Sunday, January 12, 2014

Cathay Pacific "Flash Mob"


Going through some old newspapers from early December, I came across an intriguing picture of several hundred Cathay Pacific attendants dancing in the arrival lobby of the Hong Kong airport. The online article has an SCMP video embedded, and there are a number of videos of the event on Youtube (see here, and here for a longer version showing the choir, and here for a more professional version). It is fun, and features my favorite airline. It was also part of "Operation Santa Claus," which is a good fundraiser run by our public radio and the SCMP (I'm not clear how this raised funds, however).

I do have a quibble with the term "flash mob," however, and it reflects something about Hong Kong. A flash mob is not supposed to be so well-planned, or be so purposeful. The Wiki entry for "flash mob" says it "is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression."  It notes that for planned social activities and PR stunts, the term used should be "smart mob."

This stunt was well coordinated: the videos show guards keeping the space empty, the music is played over the airport PA system, and the dancing is choreographed. (Hmm, I wonder if they paid royalties for the music they played; might be a violation of HK's strict copyright laws!).

I think the term "flash mob" is being applied here for two reasons (in addition to the fact that worldwide, companies have used the term for stunts that then become viral online commercials). First, last year (2012) a much smaller less formal such event was held that was probably  more like a flash  mob. This year, more professionals got involved, including the fundraising aspect, so perhaps what was more like a flash mob has evolved into something more choreographed, but the name has not changed. But in addition, there is a tendency in Hong Kong for little to be truly spontaneous. Like elections (even student elections on campus), the idea of it being spontaneous is attractive, but everyone likes to know the result ahead of time (in fact, on campus elections, there is always only one ticket running for all the offices). In this case, you can actually see dozens of spectators anticipating the event, waiting for it to start (probably friends of family of the participants!)

A true flash mob is actually a bit like vandalism; it can cause congestion, not to mention accidents and injuries to bystanders who do not expect dancers to be in their way as they walk through an airport or a train station. Yet we seem to like the incongruity of a show (and a well choreographed one at that) in a public place. That is part of what makes it fun, even if it is, after all, a PR event. At least this is for a fund raiser and not just to try to convince us that Cathay Pacific staff are one big happy family who just love to take care of clients. Their staff is well trained and does offer a high level of service, but they are, after all, employees. It will be interesting to see how this event evolves in the next few years.

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