Friday, November 2, 2007

Drink and be Merry! (For Tomorrow We Shall Surely Die)

Man, you'd think with all of the discussion that the Running of the Goats has caused we'd be talking about a bunch of kids who are planning a ritual human sacrifice and not a pub crawl (though, to be honest, the name of the event isn't helping).

The NW came out with its second editorial in a week on the issue today, this time adopting a much softer stance on the matter and even incorporating some of the ideas discussed here on Tuesday into their recommendations. This after a well-meaning, but still sort of ridiculous, letter from various community leaders was printed in the Advance-Titan reminding participants how best to conduct themselves. There was also a rather bitchy letter from one local store owner.

The cumulative effect of the discussion reminds me of a parent awkwardly trying to impart the virtues of protection to his son just before Junior leaves for the prom. There are certainly health and safety complications here (not to mention incalculable liability issues for the UW-O administration), but the heavy tone of condescension that's been used is ungodly off-putting and that really cuts to a issue no one has bothered to discuss that's far larger than a bunch of young people getting together to act like jackasses ... or goats ... or whatever.

In case no one's noticed, not a lot of UW-O graduates stick around Oshkosh after school. There are plenty of reasons for this, but the city of Oshkosh doesn't exactly do a whole helluva lot to try to keep them here. As absurd as the Running of the Goats may be, there's clearly been a lot of energy put into it and it sounds like a few people have a lot of themselves invested in it. Saying what they are doing is "unacceptable" is basically saying that they are also unacceptable. Why would anyone want to stick around here after they've been so roundly criticized by the community?

And it's not just the organizers of the pub crawl who hear this message, but all of the students. If my peers are not wanted here, then I must not be wanted either is not a difficult logical formation to make. Instead of "manning the barricades," as Miles Maguire put it, we should use this as an opportunity to integrate the university and the community. College kids are full of undirected energy and we as a community have to probably start doing a better job of redirecting that energy in a way that best serves the university, the community and the students.

Think about what these kids had to do to pull this thing together: thus far they've demonstrated some remarkable planning, organizational, and networking skills -- they've just used them for a less-than-desirable end. The NW advised the Goat Pack to "flush their existing marketing down the toilet" ... but why? Thus far the marketing has been borderline genius (I think what the NW meant was "intent"). 10 days ago the event was simply The Running of the Goats and now, according to the Northwestern, its the "controversial Running of the Goats." They couldn't have marketed themselves any better under the circumstances, and they did it all for free. Turnout for this thing is going to be much larger now because the NW got involved and made it the outrage de jour.

Which brings me to the best part about this whole thing: whether the organizers know it or not, this whole ordeal has actually been a learning experience. These kids just got a real world lesson in public relations, learned the value of earned media, and figured out how to manipulate the local press to hype their event -- you can't learn that in a classroom!

So if you want to think this is just about drinking -- go ahead. If you want to think about this is being about charity, your welcome to that opinion too. If you think the organizers need to be lectured on the need for personal responsibility, then I'm sure there's a soapbox just waiting for you somewhere. But on a very real level this is about young people trying to figure out how the world works, a lesson that one never completely learns, and at the end of the day they just might have something to teach us.

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