It’s been 55 years since Where The Boys Are; a comic novel about the then-new phenomenon of spring break, or spring vacation as it was called back then. The film based on the book became a huge hit for MGM and since then spring breaks have essentially been all about the money. And increasingly doing, or allowing to be done, whatever it takes to sell booze, hotel rooms, and cheap vacations for university students and others. That spring break has become increasingly outrageous and obscene over the years is no surprise: it merely collects in a confined space in certain tourist towns a concentrated sample of how people often behave nowadays when partying. And the reason is still quick profit. From selling alcohol to practically anyone who has the ability to ask for it, to condoning petty acts of vandalism. As well as lewd – as silly to many as that term may seem in 2015 – spring break has become increasingly violent. No surprise again given the no-holds-barred attitude on the part of those who profit from the booze-fed chaos.

Now we have 7 students shot at a party in Panama City Beach, in the Florida panhandle. Spring break of course, can be found anywhere a beach and reasonably warm weather in late March or early April can be found. Fort Lauderdale had endured decades of seasonal madness and has managed, starting in the late 80’s, to get rid of much of the excess by transforming spring break into a family friendly vacation time. Imagine that. Not in Panama City Beach however, where bar owners and their supporters on the local council have been loath to seriously crimp all the good times with some tougher local laws. Tougher? They rolled back last call from 4 AM to 2 AM, but were unable to build the political will to have bars close earlier than that. Maybe that will change with the shootings at a house party, but that remains to be seen. The house where the crime occurred has new tenants already, with cases of beer piled up on the porch, so the reports say.

Even if Panama Beach City does enact tougher bylaws, the great spring break wave will wash over to another beach town and the party will continue elsewhere. Drinking, or drugging, oneself into a stupor is seen, unfortunately, as a right by many today. And has been for decades now. And for many who lament the violence, the drinking and randy behavior is not the problem. It’s merely a matter of gun control from that point of view. The fact that out of control behavior can easily turn violent without a gun in sight is also overlooked by many. The only problem for them is that there was a shooting. So while Panama Beach City deals with the shooting, and the police there have done what appears to be commendable work, the underlying themes of how we feel we must enjoy ourselves will fizz for awhile in talk shows, 24/7 cable news, and social media, and then fizzle out. Because we can’t convince younger people to not behave the way many of us baby boomers did behave back when. It’s a genie that’s been out of the bottle for nearly 50 years, and 1985’s party animal, for example, now has to worry about whether his rebellious daughter stays safe on a beach somewhere. We don’t need Manichean confrontations in solving this problem – and it is a problem. We just need tougher local laws and less bending over to bar owners. That’s invasive for a sophomore who wants to let go after a rough winter term; yes it most definitely is. But if there ever was a slight justification for a nanny state, it’s to try and help keep kids barely out of their teens safe. Even as they ridicule us for attempting to do so.

Comments