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Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Current Affairs ... Society ...

Sometimes I just don’t notice what is going on in the world. I just found out about “flash mobs”, thanks to my friend Mary S. She sent me a link to a popular “flash event” that took place in a mall food court in Toronto, whereby a group of kids distributed around the food court did a rendition of Handel’s Messiah. I took a look afterwords on Wikipedia, only to find out that the flash mob idea has been around since 2004.

So let me get this straight. A group of people are organized and rehearse some dancing or singing or acting event, and then show up unexpectedly in a public area (on a street, in a park, at a mall, at a subway station, etc.) and do their thing for a few minutes. Members of the public who just happened to be milling about the area are surprised and often stop and watch, maybe even cheer or get involved somehow. But the most important thing is that someone is there recording all of this with a video camera. Because the critical thing about flash mobs is that they will be memorialized on You Tube or some other internet video platform, as to get thousands or maybe millions of viewings.

Maybe I’m just too old to appreciate all of this. It sounds a little silly to me (but then again, I never really did dig performance art). In sum, a flash mob event is a simulation of something wonderful and spontaneous (or not so wonderful, but still spontaneous) that seemingly breaks out of ordinary social circumstances, quite randomly. I guess that it reflects a protest of sorts against the quotidian and the regulated, a dream that we are a race of beings that can do sudden wonderful things on a social basis.

Unfortunately, the truth is that we are not such a race. Humans are an inherently social species; but once our social structures go beyond a few people, things get increasingly difficult to manage. As group size increases, the need for laws, standards, conformity and enforcement mechanisms increases exponentially (or so it seems). You can’t have a city or a nation work by instinct; it takes power structures, i.e. telling people who might disagree with whoever has power and whatever laws are promulgated, that they HAVE to conform or face nasty consequences. Even more important are the self-imposed rules and regulations of social conduct, taught painfully to us as children by parents and teachers.

The flash mob thing appears to be a nice little dream, that despite all of the marshaling forces and mechanisms that apply once we leave our homes, flowers of positive social creativity can bloom unexpectedly. But to me, flash mob videos on You Tube are all the more telling of just how powerful and pervasive the quotidian and authoritarian nature of social interaction is. I’m not saying that flash mobs are bad; if they make people smile for a moment, then why not. But if you look close enough (and maybe you shouldn’t), they have a shadow side to them, a realization that humans are always going to have a hard time working together in large groups. And the larger the group, the harder it gets, despite all the wonderful instant communications technologies that now link most of the world’s citizens.

Despite the internet, which makes flash mobs possible (i.e., without an internet to post the videos to, flash mobs really wouldn’t mean much), human beings are still a rather rowdy bunch. Unfortunately, most large-scale events that technically qualify as “flash mob” scenes involve war and terrorism. These have been happening since the dawn of human kind, they don’t need an internet for publicity. And they aren’t going away any time soon.

The Handel mob scene is nice enough. But given the realities of our world, I’m sticking with the videos of “Someday at Christmas”.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:03 pm      

  1. “Unfortunately, most large-scale events that technically qualify as “flash mob” scenes involve war and terrorism. These have been happening since the dawn of human kind, they don’t need an internet for publicity. And they aren’t going away any time soon.” – how poignant and strong, Jim, I could ot have said it better.

    Comment by spunkykitty — December 22, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

  2. Jim,

    Why not take the lovely Handel flash mob for what it was–a lovely group, having a good time singing a wonderfully magic piece of music to the surprise of the others sitting at the food court? If you look at the people observing instead of at the singers, you notice that everybody is surprised and delighted with the song. (Well, I did see one or two grouches simply continuing to eat; as if to say, don’t bother me, I’m eating.) Why not take it as it was meant: To give people some happiness for a few minutes? I say that was well worth the time and effort of the singers who came together for the occasion.

    OK, I can see that music may not be your “thing.” But why conclude that it was completely negative for that reason?

    And I do have to disagree that the ONLY purpose of such a group is that it be recorded for YouTube. Of course, if it had not been recorded, at least I would not have been able to enjoy it; so I’d rather it was recorded because I find it wonderfully enjoyable. If a flash mob sings and it is not recorded, does it make a difference? (Somewhat akin to: If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?) I say even if it is NOT recorded, the enjoyment of the smaller group of others hearing the singers would be the same as if it were not recorded.

    And granted, if groups get too big they tend to produce no results at all and degenerate into a group of people that does nothing. But this group obviously produced–for those who love that piece of music and for those who love music in general–something beautiful. Akin to a beautiful photograph only in a different medium.

    I also think this “Handel group” could hardly be called a “mob”–albeit the term “mob” is actually used in the term “flash mob.” I will concede that English is a spoken language and, therefore, changes and is changing as we literally speak. But generally the term “mob” carries negative connotations; everything about this “mob” was positive. At least here we have a negative turning into a positive. How refreshing.

    I see no reason to turn something so positive into something negative. Sorry I just cannot agree with you on this one. After all, if, instead of a singing group, there had been a display of unique railroad cars and trains running on tracks through little towns and mountains and stopping at stations to let off people, etc., and such a display was recorded and put on YouTube for all to enjoy, might that not be equally as enjoyable to those who love railroads? I had a cousin who, even as an older adult, was transformed by his railroad setup that covered most of his basement. He showed it to me one time with such joy and pleasure on his face that I myself could not help but enjoy the display also. Seems to me the only difference in the two is the medium, which medium one might prefer, and whether or not the technology to record it for other to see was yet available.

    I have to say I don’t quite see why I would disparage something others might enjoy just because it’s not my “thing.” MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — December 23, 2010 @ 7:49 am

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