Thursday, April 24, 2008

Improv Everywhere

In the concluding lecture, Professor Chun mentioned the phenomenon called flashmobs, a mob of people who apparently gather at random, taking over whatever place they picked. Before Professor Chun mentioned it, I had actually never heard that term but it reminded me of another group called Improv Everywhere which takes the idea of the flashmob to the next level by giving it a purpose. One of Improv Everywhere's latest escapades was to recruit people to go to Grand Central Station in New York and freeze. Now what did this accomplish? What Improv Everywhere says that they try to do is create scenes of chaos and joy in public places. But also, what is interesting is that they tend to record everything that they do, from creating giant human bullseye targets in a park in NYC to having a No Pants Subway Ride, to create a sense of community. They, like the flashmobs, are creating a community from virtual reality (their listservs) and bringing them into real life where by staging these "missions", they can connect the random people who otherwise may never have met each other. But even this connection is very ephemeral because it doesn't really seem to encourage long term friendship or contacts. It creates a shared sense of purpose, a few laughs together, maybe an exchange of names but no real permanent connection. Plus, there isn't even a forum of any sort on their website which would encourage a real connection or something so that one could link together, let's say, a username with a face. It is really a project, managed by a very few, with hundreds of volunteers who are willing to bring the project to fruition even without any credit. In return, those volunteers get the publicity of being recorded doing these "missions"; they are photographed, videotaped, and posted all over the internet along with the rest of the volunteers that happened to be "captured". Maybe in this internet culture, that is all that people ask for. For a chance to do something interesting and have it publicized. To be in the spotlight, even if it is with hundreds of other people. After all, who doesn't want to be a celebrity?

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