Viral trends suffer three step life-span

Lie flat on the ground, your face down, arms tightly held to your sides. You are now planking.

Despite its basic concept, people all over the world took this silly, simple idea and ran with it. Or, to be more accurate, took the idea and lied down motionlessly on the ground with it.

The origin of planking had been in doubt for some time. Many thought it originated in England or Australia in the early 2000’s. In July, one humble American by the name of Tom Green set the record straight with some interesting video footage.

Taken from the reels of his old public access show on Canadian television, which formed the precursor to his explosively popular late 90’s run with MTV, the footage displays Green walking into a busy sidewalk intersection in Canada, lying down on the ground and going rigid. The clip utilized time-lapse photography techniques, so it is unknown how long Green was lying on the ground before he, under watch from over 20 on-lookers, stood up and walked away.

“The point of that video, we did a random, ridiculous thing and made a social comment with it. Will people stop and help you on the street?” Green said to CNN.

To some, this act, originally called “Dead Guy” by Green, may whip up the excitement that accompanies a fresh idea. To others, it may garner a smirk, the kind of smile that comes from someone on the inside of an inside joke.

And to all it will eventually receive a groan, something along the lines of “not this again.”

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The disparity between the personal responses of on-lookers embodies the lifespan of the virus involved in “viral trends” like planking.


Stage 1: At first, there is a sense of wonder, something odd is going on and it captures the “herd mentality” of on-lookers to do just that, look on, puzzled and, hopefully, amused. This initial response was perfectly identified by Green’s ’94 planking footage, where the crowd flocked to him within minutes.


Stage 2: Next comes inclusion. In order to convert someone to the next stage, those “in the know” provide the rules of the game.

People in Green’s studio audience were likely at this stage, as they fell at least somewhat “in on it.” The feeling of being part of a group that is “in the know” is very appealing, and the kind of thing that made the show “Candid Camera” a success.


Stage 3: The third stage essentially demarcates the end of the trend. Once the majority of the interested populace reaches this stage, the virus essentially dies out. It becomes overplayed; once the aim is known to all, it ceases to be an inside joke in any way. One essential element of “coolness” is the fact that not everyone knows about it. Once your mom is planking, you know it’s time to stand up and walk it off.

The point of location is relevant to fads like planking, as small towns are usually the last places to see these trends first-hand, and generally the place the trends go to die.

Several offshoots of the basic planking concept rose up, such as “owling” and “batmanning.” The planker accomplishes these new breeds by squatting with their arms to their sides like an owl, or hanging upside down by their feet like a bat, respectively. While essentially the same act as planking (assuming a strange position and maintaining perfect silence as on-lookers grow confused) it aims to take a basic idea and have more fun with it.

Another way plankers hope to accomplish this is by planking in unusual or exotic locations, ranging from atop light poles to over the hoods of taxicabs, or even on the stairs of the Eiffel Tower. However this double-dare one-upmanship has the inevitable tendency to escalate into more and more challenging planks, which has proved to, in some cases, become extremely dangerous, and even fatal.

The Brisbane Times reported in May of 2011 that a 20-year-old male died while planking atop a seven-story balcony.

“It is what we’ve been fearing,” Ross Barnett, Deputy Police Commissioner of Brisbane, said.

Where does planking go from here? To be sure, planking is essentially dead. Though it has had a relatively long lifespan, planking has successfully navigated to the third stage of disinterest and eye rolling. However, there’s never an end to trends like planking. The “next thing” to replace the planking virus was revealed by the father of planking himself, Tom Green.

“Coning,” Green told TMZ reporters. “Order an ice cream cone. And they hand you the ice cream cone. And you grab it, by the ice cream, and drive away.” The incredible comedic value of this undoubtedly stupid act is generally better experienced in the videos that “coners” make of themselves. Green doesn’t try to take credit for this act, however; it was actually invented by Australian YouTube user, Alki Stevens.

The really amazing thing about coning is the fact that it, like planking, is generally considered “over” already as well. McDonalds employees are wise to the grift by now, clearly signifying the third stage.

Viral trends hurtle so fast through the three-step process that they act almost in the exact opposite way as normal viruses. They infect and die out first in highly populated metro areas like Los Angeles or New York City, and live out the rest of their relevancy in small towns like Scranton or Anchorage.