Throughout time, adolescents have done risky things. Sometimes the dangerous, child-no-longer actions are prescribed by their culture, as in the aboriginal initiations. Since our culture has no ritual rite of passage into adulthood, our teenagers are most often initiated into something (not adulthood) through excessive drinking and unsafe sex.
I’m not trying to sound judgmental and above it all: I remember bouts of Brandy Alexanders in my freshman year in college, although I don’t remember very much about them.
This is a phenomenon everywhere in the West: Fort Lauderdale spring break, Midsummer Eve in Helsinki, Graduation night in most places. Some of the young don’t survive the initiation (think of those single car accidents on prom nights). In present times, the only initiation our culture offers into being grown-up is to do those things we couldn’t do before. And to do them big enough and bad enough to make the point that we’d done them.
In 1990, Bill Moyers and Robert Bly spoke of the need for male initation in our culture. http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/archives/gathering.html. That program and Bly’s book Iron John led to a range of results, from men’s groups that beat ritual drums in sweat lodges to some honest attempts to move out of permanent adolescence into a genuine adult role.
If our culture can’t show us how to become adult, all we can do is follow our peers.
German and Scandinavian youth are known for initiations of drinking, and there are certainly enough signs of hangovers among them in vacation spots. The US has its share of kids drinking too much. The drunkest young people in the world these days are from England, and they land en masse on some holiday site and behave badly, really badly.
This year’s Self-Destructo Derby site is Malia, Crete, a small coastal town near a 4000 year old Minoan palace. The town has been taken over by English kids, lured by a package tour priced at less than £ 200 (about US$ 350) including airfare and hotel for a week, and an invitation to bars that offer up to Buy-One-Get-Six drink deals.
Somebody’s making money.
How, you ask, can anybody make money on airfare/hotel packages that cheap? The only visible sign of profit is the suggestion that bartenders are lacing drinks with industrial alcohol to cut their costs. Maybe that’s why the English drunks are so dangerous in Malia this year.
Dangerous, you ask? Well, yes. Besides the usual drunk guys slugging each other and breaking windows in storefronts, just last month two drunk English women flying home from Malia holidays attempted to open the door of the airplane at altitude “to get some fresh air.” Flight attendants wrestled them to the floor, the plane was re-routed to Frankfurt and the girls were arrested there.
Last month, also, a 20-year-old English woman returned to her hotel room from a night of partying, gave birth to an infant, killed it, and is now facing charges of infanticide.
Earlier this summer, a promising young athlete was attacked by five youths and left comatose. I can’t find an update on his condition, but the howl from his family was that Greek law had a time limit on bringing charges against the attackers, so the perps went back to England scot-free.
It is reported that one hundred girls a day show up at the Malia medical facilities to ask for the Morning-After-Pill, because they have woken up in bed with multiple men and they don’t remember what might have happened. Rapes in Greece through August this year outnumber all of last year, and those are just the ones that are reported.
The mayor of Malia has appealed to the British consul in Athens to help put an end to these excesses. No one seems to want to take on this problem.
One blog writer commented that if you think Malia is bad you should see Manchester on Saturday night. The only difference is it’ll be raining in Manchester. This is a major crisis of Western culture, that our youth have to go to such dangerous and destructive extremes to think they have arrived at adulthood. We’d all better wake up to the need to do something about it.
Who is profiting here? The bucket shops of tours? The bartenders of Malia? Who? And how can this be stopped before more of these young people do permanent damage to their brains and lives with this behavior?
This English excessive drinking first drew my attention because this year it is happening on Crete, the island whose culture I spent seven years studying and writing about in my novel. I love Crete and I hate to see it damaged. Somewhere I read a quote that of all the forces that had oppressed Crete: the Byzantine empire, Venetians, Turks, Nazis in World War II, worst of all were the tourists. There is no way to resist the changes that tourism has brought to the island. Visitors bring change to a place, yes, but no place deserves these destructive young drunks.
Crete will survive. Malia will fall out of favor next year or the year after, or someone will do something to protect it. The larger question is what can we do to slow down the ever expanding reckless wildness of self-initiating youth? Can we find some other channel for their rite of passage besides this lawless and dangerous behavior? Can we make it possible for them to survive without injuring themselves?
first published July 2008 on www.wildriverreview.com/wrratlarge/