September 25, 2012

When Work Hard, Play Harder Doesn’t Work

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Saturday night, Cornell went wild for Avicii. People jumped, people screamed, people danced. Unfortunately, people also pushed, shrieked and screamed at each other and Cornell Concert Commission volunteers. It has taken me three days to recover from my post-CCC work hangover (speculatively, the same amount of time it has taken all of you to recover from your types of hangovers as well.) While I don’t speak for CCC as a whole, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what made that concert so crazy and felt I should write something about it.

I’ve been to a lot of EDM festivals and shows. Every time I have enjoyed myself, danced, met interesting people and come down a bit from my day-to-day, high-strung Cornell attitude. Dancing and cutting loose is relaxing and feels like an antidote to my usual lifestyle.

Saturday, however, was characterized by a distinct intensity that, in my years working for CCC and going to concerts, I’ve rarely seen. I’m glad that everyone had a lot of fun, but there was a marked uptick in the stress of working the show and aggressive encounters with concertgoers compared to shows past.

“Partying” or “celebrating” come with happy connotations;” “going hard” or “doing it right” makes going to concerts and parties sound like an obligation or a commitment. There was the trio of young women who angrily taunted me and other CCC people when we wouldn’t let them walk through the backstage area. There was the mystery individual who defecated on the bleachers. For these and many, many others, “revelry” or “exuberance” or any one of those happy terms did not seem like the name of the game. People shoving freshmen ticket takers, throwing things at performers, screaming at peers and basically rioting outside the Statler weren’t having a good time. They were on their way to have a good time, and they were pissed about any and all obstacles that might slow them down. I interacted with hundreds of Cornellians over four hours, and the level of disrespect and rudeness was way out of proportion with what I’ve seen at previous shows.

When I’ve discussed this column with friends, many have dismissed the intensity of Saturday night’s experience by saying it’s typical to EDM shows and college kids nationwide. But they also concur that while fun, it was exhausting and at times they felt weary. Fueled by a full day of Homecoming festivities and drinking, people here burned their candles down to the nub in the first major party weekend of many this year.

Another explanation is that it’s just fun to celebrate at a show and on a holiday weekend. But this, I think we have to agree, is not just celebration, or just fun. Many people at the show were full on raging — partying as hard as they could. We’re Cornell students; I don’t think we can just accept the negative impacts of going so hard as incidental or “worth it,” particularly when partying a bit less hard is an option that we could choose and still have fun.

So how to explain Saturday? Electronic dance music? EDM is the disco for our generation. It’s party music, here and everywhere. I understand that consumption of alcohol and drugs comes with the scene, or the culture, or the movement — however you want to characterize EDM’s influence over Generation Y. But if music concerts, EDM included, are a human body, “party enhancers” are a hand or an arm — a single limb, for some very important, but not a vital organ. Music is the underlying current that makes people so excited to participate, to dance and shout. The sounds are inherently fun to move to. Avicii might play party music, but it wasn’t his vibe or his music independently that made people so frenetic.

So, was it substance-fueled? I think that, within reason, consumption of drugs and alcohol is not only typical but good for people our age for two reasons: 1) It is fun and 2) It provides people with the opportunity to take risks at an age where they need to learn their own boundaries and how to take ownership of their own persons. There are, according to my straw survey of acquaintances and University research, plenty of examples of rational and responsible consumption of alcohol. Not all of the nearly 5,000 people in Barton on Saturday were under the influence; not all of the behavior that I witnessed can be attributed to substance consumption.

The behavior people engaged in at the Avicii concert was not due exclusively to EDM, nor was it due exclusively to drugs and alcohol. This weekend gave me the opportunity to stand on the opposite side of the fence, where frankly the aggression, violence and intensity with which people were intent on raging scared me. This urgency and determination to go hard was enough for me to back off from people yelling about getting backstage or to the front of the bathroom line to avoid being slapped.

I’m left to conclude that Cornellians either feel entitled or obliged to party as hard as they possibly can. The term “work hard, play hard” definitely applies to this campus. We do everything to a high level, and since our occupations are our academics, there’s little distinction between working hard on work and working hard at other aspects of life. This third factor is what made Saturday night’s show something of a madhouse. It’s incredibly important for us to have time to blow off steam, and the fewer opportunities we have, the more driven we are going to be to reach the heights of possibility each time.

In other words, for any University officials reading this: The answer is absolutely NOT to cancel concerts, parties and events sponsored by campus organizations. If anything, the lack of freedom of control over our own social lives is probably what fuels the explosion of energy and wild behavior when we have the opportunity. The increase in control and rules coincides with the uptick in intensity that many working the show observed. Sponsoring events on campus like concerts and shows and allowing other events to happen gives choice and opportunity to us students. At Avicii, there was oversight, there were EMTs and there were peer students like myself to paint a portrait for everyone else a few days later. Youth will be youth; let it happen, and help it happen safely.

Maggie Henry is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at mhenry@cornellsun.com. Get Over Yourself appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Maggie Henry

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