Orchestrated Chaos

Text by Nora Ballard

Snow fell in San Francisco on Valentine’s Day. For approximately 30 minutes after 6 p.m., the white stuff came down in Justin Herman Plaza. However, a closer look revealed the fat flakes were in fact goose feathers, the result of a massive pillow-fight organized by an alternative flash mob. About 1,000 jovial participants flung pillows and walloped one another as a blizzard of feathers ensued. Some might call it a fad, but the underground event is part of a larger worldwide social phenomenon known as flash mobbing.

Thanks to the Internet, cell phones and text messaging, large groups of individuals will spontaneously amass in specific locations for impromptu gatherings, then disappear as if nothing had happened. Anything goes in flash mob culture. From the ridiculous to the politically charged, flashmobs take different forms. In one case, 200 people appeared in a New York City hotel, clapped for a few seconds for no apparent reason and then dispersed. About 500 people congregated and carried conversations without using the vowel “o” in a London store. In Detroit, a gay and lesbian group appeared in a “straight” restaurant as a political statement against homophobia. A more common and well-known type of flash mob happening is Critical Mass, where a large number of cyclists take to city streets and clog traffic as a way to protest the use of cars and promote bicycling.

The pillow fight flash mob, also known as the Pillow Fight Club (allegedly founded by Mobile Clubbing), has become a worldwide occurrence, with pillow fights erupting in New York, Toronto, London, Madrid, Budapest and Tel Aviv. Information about flash mobs can be found on the Internet (flashmob.com) or simply by word of mouth. In an age where mass communication is ruled by TV, cell phones and the Internet, the warp speed of people connecting and networking has revolutionary implications and can be used for both silly and constructive purposes. All in all, flash mobs may seem absurd, but they might just be an antidote for the increasingly proscribed culture we live in.


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