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Rotterdam Flash Mob

The concept of Flashmobbing had pretty much evaded me until yesterday when a friend from Poland emailed and asked if I had heard of it.  Around 10 AM this morning, I check the local TV news website, TV Rijnmond,  finding the same words but this time announcing a flashmobbing involving umbrellas would happen in the center of the Rotterdam today. Exact details of location, time and expected actions were given on the front page of the site. As it would happen during one of the most annoying yet popular events of the year, the FastForward Dance Parade (rehashed Love Parade), the organizers wanted to make “The biggest Flash Mob ever”.

As a relative virgin to flashmobs, I perused some sites telling stories of actions in New York and Amsterdam (yesterday) and got some background on the social an technical motivation behind the happenings. But I was still skeptical about the motivations in Rotterdam.

“It is the aim that as many people as possible open their umbrella for 2 minutes in front of the Maritime Museum and then vanish.”

One has to know a bit about the mass festival mentality in Rotterdam: the summer is plagued with carnivals and festivals ad infinitum, every weekend another mass event celebrating the lowest common denominator of the multiculti. “As many people as possible” is Rotterdam’s cultural policy. I suspected that this particular “flashmobbing” would be a trendy side-show of the Dance Parade where the audience could buy an umbrella for 5 euro. Get your ‘I flashmobbed in Rotterdam’ T-shirt.  This I wanted to see and masochisticly, this is why I went.

At 1 PM, I packed my skepticism in my bag along with an umbrella and set off in the fog across the Erasmusbrug. Through the thudding bass, boys in blue and stoned dorito-eating ravers, I made my way down the Schiedamsedijk looking for the obvious evidence. NOTHING. No umbrella stand. No T-shirts. Just as many people as I possibly want to see at one time with no apparent desire to dance all day with an umbrella in their bags.

At 10 minutes before 2 PM, uncertain if i had read the instructions right, I was reassured by the sight of a family carrying 3 umbrellas looking rather lost like myself. Slowly people started identifying each other, in total 40 people forming the mob (contrary to reports of 80) but I could be wrong. 2 PM, I threw open the umbrella. Having no other instructions, I juggled it with my Pentax for some shots of the mob. As there wasn’t a crowd I felt I could vanish into, 2 minutes later I walked away happy that it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be.

But are the organizers ‘happy’? They wanted as many people as possible perhaps thinking flashmobbing as ‘the latest rage’ would hitch-hike the popularity of the Dance Festival in Rotterdam. It didn’t. Next time funmobbing like funshopping?  It was a performance without position, a speech with no message, a movie with no story. All these things CAN happen as well although I, for one, would lose interest.

Flashmobbing can be a useful strategy and means to publicly communicate on your surroundings and Rotterdam has more than enough situations in the public sphere that need desperately to be commented on.  Hopefully there will be more subversive plans before cultural entrepreneurs take the idea and get Heineken to sponsor them. OR?

-igor kempinski

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