The Irony of Planking: Only in an Internet Age

Tragic story been on the news about the guy who died falling from a seventh floor balcony while attempting to has his photo taking ‘blanking’ on the railing. It was 5cm wide.

One of my first thoughts was this: only in our internet age.

For those who don’t know what it is – as I didn’t until the story came up – planking is when you lie on your stomach in an unusual or risky place, get someone to take a photo, and share it online.

A typcial planking photo is thus one almost devoid of emotion or facial expression, in high contrast to the strange or risky environment they are in. A planking photo says this: despite my extraordinary context, I am flat, I am deadened, I am board/bored.

But that’s not the whole story. Because planking is about sharing within the community. It is about gaining kudos for more extreme posts, and feeling a sense of belonging for those with a shared passion for…planking?

Planking is thus the internet rage par excellence. It neatly combines a critique of the mind-crashing boredom and tedium of everyday life with the richness of our world and ability to co-operate that the net provides.

More accurately, it is part of the huge tide of irony that the web has released. Irony is about creating a ‘sharp incongruity or discordance that goes beyond the simple and evident intention of words or actions.‘ It is about implying meaning that has the direct opposite to the apparent meaning. This is convenient, because it means that we can imply enjoyment of a particular thing, without being committed to saying we actually enjoy it. Take the photo above. To simply post a photo of the landscape and say ‘I love it’ would possibly open the person to derision. It’s too strong to have stated an actual opinion. Better to create and ironic shot – to bring a bored and flat planking person into it – which then leaves the question open: do I like it, or am I just bored by it?

It’s the same with retro music. We can ‘ironically’ dance to 80’s music because this means leaving our options open: we like it, but only because we dislike it. This is something I see in class all the time: the inability of children to nail their opinions to the mast.

The end result of all this: we are left precariously on a 5cm balcony, 7 floors up, unable to simply appreciate the view, and desperate to be viewed. It’s a risky place, as one poor guy found out.