Some of you might be familiar with the latest fad to take the on (and off)line world by storm – planking. As you might guess from the choice of words, it has something to do with human beings pretending to behave like (you guessed it) a plank of wood.
Plankers (those who plank) do so by lying flat on the ground with their arms pointed inwards by the side. They invite friends to take photos or videos of them which are then uploading for the viewing of the online planking community.
If you are a beginner, you can simply plank on your bathroom floor. For more advanced plankers, the clothesline, the supermarket refrigerator, or a seventh-storey balcony can be fair game. Sadly (or not depending on your perspective,) the seventh-storey balcony gave plankers its first martyr when he fell to his death.
This is not a place to issue a wholesale condemnation of the planking craze. Suffice to say, I agree with Zac Alstinwhen he notes that in many cases, “It’s the sheer lack of proportion between risk and reward (online and offline social affirmation for the most part) that makes these notable cases of planking seem insane, and make me wonder about the deeper motive.”
What I would like to note rather is the sheer fact of the media circus surrounding this phenomenon and what it suggests about our nature as human beings.
As someone once noted, “dog bites man” does not make the news headlines. “Man bites dog”, on the other hand, will surely make it to the front page of The New Paper. Have a community of human beings biting dogs and you will make the headlines of the Straits Times and ChannelNewsAsia for weeks.
The point to note here is that news is made when something out of the ordinary happens. “Planks of wood found on the floor” is not news. They are simply in keeping with what planks are supposed to do. “Man falls asleep” is not news either. But “Man pretends to be a plank of wood” is.
Indeed, as G.K Chesterton suggests perceptively “Unless a thing is dignified, it cannot be undignified. Why is it funny that a man should sit down suddenly in the street? There is only one possible or intelligent reason: that man is the image of God.”
It is this often unconscious recognition that the human being is a being with a certain special dignity that we find someone suddenly deciding to lie on the floor amusing. When we see someone suddenly collapsing onto the ground, we would immediately rush to help. Lying flat on the ground is somehow recognised as not normal (and dignified) for the human being.
And doing that deliberately in dangerous places for the proverbial 15 seconds of internet fame has had this observer wanting to paraphrase Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 2: “You are human, stop humiliating yourself!”
Happily for us, the Catholic blogosphere has helpfully suggested how Catholics can incorporate planking into their daily routine. Jo Bryant for instance has announced that planking is really a fine Catholic tradition.
To prove his point, Jo provides pictures of Catholic plankers, prostrate in front of the Eucharist, during good Friday Service, preparing for ordination or if you are so inclined, after being slain by the Holy Spirit during a charismatic prayer meeting. (Do check out the pictures!)
Planker purists would object to Jo Bryant’s attempt to co-opt the art of planking for the Catholic Church. They would note for instance that real plankers put their hands beside them turned inwards. Catholic plankers, on the other hand (no pun intended), often have their hands stretched out in front of them. That’s not real planking, they would argue.
Yet having your hands stretched out is really what would save plankers from being turned in on themselves and treated by others as mere objects of amusement. “Oops, this plank(er) just fell into the sewer, must be painful, let’s have a look at the next one” can be a very real reaction for an internet user casually browsing through planking pictures while sipping his morning coffee.
Catholic planking, on the other hand, is neither weird nor contrary to human dignity. Indeed, it is precisely the fact that we plank that we come to realise the fullness of our dignity, the ability to recognise that all of reality is gift and that lying prostrate in adoration of the Supreme Gift giver is the only adequate response of the creature.
Last Sunday, we celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi. It is a feast to recognise that the King of Kings can deign to be so small and humble as to come to us hidden in the form of bread. The only correct response really is to plank.
Nor is this simply a private spirituality with no consequences for the wider world. As Pope Benedict XVI, planker extraordinaire would say, “In an increasingly individualistic culture such as that in which we live in… the Eucharist constitutes a kind of “antidote”, working on the hearts and minds of believers and continually infusing them with the logic of communion, service and sharing, the logic of the Gospel.
Here’s to planking without pretension and illusion!