October 22, 2012

Drunkenness as its own goal among young party people

Another puzzling trend I've noticed since the later half of the 1990s is that often when young people get together for what should be wild fun, it only goes so far as getting drunk. In the good old days, drinking was more for greasing the gears of social interaction, or raising hell. Now it's an end in itself, and once that state is reached, the party or get-together has hit its peak -- people will just stay drunk for awhile, then wind down and go home to recover, but without having used their inebriation for some larger purpose.

The ubiquity of beer pong, flip cup, and other boring drinking games are the most obvious sign of this shift. By turning the act of consuming alcohol into a competitive game, party-goers protect themselves against indulging in "alcohol-fueled behavior," since doing so would distract them from the goal of simply drinking more booze in order to score higher in the game. Keeping their eyes on the prize, they will not pipe up with, "Hey, we're already pleasantly buzzed enough, so why don't we go do X?" where X is anything other than continue with a pointless drinking game.

Are the parties I've been to unrepresentative? I occasionally overhear Millennials talking about what happened over the weekend, and by now I've given up hope of being scandalized. It's invariably something like, "Oh my god, we got SO drunk last night!" or "Oh my gosh, my best friend and I always act so silly when we get drunk -- I mean like, acting STUPID!" Never anything about what the drinking led to afterward, as there was no afterward. All the during-and-after pictures that fill my Facebook feed from my Millennial friends tell the same story.

The same goes for overhearing them in anticipation on Friday or Saturday afternoon -- "Dude, we're gonna get SO drunk at this kid's rager tonight!" Never any mention of what they expect their drunkenness to lead to -- hitting on girls, getting laid, going for a joyride, T.P.-ing somebody's house, etc. Some must believe that getting drunk will magically make fun things happen, while others kind of realize what a bunch of killjoys their generation is, and are trying to hype themselves up for a boring party to give some dignity to the only kind of interactions that are possible with their peers.

You rarely see young kids just hanging around outside anymore, and guzzling a lot of booze doesn't seem to change that. I can't remember the last time I saw young people drinking and having fun outside on an ordinary Saturday night, emphasis on having fun. At most you might see a small house party spilling out onto the front porch, and usually not even that.

Long gone are the days of wandering out into a wooded area with a six-pack, shooting the shit, throwing rocks at stuff, and carving figures into trees (or whatever else, if you went out there with your girlfriend instead of your buddies).

Over the summer, I did see a group of three people on their front lawn in sleeping bags, staring up at the sky at night, maybe or maybe not drunk. It's such an unusual sight that I stopped dead in my tracks to look them over for a second, just to convince myself they were really there. Even if you don't have access to a large patch of grass to lay on, you could always recline on the hood or roof of your car after you and your friends had gotten drunk and wanted to look up at the sky while chewing the fat.

Why does staring up at the sky make for a stronger bonding experience anyway? Maybe with a less feature-rich frame of reference for your physical surroundings, you become less bodily aware, kind of like meditation except that your eyes are open and you're talking with other people. Usually the kind of de-individuation that involves open eyes and talking is shared rhythmic motion -- dance, drill, and the like. Looking-up-at-the-sky bull sessions could be unique in combining still bodies with wide-open eyes and moving mouths during a de-individuating, group bonding experience.

Whatever the reason, a little alcohol always helps too, but only if the participants have such a larger goal in mind. By fixating so much on GETTING SHITFACED BRO, today's well-behaved young people keep their feet nailed to the ground, believing any form of exploration, alcohol-guided or not, to be dangerous.


  1. Agnostic,
    There is a whole lot I don't like about the wild times. The "losers" really lose and they're usually the most innocent.

    Anyway, I thought you'd appreciate the following. I said before I wouldn't, but changed my mind: I did some election canvassing and in a working-class neighborhood Saturday.
    I have found no better way to learn about people than door knocking. You get to observe their homes, cars in the driveway, the people and how they interact with a stranger. I attend a lot of yard sales, and it isn't as good as this for learning about people (I did this in 2004 in working poor and upper-middle class neighborhoods)

    Here are my observations:
    You are more dead-on than I realized about cocooning and it is worse than it was in 2004.

    Keep in mind, I approached with at least one young child, usually two, in order to appear as friendly and non-threatening as possible.

    *First, but the least interesting to me: the vast majority of people were home, but did not come to the door (it took the other woman I was with to explain this to me because I find this so foreign and it would never occur to me to do this). A strong majority in both neighborhoods answered their doors in 2004

    *I believe well over 80% of these homes had at least one large dog either inside or outside. Usually inside. This greatly affected the behavior of the owners and their ability to talk to me. They were spending nearly all their energy and focus on controlling the dog, keeping the door just cracked usually lest the dog jump out.
    It occurred to me that these people could *never* be appropriately friendly to anybody approaching the door let alone inviting people inside! In my experience, visiting friends with large dogs is always an extremely unpleasant experience, made worse by my having small children.
    After a few dozen houses, I got to the point where if I even smelled "dog" when approaching, I just hung a bag on the door knob without knocking and left.

    *I've come to believe that the tattoo phenomenon is largely anti-social and is meant to tell people to "back off" or "don't get close". People with tattoos were the most anti-social of all as evidenced by their austere yards, rude bumper stickers, etc. This is not the same thing as being mean or hurtful, mind you. I'm no longer surprised that the tattoo thing is not confined to an age group; it reflects a mentality that can be cross-generational.

    *The more upscale, the more open and friendlier. Also, the dogs got smaller or were non-existent. Tattoos existed less.

    *Only two people out of 60+ were rude, and they were doozies. They weren't angry about the candidate or election, that I might be soliciting or something was what fired them up (it was only obvious upon very close inspection why I was there). Nobody was rude, not even the working-poor, in 2004.

    That's all I can think of for now. I can't stress enough the dog thing, it had a powerful impact and reflects priorities. I did not experience anything like this in 2004.

  2. We could do without toilet-papering people's houses.


  3. Hey man I am trying to make sense of a few of your blog posts, and I've got to wonder, how old are you?


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