I was in Union Square as New York City's observance of International Pillow Fight Day unfolded yesterday. For me, the idea of a pillow fighting flash mob smacked of weird sexual repression. This is because I am warped. When I got there with my friends, who had all picked up pillows special at Kmart, there were a lot of fresh-faced young innocents around and that's exactly how it should be. Stay repressed guys, you're beautiful. You could hear the shrieks of joy and see the feathers flying from blocks away. However, as you can see from these pictures, I was not blocks away when the fight broke out in the wake of a giddy count down.
My mild crankiness about the event may be entirely due to the adverse effects of feather inhalation. Or it may be because there were almost more people wielding cameras than pillows. Kind of annoying because it got in the way of the picturesqueness and sense of spontaneity. (I opted out of joining in due to being a curmudgeon and having a headache, but I was hoping to at least enjoy the day from an aesthetic standpoint.) But then, it was a global event deserving of a lot of cameras. I guess.
Maybe I'm just cranky about flash mobs. Unless they are skateboarding flash mobs. And there's the rub. Even though I find the cheeriness of a giant pillow fight annoying and prefer the less socially acceptable awesomeness of a skate horde. I have to admit that if you want to have a massive, global, decentralized event (sweet anarchy in action) it might be better to pick something outstandingly harmless and fun for the whole family. Something insidiously harmless, even. Skateboarding just doesn't fit the profile, much as I love Wild in the Streets. Neither does riding bikes or feeding dumpstered food to strangers, as Critical Mass and Food Not Bombs would seem to demonstrate. But maybe that has more to do with who shows up for these things and whether or not the purpose is overtly political.
The cool thing is that there actually is a political purpose to these events. It just happens to be a purpose that any sane person of goodwill can get behind. The organizers call what they're doing the Urban Playground Movement. This phrase is redolent of situationism. The idea is to create spaces and situations where people have the opportunity to be active participants, rather than passive consumers. (The irony that I decided to observe passively is not lost on me.)
Anyhow, check out the action in Seoul:
This has been going on peacefully for a few years now and seems to be gathering momentum, along with its buddies like the zombie flash mobs, the Santa flash mobs, etc. That's kind of awesome and powerful. Maybe a yearly rash of pillow fights is more subversive than all the proverbial smashed Starbucks windows in the world. Good strategy guys. (Or is that supposed to be a secret? Was I not supposed to say that?)
Maybe this SF Chronicle blog post explains why I'm so lame. It also contains links that may shed light on the roots and relations of this Urban Sandbox business.
Suggested reading: Society of the Spectacle