You stand in a quarter-mile line for too long. You scratch the skin under the wristband you’ve been wearing since Thursday that was at first annoying, but has now become an ironic accessory to your Hawaiian-shirt-and-jort outfit for Sun God Festival 2019.
As the line shuffles forward, sniffs of German shepherds remind you how guilty you can feel even though you’ve done nothing wrong. You’re given the laziest pat-down by someone probably retired from the TSA, who tells you as you enter the festival that you should not forget to “have Fun.”
Many of these measures were implemented after a UC San Diego student died of a drug overdose the night of Sun God Festival 2014.
The earlier start time, heightened security, and more severe scrutiny means that Sun God has become such an anxious experience that, ironically, compels some students to become utterly intoxicated in order to achieve the goal of “having Fun.”
In some moments between sets, when the music stops, when the stagehands come to collect the drum kits and wipe the stage, when the only thing you hear is the chatter of the other attendees having their “Fun,” you get a sinister feeling. It’s the settling realization that you’re not at Sun God for the musical artists, free Rockstar energy drinks, cartoonishly large slide, or even the experience of being with your friends: you’re at Sun God for a feeling. And in a transitory moment between orchestrated experiences, that feeling has ceased.
It’s not an unnatural feeling at concerts or amusement parks, but this one strikes deeper. Against the backdrop of fences and drug-sniffing dogs, something about this all seems inexplicably fake.
A patrol around RIMAC field finds innumerable inebriated students, who are drunk and now dehydrated in the San Diego sun.
Throughout the afternoon, performers constantly demand that you express the “Fun” you’re having, instructing the audience to “make some noise,” or put their “hands up,” or “open up the pit,” which doesn’t really exist because of a metal catwalk protruding from the stage, designed to keep the crowd from growing too large, or intermingling too much.
This event might not have happened at all. Sun God 2014 could have been the last Sun God Festival. The university very easily could have cancelled future Sun Gods, if the university’s interest in student safety was absolute. Instead, the administration seized control of the process. Security increased; fences went up; wristbands were issued to identify anyone loitering in the days leading up to the event; guests were no longer permitted, and tickets no longer sold to non-students; the event time changed, so everyone could be home in time for dinner.
These changes haven’t actually worked. Sun God 2015 actually saw an increase in alcohol use, as well as the selling of campus ID cards to gain entry to the festival. To add injury to intellectual insult, the (ineffective) increased police presence on campus can be an unnecessary deterring, anxious, or overwhelming experience, particularly for students of color. It is mindblowingly incompetent to put more police on campus while there’s a campus-wide conversation about the mistreatment and underrepresentation of communities that have been systematically oppressed by police.
Beyond the incompetent, some security measures are downright idiotic. Students — many of whom are under 21 years old — are asked to report how much alcohol they plan on consuming, on a university-run website that also collects their names, email addresses, and student ID numbers. It would be silly to expect these responses to be anywhere near an accurate reflection of student habits.
The emphasis on safety and education seems disingenuous at best and cynically deceptive at worst. Nevertheless, the ultimate truth is that the administration’s interest in campus safety is performative.
All that being said, I would urge caution to anyone reading this who thinks that security is solely responsible for the demise of the festival. I am not the first voice to have offered hypotheses and critiques. Search through any campus publication, and you will find annual lamentations of the festival. I even found Yelp reviews of Sun God Festival from 2008, some of which bemoaned the decline in the quality of music and the administration’s efforts to minimize the number of non-students attending. But I still think that the festival’s security reforms play into a larger conversation about UCSD’s student body.
No event on campus is truly of, by, and for the students. Our new Sun God Festival is reflective of the reality of UCSD’s direction of campus spirit. Events are never student-centered, but careful facades of obligatory acts of spirit; in other words, Sun God is an event we put on because it’s a box checked-off by administration: have something “Fun” for the kids.
I don’t know what all the answers are, but I know there is a reality we have to start talking about as UCSD students: Sun God Music Festival is not ours, and it hasn’t been for quite some time.
Patrick Alexander is an Assistant Opinion Editor and The Conch Editor for The Triton.
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