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The International Writers Magazine: Institutions

Bacchanal Break
• James Morford
Although slowed by the rise of Christianity, for centuries it remained a part of reality. Modern day resort residents blame or, if they happen to own a restaurant or a hotel, praise, low airline fares and cheap all-inclusive hotel rates for its existence.

Spring Break FLA

Some refer, hazily, to the activity as essential to the growing- up process. At the “original” Spring-Break location, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, people looked to the 60’s movie “Where the Boys Are,” as main cause for the annual week-long festival at Fort “Liquordale.” Years ago Spring Break disasters, such as the Oldsmobile 98 filled with college kids being fished from a Georgia swamp, were in large part attributed to that movie.

There are as many apocryphal as illogical reasons given for teenage “wild” spring vacations. But when you consider that ancients in Greece and Rome referred to heavy drinking and gratuitous sex as a form of “bacchanal,” a pleasurable search for self-fulfillment, you realize it has been going on for years and is doubtful of a sudden demise.

Spring Break How harmless is the coming together of young people in what is described as orgies of sex and booze? Some cities have banned annual middle of March-early April partying as morally and physically dangerous; trashed hotel rooms, endless hangovers, drunken brawls and police bookings, are occurrences not to be tolerated.

When closely examined, however, much of this view stems from media exaggeration, and not a Connie Francis or Tom Cruise pot-boiler movie. The tragic shooting deaths in Cancun last March, where seven died at the bar “Mermaid,” had the media once again questioning Cancun Spring Breaker’s safety. Doubts in other resort cities have been heard for years. Undeniably there is wealth garnered by merchants, but is that wealth worth the price? To prevent the young from congregating, city fathers have barricaded routes from the city to the beach. The invasions of kids into domestic and world playground cities are taken quite seriously, a sort of “us and them” syndrome.

Precautions against teenage congregations usually have been an over-reaction. An example, buried inside the recent Cancun shooting story, was that the “Mermaid” bar is not located on the neon-lighted path frequented by visiting college kids. Any American middle to upper class young man or woman that journeys to the “Mermaid” has little similarity to a contemporary “spring breaker” seeking booze, sex, or drugs. And that night of the shooting incident, no young Americans were found inside the bar. For Americans, “The Mermaid” is not a place to do much of anything except slumming. Kids can obtain drugs on Cancun’s main drag, the Boulevard Kulkucan, and needn’t risk ambush at the outskirts of town. Sex? Single men and women can be found lounging around the five-star hotel pools in Cancun, where Cuba Libres, cervezas and other libations are purchased no matter your age. Hard drugs? Regardless of city, state, or federal laws, at a plush discoteque young people are able to buy what they will. Police involvement? Unless there is violence or dangerous overt drunken antics, except for traffic cops, police are little evidenced in Cancun.

So is the lack of legal age enforcement the reason kids swarm to Cancun, Daytona Beach, or Panama City? A percentage probably is, why else would they go there? Habit? Doubtful, and since it begs the question, not much of an answer.
Spring Break

Like so many historical traditions, tracing the history of the Spring Break requires a return to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Centuries ago, the Greek God, Dionysus, and the Roman God Bacchus, were symbols of wine, fertility, and the good life. In Greece or Italy, within city forests (such as parks), young people met for purposes not always to the liking of their parents. Among the trees and ferns, these youths were thought to create strange and dangerous political cabals.

According to the to the Roman historian, Tacitus Livy, in l86 BC the Roman Senate banned such meetings. The Roman Senate’s actions had the desired effect. Following the banishment a sea-change occurred. Replacing political subject matter at locations in Rome like Aventine Hill, was a search to how best intensify the pleasures of life. Thus, began the true precursors of the Spring Break: searches for “meaning.”

The under-lying faith of that meaning was that the human world, just as the animal and plant world, changed by season. Spring, in the bone marrows of the people, was something palpable. Rome, indeed, the whole Italian peninsula, felt “Spring is in the Air,” and awaited the fruits of discoveries found inside the Bacchanal. Could these discoveries be aided by altering one’s state of mind?

Mind alteration among the ancients had long meant alcoholic beverages, particularly wine. After all, Bacchus and Dionysus are the ancient’s Gods of wine. What better way to meet the changing of the outdoor seasons than by changing your inner self through indulging in the already familiar?

In a sense, the cults of Bacchus and Dionysus illustrate the tremendous efforts of young Roman and Greek pagans to shatter barriers that separated them from perennial folk customs, mores, and sobrieties of older generations. The young, both individually and in groups, tuned away from a quest for the divine and moved toward the irrational. Politics, not necessarily irrational, had been ruled out. Besides, after sufficient glasses of wine, politics was a tad boring.

An inebriated aided quest for a God-like human substitute was sought, something in essence natural and uncontrived. Were there risks encountered by these thrill seekers? As long as a participant was to meld into nature and achieve the “ever-lasting,” danger had no lasting importance. By their efforts, young men and women hoped to be transformed into a life-force unrestrained by the social or the religious.

A “modern” writer stressing the Dionysian, was the late l9th century German philosopher and philologist, Frederick Nietzsche. In his first book, “The Birth of Tragedy,” Nietzsche stressed that the Apollonian (the intellect) must not blunt the Dionysian (the emotional), which is what had happened in ancient Greece, a blunting that became a core reason for the city state’s accumulative decline. According to Nietzsche, the Greeks elevated reason above everything, and that led to a diminution of emotional life and created problems for the intellect. The Apollonian gave life its form and shape, the Dionysian its energy and driving force. Both are needed by the other. Socrates, by preaching logic and abstract thinking, turned out to be a destructive force in Greek intellectual life. He helped mankind overemphasize the rational, twisting it until it emerged antithetical to the emotional. Nietzsche pointed out that a truly lived reality needs both the Apollonian and Dionysian to compliment one another. Although admiring Socrates, Nietzsche believed the Athenian stonecutter’s ideas (as reported by Plato) were vastly over-valued. To counter the “Great Ironist,” emotions must be stressed and that can be accomplished by extremism. Over-indulgence in alcohol is one of these extremes, as is sex. Through such extremes, both insight and change are achieved.

But let us cast a cold eye upon this view and see the “Spring Breaker” realistically. Certainly, the college student seeking a pleasurable time in Cancun or Daytona Beach, is hardly ever motivated by Frederick Nietzsche. The Tom Cruise and Shelly Long’s l985 movie “”Spring Break”, as was the earlier “Where the Boys Are,’’ may have created a reality where life imitates “art,” but to look for philosophical causes for what amounts to self-indulgence is to get stuck in the pseudo-malarkey that permeates much of today’s “cosmic” cult world.

Spring Breakers Yet, the ‘’Spring Breaker” is an important influence on our times, a kind of salute to the dark forces that crowd our inner life. Whether or not there is linearity from Spring Break to the adult life, is one question. Perhaps what Spring Break seeks to find is indeed a true path out of the fading maze of ‘’Enlightenment.’’ If that is not true, “Spring Breakers” don’t represent much of anything except the exuberance of youth, an exuberance where for millenniums too much energy has been concentrated too soon.

© James Morford May 2013

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