Archive for Saturday, April 7, 2007

Mob mentality

Spontaneous flash mobs designed to render onlookers dumbfounded, serve as antidote to organizers’ boredom

April 7, 2007


One Lawrence resident stops traffic in honor of her birthday

Bill Keefe decided to celebrate her birthday in an unusual way. Enlarge video

Were you walking on the Kansas University campus around noon Feb. 16 when you heard the unmistakable sound of laughter ringing everywhere around you?

Were you driving down Massachusetts Street near South Park March 29 when a group of people ran out into the street and hugged?

If so, you've been flashed. Flash mobbed, that is.

For the past four years, major cities have been the sites of inexplicable acts done for the loosest of reasons. These spontaneous pillow fights and moments of random applause aren't meant to deliver a social commentary, rather they're usually a way to inject excitement into daily life.

Recently, the flash mob craze has come to Lawrence in a couple of very visible ways.

Michael Noth, a Kansas University senior, has started his own message board and Facebook group dedicated to promoting flash mobs on the KU campus. The group's first event, spontaneous laughter on Feb. 16, had some success, but was somewhat dampened by snow.

"I'm getting super burned out on school," Noth says. "I wanted something to serve as a distraction and to give me something new to do."

The group decides what sort of flash mob to have by voting on the message board Noth has set up. For now, a time travel protest is the leading candidate for the next mob. The description of the event says the group will meet in an agreed-upon location and chant in favor (or against) time travel and time machines.

"Maybe I'm weird, but when I see a random person with a completely dumbfounded look on their face, my heart pulls a Grinch and grows three sizes," Noth says.

Flash mobs, as they're currently known, have been around about as long as text messaging has been popular. According to various news accounts, the first successful flash mob happened when a crowd descended on a Macy's in Manhattan and gathered around a very expensive rug.

Bill Wasik, a senior editor for Harper's magazine, wrote in a March 2006 article that he was the originator of both the term flash mob and the organizer of the first event.

Noth says he couldn't imagine trying to put together such an event without the benefit of modern technology. He uses Internet messaging for virtually all of his flash mob-related communication.

"These technologies allow more people to coordinate efficiently. I can post a bulletin or send a mass message to coordinate times and themes for a flash mob very quickly," Noth says.

Billy Keefe organized the hug flash mob with a post on her blog on

Though turnout was somewhat light - about 20 people showed up - the idea was very popular on Keefe's blog. She organized the flash mob as a sort of birthday celebration.

"I've seen flash mobs before, but I've never been in one," Keefe says. "I wanted something that would be visually interesting if a lot of people showed up."

Keefe asked everyone who attended her flash mob to wear red, which a few people did. It's fairly common for flash mob organizers to designate a particular color.

Peace was another emphasis of Keefe's flash mob. She says she believes a large group can organize for a peaceful purpose, not to agitate for change or complain.

And that's what's at the core of the flash mob phenomenon.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 9 months ago

"It's rather pathetic, but still not too surprising."

It's harmless fun, but what's not surprising is that you'd have such a grinch-like reaction to it.

Gareth Skarka 10 years, 9 months ago

"Flash mobs are so 2005."

2005? Try 2003. When I was living in NYC, that's when the fad happened....and the lame-ass local media covered it pretty much identically as the LJW did here.

I guess it's true what they say -- Take what's happening everwhere else in the world, and then add 4 years, and it'll hit the Midwest.

The sad part is that even with the delay, the yokels still talk about it like it's something new.

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