When I interviewed Newmindspace co-founder Kevin Bracken after Montreal's first metro party in 2007, the Torontonian told me he hated the term "flash mob", mainly because it was created in order to make fun of it.
After following various events that have been referred to as flash mobs in the media, it's hard not to concur, if only because the term has been used to define almost any public gathering of strangers organized online.
Most events of this nature can be split into one of two groups:
- the Improv Everywhere-style stunts in which people who may or may not know each other get together and pull a prank on unsuspecting bystanders in a public place
- public fun activities like metro parties or silent discos or snowball fights (such as the events Newmindspace organizes on a regular basis)
The latter more accurately fits the description, but is hardly worthy of the rather negative term "mob".
I bring this up because of an event that happened yesterday: a public spectacle at the Berri-UQAM metro station that the public was invited to participate in. It was described as a "flash mob" by its creator, but it was really just a PR stunt.
A PR stunt for cancer prevention, which I'm all for and everything, but a PR stunt nonetheless.
What bugs me most is that this was organized through a "flash mob" Facebook group which was taken over by a marketing company without its members' permission. I suppose it's not the end of the world. People can just remove themselves from the group if they don't like it. And who's going to oppose a public event for cancer awareness?
But it's an example of grassroots fun being usurped by corporate interests. Instead of "flash mobs", they're now "street marketing" events. Yesterday, it was a yellow-scarfed song for cancer research. Will the next one be shilling for Doritos? Will commuters have to live in fear every day they go to work because they might be forced into some ill-conceived marketing stunt in which they've been made the sucker?
Meanwhile, if you're looking for non-corporate fun, Montreal's pillow fight is Saturday at 3pm at Phillips Square.