Wednesday, 1 April 2009

861 - Flob Mash

Here's the text of the email I sent to Keith Barrett last night, stepping back from my undertaking to organise a flash mob for the pre-World Ocean Day weekend celebrations in Whitley Bay. It's meant in the spirit of 'I'm not sure if I'm right or wrong about this one, but if I step back, then at least we know where we stand'. On reflection, I sound a bit full of myself at times, don't I? Sorry.

Dear Keith,

Thank you for a really good meeting last night.

First of all I want to apologise for the lateness of the hour at which I'm writing. Do please feel free to challenge me about this email come daylight! - though I often get my clearest thinking at this time, which is why I'm writing as I do. And second, to clarify a little, I ought to say that though I often come across as an enthusiastic naif, I'm actually pretty canny - my forays into art, as into the rest of my career, come second to a deeper commitment to people: I self-define as a post-establishment, post-religious vicar (which is, admittedly, a lot of 'posts').

I've been giving some thought to the 'flash mob' idea, and more particularly the commitment I made to you and the others to lead in its organisation. The truth is, on reflection I don't think I am able to, reasons to follow.

Most importantly, I am not able to square the 'bottom-up' - or better, non-hierarchical - nature of a flash mob, with the need to fit it under a North Tyneside umbrella. When the council arts officer - as was entirely proper, I know, given her role - spoke about the need to pass plans before the council for a health and safety assessment, I cringed. You were quite right to point out that what we would be talking about wouldn't exactly be a flash mob. And I think this gives rise to two issues.

First, it's important for me, personally, to maintain objectivity in the distinction between top-down and bottom-up activities, otherwise I cannot support people in both camps as I would like. To be calling something a flash mob when it isn't wouldn't be helpful, either to the council, who would be open to the accusation of bandwagon jumping (as T-Mobile, because of their ad, is), or to genuine flash mobbers, who would find the prophetic edge of their action blunted. I'm pretty sure, one day soon, that that won't be a problem, but I do think at the moment it is.

Second, more pragmatically, if North Tyneside does pass some kind of mass improvisational activity, it's worth asking whether, if the 'flash mob' title were adopted, people who used the name in its pure sense might not organise their own action and overshadow the official version. Better, I think, for the organisers to be up-front from the start, and call the activity 'Improv Street Performance' or something. In that case, I have to be honest, I would not be the best person to organise it: someone schooled in drama, professionally or ad hoc, would.

So on two counts I've ruled myself out. Clay Shirky, in 'Here Comes Everybody', is good on the nature of flash mobs, and I'm also going by the reading I've done around wild and (non-violent) anarchist philosophy - by people like Hugh Brody and Jay Griffiths. Ultimately, because these form the political principals I wish to be defined by, and as I believe they underpin current political structures, but that these structures need periodically to be deconstructed, and now is probably such a time, I wish to continue to work outside the box, meaning that I forego some great opportunities, like the current one.

Therefore, once again, my apologies. I'm sorry to have made my commitment before I backed out of it, but hope that by being clear, as early as possible in the day thereafter, I've not caused you too much trouble, and that if you do see a way to proceed with the flash mob idea, it is carried off with great success.

(I also think there's mileage, one year, if not this one, in the 'Free Seas Freeze' idea.)

I look forward to meeting you again soon,

With all good wishes,


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