Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Video Meme: Hallelujah for Flash Mobs!

Flash mobs: They’re no longer elite events for cool kids with secret passwords. This holiday season has seen a remarkable run of flash mobs in North America (and subsequently on YouTube), with both participants and audience members eager to partake in an increasingly democratized art form and then post their experiences online.

One particular highly accessible kind of flash mob, in which local singing groups perform Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus at shopping malls, has been replicated all over the U.S. and Canada in the last month or so.

Quickly: Flash mobs are traditionally secretly orchestrated performances that play out in public places while bringing a little bit of magic to unsuspecting people in the right place at the right time. If you’ve ever seen those videos of a person breaking into song or dance in a public place, then being joined by hordes of interlopers who somehow know the full routine, you’ve seen a flash mob. (There are also less choreographed variations, like public pillow fights.)

Since flash mobs seem so fun, organic and full of life, they’ve of course been co-opted by marketers who mimic the style right down to camera shots of the surprised and confused onlookers capturing videos of the moment with their own camera phones. But they’ve also recently been adopted by wholesome community groups wanting to spread a little holiday joy. And in many cases, both the performers and the audience know about the event in advance (element of surprise be damned).

One flash mob performance of “Hallelujah” in a Canadian shopping mall, posted on YouTube on Nov. 17, has been seen more than 25 million times. YouTube’s Trends blog recently called it “by far, the most popular video of the season.”

YouTube’s Kevin Allocca also highlighted some 20 other flash mob performances, also of “Hallelujah” and mostly in shopping malls, from Orlando, Cleveland, Chattanooga, Juneau and Winnipeg. Allocca says the meme may actually have been kicked off by the Opera Company of Philadelphia performing “Hallelujah” in a Macy’s as part of the Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture. That video was posted Nov. 1 and has more than six million views.

It’s gotten so bad that on Monday night a mall near Sacramento had to be evacuated after crowds overwhelmed it and the fire department feared for its structural integrity. A planned flash mob by the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra and other local congregations had been endorsed by the mall and promoted for weeks, drawing thousands to watch and sing along with their printed-out sheet music.

Would-be flash mobbers broke into impromptu singalongs as they were escorted out of the building and into the parking lot (with their video cameras recording all the while, of course). So apparently spontaneity isn’t dead yet.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik