Flash Mobs: “We Don’t Want to Be a Social Problem”
The phrase “social problem” implies that society is being faced with a serious matter that could dramatically effect present and future generations. The most popular of these are poverty, unequal educational funding, health care, and increased cost of living. These are terrible issues that plague the everyday person, but those listed are just four found through a shallow internet search using “social problems in the United States.” The quantity and variety of social problems is a result of the loose criteria for a subject to become a social problem. Among these questionably serious social problem, is the flash mob. However, a flash mob should not be considered a social problem as the term “social problem” is not presently an applicable category for it to fall under.
A flash mob, as according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, requires the summoning of a group of people to a “designated location at a specified time to perform an indicated action before dispersing” (Dictionary.com). The first contrived flash mob was organized by Bill Wasik in 2003. Wasik, who was interested in the social reasons individuals enjoyed performing arts, established a social experiment in which the performance was taken out of the equation. Over twenty individuals gathered in a Claire’s Accessories shop, aimlessly standing for ten minutes before suddenly dispersing (Goldstein).
The company most popular for pulling stunts that correspond with flash mobs is ImprovEverywhere. The company is notoriously known for “organized fun”; creating and presenting public displays for gratification. However, this company’s goals do not align with the definition of a flash mob, and their website states clearly that they are not a flash mob. The number of people involved with the missions, or public displays, depends on who shows up and, unlike the description of a flash mob, suddenly disappearing from the “stage” is not always how the missions end. In addition, this company was created two years before the first “flash mob” (Todd).
Flash mobbing appears to be a spin-off of the acts in which ImprovEverywhere participates. The first few occurred in stores, where groups between eighty and three hundred people gathered, discussed a product amongst themselves and employees, soon vanishing. It sounds harmless, and participants have claimed that they engage in the action in order to bring entertainment to their own lives and the lives of others.
Popular footage of fifty people inside of a supermarket frozen for four minutes, two hundred individuals petrified in Grand Central Station, and random synchronized dances in public areas are shared over the internet for the amusement of all. They are all considered flash mobs. The first and third acts were organized by ImprovEverywhere, while the second was a smaller scale copy of ImprovEverywhere (Elliot, Amy). The flash mob seems unjustly categorized as a social problem, or a troublesome behavior that scrapes with society’s moral code, as it conflicts no moral values that I know of.
From a conflict theorist point of view, a social problem is derived from one group dominating over another and creating inequality. A conflict theorist would see the popularity of flash mob as a suggestion that citizens are restless with the repetitive experiences that link to form a normal life, and those that participate in flash mobs are acting as agents to break up the monotony (Ferris and Stein).
Social problems receive enough censure from the world without having their boundaries stretched to contain issues that are not as much a conflict to society than an annoyance to select individuals. Before the flash mob can be correctly considered a social problem, society needs to agree that a social problem is concerned with the decreasing views on the importance of social ties and community. Therefore, for the definition of a social problem needs to be adjusted so that threats to the devaluing of social ties are included.
The term social problem is one that fiendishly plagues the world instilling fear, without set regulations that determine a social problem from a annoyance that pertains to only a slice of the world. The most difficult part in evaluating flash mobs as a social problem is the obscurity of the term itself. Flash mobs is used to describe what before might just have been called a demonstration, a prank, or a marketing technique. How can all of those events be seen as a social problem? They are expressions of individualism that are rejected and needed in a functionalist’s world, and supposedly a fight against the oppression of modern day “normal life”. Until society understands the meaning of the term, I suggest that it be removed from the category of a social problem.
Ferris, Kerry, and Jill Stein. The Real World: an Introduction to Sociology. New York:
W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.
"Flash Mob - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary."
Merriam-Webster Online. Web. 08 Oct. 2010.
Goldstein, Lauren. “The Mob Rules”. TIME. Web. 22 Feb. 2011
Todd, Charlie. "FAQ « Improv Everywhere." Improv Everywhere. Web. 08 Oct. 2010.