By: Gillian Pua and Luigi Serafico
As we rode the elevator up to the sixth floor of Ford Autohaus at Bonifacio Global City, we could not have been more excited. It had been a hectic week for us, and, to be honest, we were both very much looking forward to unwinding and getting to spend time with our friends on a Friday night. However, we knew that we were attending this party not just as usual partygoers and guests. Tonight, we would become someone who is always a common fixture at different parties, but rarely talked to, remembered, or even included in pictures. At the MEAmore Party 2013, we were going to be bartenders – or at least try to be.
Arriving at the venue, we were greeted by our fellow organization mates at the door and were asked to register at the table. Before entering the party, we had to pass through a doorway lined with streamers that blocked our view and added to the suspense of what the venue would look like. When we emerged from the tunnel of silver streamers, we found ourselves transported into what looked like a steampunk garage in a futuristic setting. The lighting was very dim, with different colored lights illuminating the area. The music was blaring so loudly that we had to shout at each other’s ears to hear one another. The fog made it very difficult to see, so we had to hold onto each other, not only to be able to navigate the party, but also to make sure that we did not lose each other in the dance floor jam-packed with people. The air smelled of a mixture of sweat, fog and alcohol – which meant that the party was just starting to gain momentum. On top of that, the air-conditioner seemed to be broken, so the party was especially hot, and not in a good way.
Despite having the ingredients of a very good party, we knew that it was time to get to work. We asked the bartenders if we could step inside their “office” and observe them at work. Inside the bar, one can feel quite claustrophobic because everyone in the party is literally swarming around you trying to get drinks. With the atmosphere and the very dim lights, one may think that these workers might have a hard time working the bar. However, it was quite the opposite. We were in awe as the bartenders calmly but very efficiently poured and mixed a variety of drinks in numerous shot glasses. They also seemed to have a very good sense of where all the different bottles of drinks are, despite it being a very tight space, and with them having to handle numerous drinks in a very dark setting. Watching them flip and flourish their bottles was also such an intriguing sight because both of us had never tried that before.
While the stream of people was continuous, there were fluctuations in terms of number, and during the down times, the bartenders could be seen just sitting down, looking quite disinterested with everything around them, and just engaging in small talk with one another. It was such a juxtaposition to the wild partying, screaming and dancing happening just outside of the little space. We then asked the bartenders if we could start serving drinks ourselves, to which they reluctantly agreed to. We started with the shots. While we were not nearly as fast as them in serving drinks, we had zero damages, which we felt was a hurdle that we overcame. Since the partygoers were mostly our friends, they were all very shocked to see us serving drinks. We think that the excitement that they had seeing us there made a larger number of people start to approach the bar and ask for even more drinks. Due to the increasing flow of people, the bartenders started to take the reigns once again, and we decided to go on “floor duty” instead, as it was normally done by college students in parties like those, according to Keith, our key informant, who was an organizer in the event. Floor duty meant carrying around vodka bottles and serving people on the spot. According to him, this was quite normal as you get those who seem to be reluctant to drink to actually drink and drag them into making the party much more exciting. He went with us for a few minutes and handed us a bottle of vodka to serve people with telling us what to do and how to do it.
We initially did not know how to approach people, but we decided to approach our first “victim”, who seemed quite tipsy and very willing. As we coaxed him into taking the shot , he initially tried to brush us off, but then very easily gave in, and he even allowed us to determine how much alcohol we would make him drink and drank everything in one go with no complaints. As the night started to get later, people started to get even more intoxicated. We assumed that we would start to have a very slow night because a lot more people seemed drunk, and thus will be unwilling to drink. However, the exact opposite happened. As more people consumed more alcohol, the more they were willing to drink from us and let us determine how much shots we’d make them consume.
This made us really curious about the effects of alcohol on people and how addictive it could be. Usually, we were always part of the event, one of the many people lining up outside the bar, trying to push our way to get a shot. But, now, having a bottle each in our hands and having control on just how much we could make people drink, it made us feel as if these people were letting go of all control they had on themselves and the situation and just allowing themselves to be present. There was such a shift in power, with them initially being the customers and having all the control to dictate what and how much they would drink, to completely being submissive to us during their most vulnerable state and allowing us to make decisions for them. Granted, it was a college party and we were all acquainted with each other, but most of whom we served after moving out of the bar were upperclassmen who did not know us, who could have easily thought that we were part of the actual crew, and yet was so willing to let us decide their “fate” for the night. Overall, we were able to make our presence felt through the amount of alcohol we were able to slide down people’s throats and through the energy level that the crowd seemed to have been extracting from us.
According to various sources, alcohol can have various short-term, as well as long-term, effects on your body and mind. Based on what we witnessed, it seemed that the most easily affected part of most people is the brain. Scientifically, alcohol consumption generally enhances a neurotransmitter in our brain that causes it to slow down, it also affects our frontal lobe, which explains people’s poor decision-making abilities and inability to suppress urges when intoxicated. It also affects people’s ability to distinguish danger and consequences. And, lastly, because of its euphoric effects, alcohol tricks our brains into thinking that it wants more of that the more we consume it. This explains how people’s actions during the state of intoxication are heavily determined by what is biologically happening in their systems, and explains very well how despite being in a heavy state of drunkenness, are still willing to let go and drink more.
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– Participating, rather than just observing, gave us a chance to see the whole scenario from our own personal perspectives. It allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in the experience and create insights based from what we went through, rather than just the thoughts and opinions of someone who has went through it also. We were able to form realizations organically. When one observes, one can only know so much, since we are limited to the physical and outward actions of the person alone to base our thoughts on. We’d have very limited entry into the minds of the bartenders and would simply have the data that they would like to share with us, rather than the whole story.
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
– Having Keith, a friend and an organizer of the event, be our key informant not only help us feel like we were actually part of the event but also gave us a different perspective of things. He shared with us his insights regarding the party, which was really helpful as it gave us a different perspective of the event. Without him, we might have had a different experience in the event and would also not have been able to get as much information as he also helped us get a hold of the bartenders a few bottles of alcohol for a first-hand experience of the party.
3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
– By actually bartending and interacting with the people, we were able to see just how submissive they became when it came to being served drinks when they had consumed a large amount of alcohol. We got to experience a sense of power and dominance, even for just a short period of time that was quite foreign to us in situations like that . It also somewhat shocked and scared us just how people were when drunk, because in parties, we usually drink socially and responsibly and we wouldn’t have that close an interaction with people going through the whole process of drunkenness. We would have never arrived to those feelings and gain from there our realizations had we just sat and observed.
4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
– An interview is usually more efficient time-wise as you only need to ask a key informant regarding a certain topic. It also allows you to see things through a different perspective (the interviewee’s) as one’s observations may already have bias. One’s observations also has limits; Interviewing allows the observer or researcher to find a greater breadth with regards to coverage of the certain event. Also, being in the actual event may cause a different effect as people in the environment may be affected by the presence of the observer and thus change the way they act.
An Infographic Describing Alcohol’s Effect Inside Your Brain (Short Term)
Pictures courtesy of Casey Calara and Nicole Ty.
Klein, Sarah. “The Effects Of Alcohol In The Body (INFOGRAPHIC).” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 Dec. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
Manreal, Luanne. “The Science Of Getting Drunk (Infographic).” FriendsEAT. N.p., 4 June 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.