Spring Break Has Been America's Favorite Freakout For Decades

In Depth

Like The Ten Commandments on Easter and cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, it’s time for a seasonal ritual: The Fox News freakout over debauched college kids swarming America’s beaches for the pagan rite known as SPRAAANG BREAAAAK.

Last night, Sean Hannity ran a segment on the shenanigans, which was of course utterly appalled (though there were an awful lot of long, lingering shots of nubile college girls in bikinis):

Oh my God, y’all, they’re smoking WEED on the BEACH! You’ll notice, however, that the segment is practically identical to the one they did last year:

But Hannity’s late to the party. The history of spring break hysteria stretches back decades.

1960’s Where the Boys Are (featuring Connie Francis warbling the title track) pretty much set the tone. The exaggerated reactions of adults in Fort Lauderdale are played for laughs, as the movie is basically pitched to young people who’d be Spring Breakers themselves:

But the movie itself is pretty much one long freakout. It begins with the main character advocating “playing house” before marriage to a scandalized professor; it concludes with the (off-screen, of course) rape of another member of her group, who’s characterized as too naive to understood she’s being used until it’s too late. And so they all learn their lesson about going where the boys are, I guess!

According to this 1989 Daytona Beach New-Jornal look back, freakouts and containment measures were nothing new:

A blip from the Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1986, highlights the sheer disrespect for the rule of law.

Frolicking youths are being arrested at a rate of two an hour to set an all-time record of more than 900 arrests with the traditional spring break from college only half over, police said Thursday.
Authorities had estimated that 400,000 students would cram this mecca for vacationing collegians during the six-week break period that ends early in April.

Also from 1986, here’ a newspaper article specifically about balcony deaths, the most depressing news peg imaginable:

And of course many of you probably remember parents’ horrified reactions to MTV Spring Break, from the 80s to the 2000s. The Chicago Tribune published a report from the scene in April 1990; it is suitably appalled.

And so MTV’s Colin Quinn, reading a “Babes and Assassins” question to the panel, asked: “She’s the no-talent actress who married Burt Reynolds, and he’s the no-talent actor who offed Abe Lincoln. Name ’em both!” (The college woman being asked the question quickly said, “Loni Anderson and…uh…uh…uh. …” Loni Anderson she knew. John Wilkes Booth eluded her.)
Then there was MTV’s “hot-dog eating contest,” the culmination of which consisted of college women having their hands tied behind their backs, then having hot dogs smeared with condiments jammed down their throats by college men while rock music played and other collegians cheered. Hot dog after hot dog was shoved into the women’s mouths, and while the symbolism of this seemed to be lost on no one, the fact that it was being telecast live into 50 million homes via satellite seemed to be taken for granted. The use of the communications satellite might have raised the philosophical question: John Glenn risked his life in space for this?

And the folks in this Daytona Beach News-Journal retrospective utter “MTV” in the same tones with which the medieval man probably said “Satan.”

Notice the bikini-clad girl posing next to the giant Schlitz beer can, though. I’m sure that seemed like the fall of Western civilization to somebody back then, too.

Pensacola wasn’t having it in 1991:

By 2000, the freakout was pills, pills, pills.

2002 brought a creative angle—visiting a local emergency room:

Which features this bit:

Make no mistake—there is no amount of money you could pay me to stay in Panama City Beach or Daytona or Fort Lauderdale or anywhere similar over spring break. Nor would I be thrilled if I had a college-age kid who wanted to partake, and no, these beaches do not seem like a particularly safe environment. But let’s be honest: This is much as a ritual for titillation-seeking adults as rowdy youngsters. And if the debauchery was really accelerating at the rate at which commentators have generally implied, these beach towns long since would’ve been wiped off the map. Come on, Animal House was made in 1978—does Fox News really think millennials invented all this?

Photos via AP Images, MTV, Annapurna Pictures, Getty.

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