At the end of freshman year, I went out with a group of friends. The night started innocently enough— we tried on different outfits, played our favorite songs and took millions of Snapchats and Instagram photos. It was supposed to be a final hurrah before finals week started, a night of unadulterated fun before we’d have to buckle down and study. And, at first it was. We were served drinks from behind a bar by members of the fraternity (a major red flag) and eventually danced underneath layers of smoke, loud music and low lighting. I remember feeling fine and then a moment later, as though someone had suddenly dunked me under water. I couldn’t remember where I was, who I was with, why I was there— it was a chaotic, dizzying disorientation unmatched by drunkenness because, I wasn’t drunk; I had been drugged.
My situation is not uncommon although, mine had a better ending than many. I was fortunate enough— although, it feels strange to say I was lucky because, no one should ever have to be “lucky enough” to avoid being put in danger or taken advantage of by the people around them— to be with people who had not been drinking and found them before I wandered too far into the abyss of that fraternity basement. And now, It’s an environment— a replicated and heavily glamorized version— that has become the backdrop for music videos with millions of views.
In Maroon 5’s latest music video, Adam Levine attends a party at which he orders a drink from a bar. As Levine looks away, viewers watch as the bartender slips some kind of liquid into the beverage that then immediately dissipates. Levine then takes the drink. unaware of the potential danger he is in. As the video progresses, Levine experiences disorientation, confusion, blurred vision, etc.— except, instead of feeling distressed or unsafe, he has a blast. He is given a lap dance by a cartoon stripper, pulled into implied sexual activities with two women in animal masks (which also indicates that the band and creative team have no understanding that consent for sexual activity cannot be given when one or more parties is under the influence or, alternatively, that men have as much a right to consent as women and femme individuals) and dances around like he’s having the time of his life. This is a perfect example of how privilege guarantees one’s safety in a space as opposed to making it indefinite.
If we believe that art imitates life, that art tells narrative that translates to its audiences what is important to our society, one would think that this video would portray a different, more informed story. One that opens up a dialogue about the dangers and prominence of sexual assault and date-rape drugs, instead of tokenizing that experience as “weird” or one hell of a party. The danger of Maroon 5’s new video is that it makes being drugged look fun, de-legitimizing the stories of individuals who have been harmed in these situations. It’s an unbelievably subtle form of erasing visibility of a pre-existing narrative. While it’s likely that this wasn’t the intent of the video, that in itself is even more concerning because it means that casual victim blaming (like casual sexism or racism) is so heavily ingrained in our culture that we’ve become unaware of its presence in our rhetoric and its prevalence in our communities.
Most of my memory after that initial moment is recreated from what other people have told me about that night. Huge black curtains hang over my windows of clarity, shrouding my course of action although phone records enlightened me to everyone I had called in a panicked haze. Being drugged wasn’t fun— it was terrifying and sad and disillusioning. So, when forms of media make light of instances like these, it is a terribly cruel reminder that society remains highly unconcerned about issues of consent, date-rape culture and the prevalence of sexual assault.
Featured image here.