Have Flash Mobs Sold Out?

I love the idea of a good flash mob. A moment in time where a group of people get together and do something bizarre in a public place that confuses those around them. I love the way that they are started by networking online and you have to be connected with someone in order to know what is going on. I love the way they generate discussion and we see the true powers of passing a message on by word of mouth. Have flash mobs sold out though? Have they been abused by marketers and advertisers to be more like a public performance than a moment of improvisation by the everyday person?

The flash mob that was created in New York Grand Central Station is fantastic. The mob was instructed to stand frozen for a total of 5 minutes and then vacate the area. The result was a mass of confusion by commuters and people passing by. My favorite part is when one guy says “I think it must be some kind of a protest”. Who protests by freezing in a train station?

A great example of online networking can be seen in the first international flash mob – the Worldwide Pillow Fight Day. Word spread via Facebook, Myspace, private blogs, public forums, personal websites, as well as by word of mouth, text messaging, and email. This networking enabled over 25 cities in the world to participate in the pillow fight on the same day at the same time. It just reiterates how much communication has changed since the creation of social media. Ten years ago, an impromptu event like a flash mob would have been near impossible (or at least expensive) to organise. Today, the tools we have available to us, the access to people and immediacy of communication is so prevalent that impromptu events like flash mobs are possible. That is why I like flash mobs so much, they are created from the possibilities that social media offers.

So are they selling out? Is every Tom Dick and Harry organising a flash mob to generate publicity for their brand or product, or to create a “viral clip”? The use of paid actors and professional dancing seems to be all that flash mobs are about now, they are rehearsed and perfected and the timing is impeccable. While it is entertaining to watch, the participants may as well build a stage and perform their act like any other street performer. I can’t help but feel betrayed that flash mobs are no longer about the privilege of being connected online, they no longer represent transparency or authenticity, they no longer create confusion, its only about entertainment now. I believe they have sold out, but I guess it was only a matter of time.