Colson: Mass mob? OK, but don’t you preach at me | AspenTimes.com

Colson: Mass mob? OK, but don’t you preach at me

with John Colson

Flash mobs, smart mobs, crowdfunding and now "Mass mobs" — what is all this, and where in tarnation (love that word) is it all headed?

For those who might not know, all four of the above-named phenomena are linked to the Internet in one form or another, and all are meant to be ways for the general masses — that means you and me — to either raise awareness, money or support for something.

Or, in the case of flash mobs, they can be a way of using a talent for dance, music or other performance art to have a little fun in an unexpected place and give a thrill to the hoi polloi.

I'm reminded, as I write this, of my first, highly impressive exposure to flash mobs, a YouTube video from 2009 shot at the central train station in Antwerp, Belgium. Preceded by the first words of the "Do Re Mi Song" from the "Sound of Music," playing over the station's public-address system, a man suddenly leaps into a dance pose and starts prancing around the station's main hall to the opening notes of the song.

Within seconds, dancers of all ages and aspects begin converging on the tiled floor, and before you know it a group of some 200 dancers are performing a seemingly impromptu (actually, they had two rehearsals) series of steps in perfect unison.

The sight brought tears of joy to my eyes as I first watched it, and still has that much power, even though I know now that it was a publicity stunt to attract applicants for a leading role in a television version of the musical.

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Anyway, the phenomenon of the flash mob (a gathering of like-minded social or economic activists at a given location) apparently dates back about a half-decade or so earlier, according to Wikipedia, which reports that the term was coined in 2003.

Flash mobs, crowdfunding and "smart mobs" (a flash mob with a clearly defined, programmatic goal of some sort) all have grown out of one basic concept — a common need for a way to attract attention, support or financing for a particular, usually nontraditional thing, whether it was bringing customers out in support of a certain store, raising money to record a particular song by an undercapitalized garage band or recruiting supporters for a cause.

And now we have "Mass mobs," something that hit the nation's headlines in the past week but has been around for a least a year. The term describes events similar to those mentioned above but taking place at Catholic churches where the pews have been increasingly empty in recent years and which are in danger of being bought up and either torn down or converted to less holy enterprises.

As a regular reader might expect, this gives me pause.

I'm not sure if there is or is not a god or a group of gods somewhere above, metaphorically speaking, or whether they're looking down on this planet with emotions that might range from bemusement to shame to disappointment to utter disdain.

But I'm pretty sure that none of the religions established so far on earth has it right, whatever "it" might be.

So my views of all religions, including the Catholic church, amount to a mixed bag of horrified revulsion to nostalgic admiration, mostly for the architectural skills involved in creating churches and cathedrals or the music produced in the name of different religions.

As a result, I'm not quite sure what to make of these Mass mobs.

On the one hand I question the need to re-emphasize what I essentially have always felt were cults on a massive scale, which had little purpose other than to enrich the leading figures of the cults and provide a sham kind of comfort to the clueless cultees who were frightened of the dark.

But on the other hand I would lament the loss of the proud architecture of the churches, which undoubtedly would be replaced by something far less appealing, even trashy, and so impermanent as to be nearly ephemeral.

And, to be sure, the function of churches in offering a gathering place in times of trouble and concern has its place in our culture, still, and to lose that would deal a blow to our sense of community.

The upshot of all this is that if someone were to put out a call for a Mass mob somewhere near me, I guess I might show up and lend my support as a way of keeping traditions in place.

But it would be only on one condition.

And that is, if someone started proselytizing at me, tried to engage me in a philosophical discussion about God or religion or even tried to hand me a pamphlet or a tract suggesting I join or be damned, I'd take off like a prom dress after the last dance was done.

jbcolson51@gmail.com