Strange Radiation

Andrew Willett, unreliable narrator.

Category: flashmobs Page 1 of 2

let’s dance!

Put on your Red shoes and dance the Blues.

Flashmobs may be back this summer after all—and with the added bonus of vexing (or at least refocusing) the GOP hordes. John Barlow has had a fabulous idea. Shall we dance? Shall we dance? Shall we sweep up the joyless puritans in whirlwinds of spontaneous fun? Shall we encourage passers-by to boogie down for 2 minutes of creative, ecstatic abandon? I love this idea. Go read.

Angry protests are a fine American tradition, and god knows we have plenty to be angry about. But angry protestors are to be corralled into the ‘free speech zones’ miles from anywhere, the irony of which should not be lost on any of us. Furthermore, anytime the demonstrations surrounding the convention are marked by violence it will be used to discredit we, the angry: look, see? Those who oppose the President are lawless hooligans. You’re not one of them, are you? The ones who hate America?

(Actually, that should be ‘us, the angry.’ )

Let’s dance instead. If you want in, e-mail John, and spread the word. In the mean time, we can start listing good, danceable, mildly subversive tunes. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking “Hell” by the Squirrel Nut Zippers; “Rock Lobster,” of course; maybe Deeee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart”…oh! And some Talking Heads!

(Thanks go out to TNH for bringing this to my attention.)

what bill hath wrought

There’s a terrifying little bit of news making the rounds: “flash mob” has made the OED. That’s right, folks. Last summer’s bit of DaDa fun is this summer’s permanent wrinkle in the English language.

I miss the flash mobs, both for the thrill of the performance-art spectacle and because they really did feel like some new thing that we’d foisted upon an unsuspecting world. Maybe the short lifespan of the phenomenon was inevitable. On the other hand, its roots in the Culture of Hipness accounted for the weird backlash when lots of people started showing up for them—despite the fact that having lots of people show up was, in fact, the point of the exercise. Meanwhile, the media-to-mobber ratio at the events started climbing towards 1, and you know how that takes the fun out of things.

Anyway. If somebody feels like starting up version 2.0, I’d be delighted to attend. (And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read the play-by-play in the archives.)

terminus est

The final NYC flash mob is tonight. As with the last two, I won’t be there. I’ll be at Juilliard instead, working on thxe Bernstein Kaddish Symphony. (Bringing to mind a t-shirt worn by members of the Smith College Glee Club some years back: “I Can’t. I Have Rehearsal.” But I digress.)

I’ll be sad to see them go. NYC can use all the good-natured public surrealism it can get. But the handwriting’s been on the wall for a while, as its New Thing publicity has waned: Cheesebikini?, former Nexus of All Mob Reportage, didn’t mention on the last NYC mob at all. Even the mob invitations themselves commented on a strange backlash: a disdain for the mobs–events which were designed to bring large quantities of strangers together–because, well, so many people were going to them.

So. Thus endeth another fun idea. Perhaps the mysterious “Bill” will revive the list someday (although he says it won’t happen anytime soon, if it does at all). Perhaps somebody else will begin a new list. But in the mean time, DaDa will need a new pair of shoes.

son of MOB

The invitation to MOB#6 has gone out. I sent it to a whole bunch of likely suspects. If I skipped you, drop me a line. This one is on August 7.
Which suddenly makes me realize that I won’t be there! Oh no! And I just forwarded the invite and everything. How embarassing. Well, it’s for a good cause.
Paul and I are going to see Jonatha Brooke that night at Joe’s Pub. She’s amazing: a singer-songwriter with smart lyrics and a genius ear for melody and harmony. Paul’s birthday is on Friday, and we love her, so this is my gift to him. Go mob and think of us.
[Meanwhile, the whole mob thing is getting completely out of hand. They’re everywhere! And as always, Cheesebikini? has got its finger on the pulse. He suggests that this can’t last; he’s probably right. In the mean time, it will be interesting to watch it do whatever it’s going to do. I wonder how the mysterious Bill feels about this. Bill, are you out there?]

MOB #5 — tweet release

Oh, now this one was genius. The theme: Bird Calls and Nature Appreciation.
As usual, our orders were to get ourselves to one of four bars by a certain time and to await further instructions. I got to the Dublin House early, so I bought myself a Guinness and watched it go from an emptyish bar with scattered burnt-out regulars to Hipster Central. The hipsters clustered around the designated meeting area, a jukebox near the back with an outstanding collection of ’80s tunes. There wasn’t a great deal of room by the jukebox, so the density got kind of laughable in short order. The crowd gradually filled in all the available space between the jukebox and the door—and as far as I could tell it spilled out onto the sidewalk, again. Our most noteworthy topic of discussion, while we waited, was that we kinda hoped we’d start seeing a more diverse crowd at these things. We’re still a new phenomenon, and the folks who go tend to be geeky white hipsters or people who have geeky-white-hipster friends.
And then it was 6:55PM and The Drop was made. A man with the traditional 4×5 handouts wandered through. Here were our marching orders:

***MOB #5***

THE SITE: Central Park West—near 81st and Central Park West. Enter between 80th and 81st, across from the museum. Make your first hard left, merge with another path, then turn left again. Walk to the right in front of the ridge and face CPW. [also a helpful map, not reproduced here]
START TIME: 7.18 DURATION: 8 minutes. Disperse at 7.26: no one should remain at the mob site after 7.28.

  • Stand still and stare straight forward. For the first 3 minutes, make as little noise as possible. If you can make a realistic bird call, you may occasionally do so.
  • By 7.21, you may all make bird calls, unrealistic or no.
  • By 7.23, you may also mumble, “bird noise.”
  • By 7.25, you may also call out, “Nature here! Come get some nature!” to passersby.
  • By 7.26 Chant “Na-ture” for 20 seconds; cheer, and disperse.

Please do not take photographs at the mob site until 7.23.
Please do not interview anyone at the mob site until 7.26.

Response from the protomob was immediate and enthusiastic. Dang, did that bar empty out quick. The group tended to stick to the most direct route to our destination, which meant that rather than filtering through the intervening blocks and suddenly materializing on target we were more of a Geek Parade. Subtle we weren’t. But that was also fun.
And then we were There. We stood atop a huge boulder just inside the Park, staring out through the tree canopy at the Museum of Natural History. Crammed on the ridge as we were, those not at the absolute front of the mob couldn’t even see the street, so the presence of media and secondary mobs didn’t have the distracting effect that it did the last time. Ars gratia artis, baby.
The birdsong reached Agitated Pet Shop pretty quickly. I think it was the sheer effing briliance of the plan that did it: the mob was so wired that they started earlyish and ran with it too soon. And there’s no holding back a mob, you know, so we pretty much had to follow the vanguard. I was particularly proud of my ‘unrealistic bird calls:’ TWEET…. CHIRP. EEDLE-EEDLE-EEDLE-EEDLE-EEEEEP! And then the shouting, and the chanting, and the raucous cheering.
And then we went home.
Media: I counted one radio crew and one TV crew as I left. It’ll be interesting to see what the media coverage ends up like, if only because for all that the Times photog made her presence known at Mob #4 I never did see the Times run any pictures.
Cheesebikini? is the nexus of all Mob coverage. Hail Cheesebikini? ! Nice photos, again, at Satan’s Laundromat. If you want to join a mob, email

let’s do the flash mob again

The announcement for MOB #5 has gone out. It’s on Thursday evening. I’ve passed it along to various folks, but if I skipped you and you want it feel free to drop me a line.
Cheesebikini? continues to document the dispersal of the phenomenon. It’s everywhere! Seeing how it moves along has been kind of fascinating. I’m also curious as to how long these will be fun. No signs of fun-abatement yet, it should be noted.

MOB4: shoes, media, metamobs

Today’s Big Event—other than shoehorning all my cousin’s worldly goods into an ancient Honda so she could move to the other side of the frickin’ continent, not that I’m bitter—was the Fourth NYC Inexplicable Mob. (See my earlier entry if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)
Sari and I gathered in one of the four staging areas (read: bars), all of which were down near Broadway and Houston. Even before the ball got rolling, we could see some of the handwriting on the wall. This one was gonna be big. There were dozens of people crammed into the area by the door at Puck Fair, all waiting for their marching orders. There were people on the sidewalk who couldn’t fit into the bar. There were members of the media.
Yup. We hadn’t even gotten to the actual mob yet, and we could already see one guy interviewing somebody for radio and a couple of people with extremely professional-looking cameras. The cat is clearly out of the bag on this social experiment.
Eventually, we got our Magic Slip of Paper. Our mission: to arrive at Otto Tootsi Plohound, an extremely hoity-toity shoe store just two blocks away, and spend five minutes impersonating a busload of dazzled tourists from Maryland. (See the note’s full text on The Official Record.) Sari and I meandered into a candles-and-martini-glasses store next to the target and waited for our moment, which was 7:18PM.
At 7:18:45 we left the tchotchky shop and advanced on the shoe store. And then we learned that forty-five seconds is an eternity where a flashmob is concerned. Easily two hundred people were already inside, milling around, looking thrilled to be surrounded by the Gothamite glamour of it all. You wear these? On your feet? An upset-looking man barricaded the glass door with a hairy forearm, so Sari and I pressed up against a wide plate-glass window instead. Every now and then a helpful co-conspirator inside held up a sandal so we could get a closer look. We oohed and aahed appreciatively. I even called Paul on my cell, as per instructions. He couldn’t understand why I was getting so excited over a bunch of shoes, but I wasn’t really listening to him anyway. It would have spoiled my rhythm.
I should note also that every other person seemed to have a camera at this thing. It worked well with the busload-of-tourists conceit, too. Pros and participants snapped the shoes, the staff, one another with glee. Inside the store, people stood on the benches for better angles. Media were everywhere. At least three radio reporters worked the crowd—two of them apparently from Germany. Germany? Those who hadn’t made it inside crowded the sidewalk. One photojournalist seemed obsessed with the bus-stop sign behind us; we couldn’t tell why.
All this, of course, created a metamob: a throng of onlookers who really, really wanted to know what the hell was going on. “I think it’s a mob!” said one woman. Her friend cooed appreciatively, in a way that meant that she had no idea what woman #1 was talking about. They kept wading through the crowd, bound for Pravda and apple martinis. People spilled out into the street; they started to clog traffic on the opposite sidewalk. The radio people dashed around. The bus-stop-photos lady moved to put us in the background of her sign photos.
And then it was over. The general rule is that we’re supposed to disperse, as quickly and mysteriously as we had arrived. But this time that didn’t happen. There was only one door, and Hairy Forearms Man took a while to realize that nobody was trying to come in it anymore, so a major traffic jam formed. People swirled around on the sidwalk, waiting for friends to escape the store or posing for pictures or talking to radio people. The onlookers lingered, seeking enlightment. So much for mystery. We even ran into Cesar, on his way to dance class. Signpost lady took the signpost’s picture, again; we posed nonchalantly in the background. She eventually left, with an assistant in tow carrying her stepladder. We headed out ourselves. On the way to the subway station I had a chance to read the sign.
The next Inexplicable Mob is scheduled for Thursday, July 25. To get on the mailing list, email For further coverage of this one, check the always-reliable cheesebikini? plus the photos on Satan’s Laundromat.

another mob!

I’ve received the instructions for Mob #4. It’s on Wednesday the 15th and will clearly be somewhere downtown, vaguely in the vicinity of the Angelika. I’ll be sending it out to various likely suspects, but if you want them feel free to drop me a line.


Paul and Erika and Sari and Andrew and I just participated in an inexplicable mob. The first one appeared in a store that sold ‘accessories’ and was covered by NPR; the second appeared in Macy’s and was covered by Wired (and NPR again, and others); the third showed up in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt New York. Having missed the second one, I was damned if I’d miss the third one as well. So I didn’t.
MOB#3 was called Grand Central Mob Ballet. The e-mailed marching orders told us to be in the dining concourse of Grand Central Terminal at 6:45; we were to give a code phrase to anybody we saw reading the New York Review of Books in exchange for further instructions. We were to show up in comfortable shoes accompanied by a prepared one-dollar bill, marked with the word ‘MOB’ where the word ‘ONE’ usually appears, to the right of George Washington’s head.
I found a book-review guy. He gave me a slip of paper, and here’s what it said:

*** MOB #3 ***
Change of Plans

If you are reading this, we have decided to change venues.
(1) By 7:02, walk out to 42nd St. and look for the main entrance to the Grand Hyatt. Enter and take the escalator up one flight to the main lobby. Loiter until 7:07.
(2) At 7:07, start taking the escalator and elevators up one floor, to the wraparound railing overlooking the lobby. Stand around it, looking down. Fan out to cover as much of the railing as possible. If asked why you are there, point down to the lobby and say, “Look.”
(3) At 7:12, begin applauding. Applaud for fifteen seconds, then disperse in an orderly fashion.
(Note: the exit on that floor is not a pedestrian exit.)

And that’s pretty much what we did. Once again, cheesebikini? has come through with photos and links to other people’s impressions of the event. We had a lovely time, the applause was raucous, and I’m sure we confused the hell out of the tourists who were standing around in the lobby at the time. The security guards looked as if they’d have freaked out if we had been there much longer—but as it was they only made it as far as bewildered.
What was with the dollar bils? And the shoes? Unclear, but given the title of the event I suspected that we were to be dancing to the buskers who were playing in the Grand Central’s Main Concourse, then paying our musicians with the money.
I think Grand Central was abandoned quite late in the game, organizationally speaking. This morning the 1/2/3/9 Trains were shut down for hours due to a bioterrorism scare (at last report, nobody knew what the mysterious white powder was, but they knew it wasn’t anthrax). And then shortly afterwards something happened at the Brooklyn Bridge—apparently a man was offered money to drive a stranger’s car across it, and he alerted the NYPD. But Grand Central was definitely full of cops and National Guardsmen and god knows who else. I’m thinking somebody felt this would have been a bad place for an inexplicable mob.
Whatever. Even the replacement script was fun. We played ‘Who’s here for the mob?’ in the dining concourse. We pretended not to know each other as we passed time in the hotel lobby. We felt the hair on our arms rise as we casually diffused into the balcony. We tried to look blasé as we stood around looking down upon the fountains and elevators and unsettled security folks. We cheered, wildly. We filed out, trying to maintain the same air of “who, these people? No idea” under which we had arrived. For ten minutes, we were an inexplicable mob. Even better, we were art.
Viva DaDa, baby.
(Want to join a mob? E-mail


Dammit, I was right! They were in the furniture department at Macy’s! We tried the cookware section first, because it was down one floor instead of up eight. And in the end there wasn’t time to try both places. The ‘express’ elevators weren’t cooperating.
I’m still gutted that I missed it. But I’m going to do what I can to be in on #3, let me tell you.

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