Flash Mob Video Manifesto!

For flash mob video’s to remain an integral part of our online culture, changes MUST be made. This genre of web video has become a joke ever since its original creator, Bill decided to stop forming flash mobs in New York City. First off, the flash mob video has become either a huge advertisement for some large corporation and the message it wants to spread or something fun to do in school or to propose to your significant other. This is all well in good, but this is not why flash mobs were created, this I believe is the key to making flash mob videos mean something again and regain popularity, going back to their original purpose, to what Bill Wasik had originally intended.


1) A true flashmob cannot be created for commercial purposes, it must be used for social commentary, as they were originally intended.

2) A flash mob must contain a group of larger than ninety people in order for it to really even be considered a flash mob.

3) A flash mob must cause considerable confusion and chaos, so as to make the event even more spectacular.

4) These mobs must be as little planned as possible to make them seem even more organic.

5) Flash mob videos must include a clear beginning (in which the scene of the mob is set), a mob, and a clear end (sudden stop and crowd walk away leaving the bystanders shocked and confused)

Despite these principles and the fact that flash mobs should be used as social commentary, another fundamental idea around them that must be continued in order for the genre to succeed is jubilance and joy. Flash mobs need to be fun or they loose over half their appeal. So stop using a flashmob for your ad campaign and put a group together to have fun and comment on their society today!

History of Flash mob and their Videos

The history of flash mobs is quite interesting, especially since it was not started to be a youtube video phenomenon. The first time anything similar to a flash mob was even thought of and described came from a novella, written in 1973, “Flash Crowd” by science fiction writer Larry Niven. In the story, people swarm a highly broadcasted event, using teleportation, and create riots. These groups usually, purposefully, intensify the situation  that is currently happening  in order to exploit that particular instance, and create mass confusion. The crowds of tele-porters become known as “flash crowds”. This idea sounds eerily similar to what modern flash mobs have become, except they use regular modes of transportation to cause the confusion and event.

The first time that an actual flash mob took place occurred in 2003, as a result of Harper’s Magazine senior editor Bill Wasik. It began with Bill creating an email account named themobproject@yahoo.com and emailing fifty of his friends, as well as himself, inviting them to gather together at a public location with the hopes of confusing others. When later interviewed he said his main purpose for creating these mobs was to poke fun at the ever growing hipster culture and explore the ideas surrounding conformity and people’s need to be apart of “the next big thing”. He was later quoted as saying, “the mobs started as a kind of playful social experiment meant to encourage spontaneity and big gatherings to temporarily take over commercial and public areas simply to show that they could”.

The first mob he tried to organize failed, as the store being targeted discovered the plot. The first flash mob occurred on June 3, 2003 in New York City. To avoid discovery, like the first attempt, Bill emailed everyone to meet at four separate Manhattan bars, creating staging areas where participants were subsequently emailed the location right before the actual event was the take place. The first flash mob occurred in a Macy’s Department Store on the ninth floor rug department, the mob consisted of over 130 people. Together they all sat staring and gathered around an expensive rug. Whenever the group was questioned they were to respond that they were looking for a “love rug” for the warehouse, on the outskirts of New York City, where they all lived together and that when a purchase decision needed to be made they always did it together as one large group. The next part occurred with over 200 people gathering in the lobby and mezzanine level of the Hyatt hotel and participated in fifteen seconds of synchronized applause. The last flash mob occurred at a Soho shoe store where a mob of people entered pretending to be tourists on a bus trip.

The first flash mob where people gathered around a rug on the ninth floor of the Macy's Department Store

The first flash mob where people gathered around a rug on the ninth floor of the Macy’s Department Store

After the success of this first mob, major news outlets began to cover the new phenomenon. They found that the success of the event lied with the internets role in organizing the events as well as the participants fun in being apart of the mob. Soon after these first flash mobs, others in major cities around the United States and the World began occurring. Wasik eventually ended the organizing of flash mobs in New York City at the height of their popularity instead of them dying out because of the lack of participation. However, flash mobs have remained popular throughout the world. Instead of being national news events, however, they are now mostly web video phenomenon’s. The videos of these events posted onto video viewing websites has kept this public “performance art” of sorts alive.

Flash Mobs – Post 1

Wikipedia defines a flash mob as “a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse”. Flash mobs tend to be produced by two very different groups, corporations or companies trying to advertise a campaign or product, or everyday people for fun or trying to send a message in a very public way. One again flash mobs have two distinct audiences; the people there to witness the event to take place, who film it and then post it online, leading to the second group, which is the people who hear of these online videos and watch online. The main characteristics of this genre are an intro of some kind helping to place the event, a very public place found either indoors or outdoors, a gradual growth in group size throughout the event, reaction shots of the crowd found at the event, and an anticlimactic ending.

Most every official flash mob video, official meaning the group responsible had multiple camera people there to film the event from different angles and then edit together to create a larger view of the event, begins with an intro of sorts that helps place the setting or the purpose or the event. For example, the Bristol Light Saber flash mob they spoof the beginning of the actual Star Wars beginning, with a faux 20th Century Fox logo, instead named Bristol LIghtsaber Flashmob, and a faux Lucas films logo, instead named Clatterowls Inc. They then proceed to spoof the original text found at the beginning of the film, instead saying “Not so long ago, in a mall in Bristol”. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUZgrL85OKs) Other videos will just help you get a feel for the setting by showing multiple shots of the location just so the viewer has an idea of the space.

Almost all flash mobs take place in a very public place of some kind, from a Student Union at a large University to a famous monument. Their was a flash mob at the Ohio State University Student Union (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJux_VTITfI), at the Sydney Opera House (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpgr3vDK5Bc), even the famous Bondi beach has been home to multiple flash mobs. Another quality that the majority of flash mobs share is that, no matter what kind of flash mob be it a dance or a sword battle, the full group participating does not usually all begin at once. The event begins with a few of the members starting of the confusion, with more and more people joining as the time passes by causing even more uncertainty in the audience. A great example is one of the mobs that occurred at Bondi beach (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ao4DkbGbxl0); it began with a drag queen hearing the loud music and she alone started to dance, only shortly after for four or five participants to pop up behind her and join in the dance.

A very important part of flash mob videos is reaction shots of the live audience to the actual mob. These reactions show the real spontaneity of the event, almost used to prove that this really was an unexpected event and a complete surprise to everyone there. They also like to show shots of these audience members taking out their phones and capturing videos of the event so they can prove they were there when it happened. A great video showing the reaction of the “audience” was the freeze flash mob in Grand Central Station in NYC (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwMj3PJDxuo). The goal was to freeze simultaneously for four minutes and then just unfreeze and continue on. The video goes so far to show a cart driver calling his superiors saying he needs help because there are all these bizarre people frozen that are blocking his way, only for the group to start moving and him to radio “never mind”.

Lastly a fair amount of flash mobs come to an almost anticlimactic end, with the group typically suddenly stopping and then fitting themselves back into the crowd of ordinary people like they never did anything. A T-mobile ad campaign created a flash mob in the Liverpool Street Station (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQ3d3KigPQM), where all of the previous characteristics were portrayed, when the last song clip suddenly ended with all the dancers with the hands in the air, suddenly everyone dropping and picked up their belongings and went back to walking through the station to the places they needed to reach. This helps accomplish that feeling of a fleeting event that is unexpected and like a flash of lightening there and then gone.