By Dave Stancliff/For the Times-Standard
Posted: 08/21/2011 02:30:25 AM PDT
The first time I heard the phrase “Flash Mobs” in 2003, instant images of flashy gangsters came to mind.
Then I read an article about them. It described a bunch of fun-loving young people meeting in public places to do goofy things like dancing on a street corner to a Michael Jackson tune.
The first flash mob was created in Manhattan in May 2003, by Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper's Magazine. His first attempt was unsuccessful after the targeted retail store was tipped off about the plan. Waik was persistent and set up a second flash mob on June 3, 2003. He sent participants to preliminary staging areas – in four prearranged Manhattan bars – where they received further instructions about the event and location just before the event began.
As the people gathered in the lobby and mezzanine of the Hyatt hotel they told curious salespeople they were shopping for a "love rug" and they made all their purchase decisions as a group. At the prearranged time, 200 people simultaneously applauded for about 15 seconds.
The flash mob was born. Over the years, I followed various flash mob events like Worldwide Pillow Fight Day (or International Pillow Fight Day) on March 22, 2008. Nearly everything I read about flash mobs indicated they were a fun thing to do and non-violent.
That changed this year. I’ve noticed an ominous trend for flash mobs. They’re getting violent. They’re often politically charged too, and are reshaping parts of the world like the Middle East.
The so-called “Arab Spring” couldn’t have happened without tech smart young people organizing political protests with social media tools like smart phones and the internet. They called for a universal flash mob against their oppressive governments.
The evolution of flash mobs has brought the common people a new way to get their word out. That’s the good news. The bad news is an increase in mass civil disobedience - outright criminality- in countries like England and the U.S. The recent riots in London were fueled by mobs protesting the death of a man shot by the police. But criminal elements took advantage of their sheer numbers and set out on a path of destruction and looting.
A notorious gang boss was observed by police standing on a corner in Manchester, talking into his cell phone. He was flanked by teenagers dressed in black. Police reportedly suspect that he orchestrated the riots and looting.
The criminals stayed one step ahead of the police by staying in cell phone contact and reporting every move the police made. It was a slash and grab orgy that stunned the British people at first. Now their reclaiming their neighborhoods from the hoodlums who trashed them.
It seems like every good technological advance, like cell phones, has a dark side when people abuse it. What started out as harmless fun is now the tool of revolution and increasingly a tool for crime.
Sure, there’s still fun flash mob activity. It’s the increasing reports of flash mobs gone bad that concern me. For example the violent flash mob that recently gathered (June) in Philadelphia causing fear and mayhem.
The 27-year-old online editor for The Onion, a satirical newspaper, had her leg broken when she and her friends were attacked by a group of 40 teens looking for trouble. They also hospitalized a man with major injuries.
In cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia we’re seeing a new and violent kind of flash mob — gangs of young men suddenly converging to harass or attack unsuspecting pedestrians or to “flash rob” a local merchant. They quickly disperse before the police can respond. (Recommended reading - 8/14 Associated Press article, “From bling to lingo, US inspires UK gangs.”)
What’s causing these violent flash mobs? There’s more ethnic diversity than ever before. Racial tension; gangs; historically hard economic times; desperation, rage, hopelessness, frustration; high, unrelenting summer temperatures and short tempers; and easy access to drugs and guns are all possible explanations.
As It Stands, it looks like my initial reaction to the phrase “flash mobs” so long ago was almost intuitive.
Websites carrying this column: