Plankers: Don’t take it lying down
Remember the good old days, when lying flat was called sleeping?
Well, now it’s planking – a new craze that makes some people laugh and others seriously cranky.
‘Planking’ is lying face down in a weird location and posting a photo of your exploits online. Check it out on Google Images and you’ll find plankers lying stiff as boards atop basketball hoops, A-frame ladders, supermarket shelves, boom gates and railway tracks.
You’ll find naked plankers. You’ll find a 97-year-old planker on a white iron-lace outdoor table. You’ll find lots of pictures of planks of wood. And, tragically, you’ll also find the handsome face of Acton Beale, a 20-year-old Queenslander who fell to his death while attempting to plank on a 5cm-wide balcony railing on the seventh floor of an apartment building.
In the few days since Mr Beale’s death, the world has gone planking mad.
Police warned of further deaths if plankers continued to pose in ever-riskier locations to impress others on the internet, and threatened to lay charges if planking was attempted “in areas that constitute trespass or in dangerous locations”.
Planking students were suspended from schools. Planking workers were sacked from Woolworths.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard urged plankers to stay safe. Tony Abbott didn’t want to be a killjoy either, but wasn’t there anything better to do? “If they want to prove themselves, get on the bike and ride faster or take their surfboard out on a patrolled beach.”
So did they? No planking way. Instead, tens of thousands of people joined Facebook sites to show planking solidarity.
By Friday, Australia’s Planking Facebook site alone had more than 195,000 fans and similar sites were growing across the globe, from the US to the UK, Ireland to Israel. Even the Planking Norway Facebook page, which at a stretch called itself a “sports league”, had attracted 10,000 fans.
And in one of the more bizarre events, ageing planker and ex-footballer Sam Newman climbed onto his own 40th floor balcony railing to prove ... well, I’m never quite sure what Sam is trying to prove.
Then some commentators got cross.
“At its best, social media can change the world, as the political uprisings in the Middle East have shown,” wrote Ant Sharwood on The Punch. “But as much as social media has connected people with common interests and causes, it has merely connected others in stupidity.”
Which is a tad harsh, actually.
You don’t have to be particularly bright to be a planker, nor does it seem to require much skill. When mixed with alcohol and bravado – as seems to have occurred in the terrible case of Acton Beale and a couple of other incredibly stupid near-misses this week – planking can certainly prove fatal. But so can driving a car – and just about anything involving testosterone.
In its purest, safest form, planking is no more socially irresponsible or stupid than dancing with a hula hoop, the craze that swept the world in the 1950s and saw 100 million hoops sold in just two years.
While the difference today is the internet and the lure of instant celebrity for extreme actions, let’s not forget that even in the good old days some hula hoopers set fire to their hoops for extra kicks.
Safe planking is not drag racing on suburban streets. Nor is it car surfing, the global craze that has also been fuelled by the quest for online kudos and has claimed numerous lives around the world.
Last week I read one Facebook post by a girl who’d been part of a mass planking at school.
Her entire grade of 200 kids had simultaneously planked in the school yard. Now, some might think that’s rude. I think it’s kind of sweet: cool kids and misfits, sporty kids and nerds finding common ground with one simple silly gesture.
Sadly, there will always be fools doing foolish things. Sometimes they go terminally wrong. But most plankers are just out for some harmless fun.
So as Wednesday’s World Planking Day approaches, let plankers be plankers. And perhaps the rest of us should have a cup of tea, a Bex and a good… lie down.
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