Did you see the clip of the streaker on American Ninja Warrior?
He was pretty impressive until he was stopped by security! I was bummed to learn that this was a stunt and not a true streaker. This video made me wonder – whatever happened to streaking? I’m sure some people think it’s offensive, but I think it’s hilarious. Now that everyone has a smart phone in their purse or pocket, I suppose fewer people are inclined to strip down and run. But it still happens on occasion – i.e., Portland’s Naked Bike Ride, Bay to Breakers, etc.
In Arizona, streaking is illegal under the indecent exposure law. It is a felony if you expose yourself to a child who is under 15 years old, and you have to register as a sex offender if you commit this felony two or more times.
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am against the sexual abuse or sexual assault of any person, and I think it makes sense to differentiate between people who expose themselves to commit a sex crime (including flashing) and people who have other motives. When I think of “flashers,” I think of people who do what these two guys are insinuating:
In my mind, a traditional streaker has no sexual motive, but rather is violating a social norm. I have heard of other states where a public nudity is permitted as long as you are not sexually aroused, masturbating, or the like. Streaking should fall into this latter category.
Do I think the rules or going to change anytime soon? No. Arizona is a conservative state in general, and our legislature has more important issues to tackle than legalizing streaking. But it would be awesome if they did. Of course, if you are going to streak, be mindful of the likelihood that you will be videotaped or photographed while you’re doing it, and you may be at risk of being arrested for additional crimes such as trespassing and disorderly conduct.
Recently Improv Everywhere organized a group of 40 agents who donned white MorphsuitsTM to do a prank where they posed as mannequins in the Gap. They all wore Gap-style clothing over their Morphsuits and walked in the store with their masks off. At the designated time the group simultaneously put on their masks and froze in place like the mannequins in the store which are also all white.
Some of the employees seemed to think it was funny but one concerned employee called 911. The police showed up and put many of the performers in handcuffs. Charlie Todd, the founder of Improv Everywhere, explained the situation and everyone was released without incident. It was pretty funny overall – even the police were laughing by the end.
Let’s look at the legal questions behind this prank.
Is It Legal to Enter a Store to do a Prank?
That’s an interesting question. Stores are open to the public, even for people who are just browsing and have no intention of buying anything. So it’s legal to enter a store during business hours for reasons other than making a purchase. If you’re not interfering with the store’s operations or others’ ability to shop, you are less likely to have any problems.
This is not the first prank that involved messing with store employees. Improv AZ definitely raised some eyebrows when we did the Apple Store Flash Mob and Improv Everywhere had to deal with the police during their Best Buy Prank.
Did the Group Commit Trespassing?
Probably not. You’re usually not trespassing in a store where the public is welcome to be until you refuse to obey a request that you leave. From what I heard, the group was told to leave the store immediately and peacefully if requested to do so, but the employee called 911 instead.
Did the Gap Employee Overreact by Calling 911?
I think so. A more reasonable reaction would have been to use the store’s PA system to announce that everyone who was dressed up like a mannequin needed to leave the store and then call the police if they didn’t comply.
Is There a Problem with Wearing a Mask in a Store?
Possibly. Most businesses don’t have a sign that says “No Masks,” but they are often not allowed. Apparently robbers wear them. Improv AZ ran into a problem with this rule when they tried to walk through a mall (just walking, not doing anything wrong) during the first Epic Super Hero Battle. The group was not allowed to proceed until everyone removed anything that was covering their faces.
Is There a Problem with Filming or Taking Photos in a Store?
Perhaps. Each store sets its own rules about whether photography or filming is permitted. If you’re doing a prank in a mall, the entire mall may have a rule against shooting photos or videos so do your homework in advance. Be sure to check out Arin Sang-urai’s photos from this prank to see images of the hidden cameras Improv Everywhere used.
Could the Group have been Arrested for Disturbing the Peace?
Probably not. The group didn’t excessively disrupt the store. I would say the employee did when they called 911. There didn’t appear to be any problems while the police were sorting out what was going on and most people, if not everyone, was smiling by the end.
Could the Group be Banned from the Gap?
Sure. The store has the right to refuse service to anyone. The have the prerogative to ban problematic patrons. This banning would likely only apply to that particular store, not every Gap, and probably it wouldn’t preclude them from shopping at the Gap online. If anyone was banned from the store, and they entered the premises after the banning began, then they would be trespassing. Some of the members of Improv AZ ran into this problem when we were banned from a mall for three months following the Coroner Prank 2.
If you have any questions about the legalities of flash mobs, pranks, or any type of guerrilla marketing, feel free to contact me. If you want a resource about the legal dos and don’ts about these topics, please check out my book, Flash Mob Law.
In their latest stunt, they have one of their guys dressed up as a giant alien who surprises people coming around the corner in Providence, Rhode Island. They surprised a lot of people (but wouldn’t you be if you encountered a seven-foot tall person?) but everyone on the video seemed to enjoy it. I really appreciated that the alien was careful not to touch anyone initially. Look when he comes around the corner – his palms are open and his hands are up and away from the people.
The alien took a lot of pictures with people, including with someone’s baby at the request of the mother. He gave high fives and hugs, danced with people, and played with someone’s puppy. When the police rolled up, they acknowledged their risk of liability and that they were being careful to which the officer said, “Have fun.”
For at least one of their locations, they had permission from the business owner to carry on with their prank outside the place of business. Despite this permission, a different police officer ordered them to leave. Apparently this is the same officer who gave them a hard time about Freaky. I love how the Providence cop kicked them out but the Newport police officer thought it was hilarious and just watched from down the street.
What about the cop on the alien video who said he told them to stop twice in two days, but from two different locations? I think it’s reasonable for the guys to think that maybe they couldn’t be on public property doing a prank one day but think it might be ok to get permission from the business owner to do the same stunt a different day at the business’ location. If anything, it shows a desire to comply with the law.
The video shows the officer threatening to arrest the guys for failure to move, which sounds like failure to comply with an order from law enforcement, which is a crime. It was interesting that the officer did not cite any other laws that the guys could be accused of breaking. The video also didn’t show the officer say anything about receiving complaints. I wonder if the guys are acting completely within the laws and this officer just doesn’t like them.
I appreciate the other officer who suggested that the guys file a complaint against the officer with internal affairs at the police station, especially when he said, “Don’t let them knock you down either.” What these guys are doing is definitely a violation of social norms; but if it’s not a violation of any laws, leave them alone. If there is a violation, tell them so they know what not to do next time.
The RipFilm guys may want to give up on doing pranks in Providence if filing the complaint against the police officer doesn’t work out. But at least they know that Newport will welcome them with open arms.