Just when you think our generation couldn’t get any more ridiculous, it does: cue neknominations.
I’ll be the party pooper and dump all over this internet craze if it gets people to stop participating in this foolish online drinking game that has already claimed the lives of five boys: Ross Cummins and Jonny Byrne of Ireland as well as Stephen Brooks, Bradley Eames and Isaac Richardson of the United Kingdom.
The popular drinking game apparently started in Australia and became notable through varying forms of social media in early January 2014. Over the last few weeks neknominations have infiltrated many Facebook newsfeeds in North America as the game gains more momentum.
This is how it works: one or more people will record themselves chugging some kind of alcoholic beverage — it started with beers in Australia — and at the end of the video the consumers nominate one or multiple people to continue this game.
In most cases, however, the game gets kicked up a notch by the new nominee. If the first person chugs one beer, the next might drink two beers or else the stakes get raised in some other way. Maybe the beer is consumed from an old shoe or it’s mixed with something gross.
I’ve watched videos of neknominations that have involved a plethora of different activities. Whether nominees chug obscene amounts of booze, drink blood, run around naked in the snow or jump off a bridge to impress their friends, there is apparently no limit to what a neknomination might constitute. Congratulations everyone, we’re officially idiots.
Drinking games in general are stupid — there are really no ifs, ands, ors or buts about it. The idea behind most drinking games is to indulge until you’re wasted. It’s all about getting drunk and doing it fast.
I’d guess that many university students have participated in drinking games before, but the neknomination game surely takes the prize for being the dumbest one yet — especially because of the direct and indirect messages it perpetuates.
It seems that social media can be just as strong as advertisements in the sense that if one friend starts doing something, everyone else is bound to jump on the bandwagon at some point.
I’ve seen posts online from Facebook stating that they won’t shut down neknominations because these videos are not seen as content that is directly harmful. Meanwhile, Facebook’s definition of harmful can be summarized as something that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific, private individual.
Angry parents who’ve come home to see their children passed out from participating have been quick to argue that nominating someone is certainly a form of bullying. It’s a dare and dares can easily be considered bullying if the circumstances fit.
It might be a weak argument to say that nominating someone to chug a beer is bullying but there is still an argument there to be made.
Bullying is often described as using superior strength or influence to intimidate someone, typically to force another person to do what the bully wants. So really, neknominating someone is a means of bullying them into drinking alcohol, more often than not in dangerous amounts or under unsafe circumstances.
In one instance, Keiren Hunter’s mother came home to find him passed out on the couch covered in his own vomit after drinking a large amount of assorted alcoholic beverages. She later posted a picture of Hunter on Facebook as a way to raise awareness over this terrible activity.
I’m reminded of Jeane Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly series of films on the way through which media presents female bodies in advertisements and other platforms. While Kilbourne’s focus is primarily on the female body, more and more gender and feminist critics are analyzing masculinity in the same way. Interestingly enough, many of the outlandish participants for neknominations are males.
Since boys and men easily make up the bulk of the most obscene neknominees, what does this say about masculinity in our culture as perpetuated through social media?
Is the neknomination craze really just a game, or is it a way for people — men and women alike — to prove their worth to their peers through this bullying tactic that is supposed to be funny?
If we rely on gender theorists such as Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick or Michael Kimmel, and accept the idea that gender is a performance — that it is something socially constructed and enacted time and time again — it becomes relatable to look at neknominations as a means for individuals to participate in the hegemonic discourses of their age and gender demographics. In this case, that discourse relies heavily on binge drinking.
If males continuously neknominate other males, consuming alcohol and video taping it becomes something that is associated with being a man — or at least as something that is involved with the masculine culture.
In Michael Kimmel’s critical essay, “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity,” he states, “Manhood is neither static nor timeless; it is historical. Manhood is not the manifestation of an inner essence; it is socially constructed.”
If nominating someone to drink gives the nominee some kind of social standing within a masculine culture because they’ve been essentially bullied into completing the task, what then happens to those who fail? In this context, there actually is no form of acceptable failure. Apparently, participants either complete the task, pass out, get sick or, sadly, die trying.
Michael Kimmel states that “[men] are under the constant careful scrutiny of other men … Manhood is demonstrated for other men’s approval.” So really, the male participants in neknominations are doing so to impress other men — and perhaps to impress themselves along the way.
Women participating might be doing so under a male gaze. At least, I haven’t come across many neknominations of females nominating other females under such extreme conditions as seen between men, but perhaps I haven’t watched enough videos. These neknominations produce a culture that is hyper-masculine as defined by binge drinking and careless stunts. After all, the reported deaths have all been males.
My fear with respect to neknominations is that others will continue to die because of the pressure to perform the task as nominated. Don’t be a victim of this form of bullying, nor a perpetrator of it. Proving your worth doesn’t ever need to come from polishing off a bottle of booze or conducting a dangerous activity.
I hope this craze disappears in due time, especially because it’s so harmful on emotional, physical and psychological levels to everyone. We are failing ourselves as men and women if we continue to support such alarming and potentially dangerous behaviors on social media.