Mass media depiction of college spring break creates false expectations

Spring break: a stereotypical week-long collegiate Christmas-come-early. It’s the time of year when students take a break from grueling regimes of procrastinating and pulling all-nighters to head to the beach for some fun in the sun. For some, it’s time to rejuvenate and concentrate on making it through the rest of the semester. For others, it’s a non-stop fist-pumping good time, where a palpable “let-the-good-times-roll” vibe emanates from every grain of golden sand.

But the reality of college spring break comes nowhere close to the highly packaged and misleading fantasy the mass media sells to so many students every year.

Each year, media outlets such as MTV add fuel to this fire, dead-set on promoting an overly glamorized and unrealistic concept of spring break that many students already know is less than accurate. And yet, it seems that despite most students having enough sense to know real from fake, this fantasized image of spring break remains.

But the question remains: are there any realistic depictions out there of what a typical spring break looks like, or is it easier to just keep feeding the frenzy?

It seems the role that the media plays in idealizing spring break is more detrimental than most would believe. Essentially, the media uses creative license to grossly over-exaggerate college life for the purpose of garnering profits. Popular films such as “Old School,” “Animal House” and “Superbad” all perpetuate the stereotype that the most memorable moments of college involve the over-consumption of alcohol. But why is it some students feel the need to ignore their better judgment, and  emulate the risky behaviors of popular characters like Bluto from “Animal House?”

In the media, alcohol is typically glorified. People depicted in commercials selling alcohol are typified as popular, outgoing and sociable. Print advertisements for alcoholic brands specifically select people who are eye-catching and glamorous, thus establishing a certain tendency by students to mentally associate the two separate ideas as one. Outgoing, sociable and attractive people become the symbols we learn to associate with alcohol. Therefore, the message linked to these symbols is that if you drink, you will appear this way to those around you. And in our society today, where instant gratification and excess seems to be at the front of everybody’s minds, the groundwork is often already laid for students to want to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol in the hopes of appearing popular.

While the media take great care in promoting the “fun-in-the-sun” side of spring break, it mistakenly fails to mention the frequently severe consequences for students who often engage in excessive drinking and promiscuity, such as blacking out or engaging in unprotected sex.

Aside from the social backlash that often results from binge-drinking and unsafe sex, the legal consequences of such behaviors are often depicted as inconsequential through the media’s depiction of spring break. Laws don’t cease in their effectiveness just because it’s spring break. Whatever you were doing that could get you in trouble before can still get you in trouble now. An arrest during spring break can translate to heavy fines, required hours of community service, and future employment issues, if not more.

And while students today are smart enough to know that risky behavior has potential consequences, many still look at the concept of spring break through beer-tinted glasses. The combination of the idealized “fun-in-the-sun” lifestyle, combined with the increasingly dangerous student mindset that “it won’t happen to me, I can control myself,” often proves to be the surest recipe for trouble for college students on break.

It is critical in our society, especially with our growing dependence on media and technology, to understand the messages that we are continuously bombarded with. We must strive to take a closer look at how many of our social norms are being shaped from what we believe, and how many are shaped from what the media wants us to believe.

So next week, if you’re not surrounded by countless wet T-shirt contests and beer bongs like the media said would be there, don’t be too upset. Like everything else in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it might be. The idea of a pulse-pounding spring break experience might seem thrilling to some, but to others, spring break is used for its titular purpose: a break. A break from all the wild partying and reckless behavior that you could probably find any weekend during the year – it’s not exclusive to this narrow window in the middle of March.

Remember that short-term decisions can have life-altering effects. That’s a message that won’t be coming from MTV anytime soon.

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