If you live in one of America's "vibrant" big cities, you've probably become aware of an alarming new trend in violent marauding -- flash mobs. If you're a tech geek, you've also probably become aware of this term, though in a far more benign context. More on that below -- but first to the kinds of flash mobs that threaten your life.
This is one of those social phenomena, like immigrant crime, that the national media either ignores or else treats with heavy doses of misdirection and euphemism. One must thus turn to the less refined local news for the raw footage -- such as these image from last summer captured by a Philadelphia drugstore's surveillance camera.
Clearly, something more than shoplifting was going on there.
And once the snow began to thaw in Philly, the flash mobs returned, weekend after weekend after weekend. The city's CBS affiliate interviewed a pizza baker who spoke about wild gangs coming out of nowhere and attacking for no reason. He has the scabs to prove it.
Flash mobs have, in fact, gone national, evidenced by these reports from Kansas City, Missouri, in which mobs attacked an up-scale shopping district called "The Plaza." And there was yet another flash mob at the same place just this past Saturday, which resulted in a young women in a prom dress being thrown into a fountain and a man beaten in the face with a lead pipe.
Philadelphia mayor, Michael A. Nutter, has tried to downplay the phenomena: "This is bad decision making by a small group of young people who are doing silly but dangerous stuff." Kids these days! The people caught unawares in the flash mobs probably sensed that these riots signaled something bigger... After a prolonged period of falling crime rates in the big cities -- exemplified by Rudy Giuliani's squeaky clean Times Square -- we might be headed back to the '70s: chaotic urban centers, plummeting real-estate values, white flight, and not a trace of "New Urbanism."
Each Flash Mob depicted above has two defining characteristics:
- It is spontaneous yet tightly organized, mostly through "viral" instant messaging and status updates on Twitter and Facebook.
- The participants are almost entirely black.
As urban crime goes, #2 isn't all that surprising. What is different, though, is that unlike the riots in Watts and LA of yesteryear, this time around, the rowdy black gangs have been traveling outside their own neighborhoods to smash stuff up. As the New York Times gingerly put it,
The flash mobs have raised questions about race and class.
Most of the teenagers who have taken part in them are black and from poor neighborhoods. Most of the areas hit have been predominantly white business districts.
Indeed. I've never been to Kansas City, but "The Plaza" sounds like it features a Ralph Lauren and multiple Starbucks.
Obviously, things like Flash Mobs have an "economic component" of some kind, and the black unemployment rate, which is, no doubt, higher than the 20 percent reported by the Bureau of Belabored Statistics, doesn't help matters. But these incidents of crazed mayhem aren't exactly perpetrated by out-of-work fathers trying to feed their families. It's significant how many teens are taking part -- and disturbing how many black women are participating. At base, the Flash Mobsters are rioting for fun, symbolic racial revenge, and profit.
And there's a whole other sociological element at play. Whenever a reporter has gone into any depth, she'll usually say something like, "What was once about social networking has now turned deadly"...
What statements like this are alluding to is that fact that Flash Mobs didn't originate last summer, but back in 2003, when an enterprising Harper's editor, Bill Wasik, conceived of performance art about mass collectivity in the age of the Internet ... or something like that. The original Flash Mobs are usually "cute," featuring mass pillow fights and choreography to '80s music -- akin, it seems, to the antics of the crazy kids in Lars von Trier's early film The Idiots. In other words, Flash Mobs are exactly the kind of pseudo-revolutionary adolescent bullshit that over-educated, under-employed white people are interested in.
And there was that "technology" element. In a country that's noticeably declining economically, well-off whites never tire of boldly claiming that their favorite new gadget that's able to capture their verbal diarrhea will "change everything." For a whole two weeks last year, hip people everywhere thought that Twitter had just overthrown the evil Iranian regime.
To get a sense of what the Old School Flash Mobs looked like, here is the most famous Flash Mob of them all, in which hundreds of New Yorkers froze in place for a couple of minutes in the middle of Grand Central Station.
Here's a Sound of Music flash mob in Antwerb.
Here are some kids from Seattle acting like they're in an Gap commercial.
Before Kansas City blacks got caught up in the Flash Mob craze, there was an earlier one in the city. It was put on by the United Way and didn't result in injuries.
It's hard to know if urban blacks actually learned about Flash Mobs by watching white people do it -- they certainly could have come up with it on their own. But if hipsters did pass on this knowledge them, then a notable societal trend has just been reversed.