Attempts to dismiss “vodka eye shots” as a “faux trend” misunderstand how the copycat dynamic of YouTube works.
The elevator doors in my apartment building slid open and a young woman entered carrying spiced rum and two bottles of Gatorade. Jokingly I asked, “Mixing cocktails tonight?” She replied, “Yes.” The older adults in the elevator car collectively cringed at the thought of mixing good rum with a sports drink. Leave it to the young to find new ways to ruin a good drink.
YouTube provides a unique window into all manner of trends that sweep across cultures worldwide. These fads often shed light on transgressive behaviour among teenagers and young adults. One such example is the practice of recording friends as they abuse their bodies with vodka and other spirits in an effort to get drunk faster or simply display bravado. Known on YouTube as “vodka eyeballing” or “vodka eye shots,” this new drinking game sees mostly young white men drinking vodka through their eyeballs and howling with pain as their friends look on and howl with laughter.
As far as trends in amateur video go, this one is as yet relatively small, with somewhere between one and two thousand videos documenting the behaviour. The most popular video in this category has 75,000 views. My brief survey found only one reference to a woman engaged in the practice, but in this case not captured on video (perhaps providing more testimony to the greater wisdom of the fairer sex?). It will be informative to return to this subject in a few months to measure the increase in its occurrence (and there most certainly will be more of these videos on YouTube over time).
Although the press is currently spinning this as a new trend, the videos date back to 2006 – almost ancient history in YouTube time. David Graham writes about it in the Toronto Star, and the article’s subheading, “Is it real or another faux trend?” betrays its general spin. Without providing any numbers on the occurrence of the phenomenon on YouTube, Graham cites various sources who collectively suggest that the whole thing is merely a “faux trend.”
Any media watcher is well aware of the press’s willingness to inflate something into a larger-than-life threat that will consume all before it. Yet Graham seems content to jump onto the media bandwagon while simultaneously pooh-poohing the whole affair along with Gawker and Slate, and in the end sheds no further light on the issue. His article merely serves to dispute the significance of the trend, but does so without even a modicum of empirical analysis. In place of evidence all the reader gets is more opinion.
Although distance limits certainty, I see no reason to doubt the authenticity of most of these YouTube videos. Thus, I do not see Graham’s point in quoting no less an “authority” than Gawker staff reporter Brian Moylan, who frames the reporting on the story as part of a “culture of trickery.” “A lot of people are trying to punk the media,” Moylan is quoted as saying. “It’s a sport – tricking the media into believing a story.” Yes, but is there any proof that this is what is going on here – that kids are doing this to “punk the media”? I found no evidence for painting the phenomenon in this light.
I also do not see any point in quoting Moylan’s opinion that Barbara Davies’s article on the subject in the Daily Mail should be dismissed as a “ridiculous and disingenuous ‘exposé’ on drinking vodka through your eyes.” Davies’s article may not be great journalism, but what is Graham’s point here – that the trend is not a trend (there is reason to believe that it is), that kids are punking the media (where is the proof of this?), that the behaviour is not dangerous (it most certainly is).
In Watching YouTube I explored how amateur video practices often take their cue from movies and television. This may also be the case here with vodka eyeballing. In the film Kevin And Perry Go Large (2000), Rhys Ifans’s character, DJ Eyeball Paul, performs the stunt in nightclubs. Kids imitate behaviour they see in movies, and then further imitate behaviour they see in YouTube videos. This copycat dynamic of YouTube may be one of its more significant social consequences. For more on the social significance of male drinking games, see my video commentary below.
As for me, I am off to buy some rum and Gatorade.
Related video commentary from Dr. Strangelove: