Sam Rosenberg: 'I'm Shmacked' and the dangers of romanticizing college party culture
Partying is something that will always be intrinsic to the college experience. For college students, a party represents an opportunity to be independent, and more importantly, it’s an excuse to be young, wild and free (yes, I am quoting that Wiz Khalifa & Snoop Dogg song). But while we should embrace certain aspects of a fun college party, we shouldn’t be ignoring the potential red flags that idealize the college party experience.
With the widespread growth of social media and advancement in technology, big party colleges have incorporated the “go hard or go home” mentality, prompting competition with other schools to throw large, crazy parties and have them go viral in some way. One of the most pervasive purveyors of this kind of unruly partying comes from "I’m Shmacked," an online entertainment platform that has capitalized on the college party scene through entertaining, albeit provocative and problematic videos.
Created by Arya Toufanian and Jeffrie Ray, "I’m Shmacked" implemented itself as the premier platform for showcasing the “reality” of college parties when it debuted its first video in 2011, taken at a Temple University party. After their online presence proliferated, video crews from "I’m Shmacked" continued to visit universities all around the United States, where they would record the wildest of parties, usually held at fraternities, and edit them into highly stylized, five-minute clips, synced to a blaring, frenetic EDM soundtrack.
Now with 130,000+ likes on Facebook, 449,000 followers on Instagram and 37,000 subscribers on YouTube, "I’m Shmacked" has become a nationwide phenomenon. In order to expand its online empire, "I’m Shmacked" has developed subaccounts for different universities across the country, everything from Indiana University to USC to even here at the University of Michigan. In addition to parties, they promote everything from college fall festivals to spring break trips to sorority recruitment. Toufanian and Ray have also monetized the "I’m Shmacked" brand by booking venues near college campuses and throwing insane parties. "I’m Shmacked" has its own merchandise and it even spawned a few imitator platforms, including the similarly popular TotalFratMove and the unabashedly explicit Old Row. In 2014, it was reportedly valued at $5 million.
What I find particularly dangerous about this platform is not just how it normalizes binge drinking and objectifies college girls, but how it romanticizes party culture. "I’m Shmacked" frames the culture of college parties as a free-for-fall extravaganza, filled with gorgeous girls, toxically masculine guys and a whole lot of alcohol.
Some might argue that one of "I’m Shmacked" ’s more beneficial quality is its ability to show prospective students what college parties are like, which can help them determine what school’s party scene suits them the most (note: “A new way to scout colleges” is written in their Instagram bio). However, I would counter that by saying that it promotes a negative, misleading and distorted portrait of college party life. A prospective student might watch an "I’m Shmacked" video and think these are what college parties are like — a place to shotgun beers, chugging Four Lokos, watch girls twerk on each other and do stupid shit with no consequences.
In particular, "I’m Shmacked" profits off distributing amateur videos sent by college students of people binge drinking and heavy drinking. However, these videos, which are littered on the platform’s Instagram account, neglect to showcase just how dangerous binge drinking can be. According to a 2015 article from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 37.9 percent of college students ages 18–22 reported binge drinking in the past month compared with 32.6 percent of other persons of the same age. Researchers also estimate that each year 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes. "I’m Shmacked" may not be directly responsible for these deaths, but they are complicit in perpetuating and glorifying binge drinking as normal and celebratory rather than fatal.
This is nothing new, of course. Objectifying women and binge drinking have been portrayed in several films and TV shows about college, such as “Blue Mountain State,” “Animal House,” “American Pie,” “Road Trip” and “Old School.” But the important distinction to make here is that because our generation has become so acclimated to consuming information and content from social media, "I’m Shmacked" has taken advantage of the virality of social media by reinforcing the stereotypes of college parties through the pictures and videos they post.
Most people in our generation grew up obsessing over this idea that you have to throw the biggest, craziest and largest party in order to have fun. Parties can be fun, and they should be. People should feel like they can drink without having the compulsion to black out. Women should be able to dress in whatever they want at parties without being perceived through the male gaze of Instagram. If the kind of partying in "I’m Shmacked" videos is the “ideal” fun for college students, then maybe there should another platform that portrays college parties — and college life, for that matter — more accurately.