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I'm a Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto. I write about gun violence, health disparities, and Hip Hop culture. When I'm not doing research, I like pop-locking, swimming, and learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is my first blog. I hope you like it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Death at a Rave

I used to go raving once upon a time.  I wouldn't ever consider myself a "raver" per se (e.g. I never got into the whole "candy" subculture), but between 1999-2001/02 I went to several raves in the Bay Area, CA.  From massive parties held at the Home Base near the Oakland Coliseum, to shady underground parties hosted inside clandestine crack houses, I have seen more than my fair share of raving.  At one point during my undergraduate time at Berkeley, I was going to 2 or 3 raves per week; when some of my friends were getting ready to hit the bars, I was driving with other friends to "map points" and taking secret shuttles into unknown parts of the city.   

Although I look back at my time raving ambivalently, I believe that there's something magical about raves.  Raves provide a unique public venue for people to feel comfortable expressing themselves creatively.  Unlike dance clubs, bars, and other social settings in which people work hard to keep up and elaborate appearances, raves are settings in which anything goes.  Everyday social taboos are virtually absent in raves.  As a result, people stop worrying so much about how they might appear to someone else, who they should be talking to, etc.  Raves might be the closest that I've ever been to experiencing the social magic that Emile Durkheim calls "collective effervescence." 

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post.  This morning, I learned that someone died after a long night of raving at the Electric Daisy Carnival--a massive rave that was once hosted in LA.  This is a tragedy and my heart goes out to the family and friends of this person. 

However, I must say that I'm disappointed with the media coverage of this event and other like-events.  Similar to the media's slanted coverage of violent crime and terrorism, the media is especially good at distorting people's sense of reality and danger. While this death is no doubt a tragedy, and should cause organizers to pause and assess their preparation for hosting these events, the media provides little more than a twisted representation of raves as a social problem.

Here are a few ways the media fails in its coverage of these events: 1) The rate at which people die or require hospitalization after raves is extremely low.  The whole quote about "People are dropping like flies" is less about trying to investigate the potential problems of raves, and more about raising public moral outcries against these events.  I haven't done this research myself, but I would be willing to bet that the rates of death and hospitalization from most competitive sports is significantly higher than raves.  It's probably note even close.

2) The media consistently fails to contextualize the dangers of raving against other kinds of public settings in which people party.  Why aren't night clubs, bars, and other settings included in this conversation?   Last time I checked, automobile accidents (many of which involve intoxication) were the leading cause of accidental death for all Americans.  Approximately 50% of all accidental deaths are a result of automobile accidents.  Are raves and the drugs taken at these events more dangerous than the risks people assume when they go out drinking and driving with their friends?

3) The media seems to suggest that raves cause teenagers to experiment with drugs and make bad decisions.  This is another example of bad scapegoating.  My feeling is that raves might provide one kind of occasion for young people to experiment with this stuff, but that they are by no means unique in this regard.  Young people also get drugs at school, through after-school programs, sports teams, and other informal public settings--and yet, none of these are included in the same conversation with drug abuse and raving. 

Anyways, that's it from here.  For those interested, here's nne of my all-time favorite trance songs from my raving days, System F: Out of the Blue... =)


  1. Do you remember that old track from the late '90s that sampled a 20/20 special on raves, that ended up with the quote "Do drugs" on repeat?

  2. @ Ilona, I don't, but if you get time, please post it! I will probably recognize it upon hearing...I still have a trance station on my Pandora that I use while writing... =)