Flash mobs…entertainment or threat?

I am a long time Julie Andrews fan. When my friend sent me this video I knew I would have to watch it. I have no idea when this event occurred.

It struck my how wonderful people can be when we all can take the time to “smell the roses”. I guess spontaneous occurrences are happening all over the world. This event happened in Belgium, but they seem to be happening all over the world. I believe these events are being called spontaneous performance acts.

However, in many cases they are not exactly spontaneous. The performers have had at least a couple of practices. I believe it all started with twitter and email calls sent out to meet at a particular place to do a particular action. There were several events of singing and dancing and people riding commuter trains without pants.

These acts are sometimes called flash mobs and are not exactly welcomed in all areas of the world. The “mob” in this link was intent on doing something frivolous, but the security guards took the whole episode entirely the wrong way.

Unfortunately, teenagers being what they are, the concept of flash mob was soon turned into a much more serious matter. In Philadelphia, hundreds of teenagers have been converging downtown for a ritual that is part bullying, part running of the bulls: sprinting down the block, the teenagers sometimes pause to brawl with one another, assault pedestrians or vandalize property.

The man credited with starting flash mobs, Bill Wasik, is a senior editor at Harper’s magazine. He started these gatherings seven years ago as kind of a social experiment to show that large groups could be summoned in a matter of minutes or hours to do whatever. At first it was playful. Then, as sometimes happens to unsupervised children, the bullies stepped in and things started getting violent. It was not limited to teenagers. There were preteens involved as well.

As a result, the FBI was called in. The city governments, especially in  Philadelphia, were not going to mess around. The FBI has been asked to start monitoring social networks.

Not everybody agrees that what happened in Philadelphia is the result of flash mobs assembling. Supposedly, Team Nike, a boys’ break dancing crew was on South Street. It was not assembled as a result of Twitter. They were looking for a place to dance.  This blogger said that CNN blew everything out of proportion.

If Bill Wasik was creating a social experiment, I think he proved his point. People, especially teenagers, can be mobilized very quickly to do all sorts of things. He proved that large gatherings can be unpredictable, that city governments don’t trust large gatherings of teenagers, that the news media is prone to blow the importance of events up for the sake of being able to report “news”.

He probably proved a lot more than he ever intended. The idea has taken hold and participants will probably be treated much worse in many areas than they ever intended.

If Philadelphia enacts the proposition of denying free transportation to teenagers after 4:00 rather than 7:00, it is going to hurt a lot more students than those who were participants.

Government officials have a hot issue on their hands. Where does freedom to assemble end and “mob” control and public security begin?

It is sad how quickly innocent fun can be turned into violence. I hope that solutions are found soon. I like do re mi. Namaste. Attic Annie


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