Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Flash Mob: Let It Die Already and Put It Out of Its Misery

the typical obnoxious flash mob

Before I proceed to the main topic of this post, I should announce that Jared (not the former subway spokesperson Jared  but the guy who had my name tattooed to his bicep in order to avoid serving an LDS mission) and I are officially once and for all kaput. We've both dated other people for the past year, so it's not as though this new development is any great blow to me. What clenched the deal, so to speak, is that he is now engaged to one of my closest friends, Megan (the girl whose family owned the lesbian hen). I think they're far more suited for each other than Jared and I ever were for each other. I couldn't be any happier for them than I am. They've tentatively set their wedding date for August of 2017. I've been asked to be a bridesmaid, and I very happily accepted the invitation.

Now I shall address a topic that is the diametric opposite of being near and dear to my heart. The subject of discussion here is the semi-passe-but-still-happening-just-often-enough-to-annoy-me phenomena known as flash mobs. I concede that flash mobs are essentially harmless. Moreover, they seem to make a lot of people happy.  If people genuinely derive pleasure from participating in them,and if others enjoy watching viewing them, by all means they should continue, though preferably in venues where the audience is not captive and can walk away if they are perturbed by them as I am.

The subject of flash mobs came up recently because it has become almost expected that someone in the graduating class will organize a flash mob to perform during their medical school's Match Day ceremony. Match Day, which happens on the third Friday each March, is when 4th-year medical school students learn if and/or where they will serve internships or residencies. Fourth-year med school students travel to be interviewed by various programs. Skype interviewing isn't really recommended because students tend to be happier if they rank their preferences for internship or residency programs based on having actually traveled to the places. The residency programs simultaneously rank their preferences in candidates, and a computer program sorts the data and spits out matches. (I hate to think of what some amoral mastermind like Karl Rove might do to manipulate the system, but so far he's been more fixated upon presidential election outcomes than Match Day results. Furthermore, at least as far as I know, no one has received a "match" with an institution not even ranked on their list.)

Cutting to the chase, the Match Day ceremony at each med school has its own long-standing traditions, but one tradition that seems to be creeping its way past many of the more established customs is the dreaded flash mob. the expectation that a group is to produce a flash mob is, in my humble opinion, all the more reason not to do one. a flash mob is only successful -- and only in the rarest of instances, in my view, are they EVER successful  -- if there is an element of surprise in the performance. If all the attendees at  a Match Day ceremony are sitting around waiting for the inevitable flash mob to start, where is the element of surprise. Not there; I guarantee it.

Flash mobs have pervaded our societal functions to the point that a newly-wedded couple sometimes questions both the sanctity and the legality of their union if a flash mob did not take place at some point int their proceedings. The wedding reception flash mob has grown into a cliche of sorts.  I haven't seen a single wedding reception flash mob, either in real life or on YouTube, that I considered even remotely clever or well-done. A few actual wedding ceremony flash mobs -- while I wouldn't necessarily have wanted either to participate in them or to have them performed at my own wedding -- were both undeniably well-executed and sufficiently unexpected as to contain an element of surprise. I'm not big on people performing circus-style acrobatics right in the middle of a church service, but still, the level of skill and preparation was admirable.

I must admit that a large measure of my disinclination for flash mobs stems from my critical nature. While I don't consider myself a singer (for good reason), as a musician I nevertheless have a strong sense of both absolute and relative pitch. People who sing in flash mobs are, as often as not, at least a bit pitchy. Listening to them disregard each others' tones hurts my ears. 

Dance flash mobs are probably more common than singing flash mobs. I have less problem with them, though I usually find the cheerleader-style dance moves often seen in flash mobs to be rather tiresome. (I no longer hate either cheerleaders or cheerleading per se; I'm just not terribly fond of the style of dance employed by most cheerleading squads and wish it would have both its beginning and its end in actual cheerleading performances and competitions and would cease with its attempts at infusion into other dance genres. [I was a cheerleader very briefly, and dancing in that choppy and forced manner very nearly did me in.])

All of that being said, there are a few places I would kill to see flash mob performances.

        1. A flash mob in an LDS temple ceremony would be classic.  The
            geriatric temple workers might very well succumb to the shock 
            of the unexpected, but even (or especially) if it were my own grand-
            father, I'd say the flash mob was easily worth the price.

        2. A flash mob at a funeral might be nice. this should never happen 
            at the funeral of an infant who died of SIDS or of a high school 
            student who was killed by a drunk driver or at the funeral of a 
            serviceman who gave his life in service of his country. Performing
            a flash mob under such circumstances would be disrespectful and 
            basically wrong in every way. Under other circumstances,  however,                   a flash mob might serve to give an otherwise grim ceremony a bit 
            of ambience. I nominate my own grandfather, for that time when he                   ultimately meets up with The Grim Reaper, to be the recipient of
            a colossal flash mob sendoff. I'll even organize it. We'll use an appro-
            priate ditty: "If You Don't Know Me by Now" by Harold  Melvin and
            the Blue Notes. click on the link and scan the lyrics if you're unfamiliar               with the song. I'm sure you'll agree that the song is fitting funeral fare.
         3. A flash mob in Judge Alex's courtroom would be a hoot. I would never
             participate in it, but I would get a charge out of seeing how many 
             people he threw in jail for contempt of court.

Even with this post being essentially a vilification of the flash mob phenomenon, two flash mobs stand out as having been especially nicely executed. One is the performance of Ode to Joy by the symphony in Catalonia. The other is too good to pass up.  I will include a video of the flash mob that is the absolute quintessence of all flash mobs. I'm thoroughly jealous and may never get over the fact that I was not an engineering student at the University of Toronto in 2013 and didn't get to participate in this flash mob. The singing isn't perfect, but considering that these people are engineering students and not music or theater majors, and that they're singing while walking on narrow and slippery tables between rows in an auditorium-style lecture hall, it's both respectable and commendable. This is one reason I think no more flash mobs really need to happen (except for the one at my grandfather's funeral): no one else will ever do it better. 

NOTE: I don't own this video. I'm including it as a sign of my sheer admiration and respect, and I sincerely hope no one who has any rights to it is offended by its inclusion here.


  1. A flash mob in the temple would be a hoot. But the one the LDS youth did outside of the temple was nauseating. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U-I8U9EHAA

    Eventually flash mobs will fall out of favor, only to be replaced by some other highly annoying fad. - A return of the Macarena perhaps?

    1. I shall watch the gaggy Mormon youth flash mob now even though it may sicken me.

      Let us hope and/or pray that we never witness a Macarena flash mob.

  2. Too funny! The only places I have seen flash mobs are in Europe. They are bizarre when they happened.

    1. I can certainly see how European flash mobs would be bizarre by American (even well-traveled American) standards.