If you are walking in a big street, or waiting for a train at the station or again simply enjoying the concert of your favourite performer, and suddenly everyone around you starts dancing, or singing, or they start a pillow fight or simply freezing, don’t worry, nobody is crazy, they are probably just participating to a Flash Mob.
What is that about? A performance created by the crowd. Chicago, Michigan Avenue, 8th September, 2009, during the Oprah 24th season’s kick off party, the Black Eyed Peace surprised the host with one of the first major Flash Mob in the history of music (watch the amazing video on YouTube).
But what exactly is a Flash Mob? A wide definition includes random gathering of people who coordinates themselves (usually through social media, SMS and emails) in order to create a very quick and unexpected performance that surprise and amaze. Social media have become crucial not only for the organization but also for the viral diffusion of pictures and video post-event that, as a paradox, make these events long-lasting even thou they are planned to be ephemeral.
Deriving from what is called Smart Mob – sudden gathering of people that usually have some specific purpose of action, e.g. political manifestation – the first proper Flash Mob was organized by Bill Wasik as a social experiment. In an interview of 2006 he explained the development of the event, during which the participants gathered in the home department of Macy’s, New York, and stayed around a big rug pretending to want to buy the “rug of love”.
From this first example, many others have followed and the phenomenon has developed in an unconventional weapon for communication and marketing. Artists and brands have used the spontaneous performance of the crowd to produce perfect viral videos and obtain advertising channels for free. Participation and involvement seem to be the prerogatives of the new and successful typologies of advertisement and marketing.
The big question remains: why one would want to make a fool of himself (in some cases) in public, with complete strangers met on the Internet? Fun is the main reason; the protection of the crowd helps to loose some inhibitions as well, and it can also be considered a nice way to fulfil public spaces with performances. And then again, is it possible to consider this phenomenon as an evolution off-line of on-line friend-making processes?