The Other Side of Cynicism: Redeeming the Flash Mob

Over the last few years I’ve become accustomed — and largely immune — to the surprise of flash-mob videos. I’ve gotten used to the trope of the initial lone performer who seems to be doing something nice (and maybe a little strange) in transforming into a huge, integrated, public Broadway performance. Even more than being used to it, I notice that I’m avoiding most of these videos these days; I find that my reaction to them goes something like: oh not again.

And then there’s this, in every obvious respect the same: a year and a half ago Banco Sabadell, one of the largest banks in Spain, celebrated its 130th anniversary by organizing a musical flash mob. They hired1 dozens of musicians, from four different orchestral and choir groups, to perform Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in the public square outside the bank.

I wasn’t sure at first why I actually watched this one — why I stuck with it as violinists, tenors, oboists and altos turn what at first seems to be a simple song performed by a lone busking bassist into a symphony. If you have a few minutes, watch this one, and as you do, pay attention to how cynically you watch it. Is the first thing that goes through your head something like: “yeah, but this was all staged”? Is it: “all this bank wants is a way into my checkbook through my heart strings”? Whatever it is, listen to yourself as you watch:

Here’s what I think: to be honest, I don’t care if it was a staged musical flash mob.

I don’t care that it was arranged by a bank.

I don’t care if the PR firm hired by Banco Sabadell waded through 300 cute, brown haired, little girls before selecting just the right one (kids with glasses!!) to put the coin in the bassist’s top hat.

I don’t care.

I don’t care about all of that because, if I’m honest, the voices in my head that say those kinds of things are all attempts to blind me to one thing: this can be a gift. If I’m willing to lower my “you’re just trying to get something out of me” filters for just a moment, I can let it become what it wants to be: a gift. If I let myself, I can marvel at this.

It’s not that advertisers aren’t trying to manipulate us all the time, they are.2 It’s that I’m tired of living with my guard up all the time. I’m tired of living buffered to the mystery of the world.3

It took me until about halfway through the (remarkably well-edited = I know you did a good job of camera placement so as to manipulate my feelings and guess what? I’m going to feel them anyway) video to give myself permission to let my guard down. But when I did, I found that I was able to actually watch the people in the square, actually listen as the joy for which the song is titled builds in their faces, actually feel the vibrancy of the gift that the world – sometimes – wants to give. All this on the other side of cynicism.

So: Thanks Banco Sabadell. Thanks Beethoven. Thanks for feeling again, heart, and for teaching me to let my guard down more.

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Cover image by Queens University Canada via Flickr (Creative Commons).

  1. I assume they were hired, I don’t have proof for this. But, really, are all these musicians going to do this for free? Probably not.
  2. Take a look at the recently departed Fr. John Kavanaugh S.J.’s great book Following Christ in a Consumer Society to see a bit about how this happens and how it draws us away from the ways God might be asking us to look at the world
  3. © Charles Taylor. Click here for more.

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