I'm Shmacked: Inside the Controversial Campus Antics of Jeffrie Ray
Did Ray really set out to be the scourge of college and university campuses nationwide? Or is he just some arty Narberth kid who’d rather be part of the action? Probably a little of both.
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They certainly do. The New York Times described Ray’s creations this way: “Woven into the scenes of debauchery are bucolic shots of the campus with flags waving in the breeze, the football stadiums or hockey arenas filled with athletes and cheerleaders, and the local university swag shots.”
Ray asserts that the clips highlight more than just partying, although there is a preponderance of “debauchery.” It’s pretty one-dimensional but also weirdly compelling. “We’re changing the course of people’s lives,” says Ray. “They’re going to schools because of our videos. If I had I’m Shmacked when I was in high school, I guarantee you I’d be in college now—and at a great place.”
It was supposed to be a run-of-the-mill Cinco de Mayo party. But one of Ray’s elementary-school friends had been pestering him to bring his camera. Facebook and Twitter had done their job, and it seemed like every college kid in the area—and even some thirsty locals—had descended on the house on South Walnut Street near West Chester University. It was a combustible mix, especially at $15 a head. And Ray contends it wasn’t something he’d planned or wanted.
At first, things were pretty cool; the hosts had honored campus security’s request to hang tarps to contain the crowd. Police officers arrived and asked them to turn down the music. But when they later decided to break up the party, the 500 or so participants were none too pleased, and a near-riot ensued. “A couple cops got ego-ed out and started tearing the tarps down,” recalls Ray. “People started yelling at the cops, and then somebody flipped a car.”
Those arrested “were not West Chester University students,” says Jim Brenner, an associate professor of health at WCU. Rather, they’d come to the party after learning about it on social media, which fuels much of the I’m Shmacked hysteria. Videos can travel exponentially, so the parties Ray and Toufanian throw attract mixed crowds. “I don’t know how you stop it,” says Brenner. “He’s not doing anything illegal.”
And it’s not as simple as blaming one person. “Ultimately, you have to look at it as a multifaceted problem that affects all of us,” Brenner says. “The community needs to think about it. What are the strategies? What is the university going to do about it? I had some students who said, ‘I’m not going to that party. I’m graduating soon, and I want to get a job. I don’t want to live in infamy on the Web.’”
Other local schools wouldn’t respond to interview requests, though Temple did forward this statement: “Anything that promotes high-risk drinking and other behaviors goes against everything we do to support students in having a healthy, safe and fulfilling college career.”
For nine years, Rob Turrisi has been a professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State University and a researcher at the school’s Prevention Research Center. He publishes his results at ace.parentteenpartnership.com, which strives to educate parents and teens on the dangers of alcohol abuse. Turrisi is not at all surprised by the sort of behavior documented by Ray. “It’s not anything people are unaware of,” he says.
Turrisi has defined four types of partiers. The first is heavy consumers, who partake on weekends and throw in a weeknight or two. Social partiers—a few drinks once or twice a week—are next, followed by the occasional group and those who completely abstain. “Data shows that [heavy consumers] make up about 20 percent of students,” says Turrisi. “The videos show a social setting that’s attractive to groups of people who want to party on the weekends. What it doesn’t show is the people who end up in the backs of police cars, in the emergency room, or in a fight. It also doesn’t show the close to 500,000 sexual assaults reported each year or the 2,000 students who die each year from alcohol poisoning.”
Turrisi is also convinced that, while the visuals are compelling, they’re hardly the main reason kids chose a college. “I can’t believe this is a big-time criterion,” he says.
So you could argue that I’m Shmacked is only a big deal if we make it a big deal—and that its founders are pragmatic, somewhat misguided souls who stumbled upon a new way to maximize the Internet with thousands of willing accomplices. “I’d never want to have another partner,” says Toufanian. “I trust Jeffrie to act like himself. He’s a happy-go-lucky guy who’s good-hearted and has good sense.”
More than anything, Ray wants to make movies. He spent the summer in Los Angeles, and he’s looking for an internship. He’s also writing a script. Yet, for someone who’s seemingly so bent on self-made success and self-promotion, Ray—like many overstimulated young adults his age—isn’t the easiest guy to nail down. His voice mailbox is perpetually full, his email correspondence cryptic and noncommittal. After sitting for an interview, Ray later skipped out on a photo shoot for this story, leaving town for yet another cross-country campus jaunt before we could reschedule.
Meanwhile, college students will fork over their parents’ money, get shmacked and vie for infamy in Ray’s next video. “It’s pretty surreal,” he says. “Day by day, I can’t grasp this thing.”
But he’ll sure be keeping a firm grip on that camera.