May 27, 2011
Modern planking seems to have derived from what was known as the “lying down game” in Europe and Japan during the late 1990s. In the early 2000s, the French referred to the practice as “on one’s belly” and South Koreans as “playing dead.” Around 2007 or so, a New Zealander named Paul Carran rechristened it as “extreme lying down.” More recently, Aussies adopted the trend as their own and called it “planking.” Of late, the practice has gone viral as if it were some form of autistic measles. At last count, Facebook’s Official Planking page has received a quarter-million “like” votes. There are numerous other planking pages with healthy membership rolls where exuberant youngsters upload photos of themselves lying face-down on their front lawns and in return receive emotional stroking in the form of thumbs-up votes and comments such as “sic plank, brah” and “sweet planking skills!” and “LOL! Awesome plank!!!!” The craze has also spawned anti-planking pages such as Kick the shit out of a ‘Planker’ day and Plankers are Wankers.
But sometimes when people try to act stiff, they wind up turning into stiffs. In at least one known case, planking has proved to be fatal when combined with alcohol and misguided bravado. Around 4:30AM on May 15th, after what was described as a mischief-filled night of planking at “various spots,” an allegedly drunken 20-year-old Aussie named Acton Beale attempted to plank on an apartment balcony in Brisbane but instead fell seven stories to his death. Ginger-haired Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard subsequently appeared on television to urge Oz’s kids to at least show some sensibility and restraint if they couldn’t help themselves from planking. Some of Beale’s friends, failing to concede that their recently departed mate got drunk and did something dumb, have publicly blamed Paul Carran, the Kiwi advocate of “extreme lying down,” for Beale’s death. Others blamed “the media.”
At least in death, Acton Beale was spared the lifelong embarrassment he’d have faced if, say, he’d only fallen from two stories and wound up paralyzed from the neck down. Imagine him feeling the burn twenty years from now as he explains to youngsters that he’s forced to eat all his meals through a straw because of a planking accident, and they ask, “What’s ‘planking’?” As he was falling to his death, what was he thinking? Did it all happen so quickly, he had no time to think? Most importantly, did he reproach himself in any way? At any time did he think, “Wow, I’m an idiot”?
Maybe it’s more of an argument against drinking than planking. Way Down Under last Saturday night, while drinking and trying to demonstrate that planking was still safe even in the highly publicized wake of Acton Beale’s death, a 48-year-old Sydney woman identified simply as “Claudia” ascended a six-foot-high garden wall and then accidentally fell to the ground, suffering arm, shoulder, and head injuries. Before assaying the six-foot wall, a wide-eyed and tipsy Claudia was photographed holding a wine bottle and planking from a shiny black designer stool. Claudia’s apparently unsympathetic female friend told a reporter: “Planking came up and we were discussing how stupid it was, how silly….We were just making light of it and we balanced on a little stool. Then it went a little further…it was all started with why you don’t plank—and look what happened.”
Yes, I’m looking. I’m looking, but I’m not liking. I’m looking at one dull row of planking photos after the next, all of them featuring copycat morons frozen in a receptive, sodomy-awaiting position. I’m looking at a trend that is provocative in its idiocy, something that I’d like to ignore but that extracts the sticky sap of contempt from my pores even against my will. I’m looking at a future where copycat psycho-plankers try to outdo each other’s deaths. And maybe I’m overlooking the tens of thousands of idiots who are doing it safely, but who cares about them? Unless they fall on someone else and crush them, plankers are only hurting themselves, either in a literal physical sense or in terms of a dignity irrevocably lost even after the first planking incident.
Is it wrong to hope for more planking deaths? By any reasonable ethical standard, I suppose it is.