a trip on the bricks

2/28/07

Social anthropologists would be fascinated to see what has unfolded here in Chapel Hill over the last few weeks: a UNC student posted on facebook.com that he was going to break up with his cheatin’ NC State girlfriend in the Pit on Valentine’s Day, and everyone in his extended network was invited to come. If you know what “extended network” means, you know it amounts to “everyone at Carolina,” and sure enough, more than 2,000 people showed up, along with the Loreleis (a cappella singing group, whose theme song I arranged in 1987, thanks) along with a bunch of guys with cameraphones.

The resulting brilliant, profanity-laced freakshow ended up as several clips on YouTube that have been watched, collectively, three-quarters of a million times. People who attended were alternately horrified and transfixed, and pretty soon national newspapers were carrying the story. It has since been calculated as the largest “flash mob” in American history.

By the time it went international, and “Good Morning America” and “Inside Edition” started calling the two students, they had to come clean: it had been a scripted performance, concocted by Ryan Burke (the one performing the breakup) and his roommate Andy Jones. Andy knows Peter Kaufman, who directed him to Tessa and me for advice on what to do with his story, and we quickly said “write something great, and write something quick.”

We’ve called some editor friends, and I hope Andy’s excellent piece on the staged breakup – and subsequent psychological fallout – gets picked up by Salon or Slate in the next day or so. If they don’t, they’re missing a good one. Everyone… Forbes, Time, the Chicago Tribune, the Minnesota Chandler News-Dispatch, and even the Independent Online of South Africa have written stories, but the best one will come from the roommates themselves. NY Times Opinion Page, anyone?

Plenty of people have weighed in on the appropriateness of such an event, the apparent misogyny, the ethics of tricking the public, and the sheer nads to have pulled it off, so I’ll leave it to the commenters below for that. However, here’s a few things that struck me:

1) Man, the Pit sure has done its job for forty years. Where else could this have happened? How many times have you fallen in love there? How many Pit Preachers have you argued with? Where else would that suicide SUV driver have gone? How can an inverted ziggurat of boring red bricks be the nerve center of so many thousands of lives since 1967?

2) You’ve got to give Mindy Moorman credit for going along with it. Going to a rival school to get dumped by someone you’re not even dating and joking afterwards that she can’t run for Congress now? She gets an honorary induction into the Carolina family.

3) Forget the colossal news cycle – how amazing is a world where you can get two thousand college kids to show up to anything other than a basketball game? The power of a well-planned flash mob is truly stunning, and completely out of the purview of the Powers That Be. In my day, the Wild West was the Web, and our twentysomething job was to convince people to use it for everything. The next frontier is going to be the harnessing of this amazing social-network power, and they better find the best 22-year-olds they know – like Andy – to do it. Because if big corporations try it themselves, it’ll be obvious as a fart in a car. They’ll look like your Grandma trying to do The Hustle.

Congrats to Ryan, Andy and Mindy on a striking hand well played.

0 thoughts on “a trip on the bricks

  1. GFWD

    Where is the XTCIAN flash mob going to meet up on Saturday night? Ran into Scruggs at the bank yesterday and I’m looking forward to meeting some of the other faces on this list in preparation for the dook game. Annie, you and Caveman and Blindfold have an extra hoop, right? Scruggs, the invitation to ride up there is still open.

    Reply
  2. Ian

    I believe our plan is to watch Greg H. at the Wine Bar and then either go to Milltown in Carrboro for the game (or 4Corners)!

    Reply
  3. Sean

    It doesn’t look like that many people are responding, but for those of you who read this and are interested by such highjinks, I should point you to the Picasso of this artform, fellow Tarheel Charlie Todd and the Improv Everywhere crew.
    Much has been said about his staged things, I happen to find much more of it beautiful than obnoxious. The site has a hundred amazing stories, from incredibly simple stunts like pretending he was Ben Folds in a bar all the way up to… well, all the way up to Ben Folds sending him out on stage at the beginning of a show as Ben Folds, and then the real Ben comes out and beats him up…
    Some of my personal favorites –
    1) The marriage proposal on the uptown 6 Train after 9-11. They decorated the entire car, the guy popped the question on his shocked girlfriend, then they passed out cake and punch and party favors to everyone on the train. Then, they did it again going downtown.
    2) A whole mess of people went in to Best Buy dressed in blue shirts and khakis, the uniform of the people who work at Best Buy. *TONS* of people. In some rows, there would be four IE guys, just standing around looking pleasant. They took pictures and filmed the whole thing with BEST BUY’S OWN FLOOR SAMPLES.
    3) A big group went in to Home Depot in Union Square and did all their regular shopping, just at 1/4 the normal speed. They videoed the whole thing and sped it up so the IE guys look like they’re walking normal speed and everyone else is at a full sprint.
    4) Charlie and a friend tried to sell celebrity trash on the street. Donald Faison gave him the napkin from the hot dog he was eating, and then a Bob Dylan fan almost got in a fist fight with Charlie for selling Dylan’s trash. None of it (save the napkin) was actually celebrity trash.
    http://www.improveverywhere.com/home.php

    Reply
  4. Tanya

    ah dammit! I have a babysitter and everything for Saturday night (well, my husband is my babysitter, but still). However, rather than being in Chapel Hill to meet up with all the fun XTCIANers, I’ll be at the Billy Joel concert at the RBC Center. I wish so much that I could get my partner in Billy Joel crime to change plans, but she’s jonesin’ for the Piano Man. *sigh*

    Reply
  5. Neva

    I found this pit break up thing strangely fascinating. Mostly I was shocked so many people were interlinked by this You Tube stuff (okay, so I’m stuck in 1998 but still) and that they made national news with this thing. What a cool gizmo this internet thing is after all? It almost makes you think a bunch of people could talk to each other and start to like each other and feel like friends and really never really see each other in person or something. Imagine??
    So, are you guys talking about meeting up tonite or Sat night, I’m confused?

    Reply
  6. GFWD

    I was talking about meeting up with the other XTCIAN’ers on SATURDAY night. Neva, you need to get a mommy’s night out pass. Emma, will you be in town? “Hoss”, you need to come out, too. Scruggs, make that drive from Charlotte.

    Reply
  7. Paul G

    I didn’t really dig the pit breakup.
    I like it more now that I know it was staged, but at the same time I don’t really like UNC getting national exposure for a guy dumping his cheating girlfriend in front of two thousand people.
    Let’s stick to basketball and progressive stances on important issues.

    Reply
  8. kent

    It should be pointed out that Van McCoy’s dance track “The Hustle” came out in 1975, and was a popular line dance before that, so many a current grandmother was doing the Hustle back in the day, when they were young.
    It would be more like _our_ grandmother doing the hustle, who was born in 1911 and no doubt did the Lindy Hop and the Charleston when young.

    Reply
  9. Annie

    Come on out and see my bro (grumphreys) play an acoustic set tonight at the Wine Bar between 7 and 10pm, if you can! There’s an art show too. We’ll be there!
    GFWD (and fellow xtcianers) , I’m totally down for hanging on Sat night! Believe it or not, we have a hoop jam from 6-8 that night, if you’re game. We’re going to hoop outside for the first hour so we can see the total lunar eclipse that occurs at 6:30pm–I’m fairly (89%) certain we will be over at the Carrboro Town Commons. After that we will duck inside Carolina Fitness to finish our practice. I will bring some extra hoops (big for first-time hoopers!) with me so if ANY of y’all would like to join please come out!
    If you need more info about the jam, email me at hushpuppymix at yahoo dot com.

    Reply
  10. LFMD

    Hope that you all have fun this weekend. I will be with you in spirit! Take some photos of the XTCIANs, Ian!

    Reply
  11. tregen

    What’s wrong with you. I fail to see what they have accomplished other than being Paris Hilton for a day. They pull a big stunt, get some press, fucking fantastic. Tomorrow maybe they will pretend to be members of the KKK and throw a black doll of a bridge or some other desperate attempt to get some attention. What a couple of morons and personally, I’m surprised you would want anything to do with the type.

    Reply
  12. CP

    it’s more than just a mere stunt or prank, and shouldn’t be written off as the brainchild of some goofy, idle-minded college kid who simply wants his 15 minutes. to me it was a cool bit of performance art/street theatre/cinema verite for the facebook/myspace crowd raised on reality tv, dr. phil, 24 hour news, the internet and jerry springer. part social experiment, part gag, perhaps even part borat homage, it’s a very interesting (and entertaining, especially given how people did and continue to react to it) combination of influences which gives me a great deal of hope for the little whipper-snappers nipping at my heels.
    rock on, guys. you did good.

    Reply

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