Thursday, June 29, 2006

Fourth Of July Is Not Halloween: A Reflection

Blatantly obvious to you. Knockout revelation for some in Madison.

In a letter to the editor in today's Capital Times, a Madison resident called Bruce Frey opines that the expansion of hours and space for beer tents at this year's Rhythm and Booms fireworks display (the largest in the Midwest) means that this "family" event will soon go the way of Madison's infamous Halloween celebrations. Far from being a safe place to take the kids, Mr. Frey argues that Independence Day (ID) in Madison will turn into another "booze fest (his words)," a drunken riot with hundreds of arrests and property damage. He seems to blame all of this on the city's desire to make more money off of the event and isn't that horrible but he doesn't disagree with the city making money.

I will explain why Mr. Frey is wrong. To be more precise, I will explain why on one hand he is confused and on the other he is a hypocrite or perhaps delusional.

First, the confusion. There are several reasons why an ID event cannot turn out like Halloween does in Madison. First, Mr. Frey fails to remember that the undergraduate population, the undisputed source of the Halloween free-for-all, is not currently here. This decreases much of the problem at a stroke.

O.K., I know that does not explain the confusion completely. What does, however, is Mr. Frey's complete ignorance of the nature of both events and the relation of alcohol availability to the control of the situation. At the Rhythm and Booms, which is held in a public park, carry-ins of alcohol are forbidden and punishable. There are designated areas where alcohol (beer, I imagine) are sold. These areas are separated from the "general population" and entry to them is based on an I.D. check and a police presence in the beer garden/enclosure/holding pen for evil, dissolute drunks. I am reminded of William Hogarth's Gin Lane here. Once inside, people may purchase beer (at inflated prices, no doubt) to be consumed in the enclosure but not be taken outside. Us evil, beer-swilling fools can engage in our dirty business hemmed in by the mailed fist of the law.

Sounds pretty controlled, right?

Halloween is anything but. Taking place in the open air on State Street, this event has no set guidelines other than the ordinance banning drinking in public. In a street lined with bars, two liquor stores, other businesses and private residences, the level of control over the access to and consumption of alcohol is much lower. Consequently, young idiots who don't know their limits and want to drink in the street, fight or get lippy with the cops are free to roam about in search of these aforementioned pleasures of the evening. The problems that ensue are real (violence and property damage, mainly), but as always, the mailed fist once mustered is hard to put away. Even more draconian measures are being mentioned for next year.

To put Mr. Frey's confusion to rest, considering the above mentioned scenarios, one would indeed have to be almost as blind as he was stupid to think that they could turn out the same.

Now, the hypocrisy and/or delusions. These are concerned with Mr. Frey's position on the city making money off of the event. The plain fact of the matter is that alcohol sales make a huge amount of money at any public event. Alcohol, already one of the most overtaxed consumer products in America, brings in fantastic revenues for anyone who can sell it to a big crowd.

If Mr. Frey does indeed believe that it is O.K. for the city to make money off of the event, I would like to ask one simple question. How? How will the city make money? I am no expert on public finance or the economics of a mass event and the profit/loss on concessions. What I do have is experience with such events. That experience leads me to the conclusion that you make money selling beer and food and lose on everything else. You cannot pay the bills with pony rides, face painting and cotton candy. It's the truth. Get used to it.

What will come of this event? I believe that Frey's Fourth of July Foofaraw is just another example of the declining state of respect for the responsible drinker in America. Already hemmed in by laws, taxes, religious fanatics and health zealots, we in the drinking community are made to feel like lepers and sinners for engaging in what is (for now) a legal act.

The Bruce Freys of the world might be right and they seem to more and more have the majority on their side. As for me, however, you will have to pry my beer mug out of my cold, dead hands. Oh, and while you're down there, you can pry the hip flask out of my cold, dead pocket, too.

1 comment:

Frema said...

Your unwavering support for alcohol access is certainly admirable. :)