Groupthink and the 21-ordinance

BY TYLER HAKES | APRIL 07, 2010 7:30 AM

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Ah, finally something to buzz about. Something outside of love triangles and debauchery taking up the top headlines.

Something, dare I say, artistic? Something fiercely contentious and exposé à la human nature.
Erykah Badu’s latest music video for her song “Window Seat,” from her just-released New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh, has caught fire in the media. The video follows Badu as she strolls along the Dealey Plaza in Dallas — the place of Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 — removing her clothing piece by piece.

She discards each article until, just as she bares all, a shot rings out; Badu collapses to the ground. A blue liquid seeps from her head, and an off-camera voice shouts out “Groupthink.”

The entire experience is strangely liberating and slightly unsettling — what just happened, and what does it mean? The message is powerful, if not clouded. But it brings up an interesting topic.

Something that’s generally not considered outside of the academic world.

“[Groupthink is] where you have a group that has the same perception to the point where it’s non-normative to deviate from the group,” Alison Bianchi, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Iowa, told me.

But it’s more than just an abstract sociological concept. As students, we are living groupthink right now. We’re literally surrounded by pressure to conform to the mindset of the masses.

And it’s at the center of the 21-ordinance and the overconsumption issue.

I asked Bianchi about the role of groupthink in shaping drinking culture. “Group influence can be very powerful,” she said, “very powerful.” It’s a powerful influence that many students have come to know personally.

Poeple who have said they are done drinking, only to be talked into another beer or two by their friends knows the pressure is to over-consume. Not that many don’t resist; each and every night peole make responsible decisions regarding drinking. But the push to “have another” isn’t the exception, it’s ingrained — it’s our philosophy.

And that — the incessant push to over-consume — is the issue at hand in Iowa City.

It’s not the access to alcohol or the education about its effects that need the most attention. It’s bigger than that. It’s the culture. A 21-only ordinance isn’t only inadequate to resolve the issue, and it is irresponsible to only superficially address the problem.

There certainly isn’t a single factor that leads a culture based on drinking heavily, and it definitely doesn’t develop overnight. Similarly, the problem cannot be solved by addressing a single issue — accessibility, in this case — or reversed with the flick of a pen.

Something so clearly prevalent — not just in Iowa City, but nationally — needs a more serious response. It will take the work of intrepid and influential individuals to create a competing philosophy based on a healthy relationship with alcohol, said Bianchi, who was hesitant to make a prediction about the effect of the 21-ordinance.

For us, Badu’s appeal to step outside of groupthink rings especially true. Students are stuck in an atmosphere that doesn’t just condone drinking, it encourages it — and pushes for excess.

It’s something tough to overcome. Neither student culture nor legislation is likely to break the habit alone. It will take time, research, cooperation, and careful implementation to change the culture.

And that should be the real goal — not a reduction in the number of tickets or arrests, but a reduction in overconsumption.

“Offer a positive alternative from students, rather than the administration, and you might see a real change,” Bianchi said.

A real change — that’s what we need. No more groupthink.

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