Philly Creative Guide

Here's the Thing

Bill Haley

Flash Mob Mania
by Bill Haley, 1 Apr 2010

Bill Haley is one of the founders of He is also President, Interactive of Allied Pixel (, an integrated media production firm specializing in the convergence of HD video, web and interactive media. He can be reached at [email protected].

I have to admit that I'm secretly a little bit put off by this whole flash mob thing. Nobody tweeted me to join the fun.

Flash Mob Mania

The big flash mob on South Street last month drew national attention. It was covered by the New York Times, USA Today, CNN and Fox. Not great publicity for a city that's trying hard to grow its tourism industry. I suspect, though, that the hysteria may be overblown.

The idea of flash mobs has been around as long as there have been teenagers. Back in the day (my day), it was promulgated by the phone (rotary dial) and notes passed during chemistry class. We were only too happy to crash a party or take part in some mayhem. Today's kids have the huge technological advantage of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and texting to get the word out.

Modern day flash mobs are usually harmless: Impromptu pillow fights in New York, group disco routines in London, a giant snowball fight in Washington.

Flash Mob Mania

The problem with the Philly flash mobs, of course, is that they had no particular purpose. A bunch of teenagers converged in one place, with nothing to do. And we all know what happens when a bunch of teenagers get together with nothing to do.

Some pretty funny quotes have come out of it:

Mayor Nutter: "I ran for mayor. I didn't run for mother."

Police Commissioner Ramsey: "I mean, you had 'em. You raise 'em. You take care of 'em."

Flash Mob Mania

It shouldn't come as too big a surprise that Philly flash mobs have turned violent. After all, this is the city that celebrated a World Series by setting cars on fire. Philippe Bourgois, an anthropologist at Penn, said that Philly is a "city that expresses masculinity and toughness through violence."

Philly has actually become less violent recently. Violent crime is down 12 percent and homicides have dropped 23 percent since their heyday in 2008. But I guess that's little consolation if you're the one who just got punched in the face by a rampaging hooligan.

I think there's actually some good news with this flash mob business. See, these kids were primarily from impoverished areas of the city. The very fact that they are using Twitter and Facebook makes me happy, because I was afraid that the Internet revolution was passing them by. Not so, apparently. And that's a good thing.

Flash Mob Mania

With summer coming, some city officials are worried that flash mob hysteria will escalate. Maybe it's time to infiltrate these social media networks with slightly enhanced messages:

  • South Street is Poppin' -- bring a broom and let's start sweepin'
  • Gang's at City Hall -- bring some tulips and let's get plantin'
  • Swedish tourists on Market -- let's show 'em the Liberty Bell!

Ok, maybe that's a stretch.

See you on South Street.

Flash Mob Mania

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