The Inquirer Asks, “What’s Behind Flash Mobs?”

In contrast to my Howl from last week (see below), Alfred Lubrano’s analytical piece on the so-called “flash mob” phenomenon in this Saturday’s Inquirer was refreshing.

Lubrano opens with some of the fearmongering we’ve seen before, writing that these groups “preoccupied a weary city wrestling with the repeated spectacle of its young people running amok, lighted cell phones in hand, looking like contemporary rabble brandishing torches and terrorizing the countryside.”

But—twist! Lubrano actually talks to Philadelphia high school students to ask why they participate in such groups, sociologists about urban inequality, and Angel Flores, a Philadelphia assistant district attorney, who said told him that “among 30 young people in court recently for the violence from these gatherings, some had planned to meet to fight among themselves. But others had planned to simply dance.”

Many of the people quoted—including a Philadelphian who lives near South Street, a spokesman for the mayor, and Flores—strive to defuse the issues about racial tensions that much of the media hype has highlighted. But Lubrano also talks to academics about the challenges facing Philadelphia: that many of our neighborhoods have a culture of violence, and that the city provides few places, as I wrote last week, for kids to be kids.

As summary journalism, it’s a decent, Hoot-worthy piece, but I’m not sure it does enough to defuse the panicky coverage that overwhelmed Philadelphia media a week ago.

But maybe that dance thing that Flores mentioned, in passing, could. Philly media hasn’t covered that very much—but of all places, Gawker did. Dance crews? Battling in the streets?

You know what? That sounds like a good story.

– Nick Gilewicz

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