2006-10-19 / Sam Bari

You can't beat a system you can't understand

Flash the naked goldfish
By Sam Bari

Back in my grandfather's day, the media made a big

thing out of college kids swallowing goldfish. The practice began as a passage into manhood challenge. Apparently, only real men would swallow a live fish. Go figure.

The next generation appeared to enjoy stuffing as many people as possible into telephone booths and Volkswagens. The participants were ostensibly attempting to create a new stunt to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. We can thank whoever should be thanked that that fad went the way of the wave, another really dumb fad enjoyed by sports enthusiasts everywhere. They don't do the wave any more, do they? Please say it isn't so.

Anyway, back somewhere in my misspent youth, flashers became popular. Running to and fro, hither and yon, as naked as jaybirds. Are jaybirds really naked if they're wearing feathers? That one has always stumped me. Nonetheless, shapely young ladies dashing across athletic fields wearing nothing more than a smile was at least a bit titillating, and something was at stake. If they were caught, they could be arrested. It was actually a kind of cool sport. Running was involved, and everybody, including the police chasing the flasher as well as the fans got their hearts thumping for a few minutes - good cardiovascular exercise. I think they were arresting people for the wrong reason. Arrest the idiots for doing the wave. What benefit was that to humanity? Flashing should be an Olympic sport.

Recently, concerned readers have been asking about a craze that enjoyed a "flash in the pan" not long after the turn of the 21st century and is already enjoying a resurgence. That is, the "flash mob."

A flash mob is an event where a large group of people receives instructions in advance, converges on a place, does something odd, and leaves peaceably within minutes. For instance, at an early flash mob in Manhattan, participants descended on Macy's rug department and claimed to be members of a commune shopping for a "love rug." As dumb as it sounds, one has to admit, it is kind of amusing in a perverse way. The mob stayed for about five minutes, then disbursed as quickly as it had formed.

We put our crack team of researchers, the Googlamaniacs, onto the case and in mere nanoseconds, they found an interview with the originator of the flash mob. Francis Heaney, a reporter for Stay Free, an off-beat Brooklyn-based magazine that explores the politics and perversions of mass media and American culture, tracked down the guy that staged the first flash mob. The guy in the interview, who would only identify himself as "Bill," explained the flash mob origins.

"Basically, it started with an e-mail. I created an e-mail address and forwarded an e-mail to myself, and then I forwarded it to about 40 or 50 friends on the premise that they would think, "Oh, Bill's heard about this interesting thing. I wanted it to appear like one of those things circulating around the Internet."

What began as a single forwarded e-mail inviting people to join an "inexplicable mob" turned into a sprawling, global fad practically overnight, and then largely faded away almost as quickly as it appeared.

Recently, the following posts on the Internet announced flash mob happenings abroad:

"11th October 2006 19.24 Liverpool street station - rules: bring favourite dance music and walkman/ipod with you. arrive at the station around 19.15 no dancing before 19.24 spread out through the whole concourse as soon as the clock strikes 19.24."

OK, we have a bit of a new phenomenon going on. Flashhugging. The first-ever free hugs flash mob event will happen at midnight in Leicester Square in London. The organizers have a video on YouTube advertising the event. Britain Posted Sept. 28, 2006: "A Flash Mob will take place Saturday May 6th in Perigueux, France. The idea is a Flanby (caramel dessert) contest. A Jury of 6 international professionals will decide of the best Flanby-sucking method. Perigueux. Europe Posted April 30, 2006.

As silly as these events may sound, at least the flash mob technique redeemed itself when used for a peaceful get together at

Ground Zero in New York City. A flash mob gathered to stage a 10-minute protest of the loss of first amendment rights, which concerns the right to peaceable assembly. Proponents felt that permits, rules, and permission from authority should not apply togroups of people that assemble peacefully.

When they gathered, they looked like a huge mob just talking on their cell phones, but those who walked around and listened closely heard the people on cell phones reciting the First Amendment in unison. Then they got louder and louder before they disappeared as quickly as they assembled. They made their point by staging a huge assembly with impunity without securing a permit.

Any way you look at it, swallowing goldfish, stuffing people in phone booths, running naked in the streets, and gathering as flash mobs, all prove that we definitely live in a system we can't understand.

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