When travelling in Scotland with Drama Ensemble last summer, Phoebe ’12 found the perfect opportunity to plank. While she was walking along the Royal Mile, a gigantic statue of a unicorn, the country’s national animal, was just there, and, like most plankers, she took the opportunity to lie out as flat as she could, right on the marble ledge, just because she could. She asked her friends to snap a quick picture, and she left, satisfied that she could say that she planked in Scotland.
Planking has become an international phenomenon, like Silly Bandz and vampire romance. On May 15, a 20 year-old Australian man fell to his death after an attempt to capture a picture of himself planking on a balcony. The Planking Facebook group has over 250,000 likes. Everyone from college students to celebrities has tweeted and posted pictures of themselves engaging in the sole motion of laying as still as possible in the most random of places. So why has something considered so meaningless caused so much controversy?
After planking gained more momentum and Internet buzz, members of the black community became horrified by the possible association of planking with the slave trade, paralleling the “lying down position” of planking with the visual reference of chained Africans stacked in the cargo holds of slave ships long ago.
Marlborough girls are no stranger to planking, and A.A.C.E. Secretary Alana’12 stressed the importance of opening students’ eyes to the possibilities of planking’s association with a very delicate subject, because as of now, many people who plank are unaware of the game’s possible link to slavery.
“When I heard about [planking] I was shocked and definitely don’t appreciate or participate in it,” Alana said. “However, we can’t blame a lot of people who do plank, because they probably don’t know how it started and therefore, it isn’t their fault. The important thing is educating people to the possibly harmful nature of this game.”
In 2006, two British students, Gary Clarkson and Christian Landon, were credited with the creation of planking, and since then it has become an Internet sensation, greatly driven by social media and celebrity buzz. Celebrities from Justin Bieber to Rosario Dawson have all been seen planking, either on television or via Twitter.
However, with its popularity, planking has drawn both positive and negative feedback, not just from the African-American community.
After the Australian man plummeted seven stories to his death, officials have been worried that people will try to outdo each other by finding even more outrageous and dangerous places to plank. Just this year, John Mazzocchi, a GameStop employee of five years, was fired after he posted a picture of himself planking because his manager was afraid the company would be directly associated with another planking-related death or injury. Mazzocchi’s friend who took the picture was let go as well: guilty by association.
However, the possible danger and the link to slavery have not seemed to deter planking’s popularity, though some have questioned the true motivations of those involved.
“I feel like it’s just foolish,” Miriam ’12 said. “Like, you should only be planking if it’s for exercise and not make racial references.”
University of Texas graduate Stephen Mahoney was recently quoted in campus blog, “The Alcade,” saying that planking is an expression of creativity and can be both an art and a feat of athleticism, because as the saying goes on Facebook, “If you’ve got a body, you can plank.”