Troy Bolton: “I’m here to talk about what happens after you leave East High. Here’s the deal. No one sings at college. And from what I can tell this is America’s only singing high school. I was as shocked as you are. Let me tell you how my first day went. I was nervous but excited. So, I started singing a song called ‘nervous but excited’. People just stared at me. There was zero choreography. Zero!”
That dance video is a publicity stunt (i.e, guerrilla communication used for marketing), but it’s become a viral video. I think people like the idea that people in normal life could just start dancing together. The next two videos are musical numbers that some people did which aren’t publicity stunts. It’s just some people who wanted to dance and/or sing in front of an unsuspecting audience (the first video is by Improv Everywhere which is a very active group).
Here is an interview with Ryan Mackey about staging a guerilla musical.
All of this relates to flash mobs (and the more general smart mob; also related subjects – rave culture, subway party, mobile clubbing, wifipicning and tempoary autonomous zones). The basic idea originated before the internet with performance art and happenings, but new technology has brought such public activities to a new level. Many flash mobs are just for fun. Popular varieties of flash mobs include the flash mob bang, the pillow fight flash mob, the silent disco, and the time freeze.
But flash mobs do have practical application such as political demonstrations. Even though political flash mobs have been used for a long time, technology has brought protesting to a new level. The internet of course allows a flash mob to be publicized widely after the event, but more maybe importantly cellphones and twitter allows people to gather quickly and disperse again before authorities can interfere. Also, it’s just an easy way to organize with minimal effort. A flash mob could be organized well ahead of time, but it doesn’t need to be. Just text or twitter some directions and those who aren’t busy can convene on the same location. Here is an example of a political flash mob.
This reminds me of tactical frivolity and tactical media. An example of the latter would be the Merry Pranksters who were the first culture jamming activists to gain mainstream media attention. As for a contemporary example, the Yes Men have become well known for their media pranks. It’s amazing how much the Yes Men can get away with. I feel sorry for the audience/victims of their comedic activism. The next video is one of their stunts and I find it quite impressive how straight-faced they can act while making an absurd presentation. The video after that is an interview with one of the members of Yes Men.
The space between media and everyday life has become very small. On a more serious note, I once read an analysis of contemporary media where the author pointed out that the O.J. Simpson chase was one of the first national events in the U.S. where the public realized they were a part of a media event (the first live feed of a car chase was, according to this article, in 1992). People watched it live on tv and then went outside to watch it. The people waved at the news helicopters (there were at least 7 of them) as it passed knowing they were being broadcast to the world.
This interactive aspect of media has become a normal part of reality. News reporting often depends on the cellphone videos of people who happened to be on the scene and news agencies watch twitter closely to discover breaking news. News is whatever is happening now and with the internet the news spreads very quickly (here is an article that discusses the tabloid nature of media sensationalism which ‘reports’ the news before it’s even been officially released).
This demand for immediacy disallows analysis or even vetting of sources. News reporters are constantly swamped by new information that they want to be the first to report and so this is why they are easily fooled by hoaxers (here is an example involving major networks). Groups like the Yes Men are able to accomplish their pranks because of how the internet has levelled the playing field. It’s hard to tell an official website from a hoax website because outwardly they may look exactly like and no one has the time to look at every website in detail, no one has the time to research every single claimed fact. Truly convincing hoaxes are rare. People tend to trust sources that appear legitimate and it’s easy to miss details such as a single letter being off in the url.
It all comes down to control. Those in authority, of course, want to be in control. However, new media technology offers much opportunity for the average person to regain some control. We’re saturated with media, but people are no longer content with one-way passively received reporting and advertising. If you want to have a flash mob in the middle of your downtown, there is no way anyone can stop you. If you want to express yourself through song and have choreographed dances at college, more power to you.