A man in a suit is photographed lying face down on top of a bookshelf in a public library, his arms plastered to his side with a blank expression on his face. Another man is captured in the same position, his rigid body balanced precariously between two overhead lockers on an airplane. Three children are similiarly positioned, piled up one on top of the other on a railing in somebody’s front porch.
You wonder: what are they doing? Who put them there? Are they alive? And, if they’re alive, how are they so rigid? Are they trying to tell us something or are they just as thick as two short planks?
“Planking”, also known as “the lying down game”, “playing dead” or “face downs”, has become an increasingly popular and daring activity since it began in the mid 1990’s. The rules of the game are simple: participants must lie down as stiff as a plank with their arms by their side and their toes pointed downwards. The more incongruous and seemingly impossible the location the better. Plankers must then give a name to their planking position and post a photograph on the internet, usually on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Wacky planking locations include the tops of signs, train tracks, fire hydrants, clotheslines, bookshelves and basketball hoops.
The origins of the phenomenon are unclear, though several people around the world claim credit for its invention. Possible inventors include MTV comedian host Tom Green, who played dead in 1994 outside a shop to see how many people would stop to help him and commentators have even linked planking to a Radiohead video. The term “planking” was reportedly coined in 2008 by Paul Carran, a New Zealander living in Sydney, Australia, after hearing about a similar game that his friends used to play in the UK.
On May 13 2011, to encourage readers to participate in the growing craze, Michelle MMurray announced that the First Annual Planking Day would take place on May 25.
Famous plankers include Max Key, son of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who posted a photo of himself on Facebook planking in his sitting room with his father standing right behind him. The Prime Minister afterwards denied his son had been doing anything untowardand even admitted that he was the one who had got his son interested in planking in the first place.
But artistic licence comes with responsibility. In 2011, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a police crackdown on planking following the death of a 20-year-old Australian man who plunged seven stories to his death after attempting to “plank” on his balcony railing.
In response to the tragedy, Sam Weckert, the founder of the Planking Australia Facebook page, denied that the craze encourages people to take unnecessary risks. “Planking was started as a fun and quirky pastime,” he was quoted as saying to the Australian media. “While we have no control over the actions of others we’d like to encourage any members of the planking group and the general public to undertake this in a safe and responsible fashion. We would like to encourage all planking members as well as the media not to sensationalise this tragic event.”
The importance of planking safely and responsibly is made clear on the Facebook page. “Be safe!!! Be creative not dangerous” it warns potential plankers.
Despite the safety hazards, planking is still a popular activity. Today, the official Planking Facebook fan page boasts over 800,000 “likes” and the Australia Facebook page more than 180,000. The official ‘Planking Song’has clocked up over 40,000 views on YouTube.
Offshoots of planking include “owling” in which you squat like an owl, “teapotting” in which you bend your arms in the shape of a teapot and “batmanning” in which you hang upside down by your feet with your arms crossed.
Kym Huynh, the 27-year-old Australian founder of the official planking website iplanking.com, considers himself to be the Michael Jordan of planking.
“After the global financial crisis hit, I was devastated,” says Kym. “I found myself lying face-down on the floor, my cheeks smudged with dirt. It was then that I felt a sudden sense of calm. I was already planking without realising it!”
Describing himself as a “Plankmaster with a Jedi-like focus,” Kym denies the commonly held belief that planking is just a stupid pasttime.
“Most people will tell you that planking involves someone lying flat on their stomach with their arms against their bodies in unusual situations, with photographs of their exploits shared through social media sites,” says Kym. “I know better. Planking requires extreme mental control and the ability to disregard outside distractions. Once mind and body are both still and in harmony, only then has one successfully practiced the art of planking.” Indeed, his planking website is dedicated to the promotion of planking as a “growing sport.”
So, does he consider planking to be a dangerous sport? “Planking doesn’t kill people. Lack of common sense does.”
the Experience Network