The super hip Wall Street Journal today featured a trend piece on the phenomenon of large scale urban pranks committed by groups of people.
Author Ellen Gamerman writes of “cities swept up in inane pranks,” like the recent horde of fake zombies roaming downtown San Francisco and the crowd of people in New York’s Union Square that “spontaneously” broke out dancing to music only they could hear. Gamerman writes:
Pranksters say the random events are meant to jolt strangers out of their routines, shake up the monotony of urban life and create mildly awkward moments that play well on YouTube. Organized almost entirely online, the stunts also create a real-life sense of community among participants, many of whom are young people who spend their days in less-than-exciting office jobs.
Which is all fun and games except these “pranks” which some call the “urban playground movement,” began years ago – some might say forty years ago with Abbie Hoffman and his merry band of Yippies (mentioned in the piece) – and a trend story like Gamerman’s will merely inspire yawns from the hipsters involved in the hoaxes.
Though I gotta say, the pranks are becoming a bit more ambitious like the one a few months ago in New York where 15 sets of identical twins in matching clothes sat in one subway car mirroring each other’s actions. Technology plays a greater part in the organization, too, wit mass email lists, text messages and and web sites devoted to the hijinks.
At least one naysayer thinks today’s pranks fail. Joey Skaggs, who, according to the article, has a long history of media pranks, says today’s stunts lack a subversive, anti-establishment edge. For that reason, people who see the prank don’t rally scratch their heads and wonder what it’s all about. They simply walk on.
Except, that’s not really true. A lot of today’s pranks, especially those conceived by the Improv Everywhere group (motto: “We cause scenes”), have a distinctive anti-consumerist feel to them like the stunt in Manhattan wherein masses of redheaded people stood in front of a Wendy’s chanting “No pigtails!” in mock protest of the restaurant’s depiction of redheads.
In 2006 the group dispatched 80 people dressed like Best Buy employees to one of the chain’s stores in Manhattan.
Last year the group sent 111 shirtless men – some thin, some fat, some muscular, some not – to a Abercrombie & Fitch store in spoof of the company’s ads featuring shirtless beefcake guys (and the group’s target store in Manhattan features a real live shirtless model in is front window.)
Have you seen some pranks? Participated in one yourself? Or do you just have a good idea for a stunt in your city?