Appropriation: the flash mob

Appropriation of cultural events has been going on for thousands of years, probably across all cultures and governments. From the christians who alternately appropriated or mocked pagan festivals (cf easter and april fools day respectively), to the advertising companies who pinch the latest street slang from young people to try to sell products back to them, it’s something that will never go away as long as it keeps working. But it’s still irksome when it happens. There’s something icky about an official organization pretending to be cool, or dressing their recycled PR up in words that try to convince us that they’re our friends. Of course language is free and dynamic and ever-changing, which is one of the great things about it. But it also leaves it open to exploitation, jargon, corporate speak, propaganda, and all the other unpleasant rashes on the bottom of communication. The latest example to piss me off is the flash mob. Now the flash mob in itself is a slightly irritating recent phenomenon, in turn brought on by perhaps the most irritating recent phenomenon, Facebook. for those not in the know, a flash mob is a very brief collection of a large number of people for some fairly random purpose (such as a huge pillow fight, water fight, or protest). I find it irritating because people I know who’ve been involved with them tend to look on them as subversive merely because they’re short events, and consider themselves as somehow outlaws. If you live in a country where peaceful assembly is not legal, perhaps that’s true. But in North America, it certainly is not. Mini-rant aside, the flash mob has now been appropriated as a publicity tool by corporations. It’s a neat idea for them if you think about it. Get a group of people together and pay them for probably less than an hour to just stand around and shout about your product/company/website/gizmo, and when the cameras turn up you look hugely popular. Job done. Fake crowds have been done before, so even this is nothing new. What’s new is companies referring to these crowds as ‘flash mobs’, which essentially admits that they created the crowd just for publicity. That in itself might be a good thing: wouldn’t the world be a little better if corporations were a little more honest about their publicity stunts (and everything else)? But the press don’t see that. They see a ‘buzz word’ (I apologise for using that awful phrase) and instantly file this company under ‘hip, new, trendy’ and many other words long since appropriated from their original sources. Yes I know there’s nothing I can do about it, but I dislike it. Stop trying to pretend you’re my friend, corporations!


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