Who You Calling Fratty?

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"D.C.'s Biggest Frat Party" was held outside at the White House following Obama's election with young drunk college students chanting "USA USA," or that's how The Daily Beast's Ben Jacobs described the spontaneous gathering. But, upon further investigation, it's not clear that a single person in the crowd was a member of a fraternity nor did the crowd look even stereotypically fratty. With very few young people bothering to vote, it's an odd choice to make fun of people under the age of 63 (that is, the average age of a CNN viewer) getting excited about politics. 

Jacobs gives the following evidence that the young people were acting like stereotypical drunk partiers: He estimates one out of every four people was a college student and writes, "For every ardent Obama supporter standing on Pennsylvania Avenue, there was at least one college student who was just out to party." He talked to three sophomores from Georgetown and at least one person from Howard. People climbed trees and "revelers ran around brandishing American flags," while others sang the Star Spangled Banner. He alludes to drunk people with one woman saying someone's breath "smelled of anti-freeze." Not much of that sounds too fratty—where are the people falling all over themselves wasted? The drunk make-outs? the grinding to very loud Akon? This just sounds like a crowd of mostly young people chanting things. Yet, Jacobs compares it to a "Red White and Blue Mardi Gras." That's because "fratty" is immediately how we view a group of excited young people (especially ones in "unhip D.C.") celebrating something. 

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However, a friend of mine (not in college, not in a frat) who went down to the White House Tuesday night did not describe it as anything like a frat-party, calling the crowd "exuberant." "But it didn't seem like people were super wasted," she added. Here's our conversation.

Me: you went down to the white house on Tuesday, right? What was it like?

Friend: ummm it was definitely really crowded, but not mind boggling amounts of people

Me: what were the people like?

Friend: very diverse crowd, mostly young, but really diverse over all

Me: were they rowdy? drunk?

Friend: pretty exuberant. All the trees in the vicinity had people up in them. i'm sure people were drunk but it didn't seem like people were super wasted

Me: would you describe it as a frat party?

Friend: no

While some photos lead to frat party conclusions, others, like the one below from DCist make it look tame enough for a child. That doesn't look like the type of place a little girl shouldn't be. (A frat party, however, is.) 

Jacobs isn't the only one who wanted to view the scene in that way. Washington City Paper's Simon van Zuylen-Wood suggests the same vibe, noting the thousands of "jubilant" George Washington University students with a photo of someone in a full body bunny suit. Photos on The Huffington Post and DCist could lead one to that conclusion, too. DCist has one of what could be drunk person, young enough to be in college and male enough to be in a frat, waving an American flag while seated on top of someone's shoulders. 

The term fratty may have come to mind because that happened once before. When the president announced Osama bin Laden's death back in May, the scene did get fratty, as The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal explained it. "They climbed trees and snapped flags through the air. They shouted. They carried each other on their backs and took smiling pictures in front of the White House," he wrote. These "loud and boorish and silly" drunk college kids also chanted "USA USA." (At the time, this all seemed particularly jarring given the circumstances. "We were there to celebrate a death," writes Madrigal.) With that as our last frame of reference for when a group rushed the White House, that stereotype is now our mental stand in for large gatherings of young people excited about something good for Obama: Frat Party. It's just the easiest way to describe kids these days.

Maybe we should stop painting young people excited by politics with these inaccurate terms lest we scare them away? Almost 50 percent of eligible voters under 30 cast a ballot, according to the Christian Science Monitor. More young people voted this election than in 2008. That's pretty enlightening for a group of people often painted as apathetic

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.