Articles and news reports about how spring break is dangerous — an inherently corrupt mating ritual that transforms sensible college students into unhinged beasts, driving them to acts of crime, vandalism, and senseless beer bongery — is a tradition nearly as old as spring break itself. Seriously — the hit 1960 "spring break expose" novel and film Where The Boys Are popularized both the idea of spring break in America in general, and the idea that those attending spring break (especially women) were doomed to become victims of the vacation's decadent ways.
This push-pull of spring break news coverage has, arguably, played a role in making spring break seem so timelessly cool and appealing — after all, booze is a $400 billion industry in the U.S., so getting hammered is not exactly transgressive, outlaw behavior. Nor is shaking one's booty in a bathing suit for a crowd of hooting strangers; but the annual stream of news stories about how college students are morally repugnant for doing both kind of make it seem like it is.
Of course, there are legitimate dangers inherent in spring break, the very dangers the celebration is built on — primarily the threat of alcohol poisoning for inexperienced drinkers, surrounded by peer pressure and unsure of their own limits. Crime rates do jump sharply for the duration in all spring break hot spots, with beach destinations like Texas' South Padre Island racking up arrests of hundreds of visiting students over the course of the week, and "dog kennel"-like beach-side spring break jails set up to contain underage drinkers, trash can tossers, and that one guy who somehow got his car into the pool, located in party towns like Panama City Beach.
But spring break news coverage rarely focuses on these real threats — particularly because the coverage rarely seems designed to help the spring breaker protect themselves. Rather than approach spring breakers realistically and on their level, the end goal of most spring break news coverage is to freak out the parents of college age kids (and possibly convince them to purchase some Fox News-themed neckwear).
What's the deal with spring break news coverage? And what would more honest versions of all of these spring break-related headlines be? Read on for three recent alarmist spring break news stories, and the real message behind each of them.
2006: "Girls Warned Not To 'Go Wild' On Spring Break," NBC News
If This Headline Said What It Really Meant: "Women: Anything Bad That Happens To You Is Your Fault"
The Story: A 2006 study sponsored by the American Medical Association (who you'd think would know better, right?) analyzed young women's drinking and sexual behavior on spring break — and only women's.
Which would make sense, if the only people who went on spring break were women. But most women go on spring break vacations where men are around, too — men whose behavior wasn't analyzed in this study, or the accompanying news article. In fact, many articles ostensibly focused on "spring break drinking" actually only focus on the spring break drinking habits of young women.
The Real Problem: Precious little about spring break coverage has changed since the finger-wagging of Where The Boys Are — news outlets generally assume that male spring breakers can handle themselves, but warn female spring breakers to know their limits. Very few of these stories ever focus on making sure that men, too, know their limits to ensure their own safety (though their lives are just as imperiled as women's by heavy drinking), or helping them brush up on their knowledge about consent before heading off to Cabo.
2011: "They Love Danger: Orlando Ranked Most Hazardous Spring Break Destination," Daily Mail
If This Headline Said What It Really Meant: "Spring Breakers, Shut Up, Listen To Your Elders, And Also Possibly Get Off Our Lawn"
The Story: In 2011, a mysterious organization called Avvo — which is neither the multinational crime syndicate from the new James Bond movie NOR one of those weight loss supplements that gives you diarrhea, but rather a Yelp-type website for doctors and lawyers — released a study of the most "dangerous" spring break locations, with Orlando at the top. Coincidentally, almost all of its "top 10 most dangerous spring break locations" were the same as the country's top 10 most popular spring break locations. Funny, that!
The Real Problem: The survey made news, despite the lack of clarity about its sources (the survey claims that it is based on local crime statistics — but also on the Avvo ratings of each area's lawyers and doctors). This didn't, of course, stop the list from getting traction in lots of national tabloids.
It also didn't change anyone's spring break travel habits — because unlike, say, a travel advisory urging tourists to avoid a country experiencing a military conflict, it didn't actually detail what was so dangerous about each other these places. Is Orlando the most dangerous place to take a spring break vacation due to incidences of alcohol poisoning? Robbery? Getting in a bar brawl with an off-duty Donald Duck? Well, gee, why would we respect spring breakers enough to give them that kind of information?
The vagueness of the survey, and subsequent news stories, is classic spring break alarmist journalism: unnamed danger looms for spring breakers, who should take our advice, instead of asking for more details to make their own decisions.
2014: "Spring Break Investigation," Fox News
If This Headline Said What It Really Meant: "Your Daughter Has SEX LOCK HER UP LOCK HER UP NOW BEFORE THE NEIGHBORS HEAR!"
The Story: Last spring break, Fox News talking head Sean Hannity hosted a multi-night "expose" about spring break behaviors, anchored by a segment in which reporter Ainsley Earhardt got in the trenches at Panama City Beach.
Who were in the trenches with her? Why, some inebriated teenagers who said things like "We're seeing boobs, asses, twerking, liquor, weed, evvvvvvverything" and "We saw somebody snort cocaine off a girl's butthole" (at least, I think she said butthole? It was bleeped. Well, I hope she said butthole).
The Real Problem: Much of Earhardt's beachside reporting was devoted to ridiculous questions aimed at scandalizing your grandparents instead of gathering real information, like asking teens if they had been arrested for smoking weed in public. Of course they hadn't been arrested for smoking weed in public; it's spring break!
"This is now here in America!" says Earhardt with earnestness, as if she is talking about a disease that turns your bones into jelly and your eyeballs into farts, instead of just a bunch of teenagers smoking pot and "doing it."
But as the segment goes on, the talk begins to focus on young women and their sexual habits in particular. While at Panama City Beach, Earhardt saw a photo of a woman with "her bottoms off" allowing men to do "whatever they wanted to her," and she feels "sorry for her" and "her parents." But Earhardt doesn't seem to feel anything regarding the men involved, and whether they, or anyone else, are culpable in their "doing anything they want."
Of course, sexual coercion and assault, especially when alcohol is involved, are big spring break issues that should be discussed frankly. But that's not what's going on here. There's no concern about this woman's consent, just hand-wringing over her "honor."
Earhardt's takeaway is less that spring break is a place where dangerous things can happen, and more that spring break is a place where a woman can accidentally lower her value in the sex/marriage marketplace. Because men are the only ones who ever have sexual things they want to do, right? Women only ever engage in sexual acts because they're confused because SPRING BREEEEEEAAAAAK!
Images: Giphy (3)