Film discusses dark side of drinking

By Jessica Schuh

Alcohol consumption is a part of life for many students at the University and colleges around the nation. Some think popular culture promotes drinking without showing its associated consequences. About a dozen people gathered in the Illini Union Thursday for a discussion titled, “When a Keg Party is Research: Producing Dialogue on Alcohol and Gender.”

Ronit Ridberg, producer and editor at the Media Education Foundation, went to college parties to do research for the documentary, Spin the Bottle: Sex, Lies & Alcohol. Ridberg led the discussion, explaining the ideas behind the film, which looks at the glamorous ways the media portrays alcohol use and the real impact it has on the lives of men and women in college.

Ridberg, who graduated from Duke University, began working at the Media Education Foundation in 2001. During her time at Duke, Ridberg worked at “Safe Haven,” a safe house for women in crisis. There, she said she saw the other “not so fun” side of drinking when students would bring in friends who were passed out drunk or had been sexually assaulted under the influence of alcohol.

The film was originally slated to be an exploration of the media’s portrayal of alcohol and gender, but Ridberg, who had only recently left college, thought the film should focus more on how alcohol affects the lives’ of college students.

“We needed to get in there and really think about what (college students’) experiences are,” she said. “It was just so important to have the students represented.”

The Media Education Foundation contacted students from several colleges near the organization’s headquarters in Massachusetts and were able to recruit more than 40 students to participate in focus groups to discuss alcohol use on campus. Ridberg also documented parties at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, following students from party to party and asking them questions about their alcohol use. These students included young girls who consumed large amounts of alcohol that fraternities were distributing.

One Monday, after attending weekend parties, Ridberg got a page from the Rape Crisis center where she volunteers. She had to go to a health center at the University of Massachusetts to assist a college woman who was raped and believed someone had drugged her. She thought about how the party scene “looked fun” over the weekend – but that this side of it was not fun, she said.

“(I thought) this is awful, why does this happen?” she said.

Ross Wantland, coordinator of sexual assault education at the University and the organizer of the event, said that in studies on this campus, 70 to 80 percent of sexual assaults involve alcohol with one or both parties.

“(I think sometimes) people use (alcohol) as a way to excuse their behavior,” Wantland said.

Some men try to take advantage of women who are under the influence of alcohol, while others use their intoxication as an excuse to ignore women when they try to resist sexual activities, he said. While women are often considered more responsible for being intoxicated in a sexual assault, men are perceived as less responsible when they assault someone when they’re drunk, creating a double standard, he said.

The media makes getting intoxicated and going home with someone seem normal, Ridberg said.

“It’s not a natural thing,” she said. “It’s just sad (that young people are given the message that it is).”

Ridberg showed parts of the film in which media experts disused the way pop-culture romanticizes alcohol use and associates it with sex. The film included clips of advertisements that portray attractive women paying attention to men who are drinking. They also showed clips of movies, such as The Real Cancun, that show young people drinking heavily and partying without showing any of the dangers or negative consequence often associated with this kind of behavior.

Students in the film spoke about the pressure they felt to drink when they came to college, and some of them said they could not think of other activities to participate in that do not involve drinking. They also discussed the way students use alcohol to ease their tensions about sex and go out planning to “hook up” with someone.

After holding focus groups with students, Ridberg said she realized they wanted to talk about issues of alcohol and sex.

“We don’t have spaces to talk about this, and people are confused,” she said.

Wantland, who trains volunteers for the Campus Acquaintance Rape Education program and conducts education sessions on sexual assault prevention, said he thinks the way to solve some of the problems surrounding alcohol use is to give young people opportunities to talk about these issues.

“I feel like we have to create communities of support,” he said.

Kyle Statton, junior in LAS, said he thought the discussion was informative but said, like most films he has seen about young people and alcohol, it fails to look at those students who do drink responsibly. He wishes there were more educational materials about how to drink responsibly.

Statton, who quit drinking the first semester of his sophomore year, said there is pressure to drink on this campus but it depends on the type of friends a student associates with.

“You do feel pressure when you see the excitement and hear the noise (when you walk around at night),” he said.

The Media Education Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to media education. They have produced documentaries addressing a variety of topics including violence in the media, the media’s portrayal of women and alcohol and tobacco advertising. More information about The Media Education Foundation is available online at