I remember when the first “I’m Shmacked” video at the University of Michigan hit YouTube, and thus invaded my newsfeed on Facebook, just last fall. Filmed in the middle of football season, it seemed to be an accurate representation of the pride, excitement, and drunkenness/fun of the social life here on Saturday mornings. As I watched the video, I instantly started singing along to Blink 182’s “What’s My Age Again?” and got excited spotting familiar faces, places, and buildings on campus. I even felt a little pride, and I thought, damn, I go to a pretty awesome school. Because after all, everything the “I’m Shmacked” crew filmed wasn’t staged; this is real life on Saturday mornings whether or not you, specifically, participate in it.
Call me naïve, but there is something to be said of Michigan’s reputation that is highly intellectual, and as a student, I have found myself in a few situations having to defend that we don’t just study here. Granted, anyone who is solely focused on the party-aspect of college probably won’t consider Michigan seriously anyways, regardless of my efforts to claim we have social lives here too. The University of Michigan students pride themselves on the fact that we have an experience here that is unlike most college establishments or programs because of this balance: “work hard, and play hard.” And let’s face it, if we’re trying to appeal to future Wolverines, just showing them the prestige of the law library or the immense resources of the Duderstadt may not be enough. They may need more incentives about the life on campus including Greek life, Michigan Learning Communities, and even football Saturdays. We have a lot of pride here for tradition both in the classroom and off campus after class hours.
When the new “I’m Shmacked” at U of M released this fall (which covered this year’s Welcome Week), my feelings about it shifted slightly. First off, this new film has much more coverage of students drinking out of fifths, shot-gunning beers, and rolling joints; in the first few seconds, two students tell the camera, “we’re gonna show you guys how we work hard—and play harder.” Really? Because I only see people playing harder… Almost all of the on campus shots featuring Ann Arbor were taken from a moving car and the editing for this film makes me feel drunk as hard cuts flash quickly between different scenes with strobe lights. And on top of that, any student “interviews” (and I’ll use this term loosely) that were conducted on camera basically consisted of intoxicated students making statements and vulgarities; one student gracefully tells the viewer that “if you don’t go to Michigan, you’re a peasant.” This film makes me want to petition the university’s name to that of “Club Michigan.”
This “I’m Shmacked” phenomenon has not fared well at other universities either. The Daily Athenaeum (West Virginia University’s student publication) reported in mid-August that the “I’m Shmacked” crew was planning on coming to film during their FallFest and that the University Spokeswoman, Becky Lofstead, issued a warning to students to think about the cost of their drunken escapades recorded on camera. Lofstead commented, “Most people view WVU as a positive place and don’t appreciate this misleading image. You look at these ‘top party school’ lists, and it’s clear that many of the schools that are ranked as ‘party schools’ are also ranked high academically.” One of the “I’m Shmacked” cofounders, Arya Toufanian, defended the documentary saying, “We don’t really introduce partying to these schools we film…This is a common occurrence on any weekend. It’s just that a lot of schools brush it under the rug. But, we believe if it’s happening, why not document it? Schools should be proud of this.”
The same apprehension that officials have for this company has come from many other universities including Cornell, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and Penn State (the latter article claims that high school students were spotted in these films, which caused them to be taken off YouTube).
Honestly, after reading other campus’s reactions to these videos as well as intentions from the directing staff, it makes me think that these videos might actually propel competition between top schools in more ways than just academically. I’m a little afraid of the consequences of this trend, one that attempts to show that one school parties harder than another. A couple weeks ago, the Michigan Daily’s Melanie Kruvelis wrote an opinion piece about the release of the new “I’m Shmacked.” It stuck out in my mind because of her strong aversion to it (apparently, we’re all “shmucked”). I guess the question lies with the rest of the student body; does this kind of advertising help or hurt our university’s image? Or maybe, what is the effect of this kind of press on our reputation that is already rooted in intellect and tradition?
By: Rachel Blanzy
(Photo by mikel_ee under a Creative Commons License)