The raw video footage that we posted on our website Saturday night, showing masses of drunken Palmer Fest celebrants shouting and chanting at police and firefighters responding to a house fire, rubbed a raw nerve among many alumni. I've seen numerous comments on Facebook and in my own email from former OU students disgusted by the drunkenly antagonistic behavior of the Palmer Fest crowd.
And these comments aren't coming from aging fuddy-duddies who can't remember what attending OU was like. It's from people who enjoyed OU's party school reputation as much as anybody but who don't understand students getting so messed up that they lose control of their judgment and publicly embarrass themselves.
If you had to sum up this type of alumni reaction into one sentence, it would probably be something like, "You stupid, embarrassing dumbasses need to learn how to hold your liquor."
However, it should be pointed out that many current OU students have the same view of the trashed miscreants acting up at Palmer Fest last Saturday. The disgust expressed by alums doesn't reflect the distance between different eras of OU students so much as the gulf between certain types of students in any era.
I've been editing this paper since 1986, and am pretty sure I've written this same column a dozen times. OU students and their out-of-town guests have been getting blitzed and losing control in a myriad of embarrassing ways since at least 40 years ago and probably going back a lot further.
If you're an OU alum, the idea that the Palmer Fest debacle is something substantially new or different only has currency if your memory has been vacuumed clean since your time here.
For instance during my time as an OU student, the mid-'70s spring riots were much more violent and destructive than anything that's happened since. Yet those post-Vietnam era riots had little or no political context. Perhaps the biggest difference between then and now is that the local police back then didn't hold back when countering group misbehavior by students.
Reliable witnesses told me a day after the May 1974 Athens riots that police officers had been guzzling from whisky bottles as they took dead aim at students' heads and bodies with their wooden-pellet-firing, knee-knocker rifles. Police in riot gear, their numbers swelled by dozens of auxiliary cops from the region, countered student rioters with maximum force.
These days, my impression is that the Athens Police operate with admirable restraint, and try to avoid situations where hostile interactions can snowball into much bigger disturbances.THE HOUSE FIRE ON PALMER STREET Saturday night, along with the fact that it’s been declared an arson, should signal a more determined effort by campus and city to put an end to the spring block parties, or at least control them in a much tighter fashion. At least one would think.
The fact that someone actually set the fire really isn't that surprising, considering the all-day unrestrained substance abuse that's a hallmark of these parties. All it takes is one troublemaker with a match.
stupid meets dangerous, you've got a problem, and my bet is that if the city
and university can find a way to stop the annual spring block parties, they'll
do it in a heartbeat. But then again, maybe not. (After writing this, I edited our story in which city officials talked about improving “community dialogue” and adjusting the way police handle the spring fests. I have heard precisely the same BS a dozen times here in Athens, and it’s never worked. Maybe nothing will work, but it would be nice to hear some creative solutions instead of the same old baloney.)
NOW THAT I'VE GOT YOU here, a quick comment about the "USA, USA" chant. I know that when college-aged crowd members chant the name of our country during an incongruous time – such as when they're witnessing firefighters putting out a blaze or police arresting drunks – they're doing it ironically, sort of along the lines of a "Saturday Night Live" skit. But it's the ultimate inside joke, and the great majority of the people viewing that behavior will simply think it's idiotic. If your audience doesn't get the parody, the joke's on you.