No. 7: Planking

In the fitness world, a “plank” is a move designed to work your core. The 2011 planking trend, however, did nothing for our cores (or our dignity), but it was addictive.

Lying face-down on the ground may sound more like a police procedure than a fad. Yet curiously, the position riveted the public’s imagination around the globe. Being prone was cool —  supine, not so much.

Planking’s origins: taking it lying down
The fad came from Australia, like boomerangs, black-box flight recorders, and planes’ inflatable escape slides. Gawker traced the trend back to a 20-something man named Sam Weckert, who planked on dance floors as a prank. His Australian nightclub act, though, may have been a riff off the English Lying Down Game, which, its founders pointed out, had a copyright and a logo.

Miffed Brits notwithstanding, planking — like a stiff board, get it? — sounded so much catchier than the Lying Down Game. And credit for its global popularity should be given to Aussie radio-show hosts always looking for a shtick (in this case, a planking contest).

Rules for a good plank
Planking is not as simple as it sounds. The “official site” laid down six rules: You must lay face down, “expressionless,” with legs straight, arms at your sides, fingers and toes pointed. Make your planking known, and name the plank. The unspoken rule: Take a photo or video and post it online.

Alright, maybe planking was as simple as it sounded. The challenge, however, was to plank in unusual places, perhaps atop peculiar objects, and, preferably, in great numbers. Favored positions ranged from lying atop a dead deer (a macabre hunter’s preference), a police car (daring authorities), against a scenic backdrop, in a precarious perch, or in some kind of funny position like headfirst in a dryer.

Celebrity presence, rather than sullying the whole amateur enterprise, actually heightened and legitimized the experience in 2011, whether it was Hugh Hefner and his Playmates or foul-mouthed chef Gordon Ramsey lying in repose on a ship or a jet. (Then again, the celebrity plank might have just been an opportunity to show off their possessions.)

The real first rule of planking was to talk about planking, whether you were for or against it. Gizmodo uncharitably dubbed the practice “a stupid Internet phenomenon … that’s really stupid.” Gawker dismissed it as a viral craze, pointing out that ancient mediums like radio supported it, and then a police crackdown inflated media coverage, which in turn drew new planking recruits.

Out of thousands of acts, there has been a single death, a 20-year-old man who attempted the trick off a seven-story balcony after drinking. That prompted a warning from the Australian prime minister.

Still, a World Planking Day took place on May 25, and supporters claimed it would be an annual tradition. Then again, that’s what people said about what’s-that-sport and whatever-that-other-fad-was.

Owling and other acts of suspended animation
Of course, there have been variations, like owling, in which one squats in a perched position and turns the head 270 degrees. (OK, never mind the head-turning.) Then there was “horsemaning” (which involves two people, clever camera angles circa 1920, and an affection for the headless horseman legend), hanging upside down in “batmanning,” and a brief unhygienic foray into coning, or seizing an ice cream cone (at the top, by the ice cream portion) at a drive-through. All equally confounding, yet not as contagious as planking.

What crazy feats lie ahead in 2012? Maybe we’ll catch even more impressive planks, such as the one performed in September by 71-year-old Betty Lou Sweeney, who broke a Guinness World Record by holding an abdominal plank for 36 minutes, 58 seconds. Perhaps leaning? And there’s always the flipside, aka, supine, and its corollary, the catnap.

The Yahoo! Year in Review editorial lead for five years running, Vera H-C Chan dissects news events, pop-culture idiosyncrasies, and online behavior to probe the “why” behind what’s hot online. On Yahoo!, her articles can be found in News, TV, Movies, and her Shine blog Fast-Talking Dame. Across the Net, there are remnants of contributions to a cultural travel guide, martial arts encyclopedia, movie criticism, business profiles, and A&E/features reporting.

Photo by 5chw4r7z/Flickr