Friday, August 5, 2011

Flash mobs and a Culture of Senseless Violence

Flash Mobs  Why? I have been hearing about this teenage trend for over a year now, and I am still struggling to understand why.  Flash mobs have become a growing problem in cities throughout the US, especially in Philadelphia.  Once just a form of performance art, how have they become such a violent demonstration?   The first contemporary flash mob recorded was in 2003 when people organized a group to flash in a New York Macy’s.  In reading several articles and blog posts, the only common conclusion that it seems we have reached is that there is a link between technology and this phenomenon.  With primarily teenagers, flash mobs are organized through the internet and communicated by social media and texting.  Technology has become the vehicle for organizing these violent events.  

In pondering why, there are some thoughts that I have collected.  Being a teen in the 90s, I watched my generation be enamored by senseless danger and violence.  Between the evolution of slap stick comedy to programs like “Jack-A**” most of my peers would daily intake these movies and shows, desensitizing their minds to violence.   Media has only taken this trend and continued to evolve its violence and senselessness to be fed to a new generation, at even younger ages.   

Another trend that I think has contributed is internet viral videos through Youtube.  Young people today are given access to popularity not just in peer relationships but in the greater society on Youtube.  Fame is now available to anyone with the an amazing or outrageous home video. They can easily become a music sensation like Justin Beiber or become the most talked about video in the world, simply by positing to Youtube.   

My last thought was about advertising's recent increase in the use of flash mobs in commercials and movies.  A popular cell phone commercial shows a throw-back performance art flash mob organizing, and the movie Friends with Benefits includes a scene with a flash mob.  As the news and other media continue to highlight flash mobs, I wonder if it has moved youth to continue engaging them.  

Flash mobs make me angry, especially when I see the victim bruised and beaten for simply being in walking the streets.  I intrinsically abhor violence, especially in the general public, so I admit; I do not understand the draw it has for young people.  Maybe I never will, but I guess solutions are more important than understanding, at this point. 

 Philadelphia city officials have announced they intend to promote legislation and action to oppose the current youth culture promoting flash mobs as fun and without consequence.   I wonder if our generation can address this issue and create any positive change.  The greatest influence in a teen’s life is their peers, so I do believe that the greatest change agent has to be young people.   In searching the internet, I was fortunate to find one group of teens speaking on the national scale to oppose flash mobs.  The Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement is a group of teens coming together to create poetry, speaking out against the challenges they face and the things they want to see change.  Watch CNN's coverage of the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement at this link.  Spoken Word and art is powerful methods of creating change, and it was encouraging to see these young people use it for their good and the good of others.  The Arts inTransformation concentration in the Urban Studies program engages using art to address community problems and empower community members.  


  • Why do you think Flash Mobs are so popular with teenagers right now? 
  • Legislation being submitted to hold parents liable. Should they be?    
  • Flash mobs are part of a culture saying it is fun and without consequence to commit random acts of violence.  How can this be addressed?

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