In the spring of 2003, editor and New York City boy Bill Wasik had an idea. Wasik was part of a community of creative types who were constantly hunting for the next artistic thing-of-the-moment. Bill thought it would be funny to turn these "scenesters" themselves into "the next big thing." He created an e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org, and forwarded an e-mail to himself with instructions to show up at 7:24 p.m. on June 3, 2003, for a gathering called "Mob #1." Inexplicably, the gathering was to take place at Claire's Accessories, a hole-in-the-wall shop on Astor Place. Wasik then forwarded the email to about 50 friends, who were never meant to know that he himself was the organizer. "I thought of it as a stunt that would satirize scenester-y gatherings," said Wasik, in an interview with Stay Free! Magazine and blog.
Wasik's first flash mob was a bust. When he and the other mobbers arrived at Claire's, they discovered that someone had tipped off the shopkeepers. Worried that the mysterious gathering might be a part of a terrorist plot, police blocked off the sidewalk in front of the store. To prevent this outcome in the future, Wasik "hit on the notion of meeting in pre-mob locations, and… hand[ing] out flyers with the mob location" [source: Heaney]. Mob #2, the first successful flash mob, was held in the rug department at a Macy's store in Herald Square, New York City, on June 17, 2003. About 100 people crowded around an expensive carpet, claiming to be in the market for a "love rug." When pressed for details, the mobbers claimed to be members of a free-love commune who made all purchasing decisions as a group. After about 10 minutes, they departed, leaving the sales staff and curious shoppers scratching their heads in bemusement [source: Nicholson.]
By Wasik's definition, a flash mob should last no more than 10 minutes and feature some "inexplicable" act [source: Wasik]. Between June and September 2003, Wasik planned and executed eight flash mobs in New York City. Media outlets covered these events, and soon flash mobs began popping up in other urban areas. Today, being part of a flash mob is something many of us would love to experience.
In this article, we'll talk about how you can find out about a flash mob. First, however, let's take a look at the different types of flash mobs that exist today.
Different Types of Flash Mobs
Originally, flash mobs were intended to baffle, amaze and amuse. These days, they're formed for various reasons, from downright silly to deadly serious. Here are just a few of the different types of flash mobs and flash-mob inspired events taking place today:
- Flash celebrations: Whether it's a gigantic pillow fight in Vancouver or a silent disco in London, flash mobs of this type stay true to the no-agenda, "appear and disappear" modus operandi of Bill Wasik's original flash mobs. Crowds of synchronized strangers appear at an appointed time and place, and for a few blissful minutes, their antics entrance onlookers.
- Random acts of culture: The brainchild of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, "Random Acts of Culture" is a flash-mob-inspired arts initiative that gifts inspiring pop-up performances to local communities. One of the most talked about RAOC was a surprise, six-minute performance by more than 650 Philadelphia area choristers, who burst into Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" at a local Macy's department store [source: Kino].
- Marketing mobs: Taking note of the number of YouTube hits and water cooler discussions flash mob performances were generating, it was only a matter of time before savvy advertising executives co-opted the art form for marketing purposes. In 2009, T-Mobile staged a choreographed dance medley in the London Underground, which the company filmed and later used in advertisements [source: The Week].
- Flash politics: Similarly, causes ranging from anti-abortion to antismoking have adopted the flash mob as a way to mobilize members and generate media attention for their platforms.
- Urban pranksters: New York City group Improv Everywhere has been performing sophisticated "urban pranks" since 2001. Some of their pranks possess decidedly flash-moblike characteristics. For instance, in January 2011, thousands of pranksters in dozens of cities around the globe stripped off their trousers to participate in a coordinated "No Pants Subway Ride" [source: Improv Everywhere].
Whether they're sponsored by a soda company or performed for the sheer joy of it, participating in a flash mob is fun. Find out how to unearth these underground escapades in the next section.
Tips for Finding Out About Flash Mobs
Think about how uninhibited little kids can be. They burst into song in the grocery store, don mommy's curlers to act out a play and dance like crazy whenever a band starts to play. Flash mobs provide grown-ups a ticket to the kind of unbridled joyfulness we experienced as children. But how do you find out about something that's supposed to be a big secret?
First, there are companies, like Flash Mob America, that produce flash mobs for all kinds of causes and corporations. Join their e-mail lists and follow them on social media, and they'll keep you in the loop about their various events.
If you have a pet cause or political candidate, chances are they have initiated flash mobs in the past and may do so again in the future. Sign up for their mailing lists and attend their organizing meetings. You might even want to suggest a flash mob as a great way to raise awareness for your cause.
Arts-related groups, businesses, schools and performance studios are another great way to learn about flash mobs. Lots of flash mobs involve choreographed dancing, so rehearsals often take place at local dance studios. Give your local dance studio or performing arts school a call and ask if they can connect you with flash mob organizers in your town.
The previous three suggestions are pretty obvious ways to find flash mobs, but you'll need to get creative in order to make the move from flash mob novice to flash mob insider. One way to do this is to become buddies online with people who are actually participating in flash mobs. Comment on their YouTube videos, search their blogs and send messages directly to flash mobbers you find on Twitter. Be tenacious and sooner or later, you just may track down the Bill Wasik of your town. Even better, you might learn enough about flash mobs to try your hand at starting one of your own.
Flash-forward to the next page for lots more information on flash mobs and flash mob-related activities.
- Delio, Michelle. "E-Mail Mob Takes Manhattan." Wired Magazine. June 19, 2003. (July 28, 2011) http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2003/06/59297
- Engler, Robert Klein. "Chicago's Violent Flash Mobs." The Independent Thinker. June 13, 2011. (July 28, 2011) http://www.americanthinker.com/2011/06/chicagos_violent_flash_mobs.html
- "Evolution of the Flash Mob." The Week. March 30, 2010. (July 28, 2011) http://theweek.com/article/index/201304/evolution-of-the-flash-mob
- "Flashmob Information." iamdance.com. (July 28, 2011) http://www.iamdance.com/I_Am_Dance/I_Am_Dance_-_Flash_Mob_Information.html
- Harmon, Amy. "Ideas and Trends: Flash Mobs; Guess Some People Don't Have Anything Better To Do." The New York Times. Aug. 17, 2003. (July 28, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/17/weekinreview/ideas-trends-flash-mobs-guess-some-people-don-t-have-anything-better-to-do.html?scp=1&sq=flash%20mob%20backlash&st=cse
- Heaney, Francis. "The Short Life of Flash Mobs." Stay Free Magazine. (July 28, 2011) http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/archives/24/flash-mobs-history.html
- Kino, Carole. "It's Not Candid Camera, It's Random Culture." The New York Times. Feb. 4, 2011. (July 28, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/arts/design/06random.html?_r=1&scp=9&sq=flash%20mob&st=cse
- Nicholson, Judith A. "Flash! Mobs in the Age of Mobile Connectivity." The Fibreculture Journal. 2005. (July 28, 2011) http://six.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-030-flash-mobs-in-the-age-of-mobile-connectivity/
- "No Pants Subway Ride." Improv Everywhere. (July 28, 2011) http://improveverywhere.com/missions/the-no-pants-subway-ride/
- Todd, Charlie and Alex Scordelis. "Causing a Scene: Extraordinary Pranks in Ordinary Places with Improv Everywhere." HarperCollins. 2009. (July 28, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=gdEiFqq21FEC&dq=Causing+a+Scene:+Extraordinary+Pranks+in+Ordinary+Places+with+Improv+Everywhere&hl=en&ei=BMcxTofxG8HSgQfY0fyMDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAA
- Wasik, Bill. "The Mob Project." BillWasik.com. May 6, 2009. (July 28, 2011) http://billwasik.com/post/104403795/the-mob-project