Flashers…the new hippies…or not?

Last week, the UK's Daily Mail - that penultimate bastion of reactionary conservatism, organised a very concerted flash-...

August 19, 2003

Last week, the UK’s Daily Mail – that penultimate bastion of reactionary conservatism, organised a very concerted flash-mob attempt.

It used ‘underground’ techniques to persuade 120 people to arrive with umbrellas at the London Eye, peel a banana, and chant for a minute or so, and then disappear at an appointed time, a few minutes later.

This was, in some microscopic and atavistic way, a ‘happening’.

The mechanism of flash-mobs…i.e. using texting, on-line advertising and community-based networking to bring together groups of people for brief and pointless encounters – is tedious. It intrigues me far less than the motivation which lies behind it.

What flash-mobs hint at today seems to me to be a latent experimentalism and frustration within society – but also a leadership vacuum. They evince a desire to play with ideas, a need to be ‘on the edge’, and a clear dislike or avoidance of apparent authority.

On the surface, this is reminiscent of the ethos of the late 1960s. Mass affluence. Ethical confusion. Amoral war. Political dilution. Eroding trust.

Not so different now, you say.

But in the 1960s these Weatherman-style occurences would have arisen from discontent, from agressive apathy, or from socialist political motivations – or at the very least from some collective purpose and common will.

The Daily Mail’s motivation, by contrast was…er…self-promotion and..er…newspaper sales.

Nonetheless, I wonder how many Daily Mail ‘flashers’ felt betrayed when they discovered who was behind the event. Probably very, very, few……

And thereby lies the conundrum of the new Millennium. Although many people reject corporate incursion into their lives, it has become pervasive to the extent of invisibility. We have embraced corporatism, whether we like it or not.

What we are witnessing here is a new unreality, in which corporate and personal promotional techniques and mind-sets have simply fused. The internet was a personal communications vehicle; became corporate, then commercial; and was then briefly reclaimed by the people when the VCs ran out of road. But now they’re back.

In the last 2 years, the powers that ‘be’ (by which, of course, I merely mean ‘act’) have attempted to reclaim the medium by appropriating the very notion of community.

Today, even our tools of communications are shared with the corporates. Or put another way – more optimistically – corporate marketing tools are available to all. Hurrah. Now we all share the same brand imagination, we can dream the same brown fizzy, cokey dream. We are all marketers now. Heaven forfend.

This means so much more than people simply becoming a little more spin-savvy or marketing savvy. Now we are all exposed to the very minutiae of the mechanisms of marketing. We are not just savvy. We are positively experts. We are all gurus now. There is nothing more to learn.

In the UK, the excruciating Hutton enquiry is laying bare, second by second, the process by which government press releases and reports are prepared. Are we surprised? No. Do we care? Maybe. But does it make us more cynical? Absolutely, Yes.

Trust? … Trussed!

This pervasive and uncontrollable government transparency invites a form of daily democracy in which judgement evaporates. Ideas and people and power and motivations can no longer be interpreted, let alone separated.

Without reliable brands, we are drowning. Without reliable government…

When government becomes this transparent, you’d better keep an eye on it. It may just disappear entirely….

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