After the death of an Australian man who was ‘planking’, I can’t help but feel that the news coverage has been a little bit too ‘hang-ringing-y’ – and there have been some calls to ban it altogether (although further examination of this story suggests that the Australian PM did not call for a ban at all!). As an advocate for playful interaction with the urban environment, I have often called for and documented the ways in which people are using the city in creative, innovative and different ways. The city is a place we should explore with corporeality; cities function best when we utilise every neuron of our creative capabilities to interact with the urban topography.
‘Planking’ (or the lying down game) as it has been called in the various social networks devoted to it (mostly though, it is that most dogmatic of social media Facebook) has been popular now for over 3 years or so, and this is the first death. How many deaths have their been from skateboarding parkour, urban exploration, base-jumping, tomb-stoning etc? I’m guessing not many, but even so, there is a sense that the media have latched onto planking because of it’s prominence in social media. Granted, it’s a visual stunt, but there a many more skateboarding and parkour videos littering the cyber hinterland. The death of an individual practicing planking is clearly a very tragic event, but the media coverage, it would seem, is blaming, albeit covertly, social media. It is not the first time we have seen this. We all know the phrase ‘Facebook murderer‘, and more recently, I saw a tweet which conveyed the shear maladroitness of a BBC journalist in light of the super-injunctions debate. The phraseology of the BBC, or Sky News, or which ever outlet you chose to waste your time watching, is of course sensationalist in this regard, but this does make it excusable to bat it away as inconsequential. The internet is a tool or human communication, and just when we speak to each other face to face, we can say some moronic things as well as constructive things. The man who fell to his death by trying to balance on a balcony railing only 5cm wide, 7 storeys up, is clearly someone who is not adverse to danger and may well have met his doom in some other risky practice. I’m sure the majority of ‘plankers’ will not attempt such a dangerous photo opportunity, but you will get the extreme minority who will (another example is Dan Witchalls, the man addicted to base jumping). This is symptomatic of human society in toto, not just because of the connectivity and communication afford to us by social media.
The city needs exploring. It needs to be played with and upon. Cities will become better places if we allow this (sensibly). You can never account for the actions of people who want to take it to the extreme, so this should not prohibit the action altogether. That is a dangerous policy to pursue, particular in the era of rapid urbanisation.