Before the writing of this article I came to the same realization about the trendiness that has become flash mob. There is laziness, but more crucially there is, (1) a lack of information about flash mobs and (2) a misunderstanding of creative public performance art. These acts are a powerful viral trend on today’s web, but in order to reap the full benefits from planned spontaneity, both tatics need to be clearly defined as they fit to current web culture.
Giving flash mob a definition
The idea of the flash mob is attributed to Sci-fi novelist, Larry Niven, from his 1973 fictional work “Flash Crowd” , but the actual term “flash mob” is actually claimed by Bill Wasik to describe a social experiment he began trying to organized in 2003.
According to Wikipedia, “he (Wasik) organized the first flash mob events as a social experiment to poke fun at hipsters and highlight the cultural atmosphere of conformity and of wanting to be an insider part of the next big thing.”
It should be noted that Wasik did not successfully at execute the first flash mob until 2006, and that was 5 years after Improv Everywhere had already been formed and was unleashing mass crowd prankster-dom onto the world wide web.
Flash Mob is Not Creative Performance Art
|Improv Everywhere Influence at a glance
• Youtube Channel 117+ million views
• Ranked 49th most subscribed channel
• Public events draw 3,000 participants
• Most recent prank “No Pants Subway Ride 2001“
When it comes to street performance acts, Improv Everywhere is at the top of the hill. Charlie Todd formed Improv Everywhere in 2001 with a simple focus on being funny. Todd aims to distinguish his works from the flash mob ideology. “Some flash mob videos go viral, but thousands more do not. It has to actually be a good idea that is executed and documented well “, says Todd.
A preoccupation with page views or focus on mimicry is a big part of the laziness that has faded the coolness of “flash mob” subculture.
Flash mob was once a bleeding edge social concept that anchored the relationship between guerrilla marketing, social media and web marketing.
These carbon copy flash mobs are over saturated in todya’s social media channels and they receive undue mass media publicity. As a result thier popularity is confused with good creativity because of the viral buzz factor.
Common symptoms of #Flash Mob trend
|cliche choreography routines that resemble 80′s aerobics videos|
|public choir practices in busy shopping mall food courts|
|publicly organized coincidence motivated by commercial marketing gain|
“Flash mob is like a frat prank”, says Jack Massing of the highly noted Houston collaborative artist duo called The Art Guys.
The Art Guys have been on the performance art scene since 1983. The New York Times described them as “a cross between Dada, David Letterman, John Cage and the Smothers Brothers.” These guys are classic renaissance artists, in the sense that they use a broad range of media for expression.
“In the art world there is a lot of borrowing going on, and borrowing is a compliment. If you put it out there on the web it is basically the creative commons idea. Mimicry is a common creative process. The heart of the matter is not whether it is art or not… it is if the art is good or bad. The dangerous part is if the audience can’t tell the difference”,says Massing.
We Need a Hero in Today’s Performance Art Subculture
What has been confused in the eye of the audiences has been lost in the minds many of the artists. Flash mobs turned into a hollow routine, but for a few beacons of hope who still get it.“The overarching take-away for our audiences is a fantastic story. We love the idea of giving people something to talk about and share. Primarily we want to use our “stunting” abilities to make campaigns more interactive and memorable, but when we see an opportunity of any kind, we’re quick to jump on it”, says Woodall.
The Houston-based Black Sheep Agency opened in 2009. They know all there is to know about educating web and media marketing professionals “Houston has been slow to accept stunts – especially in terms of marketing – so we seem to be the frontrunners locally”, says Woodall.
Aside from the fusion ideas, the Black Sheep Agency has added their own original twist to performance art theatrics. Mastering the guerrilla tactic of storytelling to move the audience to action.
“People love supporting a great cause – especially one that affects them personally. And of course, the bigger the audience, the better!”, says Woodall. An example, for Christmas this year @Stunt Club, Black Sheep Agency’s very own Society of Troublemakers, protested the distribution of Yellow Pages by piling hundreds of them underneath the Christmas tree at City Hall, and we’ve started a “pet project” where we find homeless animals in shelters new owners.
It is refreshing to see a progressive approach to not only advertising, but the usage of flash mob. It has really helped revitalize the relationship between flash mob and marketing in today web/social media culture,Woodall explains:
“People crave community and organization, and they want to be a part of something influential – part of a story. We don’t really look at the flash mob or stunt itself as social experiment – any sort of statement that we make will be in the take-away. Our goal is to use the story that we tell to transparently and effectively spread a message for the sake of marketing and publicity or to share our values and our community’s values in an entertaining way.”
The term flash mob has been spoiled by cliche’ trendiness, misuse and misunderstanding. If the phrase buzzword would not sit at the same lunch table as the stuff we see with “flash mob” in the title on Youtube these days.
With a history soaked in mimicry and a weak connection with original creative ideas most of the lamest mobs are hipster wannabees ignorant to ideals of the social experiment, crowd psychology and improv performance art which instills mastery of the craft. Making it worst, true creative performance art is being marred with this viral buzzword.
Frankly in order to stop this lameness, we need a hero. We need the black sheep to step out and teach the herd by example how to be creative again. We need shepherds who can marry the mob to new ways of mixing social media, guerrilla marketing and the creativity.
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