No Pants Day and the observer effect

Evil media vampires plot to suck out the fun

Evil media vampires plot to suck out the fun

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle, according to Wikipedia (and the article sounds nerdy enough to be true) is a theory about observation in quantum physics that says you can know the position or momentum of a particle, but not both (it’s an argument used against Star Trek’s molecular transporter device, which the show’s writers conveniently solved with the creation of a mythical Heisenberg compensator). It’s a principle often confused by idiots like myself with the observer effect, in which observing an event alters it. For humans, psychologists call this “reactivity

Today, as I walked to St. Louis Square to participate in Montreal’s first No Pants metro ride, I noticed an abnormally large number of television cameras and professional photographers gathered behind a hilariously small fence. They’d been banished from the group by its leader.

This event, which was supposed to catch metro riders off-guard, got a bit too much media attention in advance. My post begat some others (including one from Dominic Arpin) and culminated in an article in La Presse the morning of the event. From there, it seems to have made every assignment editor’s desk and with nothing else going on today, they decided it would make a great photo op.

Of course, if any of the journalists had familiarized themselves with Improv Everywhere or had bothered to talk to the organizers in advance (only The Gazette and La Presse made any effort to do so), they’d have learned pretty quickly that a giant television camera and journalists with notepads would ruin the entire event.

No Pants metro ride participants

No Pants metro ride participants

Complicating matters was the fact that, despite the attention it got, there were only about a dozen people who showed up to participate. More people came to observe the event than take part in it.

After waiting for stragglers and discussing it with some of the people gathered, organizer Robin Friedman yelled “It’s cancelled!” and everyone went their separate ways.

Later, she told me she was really pissed about the media presence (myself excepted), and slightly less so by the fact that when Facebook says someone’s going to be there, it’s anyone’s guess if that’s actually true.

So don’t expect any big articles or front-page photos about the event in Sunday’s paper. Instead, you’ll read an article next Saturday in the Gazette about how the media ruined Montreal’s participation in a global day of fun.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to publicize an event like this to get enough participants but not so much that the news people get wind of it and blow everyone’s cover. A solution to that problem is being thought out, hopefully in time for Montreal’s Second Annual No Pants Subway Ride.


The event in Toronto seems to have gone off well. The Sun has a story with video (though I couldn’t make it play) and there’s already a video on YouTube as well.

Other regional reports can be found at Improv Everywhere along with the reports from New York.

7 thoughts on “No Pants Day and the observer effect

  1. Christelle

    Awww that’s too bad!! :( The media should have just went and participated to really get the feel of the event in order to cover it better, and you’d have had enough participants too then! :D How can they get 300 in Toronton, and we get 12??? :P

  2. David Pinto

    re Christelle: Reminds me of a certain Gazette reporter who, assigned some ten or fifteen years ago to cover some sort of event where the goal was for people to hug each other, scrupulously did not participate.

  3. Chris

    I was there to participate but left after the “it’s cancelled” call was made to the media. After the call was made, it was whispered to me that everyone was scattering and meeting up again to do it at Mont-Royal metro. My friend and I left at that point so I don’t know if it happened or not (I doubt enough people would have been present for it to work properly).

    My friend and I joked about bribing the guy from the Journal de Montreal in exchange for the location of where it was being moved but decided against it out of good taste.

  4. princess iveylocks

    I must be the only person who finds the idea of not wearing pants in the Metro on a cold January day… unpopular.


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