The idea of flash mobs has spread quickly, diffusing at a time when online video sharing can immortalize the moment in time and social media can amplify the audience beyond just one place.

This particular flash mob was incredibly powerful and emotionally evocative for me.  I began to imagine what it would be like to be gathered with family and friends in a public space and to witness something like that.  That event would be forever etched into that place for me, and my personal connection to the place would have an added layer of meaning.  Admittedly, I’m a sucker for flash mobs, but I started thinking what makes this activity ‘work.’  While there are many types of successful flash mobs, all share one characteristic: place matters.  The place where a flash mob performs is not simply a stage; place is a crucial part of the meaning of the flash mob.  An incredibly prominent place with open spaces and many sight lines is a prime location for a flash mob.  Beyond these tangible characteristics, if a site has some importance cultural significance, those qualities can be meshed with the meanings of the flash mob.

This Christmas Flash mob uses the mundane space of the mall, which during the height of the holiday shopping season can be seen as the embodiment of the commercial aspects of religious holidays. Many cultural critics have mentioned that crass consumerism has tarnished the importance the religious significance and in this flash mob, the choir brings one of the most deeply sacred Christmas songs into a place of banality. This ‘sanctifies’ the place, encouraging shoppers to ponder the spiritual significance behind their Christmas errands. A simple YouTube search will show that this particular flash mob has been replicated more than just about any other.

What makes this flash mob successful is that the “rules” of place become turned upside down.  That is another key trait that makes flash mobs resonate with a audience–the inversions of cultural norms with respect to place.  Normal people “just don’t do that” in public and seeing some individual or group defy the conventions of behavior can be exhilarating and even liberating.  The audience, simply by enjoying the transgression of the social norms, are complicit in the act (one reason why public squares like Fountain Square in Cincinnati are such common venues for flash mobs).

What are your favorite flash mobs?  Please feel free to share them in the comments section.  Just for fun (and because I love the Big Bang Theory), here is a flash mob sure to make you want to exclaim, “Bazinga!”