Live From the Front Lines of College Party, USA

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Photo: imshmacked.com

Throughout this week, the Cut explores college life, from politics and identity to parties, sex, and style.

Frat Row at the University of Florida-Gainesville is a palm-tree-lined paradise. Each huge house, complete with manicured lawn, looks like it was plucked from an idyllic suburb and plopped onto this swamp-adjacent plot of land. On a weekday afternoon, I spot students playing pick-up basketball or sipping martinis in their yards, wearing artfully shredded jean shorts or neon pinnies. It’s quiet, but as I stroll around at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, I’m convinced there must be a rager lurking somewhere just out of sight. After all, Gainesville consistently ranks in Princeton Review’s top 20 party-schools list, and tonight it will be host to the college-party video juggernaut "I’m Shmacked."

"I’m Shmacked" was founded in 2010 by two then-college students, Jeffrie Ray and Arya Toufanian. Billing itself as “a new way to scout colleges,” "Shmacked" visits campuses like Tulane, the University of Delaware, and West Virginia University, filming local debauchery and throwing ticketed bar parties. The videos go up on a YouTube channel with more than 102,000 followers — comprising current students, prospective students, and other people who like watching 19-year-olds get drunk and grind.

While the company has reportedly been valued at $5 million, it isn’t exactly reinventing beer bong: The "Shmacked" videos are an obvious descendent of Girls Gone Wild, with its camerawork that just happens to catch real girls releasing their inner party monsters. But whereas the terrain of Girls Gone Wild was off-campus at spring break, Toufanian and Ray’s innovation was to blend debauchery with college rankings and make it something for students to aspire to, a chance to show off their campus, their frat houses, their tailgates, and their friends. None of which is to say the company doesn’t traffic in its own brand of sleaziness — this year, founder Toufanian came under fire after he threatened a reporter with anal rape via Twitter. And of course, in encouraging college students to out-party each other, "Shmacked" perpetuates the glorification of the fall-down, blackout, grope-happy, boundaryless type of rager.

So, with the "Shmacked" crew infiltrating campus this week, I should be able to find a rowdy party somewhere on Frat Row that involves a camera, people chugging bottles of vodka, twerking, and perhaps even a party bus to climb aboard for the next few hours. Yet I see none of these things.

I do, however, spot a turtle struggling to cross the road. I’m concerned. If I walk away, will the little guy get squished by a bus? “You should save it!” a girl calls to me. She notices that I’m sweating and bewildered and offers to ride the bus back to the main part of campus with me so I can find my way. Her name is Audrey. She’s from Florida, a hopeful communications major. She asks me why I’m in town and I explain I’m here to attend a party.

“Oh my God! You’re going to get 'Shmacked'? I’m going, too! Everyone is. Did you watch the videos? It’s gonna get rowdy.” Okay, yes! Yes! Audrey will be my guide, my Charon boating me down the River Styx — the rowdy Styx. According to my "Shmacked" Charon, there aren’t any pre-events this time. But she’s watched the videos since she was in high school (last year) and knows what to expect: fun. So much fun.

As we get off the bus, I tell her I’ll see her tonight, and ask what she’s planning to wear. My co-workers back in New York gave me advice like “No clogs. No Rachel Comey. Maybe jorts.” Audrey says she’s wearing “shorts and a cute top.” She heard from her floor-mates that it might be a rave theme, but she isn’t sure. If it’s a rave theme and I show up in all black, will I be a leper? What am I supposed to do here?

Ultimately, I choose to do what Hunter S. Thompson would likely do in this situation: put on a criminally short romper from Forever 21, flat-iron my hair within an inch of straw, and apply my makeup like I have yet to grasp the concept of restraint. I’ve got cleavage and a flash tattoo. This is going Gonzo. I am ready to go into the night, fueled by sugar-free Red Bulls and my party-rap playlist.

According to news reports, some "Shmacked" parties have resulted in riots. At a Myrtle Beach event, 35 people were arrested — 35! The videos feature no narrative to speak of, but there is a formula: Cue up the hip-hop or EDM, start with a crude title card introducing the school, cut to the video’s host, and then launch into a frenetic four-minute stream of students chugging beers, dancing in the streets, dancing on each other, chugging more beers, hitting the bong, and hitting the beer bong. Inevitably, one kid will chug a handle of vodka and one girl will give a lap dance, and there’s always, always, one or two people passed out in unlikely positions. Sometimes the montage will include footage from local news channels in which worried newscasters describe the terrifying depravity.

So as I walk to the party location, a popular downtown nightclub called Simon’s, I’m expecting a mob. Definitely a team of cop cars. Or at least cops on horses. Maybe some overturned cars. Trash-can fires. We’re here to channel the spirit of Bacchus, yes? Fist pump!

The event starts at 9 so I show up at 9:18, my $37 ticket in hand. (Some people paid $100 dollars for VIP.) But as I near Simon’s, I’m confused. There are maybe eight people in line. I don’t even see a single cop car. Nothing is on fire. Maybe if I walk around the block to kill some time, I’ll come back and people will have flipped over a car?

I come back at 9:30. Ten people. I guess I can make another lap. At 9:40 there are 15 people in line, including a pair of dudes wearing tie-dye leggings and orange work vests with “Show Me Your Tits for Free Toenails” handwritten on them in puffy paint. So I guess things are revving up. Still, though, the line still isn’t much. A cop car stops momentarily, but even the cop inside is probably thinking, I’ll come back later.

The people waiting are mostly dudes, many of them white, most of them underclassmen, most of them very well-behaved. All of them are wearing outfits their moms appear to have picked out for “casual occasions.” I have never seen so many Sperrys, and I had friends who went to sailing camp. 

“Hey! Allison!” It’s Audrey. This is fate. We’re going to tackle this together. Thank you, party gods, for the gift of this friendly face in her white-lace short-shorts.

By 10, Audrey has left me. She says to text if things pick up. I am alone.

At least things do seem to be picking up. Toenails-kid yells, “OPEN ZE GAAATES. I WANT TO GET 'SHMACKED.'” And another kid, an innocent baby-faced kid who eerily resembles Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, is drunkenly stumbling around hitting on girls by calling them Shanequa.  

At 10:30, everyone’s attention suddenly shifts in the direction of an arriving cab. Four girls tumble out, all in high-waisted denim hot pants and crop tops. One looks like Tiffani Amber Thiessen from her 90210 days; another looks like a baby version of Connie Britton. The others have abs so blinding that I can’t see their faces. They walk straight to the front of the line, turn to the crowd, and say, “WHO IS HERE TO GET 'SHMACKED'??”

Crickets. “What does it even mean to ‘get "Shmacked"’?” asks a kid behind me. “What does it mean on a philosophical, existential level?” Where is that kid in these "I'm Shmacked" videos? I notice that the camera has now appeared, and takes care to avoid people who ask questions like that.

If you ask the other kids in line — and "Shmacked" host, Colin, a kind of hunky 26-year-old with a healthy appreciation for hair gel, does — to “get 'Shmacked'” means "to get fucked up beyond belief." It’s "going balls-out to the point of blacking out." Or, as one kid yells, “JUST TRYING TO GET SOME HOES,” or, “Getting so fucked up and having a good time, but you don't remember it the next day,” or, “Just tryna find a bitch to suck my dick,” or, “GETTIN THAT PUSSY.” Or, more succinct, “TITTTIIIEESSS,” according to that kid who keeps calling everyone Shanequa.

Colin is shoving his microphone in our faces while we’re in line, trying to get the party vibe going. “So, what do you think of Tinder? Do you use it?” One kid has a great Tinder story: “I fucked her right in the pussy!!!” he reports. “I mean, she contacted me, I told her I was just on Tinder for, you know, hooking up. And she said, I want to fuck. So I did. I fucked her.” A girl standing near me whispers, “Maybe I’ll use Tinder when I’m 19 and desperate, right?” I do not laugh. She looks at me, “What are you? A sophomore?”

Finally, at 10:54, they check our IDs and open the door. The bouncer can’t muffle a chuckle when he sees my age.

Simon’s turns out to be a cavernous blue-lit club with a sad, desperate "4 a.m. on Christmas" vibe, except that it’s 11 p.m. on a “rowdy Wednesday.” The DJ hasn’t started yet, and the bar staff is standing patiently in a line. There’s a stripper pole waiting just to the right of the DJ stand. A handful of partygoers walk around blinking, unsure of what to do but dividing into lots of little groups and then standing around with their arms crossed. It’s like a middle-school mixer, except for the “Free Toenails” guy, who whoops and twerks like a one-man party. I order my Red Bull — despite the romper, I’m not Hunter S. Thompson — and ask the bartender when the party will pick up. “Oh, God, I think they only sold about 150 tickets,” she says. “This is a really bad night for us,” she explains with a sigh. Which is interesting, because I’ve been following the "Shmacked" Twitter all week, and it kept warning me there were “Only 70 tickets left!” or “Only 14 tickets left!”

As I’m leaning by the bar pretending that my Red Bull is a cocktail, a skinny guy with a scraggly beard and a black baseball cap hovers over me: “Oh hey, do you know if they call this place Florida State or University of Florida?” I kindly help him geolocate himself. Soon afterward I hear a booming voice over the sound system. “FLORIDA STA — UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, ARE YOU READY TO GET FUCKED UP?” Turns out the bar skeeve is one of the DJs, and he’s finally ready to kick off the party with an EDM remix of, I kid you not, “The Circle of Life.” Everyone starts migrating to the floor, determined to dance to this.

“YOU GUYS KNOW THIS ONE!” yells the DJ.

Yes, we all do, because we’ve all seen The Lion King.

And then — thank God — it’s Audrey! She’s found me. She grabs my hand and takes me out to the dance floor. I quickly protest and she looks at me in total disgust. “You don’t want to dance?” She drops my hand and walks away, then chooses a prime place on the dance floor and starts shaking her white-lace ass in the direction of the camera.

Most of the attendees I speak to have been watching "Shmacked" videos since high school — they believed college would be like the videos. So attending a "Shmacked" party is about pursuing the camera and getting recorded having the BEST TIME EVER. As such, every time the camera shows up, at least 20 people run toward it, like horny moths to a flame.

The cameraman, Ben, who is also in his mid-20s, explains that his job is to find the hottest, most-fun-having people present. So over the next hour or so, I pay close attention to what Ben’s camera finds. There’s a dude making faces, and another dancing alone with his hair flopping and his leggings slipping down his butt. There's guy slamming not a handle but a half-gone $4 cocktail in a small plastic cup. “PAAARTY!” he yells with his tongue out. And of course, Ben’s camera finds the girls: grinding on each other, or dancing sexily by themselves while their lumbering dates try to keep up. Ben grabs some shots of a girl giving a lap dance and a drunk couple making out. Oh, and one too-drunk girl who has been sitting on the floor since she entered the bar.

From the camera’s perspective, this party is awesome: When DJ Loudpick yells, “GET FUCKED UP, FUCKING RAAAAGE,” drops an aggressive beat, and everyone present starts to jump up and down with frenzied, pure party joy, it probably looks like MTV's Spring Break and Coachella rolled into one. In reality, though, DJ Loudpick is a scrawny little guy with a scrawny little mustache, the party consists of about 80 people crammed into one little section of a dance floor, and the rest of the club is empty. Nobody seems to notice that getting "Shmacked" is like a bat mitzvah with underbutt.

The boys here tonight might be willing to chant “pussy pussy pussy,” but the majority seem too terrified of their female peers to approach the crowd waiting to hop on the pole. And the girls aren’t showing off for the benefit of polo-shirted freshman boys — whatever a 17-year-old watching at home might believe.

Photo: Allison Davis

I’m particularly interested in Baby Connie Britton, Baby Tiffani Amber Thiessen, and their crop-top crew. While the rest of the party is like any other college party you can imagine — mostly kind of tame but trying hard to appear depraved — these girls seem to elevate it to something else. They’re sophomores, friends with one of the cameramen, and have been coming to "Shmacked" parties for a year now. As such, when they get up to dance, both cameramen come running from across the room, appraising them and offering directions: “Oh, that's great, that's great; can your friend join?" and watching them comply.

Baby Tiffani is grinding on the pole in acid-wash jorts with her ass stuck so far out I’m worried she’s going to slip a disc. The cameraman looks on, then puts his camera down, touches her shoulder, and asks her to turn her backside toward the camera. She obliges, bending over and shaking her butt vigorously. Then she looks over her shoulder to wink while mouthing, Let’s fuck.

I sit down next to a girl looking wistfully at the pole. Her name is Sara, her face hasn’t lost its baby fat, and she’s wearing the shortest black dress I’ve ever seen. She says she wants to be a vet because she loves animals, but she wants to be on-camera tonight even more. Colin, the hunky host who’s currently collecting a harem of underclassman, recruited her last weekend. He invited her and a friend, comped their tickets, and promised them VIP access. I don’t want to tell her that I’d been in the VIP area earlier: It was about six girls posing for photos with Colin, plus two girls he’d selected from the dance floor. “All I want is to get on-camera,” Sara explains, somewhat earnestly. “I’ve been watching these forever. These videos have absolutely defined my expectations of college.”

Sara is determined to capture the attention of one of the cameramen — she even dragged him into the men’s room — but she doesn’t really stand a chance. The "Shmacked" team selected their starry-eyed targets earlier in the night, and by 1 a.m. they’re in full flirt mode — caressing thighs, making out, exchanging numbers.

A young exchange student, Alex, asks me if I’m having fun. “The bartender hosed me down with orange juice,” I tell him. “I have stepped in gum. The kids think I'm weird because I won’t dance. My pseudo-friend Audrey has taken to avoiding my gaze because I still refuse to get on-camera. How you livin’, guy?”

“It’s kind of lame, I guess,” he says.

A cheer erupts over by the pole: It’s animal-loving Sara, finally getting her 15 seconds of glory in a solo video segment. She waves at me and then realizes the cameraman is walking away and tries to get him to stay. I can’t even look.

My international friend shrugs. “I knew it wasn't going to be as good as the video, and I wasn’t even trying to get laid.”