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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    News Flash

    Students frozen like statues in the food court. A half-naked parade running across the mall. Zombies in the parking garage. It’s not spring fever – it’s just the flash-mobbers.

    Yesterday’s Daily Wildcat front page featured an article about a decentralized demonstration of stripped-down students running along the mall Tuesday afternoon. The unexpected sight was a humorous high point for the crowd of puzzled bystanders who stopped to watch the surprise happening.

    Some even found deeper meaning in the piece of performance art: In an interview with the Daily Wildcat yesterday, one participant described the spontaneous event as “”an act of defiance”” and “”rebellion against the societal pressures of being a college student.””

    The 40-person run was no Days of Rage, but Tuesday’s cavalcade of beskivvied students deserves credit for bringing a little levity to a complacent campus. More important, the flash mob has the capacity to go beyond the silly and effect real change – and in fact, it’s already doing so around the world.

    Although mobs usually take the form of meaningless Dada hijinks like the undie runs and zombie walks planned here at the UA, the same tools used to create them can have a big impact in parts of the world with less tolerance for liberty.

    Facebook, blogs and mobile phones are powerful instruments of organization. The 2006 March of the Penguins in Chile, in which Chilean students walked out of school to demand high school reform, was largely organized online. Chinese dissidents arranged a rally over a government-planned chemical factory by sending text messages last year. And in Belarus, one of the world’s last Stalinist-strongman holdouts, a group of flash-mobbers recently pushed the limits of the nation’s restrictive speech laws simply by gathering in a public square and eating ice cream.

    That may seem minor, but dictators around the world feel threatened enough by information technology that they’ve made cutting off Internet access a de rigeur part of clinging to power – see the military junta in Burma, Musharraf’s Pakistan or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe for recent examples. Big Brother now has scores of younger siblings watching him right back.

    And though the flash mob phenomenon may be employed for political change abroad, here in the U.S. harmless hijinks are increasingly under attack – especially on college campuses.

    In a world obsessed with terrorist threats and school security, college pranks – like yesterday’s mob – are a dying breed. According to The Christian Science Monitor, a Caltech student planning to shower the Rose Parade with artificial snow wound up under investigation by “”six different police departments and the Department of Homeland Security.”” Meanwhile, campuses famous for their creative college pranks, like MIT and Harvey Mudd, have started to require administrative approval and rolled out “”no prank lists”” for their students.

    And the “”War on Fun”” goes beyond college: A Washington, D.C. dance-mob held at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial last week was broken up by United States Park Police and resulted in one arrest, in the ultimate act of karmic irony.

    One organizer of yesterday’s mob proclaimed that “”the point”” of the silly event “”is to shake things up.”” We think the UA campus could use a few more cheerful tremors. So go forth and sow the seeds of madcap fun: a serious world will thank you for it.

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