According to Wikipedia, a flash mob is “a term coined in 2003 to denote 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. Flash mobs are organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails. The term is generally not applied to events and performances organized for the purposes of politics (such as protests), commercial advertisement, publicity stunts, that involve public relation firms, or paid professionals.”
The first flash mob was started by the senior editor of Harper’s Magazine, Bill Wasik, as a social experiment. It took place at the Macy’s department store in Manhattan on June 3, 2003. During this flash mob, over 100 people gathered on an expensive rug in the department store and claimed they all lived together in a warehouse and they made all of their purchasing decisions together. Note that Wasik’s first attempt at a flash mob failed when the department store was tipped off.
Since then, the flash mob has hit cities all across America, and has even been broken down into sub-categories, including mobile clubbing where the participants dance to music in headphones in unusual places, and zombie walks, which is self-explanatory. There have been a few instances where flash mobs have turned sour, most notably in Philadelphia where teens have begun to riot in flash mob fashion.
There is a common misconception about flash mobs, and that is that they are intended to protest something, or is a fancy new marketing scheme. On the contrary, the very definition of a flash mob suggests that it is a “pointless act”. They are created for the shock-and-awe factor. Though the misconception is so widespread that the term flash mob is beginning to encompass more than just purposeless performances.
This Twitter feed follows flash mobs, and recently reported about a “flash mob” happening at a BP gas station. Well it isn’t a flash mob at all, it is a protest, with picket-signs and chanting. Nothing really related to a flash mob, but it has been hashtagged as one anyway.
Here is a great example of a flash mob that happened at Grand Central Station in New York City. This flash mob was created by Improv Everywhere, a group based in NYC that strives to create “scenes of chaos and joy in public places”.
What I love about flash mobs is the general “WTF?!” of all the witnesses. That is especially clear in the example I gave above. The people who are not participating in a flash mob, really have no idea what’s happening, and, as in this video, almost seem alarmed at the actions of those involved.