The Problem With the 'Lion King' Cast Subway Car Flash Mob

Here's a video that only people who've never taken any sort of public transportation could possibly find amusing. To everyone else, this impromptu performance of The Lion King's Broadway cast "treating" subway commuters in June looks like nothing but a major annoyance. While New Yorkers, who deal with this nonsense every day, would define it as a hostage situation.

The subway rendition of `Circle of Life' is going viral right now, which is appropriate seeing as flash mob take-overs and other public performances are becoming more and more virus-like. They'll attack without warning and there's nothing you can do but wait for them to run their course"”or finish their song.

In the past, street musicians plant themselves on the sidewalk and stay put, giving people the choice of walking by or stopping to listen if they feel so inclined. And flash mobs really used to be exciting as unexpected and genuine celebrations of living in the moment.

These days, surprise shows are becoming less fun and more forced. Forced in the sense that the performers' main objective has now become all about the YouTube hits they'll get once a video of their stunt gets posted online.  Many times now the idea of entertaining their actual live audience doesn't seem to be a concern.

This video is a perfect example. Notice how the camera is cued up and rolling well before the cast even begins singing. So you know it wasn't shot by a delighted commuter, but by someone asked to get the bit on camera in advance. And that just tells you there wasn't anything spontaneous about it"”if anything, it feels so contrived. 

Such performances are also forced in the sense that instead of attracting a crowd of voluntary spectators, entertainers are taking their act to confined areas. In these cases, they're forcing every person in the immediate vicinity to be an audience member. And the subway is an ideal venue for anyone seeking a literally captive audience.

Again, this video is a good illustration of that"”just look at the faces of the unsuspecting passengers suddenly hit by a cacophony of loud noises. They didn't ask for this. Prime examples making my point: 

  • The guy awkwardly trying not to make eye contact with any member of the public disturbance at 1:18
  • The woman in the headscarf looking incredibly displeased at 1:34
  • Once the song finishes, no one's really clapping or cheering, besides the singers themselves
I mean"”this is an official Lion King promo. Don't you think if the performance got an enthusiastic round of applause, they'd have wanted to show at least a few seconds of it?
But there was no ovation, because most people in that train car are highly annoyed"”and they have every right to be. Why should their ride on the subway"”a mode of transportation that's inherently miserable enough"”be highjacked by a bunch of smug-looking Broadway actors for the sake of a publicity stunt? People have headaches, people are tired, and some don't feel like listening to `Circle of Life' that very second. But since they're on a moving train, they have no control over their environment and no way of removing themselves from it. All they can do is sit there helpless while unsolicited show tunes are yelled in their ears. That's a hostage situation and a torture situation all in one!

Moreover, New Yorkers in particular are irritated by this sort of thing because they're bombarded by it every day on the subway. One day it's a presumptuous singing flash mob, another day it's an incredibly loud mariachi band, and on the worst days it's that rapper who thinks he's really good but isn't.

So for me, having lived in New York for many years, it's infuriating to see The Lion King's PR team stage a stunt like this at the expense of hardworking commuters who didn't ask to be a part of it, and then pass it off online as some wondrous, magical, only-in-NYC-type of moment. 

Why couldn't this sort of thing be done in Central Park where anyone interested in hearing `Circle of Life' could so of their own accord? Why not, at least, on the subway platform where people have more control over their proximity to the high decibel howls?

If you didn't know, now you know: this isn't cute! Don't want to take my word for it? Then read the comments on the video's YouTube page and lets all make an effort to discourage this kind of guerrilla entertainment rather than glorifying it. It's not a victimless crime.

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