There’s Nothing Surprising about Musical Flash Mobs

There’s Nothing Surprising about Musical Flash Mobs

When Rent came out on DVD, I survived a remarkable twenty minutes of what I thought was rock bottom for terrible musical theater. My only consolation was that, so long as I avoided their allotted venues, these “contemporary classics” were completely avoidable. Graduating from my liberal arts college and moving off campus also helped. I felt guarded from the attention-whoring of theater folk, only to learn that they are not above sneaky infiltration of public spaces. Enter: musical flash mobs.

Musical flash mobs are essentially rehearsed acts of spontaneous group solidarity. Note how “rehearsed” and “spontaneous” share a sentence in that definition. According to Wikipedia, flash mobs originated in 2003 with a Harper’s Magazine stunt. But I imagine the seed of thought was planted at a midnight viewing of Hello Dolly, when a lone musical enthusiast overheard a cynic mumble to his date, “Oh come on, people just don’t break out into song and dance in the streets.” “The hell they don’t,” the eavesdropper hissed spitefully into his bag of popcorn. At that very moment, he became more than just the current understudy at his community theater’s production of Godspell. Perhaps you’ve already met this father of musical flash mobs. He was probably wearing fingerless gloves and speaking in a fake English accent.

I have not witnessed a musical flash mob first hand, but brief YouTube research uncovers a basic scenario. Imagine: you are in a spacious but bustling public space, like a mall or train station. Members of the mixed crowd are minding their own business, which always involves casual newspaper reading, wristwatch glancing and ho-humming. Suddenly, the trill of a lone saxophone playing the opening chords to “Downtown” cuts through the murmur of people. An eager-faced young woman drops her shopping bags (and inhibitions!) and slowly approaches the sax to sing along. In no time folks from all walks of life are harmonizing and dancing in sync. A podgy security guard storms to the scene to bust up the fun…or join in! Could it get any wackier?! Quick, get out your phone and start recording this!

When you think about it, the tactics aren’t surprising. The unpredictable and elusive nature of musical flash mobs makes them impossible to one-up for attention. I’m going to go ahead and generalize here. There are few “actors” who don’t give away their art of choice with an overbearing personality, offbeat wardrobe, looming aura of sexual daring, or a dangerous combination of all three. The last thing an actor wants is to be outdone by a greater spectacle. Avoid their stages, and they’ll come to you.

Where’s that soccer field streaker when you need him? I doubt any injustice committed in Rosedale Shopping Mall warrants self immolation…Perhaps it’s possible to self-induce a seizure? The truth is, when you arrive at the mall to buy new socks and a soft pretzel, you risk exposure to a jazzed up version of “Dancing in the Street.” With any luck, they won’t block the exit.

-Katya Karaz