Sometime in the 1990’s when other college kids were off on Spring Break, I was at home watching it on television. I remember distinctly sitting in my apartment watching a report on some prime time news magazine about what students set free for a week of hedonistic pursuits were getting up to. I remember just as distinctly concluding by the end of that report that our society was doomed.
Any society that reared its young to see spending a week every year pursuing all sorts of outrageous behavior as normal, it seemed to me, could not stand. Few agreed then, but in the years since, many have come around. One reason for the change is that many have experienced the consequences of this way of living.
Which recently asked 889 high school and college students who have taken a spring break trip in the past five years about their activities and regrets.
When it comes to regrets, 38 percent reported that they felt bad about their alcohol consumption, while 32 percent are upset they had sex. Eleven percent also expressed remorse for drug use.
The survey also found that of those who had sex on Spring Break, 65 percent of men did it with someone they just met, and 42 percent of women did the same. The rest reported it was sex with a friend.
Certainly, it’s tragic that these young people are burdened with such serious regrets at a young age. But, they are not entirely to blame. A larger portion of the blame goes to the culture that raised them, taught them to think in the Spring Break style. Because, see, more than it is just a week of bad behavior, Spring Break is an entire way of thinking. Spring Break the event is only an outworking of Spring Break the mindset. And the Spring Break mindset is pervasive in our culture even among those who have never once visited Daytona in March.
Like all mindsets, the Spring Break mindset can be known by identifying some of its basic precepts. Let’s look at three.
First, the Spring Break mindset believes that the highest form of human life prioritizes the reckless pursuit of meaningless pleasure. Consider that for most Spring Breakers, a week of bacchanalia and tropical weather is considered a reprieve from the rest of their lives in which they must restrain their true selves. Only under the sway of alcohol and cheap airfares can their true, higher selves emerge.
Most of the time, they slog away at home living a lower form of life that consists of gainful employment, stress about exams and accountability. They struggle through this lower form of life with its concomitant responsibilities supported by no more than the weekly frat party or Thursday night bar crawl. In this life, the daily life of the real world, they are, they believe, forced to assume an artificiality which condemns them to living at a less than optimal level. It is on Spring Break, when all the restraints are removed, that real life, the life they have been trained to crave, is possible.
Most resent the fact that in the everyday world actions, at least most of the time, have consequences. That they should not is a second tenet of the Spring Break mindset. The Spring Break mindset is devoted to seeking circumstances in which pleasure can be pursued without reference to any short-term or long-term damages that pursuit might cause.
Spring Breakers find a massive corporate infrastructure eager to help in that effort. Let’s not forget that Spring Break is a multi-million dollar business. Everyone from booze companies to airlines to international media conglomerates has gotten in on the action. In the Spring Break phenomenon we see that the universal application of free market principles ends not so much with enhanced prosperity and dignity as with your 20-year-old daughter topless on a beach making out with her roommates.
The result of all this corporate investment is a built environment and a media mythology that reinforces the notion that Spring Break, and indeed a life geared toward seeking a perpetual Spring Break, is the purpose of human existence. In an environment where such attitudes are reinforced by commercial and cultural authorities, thinking about the consequences of one’s behavior is rendered nearly impossible.
Regrets that crop up later, like the ones mentioned above, must come as a terrible shock. But, by the time people experience these, they have largely aged out of the college cohort, and their pain no longer matters because they are now too old for our cultural overlords to care.
This fact is not unrelated to the final plank of the Spring Break mindset. Underlying both the beliefs I’ve touched on here is a deeper one yet. At the bottom of the Spring Break mindset is the notion that becoming adult is a kind of death, that stepping into the world of grown up obligations and commitments is the end of joy, and that people must avoid it as long as possible.
The Spring Break mindset shares our general cultural sense that adulthood is optional. In part, this is because we have, as a culture, no definite traditional rites of passage. That doesn’t mean individual don’t desire them. We do. So, when we lack normative rites of initiation into adulthood, destructive consumerist rituals will rise up to take their place, a la a Spring Break trip to Florida. Either parents officially confer on children manhood and womanhood in some traditional ritualized fashion, or those children will come up with their own rituals which, rather than leading to dignified adulthood, lead to regretting one’s random casual sexual encounters enthusiastically undertaken at the Day’s Inn in the spring of sophomore year.
To call the Spring Break mindset “the Spring Break Mindset” is perhaps a little unfair to spring break. It is more accurate to call this mind set, “The Modern American Mindset.” Most Americans hold the beliefs I have mentioned above. If it were not so, Spring a Break as a college phenomenon would never have developed. The fruits of this mindset are more apparent than they were even twenty years ago.
But, if it was obvious to those with eyes to see where we would be today twenty years ago, the the dark future into which this mindset now leads us is equally foreseeable. Despite all promises to the contrary the world will never be an arena of endless summer, barely clad beauties and springs of intoxicating drink that never cease to flow. Instead, we will all grow up whether we want to or not. And if we have believed in the childish dreams put forward by the modern American mindset, we will inevitably wake to even more grave and terrible regrets.