By Mac Lorenz Santos
“So it’s gonna be forever; Or it’s gonna go down in flames.”
This lyric can also be attributed to social media fads. People come up with these fads aiming to sustain it for quite some time. But in reality, they only have a relatively short life span and will eventually go down in flames. (Mai-relate lang. LOL.)
A few years back, our Facebook news feeds or Twitter timelines are full of people lying on the ground face down. Or wait, not just on the ground but also in other places such as escalators, lamp posts, or trees. It looks silly (apologies if there any one in the class who participated in this fad) but people still joined this craze. People keep on thinking how they will go about this craze. It seems like there is a competition on who can perform the craze at the most unexpected locations. I don’t have anything against people who joined this craze though since they find enjoyment in planking. I myself also became amused in some creative planking photos yet facepalm-ed at some silly planking photos. Having said that, this fad fits the description of Olga Goriunova on New Media Idiocy.
What is Planking
Planking is an activity where people lie face down, body stiff (similar to a wooden plank), face expressionless, and hands on the side usually in public places. If the place where one planks is more unconventional, the more chances that the post will get viral and popular. This is where the essence of planking kicks in – lying down in an unexpected place. Another person then takes a photo of you doing the planking and then uploaded and spread over social media. In a way, planking seems to be a combination of a photo fad (staged photos in a specific pose) and a meme (a piece of media being spread between users within the Internet).
If the origins of planking be traced, this fad originated as “The Lying Down game” by Gary Clarkson and Christian Langdon in 1997. This activity only circulated within Clarkson and Langdon’s circle of friends. However, it was in 2007 where one of their friends created a Facebook page to expand the reach of their activity. It was in 2008, though, when the term “Planking” was created by Sam Eckert (Australia). From then, the fad expanded through social media and gained popularity from 2008 to 2011. There also are variations of this fad that came about – some gained traction, some did not.
The most basic form of planking is lying down on the floor. However, lying down on the floor of a private location was to simple and defeats the purpose of planking. Therefore, people are planking all over public areas such as malls, schools, stores, or parks. However, people are turning this up a notch by planking on slightly elevated surfaces such as tables, appliances, and benches. Some people are not satisfied still, though. Some plankers plank in extreme places such as lamp posts, edges of buildings, moving vehicles, or any place which poses danger.
Why did planking spread like wildfire? I think that the mindset of people wanting to conform to what is “in” has a big influence to its success. Since planking is “in”, people want to join in on this trend. All one needs to do is to lie down. How hard can it get? What is hard though is thinking of more creative ways to do your planking in order to stand out from the pool of plankers worldwide.
Given that Filipinos are quick on jumping into trends, planking gained popularity in the country. It’s hard to get exact figures on how many posts on planking were created and shared during the trend’s peak. However, we do know that several Facebook pages and groups were formed including school-specific Planking groups such as UPLB, UPD, Ateneo, San Beda, and DLSU-D, among others. Aside from planking for fun, some of these schools and universities used planking as a method for protests. There also used to be a “Planking Pinas” Facebook page which was able to get 33,000 likes. Unfortunately, the said Facebook page no longer exists. Also, an Anti-Planking Act was proposed in 2011 due to the danger and disruptions which can be caused by the activity (I believe this law is kind of “idiotic” as well since planking is just a trend that just comes and goes).
Planking and New Media
New Media became crucial in sustaining the trend up to its decline. New media became the tool for sharing photos of people doing the planking craze. Through Facebook, people can post their photos doing their planking at any location and hope to become viral. Social media is proven to be an effective medium for real time sharing of content and for allowing interaction between users through comments, shares, and likes. However, other media such as TV also helped in sustaining this fad. TV, through news and lifestyle programs, was able to disseminate information regarding the trend.
In terms of content, posts on planking are typically photo posts with a caption stating that they are doing their planking at the location. As mentioned earlier, the rules of planking are the following: go to a location (the more unexpected, the better), lie face down, place your arms at your side, stay stiff with an emotionless face, and have someone take your photo. Places where planking has been done range from floors, tables, and benches to escalators and posts. Basically any place where you can lie down. However, people are taking this to the next level by doing their planking at risky or dangerous places such as roads, edges of elevated areas, or things that are prone to moving. We can not blame people who take planking seriously since they believe that their posts will be more spectacular if their location is non-conventional or risky. There somehow is an unwritten competition between plankers and they tend to outdo other’s posts as well as their own. There is no distinct prize yet people still “compete” in this planking phenomenon.
In terms of popularity, new media also aided it being a trend back then. Given that content in new media can be freely accessed, photos of people planking are widely distributed over the Internet. Also, the fact that new media is a highly interactive medium which allows user generation of content is a crucial element which contributed to its popularity. New media fostered a much, more real time flow of information dissemination. At any time, people can upload their photos, like the photos of other users, and share other photos to their social networks. The innate culture of Filipinos hopping on trends also is a key factor for its widespread popularity. Once a new trend kicks in, there sure is a huge chunk of Filipinos joining that bandwagon. From this, it seems that new media and the bandwagon-er culture is a great combination for making a trend viral.
Planking and Idiocy in the New Media
According to Olga Goriunova, “the mumbling,instant, repetitive, easy, playful, junk, worthless creativity that is expressed in new media idiocy is a creativity that has not yet been individuated, or is in the process of, being concretized.” In other words, new media idiocy involves user generated content with no purpose which are creative without the need for much digital editing and can be done by not only a single entity. There is no single individual in charge of creating these content since it can easily be replicated by other individuals no matter how casual they are. From this definition, we can say that the planking fad falls into Olga Goriunova’s notion of new media idiocy. Let’s deconstruct this definition of New Media Idiocy by taking some of the key important words of the scholar and relate these to the planking phenomenon:
- Instant – There is no need to have a full and long preparation in order to create a planking photo. At any given point, you can perform the planking activity. All you need to do is to lie down, have someone take your photo, and then you are done.
- Repetitive and Easy – You only need to do a single action in every post – plank. There are no skills required for one to do the activity. Anyone of any age, any gender, and any race can perform the activity.
- Worthless – Aside from joining the bandwagon, what do plankers get out of planking? The answer to this is unclear which probably means that there really is no purpose on why people plank. Yes, these people are having fun by just lying down and being still. However, is this the core purpose of planking?
- Creativity – Plankers are able to exercise their minds since they are constantly thinking and searching for new places where they can plank. By unleashing their creativity in coming up with the most unexpected places, they believe that they will be able to reach a wider audience and then become viral.
- Not Yet Been Individuated – The act of planking can be easily replicated by any person given that there is no level of skill required in creating a planking photo. You do not need a degree or three to five years of experience in order to lie face down. Any individual can join in on the trend and unleash their inner plank in a photo.
In addition to this, Olga Goriunova mentioned three elements of New Media Idiocy – Simplicity, Humour, and Craftsmanship. These elements characterize the idiocy in new media. Here is how these three elements relate to Planking:
- Simplicity – Simplicity involves the minimalism of the product. Planking is definitely a simple, minimal activity. It can easily be replicated. All you need is your body, a place where you can plank, a camera (mobile phones will do), and someone to take your photo. Even if people think on where they will plank next, there still is no complexity in this activity.
- Humour – Humour is present in photos of planking. The audience can have a bit of laugh just by seeing how creative people can get when it comes to their planking. On the other hand, they can also get a chuckle by seeing how dumb these people can look by lying down in a public place.
- Craftsmanship – Craftsmanship, in this case, involves the Do It Yourself (or DIY) characteristic of content. Planking is a very DIY activity. As mentioned earlier, there is no need for skills and high technology equipment for one to produce content as long as you have the four things mentioned above: body, location, camera, and photographer. Even a simple smartphone can serve as your tool for taking photos. Therefore, planking can easily be replicated by any person.
For additional emphasis, I am repeating my point on the lack of meaning of planking. What do people get out of lying down face on the ground in public? Is it fame, is it fun, or is it fulfilment? There really is no clear answer. It is hard to decipher what the motivations of these people are on why they still make themselves look funny on a medium where content is freely accessible. One thing’s for sure, though – planking in itself does not have any significant impact on a macro level (unless placed in another context, say, planking as a method for protest which was mentioned earlier).
There is also one more reason why planking can be considered as idiotic. While plankers tend to outdo each other by creating more non-conventional planking photos, these people can tend to put themselves at risk. They can think of extreme places to have their photos taken which makes these people be prone to accidents or other form of danger. Therefore, the use of idiocy in new media can get out of hand. Even if people know this, they still continue on creating photos. People are willing to risk getting injured (or even die) for the sake of being “in”. In fact, there was already a casualty in Australia (20-year old Acton Beale) in 2011 due to planking on a seventh floor balcony and fell seven stories high. This did not affect the number of plankers though as they still continued on making more photos (some still do extreme photos) until the steam of planking died.
Whatever Happened to Planking
The fame of the planking fad was pretty much short-lived. Its peak of popularity was observed in 2011. Within that same year, the fad died down. People lost interest in doing the activity. Just like any other fad, there’s no chance that the fad will be embedded in a country’s culture for the long run. There are no clear reasons why the fad faded but here are three reasons why I think planking lost its steam:
- Planking was replaced by similar photo fads – Once a new trend kicks in, its predecessor gets eaten and forgotten. Similar trends that aimed to replace planking were generated over social media. Some of these include Owling (the act of mimicking an owl by perching in random spots), Hadoukening (where one acts as a “Hadoukener” who does the Hadoukening pose while another one acts as the one getting hadouken-ed), Vadering (where one acts as a Darth Vader who does a “Force Choke” while another one acts choked), and Pratting (mimicking Chris Pratt’s pose in Jurassic World), among others. In the Philippines, the Bakling pose where one poses as a gay guy became a fad. Similar to planking, these fads died as well.
- Boredom – It sure seems fun (yet silly) at first. However, if someone is constantly doing the same action every time regardless of different locations, people might lose interest. Also, people might get bored if they are not getting enough reviews, likes, or shares in their posts. There is no motivation for them to continue planking.
- Maturity (big word!) – People just might have grown and realized that what they are doing serves no purpose. They make themselves look silly over the Internet yet they are not gaining anything (I may be wrong on this though). At least they had fun while the trend lasted.
As mentioned, planking is a craze that eventually died a natural death. It was not able to sustain its fame from its peak. Groups and communities were even formed just for group planking in public places – a concept quite similar to flash mobs. Right now, the fad no longer exists. However, there still are some references to planking over the Internet especially in memes. Planking is an activity which does not have any obvious purpose for others but for plankers, they are having fun planking and that is important. Most plankers consider safety in doing their photos. However, there are plankers willing to plank at risky areas and expose themselves to danger for the sake of sharing the photo over social media and hoping to get viral – I believe that this is the reason why planking is idiotic.