This story was written by Jed Pressgrove, The Reflector
The president of the United States is elected days after Halloween, the night when many young eligible voters joyfully break the law and degrade themselves. Thus I armed myself with a recorder and cowboy hat Friday night and infiltrated Haunted Halloween Hysteria, a costume party.
My insanity was inspired by Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72." As Thompson noted, many did not believe youth would make a difference in 1972's presidential election. Indeed, youth didn't then and hasn't yet.
I have seen a different argument in 2008. Time, The Washington Post and The New York Times, among others, have said youth will impact today's presidential election. And according to these sources, Democratic nominee Barack Obama will benefit more than Republican nominee John McCain.
Haunted Halloween Hysteria was held primarily in a backyard. The steps of an upper and lower deck led to two beer pong tables on the ground and, later, a bonfire to the side. A band and DJ entertained the partiers.
The moment I revealed my mission, the youth were ready to speak into the recorder.
"It's a really controversial election, everybody's going crazy," said sophomore communication major Hailey, 19, dressed as Slave Leia from Star Wars. "I've actually had a lot of political arguments with people. And so I'm thinking [youth making a difference] is going to happen."
Hailey told me she is voting for a simple reason: "I don't want this country going to shit."
Sophomore biological engineering major Liz, 19, agrees that a substantial youth movement is happening in the United States -- but not everywhere.
"While it's a little harder to find people who are as enthused as I am down here [in Mississippi], in other parts of the country the youth movement is huge," Liz said. "Almost everybody that I've talked to hereis apathetic about voting, they don't agree with the politics of, you know, the people running, and they don't realize that there's other people running that might be better for their views."
My third interviewee, 19, who looked like a naughty nurse but described herself as a bad doctor, wanted to vote but forgot to register.
"I feel really bad about it," the bad doctor said.
As she should. The Mississippi State University Student Association and Stennis Montgomery Association registered more than 1,600 students to vote during a two-week nonpartisan drive, SA President Braxton Coombs said. Coombs, whom I interviewed a week before Halloween, has an alarmingly strong handshake for such a boyish visage.
Although she wasn't pleased with being unregistered, the bad doctor admitted she wasn't knowledgeable about the issues.
"I know I want to vote for McCain even though I don't know anything about what, I haven't watched the debate or anything," she said.
I soon heard talk about a bonfire and followed the steps of the decks down to a pile of dry wood in the backyard. After the fire started, I met a cow, 19, a freshman majoring in civil engineering. The cow was from Georgia and informed me that he voted weeks ago with an absentee ballot. Liz, my second interviewee, had also casted an absentee vote, along with a Fanta Girl I would meet after midnight. Later I learned that other youth had failed to cast absentee ballots. Laziness, business and ignorance were among the reasons given for not doing so.
After being brutally shot with Silly String by someone across the fire, I spoke with an undeclared freshman, 18, dressed as Quailman from the cartoon "Doug." He said he wasn't registered to vote and implied that neither Obama nor McCain did anything for him. So I brought up third party candidates
"Third party candidates don't even have a say in anything," Quailman said. "McCain and Obama are the top two. It doesn't matter."
Quailman also told me some of his friends didn't care about the election and would simply follow the direction of others.
"Whenever somebody around them is pro-McCain, they go pro-McCain. Whenever somebody around them goes pro-Obama, they go pro-Obama," he said.
With friends like that, I understood why he thought voting was a waste of time. Strangely enough, he said Bush was awesome and the youth in America were generally energized for the election.
A Transvestite Troll, 19, had another take on non-voting youth: "They're discouraged. They didn't get the candidate they want. A lot of youth voters want radical candidates. They want Ron Paul. They want [Dennis] Kucinich."
Notwithstanding their non-voting friends, most believed Obama was going to bring youth en masse to the polls.
Perhaps partygoer and SA Senator Justin Ammon said it best: "Barack Obama has galvanized youth like no one ever has in this country's history."
But McCain also has youth supporters, particularly in the South.
"I know a lot of youth that is excited about McCain, hence the political arguments with a lot of people that I work with, a lot of people that I'm just friends with," Hailey, a.k.a. Slave Leia, said. Adding credence to her point, U-Wire has been keeping track of all college student newspaper endorsements. As I'm writing this, only one newspaper had endorsed McCain, and it's based in our state: The Daily Mississippian, student newspaper of Ole Miss.
I was interviewing an Anonymous Superhero, 18, when the band stopped and the big light on the upper deck went out. Someone said something about a power outage. You could feel uneasiness infecting the environment. My interviewee ran deep into the back yard and, as he told me later, "cleared the f-ing fence." I turned around and saw flashlights. Police officers had arrived, and I began to wonder how many underage drinkers would be arrested and if all the pot smokers were able to destroy any evidence of illicit drug possession.
Silence. A lone officer stood on the top deck to inform the inebriated mass. "This is not a costume. I wish it was. I'm pissed. I gotta work. Ya'll have fun. Get drunk, go home with somebody random and don't drive." Immediately the partiers cheered the officer like he was running for president. He calmed them down. "But if I come back here tonight, the party is shut down, and your buddy that threw this wonderful party is going to jail."
The officers left. The beer pong players were fortunate. One of them said, "Everybody with or on drugs left the party." Then he went on playing beer pong with the others, destined to consume the socially acceptable drug as the game demanded.
Some people thought the officers were costumed visitors, not actual authorities.
One partygoer said, "I thought it was a costume, then I saw the flashlight come on and I was like 'F-. I'm going to run over here.'"
I walked past the beer pong tables toward the fence and bushes and woods. There was a small group of male teenagers, one frantically inspecting the ground near the fence. I asked them what was going on. The one searching the ground said, "They [the officers] were nice, but they made me ditch my weed, and I lost it." Another guy said he ran two blocks away from the house and just made it back.
I talked with the owner of the house, who wished to remain anonymous. The officer told him he wasn't in trouble, but that he [the officer] was going to tell everyone to shut the hell up. Someone three blocks down had complained about noise.
After the officers' visit, thepartygoers still had me in a journalistic frenzy. "Are you that reporter?" was directed at me several times. One young woman dressed as a fairy had badgered me again and again for an interview, and I finally had time. I stepped in puke on the upper deck and trudged down the steps to the backyard to find her. She was very drunk, standing up with the help of a friend. And she wanted to talk.
She gave me her name and information, but I won't mention any of that because I don't want to ruin anyone's career. I asked her if she thought the youth of America would make a difference in the election. Her response: "I think they will because, I mean, there's so many f-ing people in high sch, college, f-."
A minute passed, and I was ready to let the interview die and burn in hell for eternity, but her friend interjected and asked her whom she would prefer as president.
"I would vote for f-ing McCain because he's white. I know it's racist, but I mean f- Obama. I want McCain to win!" she said.
Listening to her on my recorder is an experience every time.
The party had lost momentum. The beer pong tables were soon abandoned. Most of the remaining crowd in the backyard had gathered around the bonfire. A DJ was playing music on the upper deck, keeping the volume low and safe. There was plenty of dancing on the patio, but many had left the scene.
My back was aching, and I was almost ready to call it a night. But I found myself chatting with Bernon Jones in the front yard. Jones, a young black man from a Republican family, explained how he was undecided until after the first presidential debate. He said he was going with Obama.
Our conversation was interrupted by someone in a gladiator costume. "Hey, f- Barack Obama and go with McCain." I asked him why he would say that. "Because I'm white, and that's how I roll." Another young man chimed, "They both f-ing suck. McCain just sucks less." Jones and I were then in a circle of five or six.
Jones continued the interview: "I listened, and I went and heard their debate, and honestly, McCain don't know what the f- he's talking about."
The gladiator then yammered about how Obama was going to swear on the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Another youth exclaimed that Obama was part of a Christian family.
"Don't raise your voice at me first of all," the gladiator ordered. The argument became physical in seconds, the gladiator pushing the other youth against a car and to the ground.
Jones kept talking: "I might be 19, I might be young, but I'm taking it seriously." He contrasted his attitude with the gladiator, whose vote had been determined by race. Jones added that others were doing this as well, both blacks and whites.
I left the party between 2 and 3 a.m. with two friends, Robert Goulet and The Dude. We went to Huddle House. I ordered a BBQ sandwich and water. I looked around. Other youth were there, some costumed. But I had heard enough from them. They would tell me the same stories with different words. A lot of them would contribute to the fight on Tuesday. Some would know the issues and stakes. Some would say they were too lazy or busy or uninformed to cast absentee ballots. Others wouldn't care. And a couple would cite race as motivation to participate.
I didn't sleep well that morning.
Writer's Note: I am going to explain the purpose of this article at the request of The Reflector. I would rather not, but we can't have any interpretative thought, can we?
As stated in the second paragraph of the article, this piece was inspired by the work of Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson invented what is known as gonzo journalism. Gonzo journalism assumes that objectivity is impossible to accomplish; therefore, the personal experience and toughts of the writer are included to give the reader an honest perspective. Gonzo journalism often disregards the standards of the Associated Press, so it allows humor and profanity because, after all, we are dealing with humankind. In sum, this style breaks common journalistic rules to get to the truth traditional journalism cannot reveal, to immerse both the journalist and reader in culture.
I hope this story gives you an idea of the wide range of opinions from youth voters. A lot of the opinions are tailored, respectable and understandable. Others are laughable and horrible. I share my take on these opinions, but because you can easily distinguish the actual quotes from my thoughts, the final verdict is up to you.
I also hope the deranged events illuminate what you might find at a Halloween party in a college town. Underage drinking and drug usage are not legal, but they are real and part of many lives. I make no judgments or name names, but judge away if you must.
Lastly, I hope the frantic narrative and my utter exhaustion - and perhaps even contempt - with the story by the conclusion can show you what journalism should be about: the near mental breakdown of the reporter as he or she dives into the dark for the truth.
Thank you for reading. (And if you don't believe any part of this article, feel free to contact me. I have a digital recorder you can listen to.)