Even TV's Modern Family enjoys a good flash-mob.

Happy Change of Venue Friday. Today, I’m interested in the intersection of communal activities, crime and choreography.

Of course, I’m talking about flash mobs, those wacky syncopated routines that lead passers-by to drop their jaws and wonder how line-dancing got cool all of a sudden. (Free suggestion of the day: Don’t do a Google image search for “flash.”)

But it is cool, as we know if we watch any TV or music video. And there is something amazing about the rhythmic release that accompanies a crowd acting in unison.

Unfortunately, like vodka slipped into the punch at a school dance, some people have to ruin a good thing. And that is giving flash mobs a bad name.

An AP story this week noted that some criminals are using flash mobs as a cover for their own nefarious activities.

As the story says,

“Flash mobs started off in 2003 as peaceful and often humorous acts of public performance, such as mass dance routines or street pillow fights. But in recent years, the term has taken a darker twist as criminals exploit the anonymity of crowds, using social networking to coordinate everything from robberies to fights to general chaos.”

Well, as the famed choreographer George Balanchine was once heard to utter, “Gimme a break!” “Darker twist”? (Though that does sound like a cool name for a dance move.)

Ruth Carter

If that’s not enough, we now have the U.K. riots providing another opportunity to demonize not only flash mobs, but also social media, public gatherings, speaking in groups, sharing ideas—and maybe even leaving your house.

One voice against this hijacking of the term “flash mob” is Arizona law school graduate (and soon  lawyer) Ruth Carter (whose blog The Undeniable Ruth you really should follow). She examines the history of flash mobs and cautions against rushing to conclusions.

I wish Ruth luck in her battle for education. But she’s taking to an embattled rampart; just the other day I spotted another story on the topic, this one out of Pennsylvania. In the article, Philadelphia’s mayor uses the term “flash mob” to describe criminal activity.

That’s unfortunate. Because the first step in over-criminalizing behavior is often to rename legal activities, to brand them as illicit, and to appropriate a long-accepted term for your own purposes.

To counter that, click on some of the links in Ruth’s blog post. They will make you smile. And be sure to watch the following video, about a “frozen” flash mob that entranced and amazed commuters in New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

No crime, no looting, no vandalism. Just inspiration, creativity and stunning ingenuity. Flash me some of that anytime.

Have a great weekend.