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Particularly popular among college-age youth, "planking" consists of lying face down in an unusual or incongruous location. [Image courtesy Gordon Lew]

U of M expert on what makes "planking" a fad like many others

August 31, 2011

“Planking” or the “lying down game” is currently all the rage. Particularly popular among college-age youth, planking consists of lying face down in an unusual or incongruous location. The hands must touch the sides of the body and having a photograph of the participant taken and posted on the Internet and social media sites is an integral part of the game.

A University of Minnesota expert who can comment on this fad is:

Edward Schiappa, professor, Department of Communication Studies, College of Liberal Arts

What is different about fads today is the Internet, as it is easy for almost anyone to take a photo or shoot a video and upload it to a website, Schiappa says. “It isn't just planking itself, it is having your photo taken while planking that makes it a fad.”  

Schiappa says fads are activities that become popular for a period of time and often get people in authority bent out of shape -- which is part of the fun -- and then fade away.  

“Famous fads from the past include swallowing live goldfish and seeing how many people you could stuff in a phone booth,” Schiappa says. “Most of these fads are started by college-aged young people who are just looking for a harmless way to have fun.”

Schiappa says fads go through stages. The first stage is inception and rapid growth, as young people learn about it and participate. "The mass media play a major role here, as many major media outlets already have reporters dedicated to trends, fads, viral videos and such, which is just fuel for the fire."  

The second stage can be described as “Authorities Push Back,” sometimes called a “social panic” stage, as parents and government officials learn about the fads and express concerns about the risks involved. This happened with eating live goldfish. More recently, a young man died supposedly while trying to do a planking stunt while drunk.  

The third stage is when fads becomes "institutionalized" (think of cup stacking, where there are now competitions), or they just "die out because they are not cool anymore," Schiappa says.

Schiappa is the department chair and teaches graduate courses on contemporary rhetorical theory, critical communication studies, rhetorical criticism and popular culture criticism.

To interview Schiappa, contact Jeff Falk at (612) 626-1720 or

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Tags: College of Liberal Arts

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