The definition of what a flash mob is may have been tainted recently after a performance art organization decided to take things to a new level. While flash mobs used to exhibit the best in what improvisation can do in public places, it goes into riskier territory when you put on outfits that resemble an intent to do a robbery. So it was with a public improvisation troupe called Improv Everywhere that had its members unexpectedly arrested when they dressed up like mannequins in a Gap store. It’s part of a new wave of performance art that’s being spotted more often in major cities for artistic and marketing purposes.
While movie marketing is starting to occasionally experiment with flash mob performance art lately, has the flash mob evolved into new territory that’s going to take away from its initial fun concept? While the above members of Improv Everywhere were released after police found out it wasn’t a robbery attempt, what is the future going to be for flash mob performances with a more cautious public?
The Evolution of the Flash Mob
When you first started hearing about flash mobs five or more years ago, it was primarily hearing about spontaneous group dancing in the middle of a mall. The most common story was a large group of people suddenly breaking into mass tap dancing, or doing free dance to a Michael Jackson song. All of these set off a strange new path of life becoming a real movie musical where you could walk into a mall and have the potential to see a group of people burst into song or dance in the blink of an eye.
This idea behind the flash mob was one that malls readily accepted, because everyone could clearly see the intent. Since then, though, it’s gone more on a dare and even into darker territory. After the happy dance fad wore off, the next step was zombie flash mobs, which were just as entertaining. Most of those began the flash mob in the outdoors where you’d suddenly see a hundred people dressed like zombies ambling down a street just because they could. Some of them even burst into dance mode, which gave an interesting bridge between the world of the dead and musicals.
You don’t hear quite as much about the dancing and zombie flash mobs in the last year or two. And performance art troupes are starting to merge with the flash mob sensibility to take on more complex endeavors that make some fantastic statements, yet get extremely misunderstood.
The Blend of Performance Art with the Flash Mob
It used to be that performance art was considered overly avant-garde and would usually be relegated to big city street corners for pre-announced events. Perhaps out of frustration that not many people paid attention to those bold statements of art, some of them have taken on the bold streak of doing them spontaneously to garner more attention. This may have been spawned from recent attempts by Hollywood to do some performance art experiments to gather attention. For the “Carrie” remake last year, there was a violent performance art enactment of a Carrie look-alike pinning a guy to a wall in a coffee shop. Some people were so freaked out by this stunt that they ran out in fear it was some sort of terrorist attack.
With the fear of terrorism still being very fresh in everyone’s mind, you have to wonder how long performance art is going to last in major cities without having police or the public taking serious action. The worst is if a member of the public misunderstands and takes action into their own hands with possibly dangerous or deadly results.
The Improv Everywhere troupe above were mistakenly thought to be a group of people intent on robbing the store. One reason is because flash mobs have devolved into the low end of flash mob robberies in some stores of late. These are the most brazen and largest threats to retail stores today, because it has numerous people working together to pull off robberies as means of easier getting away with it.
Is there a way back to the original and more honest forms of the flash mob? The intention of shocking people in order to successfully grab attention is one that’s only going to start looking more real as time goes on. The blurring lines are going to have to be made clearer so stores don’t panic when they see a group of people suddenly converging around an open walkway. If people want to do performance art, then let it be pure fantasy rather than something that looks too close to what nefarious people do to pull off a major heist.
Of course, the cleverest heist is doing a robbery when the honest flash mobs are underway and diverting everyone’s attention. It’s why your own store might want to keep an eye on your products and cash register while you happily watch a group of people sing and dance a number from a classic musical.