneous’ Hallelujah chorus which startled people in a food mall in Welland, Ontario, last Christmas.
Staff at the B & Q store off Leeds Road were the latest folk in Huddersfield to have a bash at startling passers-by – in this case unsuspecting customers – by suddenly breaking into a song and dance routine.
B & Q wanted to make theirs the largest flash mob event ever, but the attempt fell flat because they couldn’t get enough invigilators to monitor the event simultaneously in a large number of stores.
We are eight years down the line since the first recorded event in 2003, but the joke shows no sign of wearing thin.
Indeed, each year brings more flash mob events, moving them further and further away from their original purpose.
They even have a dark side. There was a rash of them in Philadelphia in 2009 and 2010 in which the objective of the mob was to inflict damage and personal injury before dissolving into the crowds of ‘ordinary’ folk.
To their ‘inventor’, New Yorker Bill Wasik, flash mobbing was a social experiment designed to poke fun at crowd conformity and at the same time exploit people’s desire to be in on a ‘big secret’.
In the latter sense, then, it is a direct descendant of the acid house parties and raves of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Organisers of these would let a select few people know the whereabouts of an illicit party. These would then phone or text their friends and by the time the police – and sometimes the owners of the property where the rave was being held – found out about it, thousands of people had turned up.
The key here for the participants is the exhilaration of being part of springing a surprise on an unsuspecting public – and the grander the better.
Beyond that, Wasik’s ‘social experiment’ idea is apparently no longer relevant as the cat is well and truly out of the bag.
The first flash mob event was sabotaged when the store where it was supposed to take place got wind of it.
According to Wikipedia: “Wasik avoided such problems during the second flash mob which occurred on June 3, 2003, at Macy’s department store by sending participants to preliminary staging areas – in four prearranged Manhattan bars – where they received further instructions about the ultimate event and location just before the event began.
“More than 100 people converged upon the ninth floor rug department of the store, gathering around an expensive rug.
“Anyone approached by a sales assistant was advised to say that the gatherers lived together in a warehouse on the outskirts of New York, that they were shopping for a ‘love rug’ and that they made all their purchase decisions as a group.’’
This is more socially aware installation art, situation theatre, than the joyous song and dance into which flash mobbing has now evolved.
In another interview Wasik claimed the mobs started as a kind of playful social experiment meant to encourage spontaneity and big gatherings to temporarily take over commercial and public areas ‘simply to show that they could’.
It’s difficult to know what the flash mob’s future is. It may evolve further. It may implode and disappear.
Whatever happens, I wouldn’t mind being surprised by one at some stage.