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A Sober Person’s Ethnography Of A College Party

The supposed originator of the phenomenon known as “partying”

One chronically sober Bwogger decided to do the observational work no one asked for – field notes from a college party. Upon editing, she acknowledges that any academic objectivity was never really an option to begin with. She is not an anthropology or sociology major, and she acknowledges that this probably doesn’t even count as real ethnography. She would like to stress that she is just someone with a morbid curiosity about “drinking” and “party culture”, so actual sociologists/anthropologists, please don’t come for her. Below are her notes and reflections.

Before the party: I am asked to bring mixers – but I have no clue what a good mixer is. Cue panicked texting to an alcoholically literate friend (codename: ImpulsiveHaircut)
10:50: Arrival at the party – people are actually here! (It was supposed to start at 10:30.)
10:51: Two people – codenames BangsNoMore and RagingCapricorn – have commenced dancing in the middle (to something off the “Without Warning” mixtape – something about a bank account?). Brave souls.
10:53: People have gathered around the periphery of the room. Total person count: 14 (15 including myself)
10:55: Volume of the room has increased suddenly. Cause: unclear.
10:56: Codename: WholesomeYelling has arrived. Cue another sudden increase in volume.
10:57: Codename: VineyardVines has said he’s on his best behavior.
11:00: ImpulsiveHaircut has claimed she will leave by 12:30.
11:00: Codename: Goldfish has arrived, looking amazing. I feel very underdressed in my sweatshirt and basically slippers.
11:02: “DJ Got Us Fallin In Love” by Usher plays, instantly transporting me to 2012. (Editor’s note: it actually came out around 2010.)
11:03: “YOU ALSO SLEPT WITH A LESBIAN.”
11:06: Codename: Everyone’sMom displays a Sick Move™.
11:09: Heavily off-tune singing along to “Waterfalls” by TLC.
11:10: First spill of the night :(
11:10: MASSIVE group shows up. Too many people to codename at once. Every single one of them looks better than me.
11:11: ImpulsiveHaircut: “I WILL leave by 12:30, I have to sleep!”
11:13: VineyardVines: “Getting wine drunk is classy. It’s completely socially acceptable.”
11:13: RagingCapricorn: “I only speak through movement.”
11:14: The room has started to get close to a saturation point.
11:16: First drunken screeching of the night. More to follow, I’m sure.
11:16: Second drunken screeching of the night.
11:16: Codename: FurCoat shows up in what looks like a fur coat?? PETA is, as they say, quaking.
11:17: ImpulsiveHaircut singing along (very off-tune) to “Love Me Harder” by Ariana Grande.
11:20: BearCoat brought something in a pear-shaped bottle.
11:21: That something is apparently called “Hennessey.”
11:21: Drunken, off-tune singing along to “Let me Love You” by DJ Snake and Justin Bieber. However, not much dancing ensues.
11:22: “Sorry I touched you on the boob.” You are forgiven, ImpulsiveHaircut.
Around 11:23: I notice that perhaps my status as an “assimilated observer” has been compromised by the fact that I’m sitting on the couch with a computer taking notes, visibly not drinking.
11:24: ImpulsiveHaircut teaching the Young Padawan (that shall be her codename) how to use Bumble. Truly the exchange of information across generations.
11:25: WholesomeYelling volunteering to fight someone. How drunk is she?!
11:26: Not very. She’s just like that.
11:26: As the room continues to near its saturation point, more groups have drifted towards the middle. Perhaps as alcohol flows and populations get denser, individuals are forced to fraternize across groups in the metaphorical middle that is society. Or maybe the room’s just filling up.

11:27: YoungPadawan continues to mercilessly reject men on Bumble.
11:29: “BISEXUAL UNCLE!” and “Oops! I spilled alcohol on my phone.” Spill count: 2.
11:30: “AAAH.” Observer’s note: Same.
11:30: Yell-singing to “I Love It” by Icona Pop. People have started dancing, a few more brave souls. I have concluded that earlier, RagingCapricorn and BangsNoMore were truly ahead of their time in their willingness to dance.
11:31: I have my face stroked lovingly. Perhaps as populations are forced to fraternize in the metaphorical Society, individuals realize that the socially constructed walls around them are soluble and can be broken down. Or perhaps she was simply feeling affectionate.
11:32: Codename: Icon shows up. The clout she brings into the room is palpable.
11:35: VineyardVines shimmies slightly to “I like it” by Cardi B.
11:37: BangsNoMore compliments my sweatshirt.
11:38: Codename CrownJuuls: “I am the negative of lit. I am dimmed.”
11:38: I notice I am slowly being kicked off my observational chair as the room continues to fill.
11:40: Mysterious goings-on in the kitchen.
11:41: Overheard: “You are SO pretty.”
11:43: More high-pitched screeching. Is someone strangling a parakeet?
11:46: I finally take over the observational seat. Power flows through me, as now, I have an actual chair all to myself. Is this how despots are born, through the merciless and unforgiving acquisition of territory?
11:47: I allow someone to share with me. Perhaps I am not quite a despot, not yet.
11:47: Codename: RoséAllDay requests I add “I’m the [redacted], I’m not going to suck my own clit.” Duly noted.
11:49: Shimmying in the middle! Society’s walls continue to dissolve.
11:49: Off-key shouting along to “Thank u, Next.”
11:50: “I’M SO FUCKING THANKFUL FOR MY EX!”
11:50: Codename: YoungWine brings out a positively MONSTROUS bottle of what looks like vodka. This cannot end well. But I must keep this wisdom to myself, for the observer must not tamper with their subjects. The course of nature must run as nature demands.
11:50: Formation of a dancing ring in the middle! Never underestimate the power of Ariana.
11:52: Drunken shouting and more dancing to “Party in the USA”. Perhaps this burgeoning phenomenon cannot simply be attributed to Ariana, but the continued inebriation of my sample group.
11:53: VineyardVines and Codename: GuardianAngel emerge from the kitchen. What has happened there? I dare not venture in to find out.
11:54: The music cuts out but this does nothing to prevent continued drunken yelling of “IT’S A PARTY IN THE USA!”
11:57: GuardianAngel takes a sizeable swig out of a large, mysterious metal canister. Codename: DarkHorse takes a CHUG.
11:58: The room is starting to heat up considerably. Damn you, [locale], and your lack of AC!
11:59: Someone in an actual tuxedo has appeared, and thus, they shall be codenamed SuitAndTie.
12:00: The room is called to order for [ceremony that cannot be named]. Somehow, the organizers are somewhat able to wrangle the group. For privacy’s sake, I must not document this event.
12:02: Some mention of a blood sacrifice! Must be from RagingCapricorn.
12:05: GuardianAngel feeds VineyardVines something from his mystery canister like the mother bird to her young.
12:05: The window has opened, allowing a merciful breeze to flow through the room.
12:12: Guardian Angel re: DarkHorse chugging: “SOMEONE STOP HIM. SOMEONE STOP HIM.” VineyardVines: “You tryna die tonight?”
12:13: I feel a mysterious drip on my right hand??? Ummmm?
12:14: WholesomeYelling: “FUCK [redacted], FUCK ATHLETICS”
12:15: Post [ceremonial event], the room has significantly calmed down a bit. The middle has cleared out significantly, and the general tone of the room echoes what it was around 11:30.
12:16: “FRIENDSHIP NEVER EEENDS!”
12:16: Nevermind to the point about calming down, people are actually continuing to dance.
12:16: BangsNoMore: “THIS IS POSITIVE ENERGY!”
12:18: WholesomeYelling: “I DON’T WANT ANOTHER WHITE MAN IN MY LIFE… (incomprehensible) … STOP STANNING HIM, HE’S NOT HOT!”
12:18: YoungPadawan tickles my knee, then chuckles when I notice.
12:18: It appears the white man WholesomeYelling was referring to was Beto O’Rourke?
12:21: GuardianAngel lovingly pats me on the head when he learns I don’t drink.
12:23: I realize that I probably have a good two hours of this left to go.
12:24 VineyardVines and DarkHorse exhibit a desperate flailing of limbs, which I can only assume is their attempt at “dancing.”
12:25: I believe the terminology for what VineyardVines is doing is “dropping it low”?
12:24 VineyardVines to me: “We stan a sober sociologist queen!” Two seconds later: “Write that down!”
12:26: GuardianAngel is now double fisting his mysterious canisters. But he is dispersing it among my sample, so I can only hope its effects will be diluted across the population.
12:27: It appears some people are leaving. Perhaps they really are done for the night, but I hypothesize that they’re leaving to do… something else that is outside the goals of this fieldwork.
12:28: Spill count: 3. In a breach of academic objectivity, I kind of knew this double fisting would not end well.
12:28: ImpulsiveHaircut is actually leaving at the time they said they would!
12:30: I cannot resist grooving a little to “Fergalicious”. And indeed, she really does make the boys go loco.
12:30: Guardian Angel proceeds to hug ImpulsiveHaircut while double-fisting his canisters. It would appear some individuals in my population are able to juxtapose debauchery and wholesomeness to an impressive degree.
12:31: More limb-flailing from DarkHorse.
12:32: I am lovingly tapped on the head by Icon.
12:34: More people are leaving, but are people actually done for the night? This seems on the earlier side? Perhaps I am in for an early release after all.
12:36 YoungPadawan: “MEN ARE WEIRD AS FUCK!” followed by “I love men… but I HATE men!”
12:37: More chugging by DarkHorse. On a completely unrelated note, I google CAVA’s number.
12:38: VineyardVines lifts DarkHorse in a position that would make any damsel in distress jealous.
12:39: Perhaps I have become more of a silent observer than I thought, given that two people on either side of me are able to have an active conversation while barely noticing my presence. To be clear, this is a good thing!
12:40: I am informed that GuardianAngel and RagingCapricorn just “made out”. “How did you miss this?!” I wonder the same thing.
12:42: The Hennessy is still half full. Impressive.
12:43: The smell of cigarettes starts to waft around the room. Who is smoking in here?? Don’t they know it’s a fire hazard with all this open alcohol?!
12:44: It has slowly dawned on me that I really should have been keeping an “I hate men” tally.
12:44: BangsNoMore and Codename: SoberAlly share an embrace.
12:46: In yet another breach of academic objectivity, I encourage YoungPadawan to go home. However, I feel it is for the best.
12:47: YoungWine holds a giant, full bottle of tequila aloft.
12:48: Everyone’sMom drops the giant, full bottle of tequila. Lucky for everyone, it remains intact.
12:50: DarkHorse is asleep on the couch. But he’s breathing!
12:53: Everyone’sMom really getting down to “Make Me Feel” by Janelle Monae.
12:54: I tell DarkHorse that he really should be drinking water. When I have finished gathering observational data, I will make a point to make sure he gets home. At this point, I have abandoned academic objectivity.
12:57: I have finally figured out what has been going on in the kitchen: tequila shots.
12:58: It might be time to leave.
12:58: I am twerked in front of by [redacted to preserve some semblance of their dignity, but since I know they’re reading this… you know who you are.]
1:00: Looks like a group is heading to 1020.
1:04: I think everything (for the most part) is winding down.
1:07: I’m ending data collection here – time to make sure everyone gets home alive.

As I finished walking the last person to their suite, I was able to reflect on what I had just witnessed.

After I had finished gathering data, it had become apparent that someone had thrown up on the suite floor. While we cleaned it up, I made some haphazard remark about how the thrower-upper probably owed the suite owner a solid. However, in a pearl of wisdom, the suite owner told me it was really part of “the circle of life/drinking”. “Someone has definitely cleaned up my puke”, she reflected, “so it’s all part of the cycle.”

I found this to be representative of other events I had witnessed – even the most inebriated people were volunteering to walk each other home, people were texting each other to make sure they had gotten home alive, and I even accompanied someone in getting a friend a desperately needed sandwich from HamDel (alas, it was closed, so halal had to suffice). Amidst all the chaos people really do care for their friends – crucially, this seems to go beyond short-term “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” transactional interactions in favor of a more universal idea of karma. While I know for certain no one has had to clean up my vomit due to partying (in line with the concept of this study), I would like to take this moment to apologize and express my gratitude to my parents, who, as the suite owner reminded me, have definitely cleaned up my vomit at some point. In some way, it was oddly rewarding to pay that back through the circle of life/drinking.

While the general consensus is that drinking lowers one’s inhibitions, I was pleasantly surprised by how many wholesome encounters I observed, many of them involving me directly. I witnessed a few embraces, lots of compliments, and a few people I knew even told me very kind and thoughtful things. If drinking lowers one’s inhibitions, perhaps many of us are nicer than we think. However, more research is needed in this area, along with an actual way to measure this wholesomeness. (The author would like to reaffirm that she is not an actual sociologist/anthropologist.)

I am now forced to question my own constructed identity as the “sober responsible friend” and as an observer. Does my sobriety really indicate that I have more responsibility, like an unofficial designated driver? As a “silent observer” (however imperfectly this was executed), at what point should I have closed my notes and intervened to make sure people actually stayed safe? Should I have intervened as soon as I had even a twinge of worry? I must acknowledge that I do not have a lot of experience around drunk people, so I don’t even know what should spark concern. (I would like to stress that everyone who was at this party is currently alive and well.) I cannot answer these questions, as anticlimactic as that is.

While there are indeed unanswered questions, I can say definitively that I learned far more than I expected. I came in expecting to produce a long document about various things people sang along to, how long it took people to start dancing, what exactly they were drinking, and other surface-level descriptions of the night. And there is no shortage of that in my notes. However, “drinking” and “partying” cannot simply be quantified in these ways. As previously noted, I am not aware of a way to measure “wholesomeness” versus “debauchery”. Both are socially constructed, subjective descriptions that nevertheless cannot be left out of any portrait that purports to illustrate “drinking” and “partying”. It would appear that these phenomena merit a more nuanced approach, and while I regret I did not have such an approach going in, I am grateful for the change in mindset I experienced as a result.

The author would like to thank her observational subjects, the hosts of the party, the residents of the dormitory that had to deal with all the noise, and the chair she commandeered to make her observations, which was exceedingly comfortable even when she could only occupy a fraction of it.

Patron Saint via Bwog Archives

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4 Comments

  • War's coming says:

    @War's coming I wonder which well-armed side will win…

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Ethnography? How do you distinguish drunks, drunks and more drunks?

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