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August 18, 2011

You're in for a Planking

Have you ever played the game, "Light as a Feather, Thick as a Board?" It's more of a process than a game but it's really easy. You lay flat on the floor, surrounded by people as they put two fingers under you.

Have you ever played the game, "Light as a Feather, Thick as a Board?" It's more of a process than a game but it's really easy. You lay flat on the floor, surrounded by people as they put two fingers under you. They start to repeat over and over in a quiet chant, "light as a feather, thick as a board." While the chant continues in a singsong way, the people around you lift your body into the air with their collective two fingers.

Planking is like the solitaire version of "Light as a Feather, Thick as a Board."

For those out there that don't know, planking has become a worldwide phenomena. The Internet meme has been described by some as a game. Others have called it a social activity. People have even declared it a sport. The highbrow have issued the decree of art form. But plenty of newcomers to the idea have referred to it as a lame way to pose for a picture. Whatever description used, planking has to be one of the most banal practices to ever garner this much attention.

Every plank follows pretty much the same pattern. It starts by a person or persons finding an unusual public place or a distinctive object to pose on. Then, this person or persons lies flat on their stomach with their head down and their arms straight, palms against their body - like a plank of wood. There are can suspend yourself by a body part or parts. As long as you appear to be a flat piece of wood, you're golden. Then, a picture is taken. The picture/plank is named and posted on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr or other planking-friendly Internet sites.

Sound stupid? More than a half a million people disagree with you. That is the number of Facebook users who "like" the Planking Community. Facebook's "Planking Australia" hosts almost a quarter of a million more fans. There's also the popular Web sites and, along with countless other Facebook pages and Web sites dedicated to the human slats.

Yes, the world around us is finding creative ways to lie down. But will the Grand Strand walk the plank? This area has been slow in the past in embracing cultural trends, much less building on them. So, can we reverse the day-late/dollar-short curse? Will the beach be littered with human driftwood?

Fear not, Grand Strand. The lumber is being laid in the Lowcountry. New Facebook pages have cropped up for our region - Southeast Planking and North Myrtle Beach Planking. The members on both pages are small but growing. The movement is growing one plank at a time.

One of these individuals, Kate Buehner is a Coastal Carolina University employee and local planker. She leads the charge and is a strong Facebook representative of the stiffness on the Strand. A coworker turned Buehner onto planking and she was immediately hooked. "I clearly thought it was hysterical and passed it on to some of my friends," says Buehner. That is the way this Internet meme works. Word of mouth and social networks get the ball rolling and pretty soon you have global wildfire - a universal peer pressure.

We asked Buehner if there were rules to her local planking adventures and she said, "Just find the craziest place, lay flat on your stomach. The crazier or more ironic the better! Danger of course is always a plus as well." There it is - the danger factor - the pushing of a mundane activity to the extreme. When asked if any of her crew has ever been injured during planking she said, "So far no injuries... Some of the planks have been a little painful if we were balancing on something."

Buehner's Facebook page is full of photos of hilarious planks. Most of which seem to be party planks, so we asked her if she thought planking could be viewed as an art form or political? "Planking is definitely an art-form," she said. "Good form is a must, and could be a political statement, but for us it is just fun."

The reason for the popularity of planking may be contributed to the fact that you need zero talent to do it. You don't have to be an athlete. You don't have to possess any skill. You don't even need to have an IQ surpassing 70. You just need to be able to play dead.

There are exceptions. There are stand-out planks. Poses that raise the stakes and make you stop scanning the endless pictures of pointless planks. But these photos causing you to pause...are they enough to give the trend validity? Are the few standouts enough to justify the masses of visual mumbo jumbo? Or should we all just sit back, shut up and absorb the grandeur of the wood - the planks that are skillful or smart or funny or indignant or protesting? That is the intrigue of lying like a lath - the possibilities are endless - from boring to blissful.

The history of hickory

The origin of planking is a murky soup of maybes. There is a large contingent who claims the alternative comic, Tom Green, started planking before planking was ever "a thing." He has been caught on tape in the early '90s lying down in the exact planking pose. This makes him the O.P. - Original Plankster.

As far as planking being reborn as an Internet sensation, according to a few Web sites - including - back in 1997, a couple of guys from northeast England, Gary Clarkson and Christian Langdom, were hanging around Europe when one guy says something like this to the other guy, "Why don't you lay down like a slat of wood and I'll take a picture of you and show it to everyone and we will all laugh?" Then, they alternate taking photos of one another, imitating petrified flesh, and so on and so forth. Each time, they up the ante on the previous photo, trying to outdo it. And wham, they call it, "The Lying Down Game," and it slowly builds into a lattice work on the Internet.

Others say it started in 2004 as a French art project called "A Plat Ventre" - which loosely translated means, "On One's Belly." The artists, Alexis Clairet and Stenkat, took photos of people who appear to have naturally fallen facedown into a broken heap on the ground.

Maybe it went down like one of these possibilities, maybe it didn't. No one can be sure what prompted the movement. Sometimes history can get shaky when all the information comes from individuals' blogs. But after cross-referencing and identifying similarities, a pattern does emerge - a pattern illustrating a lot of people falling flat on their face. Whatever the origin, the currents moved and evolved along the way.

The pose changed from the sprawling limbs of "On One's Belly" and "The lying Down Game" to the more rigid board theme that we are seeing today. The masses dropped in droves and the name of the game took on more active descriptors. Soon it was known as, "Extreme Lying Down" and "Playing Dead" and "Facedowns".

Eventually, through one current or another "Facedowns" floated downstream, all the way Down Under. Australians got ahold of it and those crazy Aussies went mad lying face down. Everyone was doing it...typified when a star rugby player, David "Wolfman" Williams, lounged like lumber live on TV to celebrate a score...we know, American football players dance a jig or choreograph an outlandish stunt but Aussies play dead. At this point, the YouTube Factor came into the equation, increasing the reach of the trend, spreading like ivy on the lattice.

In 2008, someone with an Australian accent says or types the word "planking." And here we are, after too many planks to count, trying to find an inventive place or way to lie down, making up the rules as we go.

The anti-plankers

Every pro has a con, every thesis an antithesis. Planking has encountered a few major obstacles. The widest opposition is the mass amount of people who think this hobby ranks in the Top Ten of stupid ways people can waste their time. Many Australian workplaces have already made it clear that if you're caught planking at work, you will be given the axe. But that's common sense - employers have never been keen on the idea of their employees lying around all day and taking pictures - unless you're in the porn business.

But the first major obstruction is a self-inflicted one - the urge to take the act of planking to the extreme. It's the natural evolution of any game or activity, but in May, the tendency to push the envelope went too far. Acton Beale, a 20-year-old from Brisbane, Australia, plummeted to his death from the seventh-story of an apartment building, while trying to plank on a narrow balcony railing.

An uprising of anti-plankers mounted from the crowds who once sat idle in indifference.

South Australian municipalities proposed planking bans - making dangerous planking or any "Related Behaviour" a criminal offense. Eventually, the intent is to add a new amendment to the "Criminal Law Consolidation Act." All this hubbub to stall planking has lead to protest planks. Planksters have staged protest planks on the steps of police stations and flopped facedown on the top of police cars. Oh, where have all the good causes gone?

The second bump in the road for this craze is not quite as severe as death by extreme planks - but controversial just the same. A recent tweet by rapper Xzibit exhibited what seemed at first glance to be a disjointed rage, "Planking is THE dumbest sh*t ever. Planking was a way to transport slaves on ships during the slave trade, its not funny. Educate yourselves." He later continued his tirade, "Dont get it twisted. I care less where your dumb asses lay face down and take pictures of the sh*t, I'm just telling you where it came from."

First, let's ask, has grammar totally been abandoned on Twitter? And second, take it easy, X. It's just people laying around, having some good, clean, lazy fun. Wait...on second examination of the drawn diagrams of slave ships, where human beings were chained side by side to wooden planks, he may have a point. It may not have started as a mocking position to an atrocity of humanity but the pose is shockingly familiar to slavery transportation during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Chances are this is all one big coincidence. But the connections are worth investigation.

Maybe this simple process of organized collapsing can be viewed in the same way slave hymns became blues music, only to be transformed into soul, only to unleash funk and R&B and rap onto the public. It's a long shot, but if planking is reminiscent or the descendant of acts of slavery, maybe planking can translate itself into an expression of freedom by using a medium of confinement. Imagine if African-Americans planked on the docks of Charleston - where slaves were bought and sold? This act could illustrate freedom in both an artistic and revolutionary way. And by revolutionary, we mean evolutionary by freeing one's mind enough to use history, no matter how painful, to usher in a new sense of public consciousness.

Celebrity cedar

It may be a knotty debate as to why people should or should not plank. But there is no doubt, a vast amount of people are doing it. The diversity of the individuals who are planking is astounding. Celebrities are dropping like flies to slab it out.

Sports Illustrated has even done a sequence of photos where athletes stretch out, showing that the sports world is tossing the wood in bunches. The NBA is doing it. Gilbert Arenas and Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic have gone zany with it, making triple-double planks. The NFL is doing it. Carolina Panthers' running backs Jonathan Stewart and Tyrell Sutton have planked the goal posts. Tennis players Laura Robson and Anne Keothavong have had a plank-off. Andy Roddick has planked but it looks more like he fell down a flight of stairs. A couple members of the College World Series-winning South Carolina Gamecocks have planked for pictures. Racecar drivers are even doing it. Rock and rollers, Kings of Leon, have gone parquet. Pop stars Justin Bieber and Katy Perry have posted in the shape of a post. Despite Xzibit's protests, a slew of rap artists are planking, the most famous being Lil' Wayne and Public Enemy. A cast of actors and actresses have played lying down, including Ellen Page, who has done a series of balancing planks off of urban objects - showing she is a method planker. The whole cast of "The Today Show" has gone stiff. Richard Simmons has been seen in a weird kind of retro go-go dress planking on top of some guy. Playboy's king of swing, Hugh Hefner, recently showed he could still pop wood. By the way, Hef is a little too convincing at playing dead.

Local lumber laws?

It appears the Australian bans on planking are an exaggerated effect to a few overzealous acts. The complete prohibition looming on the horizon seems a shame for the Aussies if it ever comes to fruition. Although, our local municipalities do not seem to be abreast at all of planking or any of the animated poses for that matter, from North Myrtle Beach to Surfside Beach and all points in between, the act of planking had to be explained to the public safety departments we reached by phone. Once it was laid out, they all said it was OK as long as it was done safely and didn't impede on anyone else's rights.

But let's get this thing straight, if the planks get too extreme, it may spell trouble for the local stiffs. Our collective officials have a record for banning anything fun along the Strand - thongs are gone. Bike rallies have dwindled to zero tallies. Smoking in public is quickly going up in smoke. With the ominous fun police patrolling, the lifespan of playing dead locally, may be short lived.

We asked local plankster Buehner if she ever got in any trouble with law enforcement or property owners while planking.

"So far so good! We have been planking pretty harmless things and most people just laugh at us," she said.

Myrtle Beach and its surrounding areas are full of interesting landmarks to plank on. So, we asked Buehner if she had any plans on flopping around on any of them." We will plank anything we find that is funny," sha said. "We have been to Atlantic Watersports and all over the Baywatch Resort because it is a favorite place!"

But what is the future of the fad, which to many in the been-there-done-that crowd is already so three months ago? How far can this thing go? What is the potential of planking? And what impact would the Grandpa effect have on planking, now that octogenarian Hefner has planked?. In other words, when an 85-year-old man does it, is it still relevant to the youth? We asked Buehner, who seems to be pretty astute about the present of planking, about the future of the extreme non-sport. "My friends and I still die laughing every time we plank, so until we are done laughing we are going to keep planking," she said. " I did just get sent a link to a new craze called 'horse-maning.' We haven't attempted it yet, but it is going to happen."

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