Lighten Up with Flash Mobs

For years, politicians, ministers, artists and beauty pageant contestants have pleaded for the citizens of humanity to come together, placing aside all religious, racial and personal differences to peaceably exist and work for a common purpose. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that that day has arrived. The solution is clear … and it is called flash mobs.

The majority of you are now scratching your head, perhaps unfamiliar with the term or the relevance. A flash mob, according to the ever trivial and all-knowing Wikipedia, is “a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse.” Though flash mobs have been occurring for a while now, recent years have seen a notable increase in these disordered displays. Usually, a group or individual will come up with a concept for a mob, send out a mass invite via the Internet, and then participants, sometimes in the thousands, will arrive for a very public and very random activity: blowing bubbles, pillow fights, watching movies on rooftops, dance parties in the streets, walking around dressed as zombies, etc.

Though they shy away from association with the title of “flash mob,” Improv Everywhere is the first and most recognized name in this revolution of spontaneity. They started as an NYC theater troop wanting to have a little fun. More than 85 “pranks” later, they now have a website, a book (aptly titled Causing a Scene), and an ever-growing roster of thousands of "undercover agents." Some of their more infamous acts include the Human Mirror (a train ride in which several pairs of twins lined up along the cars on either side, wearing the same clothes and imitating each other’s every motion, without ever acknowledging or explaining to other passengers), the MP3 Experiments (an annual prank that involves downloading a particular MP3, gathering in a predetermined public place, and unquestioningly following the commands of the audio file as a group), and the No Pants Subway Ride (self-explanatory). Their recent Invisible Dogs stunt sent more than 2,000 people into the streets of Brooklyn with empty leather dog leashes and instructions to cluelessly behave as if they really were taking Fido out for a walk.

“I think people enjoy being an active participant in their own entertainment, getting off of the computer and actually being a part of something, rather than always passively being entertained,” says Improv Everywhere founder, Charlie Todd. “I guess our participants all have in common the desire to try something new and do something a little out of the ordinary. Perhaps they also have a certain amount of courage to break social norms. “

Oprah joined the flash mob movement as well, and, as with most things Oprah endorses, people followed. She even got the Black Eyed Peas involved, who performed for a massive audience that filled Chicago’s Michigan Avenue with choreographed dance.

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Sure, it looks neat, makes for a few laughs and an icebreaker story. But perhaps there is more to the flash mob movement than kicks and giggles. While these events could be written off as entirely trivial, I think the founders, participants and even the smiling YouTube viewers can agree that there is a valuable sense of freedom and belonging in these communal displays. Even the Improv Everywhere team, with all of their mischievous “gotcha!” enthusiasm, recognizes their mission as causing “scenes of chaos and joy in public places.“

It seems to me that there is a bigger and underlying message here. Perhaps I’m looking too deeply in the shallow end … or perhaps the key to uniting people does not always lie in shared backgrounds, a convicting sermon or a political campaign. Sometimes it is the more lighthearted and refreshingly neutral aspects of life that create a safe environment where people can set aside their reputations and agendas, and have fun. These are the grounds on which uninhibited and exhilarating joy is found, without regard to personal achievement or reward. Scripture even tells us that a cheerful heart is like good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). It’s good for the soul.

Reevaluate the way you view community and these people you get to spend this unpredictable life with. Dance. Wear pajamas in public. Blow bubbles. Let’s lighten up, shall we?

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