College life has always carried a certain image. Sure, there’s the prestige, honor and the promise of higher learning, but deep down we all think of one thing whenever our alma mater is brought up.
Blame National Lampoon, Revenge of the Nerds or any movie ever made about college, but overall, the media presents the best four years of our lives as the most wasted years of our lives. Depending on who you are, where you are, or what frat you’re in, that may or may not be the truth – it doesn’t matter. College kids are seen to party hearty (drink Bacardi), pass out on a stranger’s lawn, then wake up and do it all over again. This lifestyle is celebrated across the internet as sites like BuzzFeed, the Daily Beast, and most notably Playboy release their picks of the top party schools and parties to attend every year. Having attended the University of California, Santa Barbara myself (University Primetime’s #9 in 2014), I’m very familiar with a pervasive and public party atmosphere. I’ll admit, I used to spend my Friday and Saturday nights jumping from house to house, consuming the alcohol of strangers because why the hell not. I’m young, I’m invincible, I’ve seen Animal House. But what happens when that line of thinking expands not to one, not two, but to 18,000 people? See for yourself.
Last Saturday, my old stomping ground erupted in a spectacle not unheard of in regions of civil unrest around the world. Yet far from being a display protesting a totalitarian government, dirty bombs or civil rights violations, the rioters raged against law enforcement… just because. One too many kegs, one too many visitors, or just a lack of common sense, you take your pick. However you slice it, though, the outcome was nothing short of disgraceful. Six officers were injured and another forty-four people were treated at local hospitals before copious amounts of tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets finally dispersed the crowd. And for what? No other reason than a street full of kids asserting their right to party.
This isn’t the first time a full-blown riot has engulfed the two square mile ocean-side burb. Many remember the 1970 Riots in particular, when cars ignited and the local Bank of America burned to the ground. One important difference between then and now, though? The incident in question sparked as a result of increasing racial tensions between UCSB Administrators and minority students, as well as police brutality against student activists. Rioters had far more at stake than an unmolested night of debauchery. When people in our own country used to endure tear gas, fire hoses and even risk their lives to have their voices heard, what happened in Isla Vista last Saturday is an insult to their legacy and the progress we’ve made toward freedom from oppression and fear.
So why did this happen? What possessed a mob of twenty-somethings to rip down stop signs and hurl rocks at police officers responding to multiple stabbings? Why were people being stabbed in the first place? To understand the root of Deltopia – the massive, townwide party in question – one needs to look further than UCSB’s history as a party school, or any school’s for that matter. Under the right conditions and circumstances, the atrocity of Deltopia 2014 could have happened anywhere. By and large, the college mindset exists everywhere there is a campus. Before I came to UCSB, young, innocent 18-year-old me attended a conference hosted by a panel of recruiters from the University. Among the questions hurled at the panel, one sticks out in my mind even today: “How accurate is UCSB’s party school reputation?” After the flecks of nervous laughter from parents died down, a bespeckled professor (wearing both a tweed jacket and muttonchops straight out of a Sherlock Holmes novel) responded that every college is a party school. Having taught at Yale, he admitted that students there raged just as hard, if not more, than those of the infamously shameless UCSB. The cold weather just forced the debauchery off the street and into the dorms and clubhouses. His message was simple: Don’t fret, parents. Your kids are going off the deep end no matter where they go.
The issue lies in the party mindset itself. Countless movies and TV shows perpetuate an image of college students as lazy, shallow, sometimes predatory hedonists. While it makes for diverting and predictable entertainment, these archetypes have a tendency to indoctrinate certain expectations in viewers. If all we ever see is a frat guy in a toga doing a keg stand, that’s how we expect our college experience to unfold.
Imitation is a corner stone of human interaction. We learn to talk through imitating our parents. We learn how to dress and shape our images through example. And we learn dominant ideology through what we see in movies, television and the internet. But if we’re exposed to a poor representation of the world we live in (ie. one populated with the characters in Animal House, Undeclared, and Van Wilder) then we start to seek similar behavior. Mike Rugnetta of Idea Channel recently deconstructed the problem with poor representation in popular media and how it can lead to a misinformed world view, but lack of understanding unfortunately isn’t the extent of the problem. As soon as people start acting on perpetuated archetypes, we see increasing cases of anorexia, depression and quite possibly, events like last Saturday’s Deltopia. I’m in college, therefore I must rage and damn everyone who gets in my way.
That’s not to say that every person who watches an action movie wants to go out and buy a gun. Violence as depicted in most movies isn’t a character trait so much as a medium of interaction. The gun doesn’t make us like John McClain – it’s his wit and his take-no-prisoners attitude. On the other end of the spectrum, we admire Bluto for how hard he parties and how much of a fuck he doesn’t give.
That’s the expectation put in place for the college-bound. Despite the fact that most students are goal-driven individuals in pursuit of broad horizons and higher education, repeated exposure to the media representation of college plants the idea in mind that this behavior is okay. In fact, it’s encouraged. So cries of “fuck the police” by affluent first-world children are rallied behind as forties are chugged and hurled into the street. Shame on you, Isla Vista, but shame on the media for teaching you how to party in the first place.