Friday, May 26, 2006

Flash Mobs
or
Mad Social Scientists


I was pointing out that hipsters, our supposed cultural avant-garde, are in fact a transcontinental society of cultural receptors, straining to perceive which shifts to follow. I must hasten to add that this is not entirely their fault: the Internet can propagate any flashy notion, whether it be a style of eyewear or a presidential candidacy

Harpers MyCrowd

A ton of people linked to this article when it first was published on the internet, but I doubt very many people actually read it.

Ironically enough the article about fads became a fad itself, which is remarkable because there are some very strong implications throughout the whole thing (if you can get over the Victorian-age language...jesus I swear this was written by Barry Lyndon)

In a nutshell:

The editor of Harpers invented flash mobs which consist of a bunch of strangers getting together and doing something silly in one spot and then disappearing, the strangers are organized by an overseer via email or whatever.

Wikipedia on the Harper's Article:

In the article Wasik claimed that he created flash mobs as a social experiment designed to poke fun at hipsters, and highlight the cultural atmosphere of conformity and of wanting to be an insider or part of "the next big thing."

Fair enough, but my major complaint against the Harpers article, and the point of me writing this all down is that Wasik presents himself as an artist and not a scientist, which is a great disappointment if you're conducting a "social experiment" because scientists become curioser and curioser, while artists are generally worthless (well really, what did Picasso ever do for you?).

Case in point, about ballsy social scientist Stanley Milgram

Stanley Milgram deserves recognition, I believe, as one of the crucial artists of the preceding century. Consider his crowd experiment, which, it must be admitted, is fairly thin gruel as science: everyone knows that such an effect would be observed, and what value is there in quantifying it?

This is already the wrong approach. If you are experimenting you are in search of answers and ideally have nothing to prove. Milgram wasn't making fun of hipsters, poking fun at humanity, or proving anything, he was curious about the human condition in high pressure social situations. The value of his experiments LEAD to more experiments.

That's important to remember, because the thing that rubs me the wrong way is when the Harper's Editor talks to a Ford Representative. You see Ford and a bunch of other companies co-opted the flash mob once it became popular in order to appear hip, only the Ford version of the flash mob is pathetic, so in their exchange the Ford exec says:

"Flash concerts are pretty much like raves." I could barely hide my disappointment at this turn. We looked out at the restless crowd of "flash mobbers" packing up against the stage, their boredom having prompted them to throw a hailstorm of increasingly dangerous material into the air: balloons, then empty water bottles, then full water bottles, then aluminum cans. Sporadic fistfights had begun to break out.

The Ford rep shook his head at the scene and smiled. "Everybody wants to feel like an insider," he said.


The rest of the article then just sort of descends into pure rubbish, much like a flash mob, the Harper editor is a lot more concerned with his own image as an artist than with what he actually discovered.

Here's the importance of the Harper/Ford exchange: for a brief moment, this flash mob creator had outsmarted an entire advertising division. There are loads and loads of books on the social experiments advertisers pull off to attract attention, and for a very long time they have generally stayed one step ahead of the public.

Case in point, the end of the article:

Ford and Sony did not care to steal the concept (of flash mobs), or even to sap its essence. To place stories like this, they needed only to take the term, even if in so doing they stripped it entirely of its meaning. Ford and Sony had managed to take my fad, an empty meditation on emptiness, and to render it even more vacuous. They had become, that is, the new and undisputed masters of the genre.

Ad execs win in the end.

The modern avante garde is the corporate ad division, always thinking ways to move the masses to their product and or idea (we're sort of living in an extended flash mob), here we've got a clear disruption of that fueled by one man and new technology (the internet, blogs, email) and I want to know more about it...

On the other hand, who gives a shit?
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Notes

Clay Impersonator at least its better than the Bush Impersonator.

Cancelled Aquaman Mercy Reef Trailer perv on: Aquaman
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