Whimsy Makes the World Go Round

2007_01_nopants1Have you ever noticed how seeing something strange or amusing can totally make your day? No really, I’m asking because I wonder if I’m the only one that feels this way.  When something absurd and random happens to me, it puts me in a fantastic mood. Not only do I get a good story to tell, but it also serves as a reminder that life isn’t all seriousness and tragedy. Particularly when I’m listening to my news podcasts, I need that reminder…

Anyway, my love affair with whimsy and randomness is one of the reasons I like living in Japan, as I mentioned in an earlier post. It’s also the reason why I love the awesome group Improv Everywhere. You may know them from a video that went viral a while back showing a bunch of people freezing at the exact same moment in the middle of Grand Central Station and then unfreezing a few minutes later and going about their business. They just put up a new video or of one of their latest “missions,” where they got hundreds of people to walk invisible dogs around Manhattan.

Two things really struck me in the video. The first was how creative some of the participants were. Most of them are not professional actors or anything, they’re just people who live in the area who want to take part. Watching a guy struggling to pick up a stinky invisible poo that his invisible dog just dropped or watching a girl being dragged behind her invisible pet as it endeavored to sniff the butt of a passing canine, you really can’t help but smile. And in contrast with popular shows like Jackass or Punkt (Are they still popular? Maybe I’m dating myself here.), the joke isn’t ON anyone. It’s just fun. As their website says, “We’re out to prove that a prank doesn’t have to involve humiliation or embarrassment; it can simply be about making someone laugh, smile, or stop to notice the world around them.” Indeed.

The other thing I noticed was the fantastic reactions of the bystanders. It’s great to see the spontaneous belly laughs and surprised double-takes, but you also get the sense that people are thrilled that something out of the ordinary is happening to them. They confer with strangers about what’s going on, they snap photos with their cell phones to send to friends, and look around with bemused expressions for some explanation of why grown adults are walking down a busy sidewalk with an invisible dog as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

It occurred to me what a gift the bystanders are being given, and I suppose myself and the other Internet viewers as well. Of course, the participants themselves are having fun and enjoying themselves, but I have a feeling that those who are not in on the prank are the real winners. For a moment in their day, they got a chance to stop and take note of the world around them. They were entertained and connected with people around them, all for free. And you can be sure that they shared the story of their experience with others throughout the next couple of days, and each time they told the story, they laughed and had the rare feeling that something unexpected but significant had happened to them. Without having intended it or maybe even being aware of it, they were part of something unusual, and I would like to think that it made them feel fortunate. I certainly would.

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