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Ain’t no party like a Penn State party

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I had never listened to an episode of TAL before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. From this first listen though I liked it. I’m hoping that future episodes will be as interesting.

One of my questions going into this episode was, “Does being named the #1 party school influence the way the students behave?” My guess was yes, that students would seek to actualize the distinction. The cop from Act 3 seems to confirm this, saying that students want to live up to the reputation and prove it true. So it’s like this statement is made about the way things are, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not because by saying it’s the biggest party school will probably turn it into the biggest party school anyways. It’s like life imitating art…sort of.

It was interesting to note how different the reactions to partying are from the various perspectives in the area of the university. The past and current participants (students and alumni) are all for it, for obvious reasons, and so are the many businesses near the college because they make mad money off the drinking culture (the party-commercial complex that Eisenhower warned us about). Now you have those two groups on the side of status quo, but opposed to them are the local residents, who just want people stop peeing in their yards so they can go to sleep, and the establishment, i.e. the university fat cats and the PoPo, who despise fun and also don’t want signs to be ripped out of the ground, or kids to die, or girls to be raped. So these two camps are fighting it out, and not surprisingly it’s the side with more money (businesses and alumni alcoholics) that’s winning and blasting the Miley Cyrus.

The Penn State administration’s response to the party culture at the school was understandable but poorly thought through. They want to change the drinking habits but they fail to understand that there is little room for efficacy on this front. After all, the habits stem from a much wider field of influences, the mass media in particular (which is to say, advertising too (“beer commercials are so cool and so funny, ha-ha”)). This is not something that has in roots in the isolated locale of State College. The University officials seem to think that they have the power to manipulate social norms and so they initiate an official discourse to try to change drinking habits. However they don’t have that power. I guess they didn’t realize this, but students don’t take their drinking cues from the President and they probably never will.

Harsh punishment is not the answer either. That’s only going to drive things underground. The number crunchers at Nebraska were really pumped when their data indicated less people were drinking. But that seems to be a false assumption since the numbers could be misleading, i.e. actually people are still drinking, maybe even more, they just are doing it secretly à la the 20’s, which is arguably much more dangerous.  I’m not saying that the school shouldn’t do any anything. It’s just that the school should realize that they’re not omnipotent and that draconian, paternalistic measures are more likely to be counterintuitive. The big shots in the administration seem to think that they have the answers, or at least that with enough research they can get the answers, yet they never consider that engaging with the students could be insightful. But it’s no biggie. At this point arrogance is assumed.

So, yeah, overall I thought this was a neat episode. Perhaps the best part of it was when Ira Glass goes to a frat house on a Saturday night. Observing the party he comments, “There is a lot of flirting going on, much of it ineffective.” Ah, classic college.

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