If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know my opinion on so-called “flash mobs”. The term is poorly defined (mostly because the groups most associated with the term find it demeaning and refuse to describe themselves that way), but most people seem to have settled on the definition of a bunch of strangers meeting in a public place, doing something strange and then leaving.
That “something strange” is open to debate. In some cases, it’s harmless fun for fun’s sake. In others, it’s a highly-choreographed stunt. I wouldn’t really describe every seemingly spontaneous public performance as a flash mob, but as long as people are having fun I’m not going to complain.
My issue is that, because “flash mob” is popular among youth, various groups with agendas are trying to use it to their advantage. In some cases, the intentions are honorable, like fighting cancer. But it’s also been used to promote beer, or create “viral videos” to drum up interest in some convoluted advertising campaign.
Now, it seems, it’s also being abused for political activism.
I really shouldn’t have expected anything different from this “flash mob” protest organized by the anti-Turcot-project protesters. But heading down there with my camera, I saw plenty of mob and very little flash. In fact, no flash. They were just kind of standing around there. Did I miss the flash part?
I’m on the fence about the Turcot Interchange project as proposed by the Ministère de transport. I agree with a greater need for public consultation, and that we should prioritize public transit, and that forcing people to move should be avoided whenever possible, but I’m not sure with some environmentalists’ conclusion that we should keep the concrete spaghetti mess in the sky.
Still, it’s a free country. Let people protest. It’s better that people express their opinion on these kinds of projects than have nobody question them before they turn into giant sinkholes of taxpayer money.
Taking a page from the red squares used during student protests against Jean Charest’s Liberal government (which had mixed results – a plan to convert bursaries into loans was reversed, but tuition increases went ahead), the protesters wore green felt squares. This particular square is on the shirt of Jacob Larsen, who wrote a post announcing the event on Spacing Montreal.
Perhaps green squares were appropriate because a bunch of faces were recognizable names from the Green Party, NDP and Projet Montréal:
There was Peter McQueen, a perennial Green Party candidate who’s running for Projet Montréal in the coming municipal election.
And Anne Lagacé-Dowson, who left CBC Radio to run in a federal by-election for the NDP. She would eventually lose a general election to Liberal Marc Garneau. Since then she’s been heard on weekends on CJAD.
Despite these being fairly low-risk candidates for violence, police were there in force. Two cars around the corner, another four vans a block away. There were about as many police officers as protesters.
More coverage at Neath’s Turcot blog and the Facebook group.
Three in a day
All this I would have dismissed if it were a unique case. But it was actually the third of three different protest-flash-mobs in a single day for three different causes.
At about the same time at Place des Arts, there was a flash mob for climate change. The “flash” part was apparently just making a lot of noise and standing behind a banner, which doesn’t sound that different from every other protest that has ever occurred. Oh, there’s something about freezing in place too, you know, to make it cool. And holding cellphones in the air (you see, because it’s a “wakeup call”, get it?)
And then earlier in the day, a flash mob for peace. This one even got the mayor to take part (he apparently wasn’t too busy preparing to have his re-election hopes flushed down the toilet).
I used to like going to “flash mobs” because they were fun. I like organized fun, even with strangers (I even have an entire category for it on my blog). And even if the term “flash mob” had no real meaning, at least it had fun.
But now they’ve taken the fun out of it.
Since you seem to have summarized my own points re: this irritating trend towards protest-rebranding, I’d like to ask an obvious, rhetorical question –
Are the lower echelons of Montreal’s police force completely overstaffed, or what? Can we save a couple loonies and lay these fine loafers off? Surely some of them can go into a useful civic service: Firefighter, paramedic, English interpretation for mayoral candidates, etc.
No. They were overstaffed for this particular protest, but the police have been caught with their pants down too many times when an event got too big for them to control. Better have them send too many than too few.
“Better have them send too many than too few.”
Well, clearly our fundamental philosophies differ on this, so I won’t take you any further off topic. But I’d love to know (with the exception of post-hockey-game rioting) what “out of control” events you have in mind?
The Fredy Villanueva riot is another example.
One could make the case that the original Villanueva incident wouldn’t have happened if otherwise unoccupied officers didn’t busy themselves with such crucial tasks as breaking up dice games.
Speculation aside, a 5-to-1 cop-to-civilian ratio strikes you as inadequate? Then the force really is doing something wrong. Obviously, standing around like totem poles and/or pursuing petty crimes is not a good model for policing when the pressure turns on.
Didn’t notice you there. I think we do need to pump up the issues where climate change is a factor. Whether anyone sees it or not, Turcot will play a very strong role in determining how the Trams, Trolleys, and Metros, Oh My! situation will play out in Montreal. Of course my “Turcot” is slightly expanded as it includes, among other things, the “Superhospital” on the glen and the downtown to airport train, two ghost projects gathering dust as costs inevitably soar. We spend a fortune on consultations and various research that occasionally become irrelevant when the global context is factored in.
Anyway, yea, it seems that “flash mob” seems to have entered the language as a generic term which is somehow unsatisfying as it tends to blend the well intended efforts of citizens on local or global issues with marketers who just want to sell jeans. On the other hand, what else could you call it?
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Wonder if Pete McQueen has a car?
He travelled there on his bike.
As one of the organisers, I of course have to weigh in! (So that was you, Fagstein! masquerading as an MTQ spy! I love it!)
The “flash” part of the flash mob was singing “Ring Around the Rosie” and dropping on the ground. This song, some traditions say, including “The Annotated Mother Goose”, has its origins in the Great Plague (see the wiki entry on this concept). And we stayed inside 10 minutes…give us that! how many political demos manage that?
See this little Youtuber (skip the blah-blah and cut to the 3 minute movie): http://tinyurl.com/n9vren
I totally agree with your basic thesis, that the flash mob is dead. You are right.
But it’s bastard children are awe-fully fun. I like to think the bastard offspring of Burning Man and “the Interwebs”.
Perhaps we need a new name for them: got any ideas?
(PS flattered that you came for a visit!)
The lesson in all of this is : never hold a meeting in a space you can’t fill.
“I’m on the fence on the Turcot-Interchange project proposed by the Ministry of Transport…”
On the fence? Is it comfortable up there?
Come on, Fagstein, everyone and their sister is against this project. All three municipal parties, the Department of Public Health, neighbourhood residents, environmentalists…the only ones in favor are the Chamber of Commerce and the Trucker’s association.
So come out in favor, come out against, whatever you feel is right.
But take a stand, please. You stay up too long on that fence, your butt’s gonna get sore.