I watched Studentville the other day. It wasn’t my thing.
To me it all just seemed like endless highlights reels of mindless idiots throwing up, getting naked and talking about people they would like to mount. And as goes with the start of any diatribe of worth, it got me thinking.
Pursuits such as Studentville in this country, usually fail. If we cast our minds back to the New Zealand Herald’s ill-fated student supplement Fuse, I think you’ll see where I’m coming from. The student demographic is a rocky-road of sets and subsets, each section of student life ready and willing to mock anything approaching a stereotype and generalisation on what defines the student populous in this country. Studentville attempts to cast the beer-drinking student horn-bag as the New Zealand equivalent to the apathetic, jean-short wearing, pot-smoking, OC watching, hacky-sack loving American ‘college’- goer. In my mind, it fails. Partly through the shortsightedness that students will want to regularly watch something with such an absence of any real depth, but also through the fact that students on the whole aren’t actually like this. I can see why this schtick went down a treat at Cow TV, the wildly successful student orientated TV show in New Zealand’s student ‘party-central’ Dunedin (or really I can see why it had more of a shot at succeeding there). I personally found it to be something akin to being sober amongst friends who had been drinking for days.
But then, who would I be to assess the success of a show and its appeal to students? No one knows the student demographic. There is not anything that unites us all. Fuse was the first real attempt (albeit an awkward one) for marketers to connect with a significant portion of the student body. 18 plus, and Varsity.co.nz are other attempts, that while not really catching on the way the money men behind them would have liked, did not meet the same fiery fate of widespread scorn and mirth as Fuse. Studentville is another effort in a long line of matching marketing dollars to an active student audience. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying that they are all completely cold marketing devices, just that one of the only reasons that they make it on air is that they can match advertisers at students. We may all be riddled with debt, butthe facts still show that the student demographic has a lot of cash to burn. And we know how to spend it. I’d be interested in reviewing the alcohol budget of students on a picket line.
Yet students are unable to be defined. A constant mystery. Even at Salient we grapple with this. Like comics, love the letters and Bran- Power, but think that features are boring and that the cartoon about those two guys smoking weed was genius? Well for every one of you there is another out there who keeps telling me that the features are where it’s at and that we haven’t had a decent comic since Brunswick.
What is the student experience? The truth is that there isn’t one. Some are here for the cold purpose of buying a career. Some come for the experience. Some come because their parents think Polytech is a filthy word. It kind of seems that children have cartoons and superheroes, and adults have Nexus Sunday Theatre and Maggie Smith films. But what do we have? Endless stoned conversations about the popcultural significance of The Simpsons? Keg parties?
And where did we go? The bar shuts at 5pm every night of the week here, Orientations are seriously under-attended (at the same time as a survey of thousands of Victoria students put cheap bands high on the list of wants), and the university drops off into ghost town territory soon after nightfall. And we’re supposedly in trouble, violated by sinister University and Government forces who do not act in the interest of students. But the small fraction of people who cared enough to show up to VUWSA’s AGM are locked into a bitter dispute over $21. Students have never been more in debt, but then they’ve never been earning more according to Student Job Search. All this working and earning means you don’t have enough time to study for all these courses that are supposedly so watered down that you just have to show up at university to get a degree.
What really got my wheels spinning was throwing all this confusion into the midst of a student election. Tomorrow you will have a new VUWSA executive, that roughly half of the fiveten percent of you that vote will have voted for and that the other ninety percent of the University will make jokes about until you do it all again next year. People say that student radicalism is dead, and judging by the reception of the long hair and funny costumes sported by some of the more left-leaning members of the VUWSA exec (which would have probably been right at home on a 1970’s campus) they’d be right. Apparently students have a bum rap, but then won’t even vote in an election to get the right people in do help. So where does that leave the student movement? Stuck in a muck of apathy, scorn and neglect. Rudderless and shipwrecked. Confused and drunk, and turning in endless circles. To whoever is voted VUWSA President tomorrow, good luck.
Marketers may not have pinned down entirely what students want. But students have yet to do tit either. You can’t always get what you want, but in order to be in with a shot, you’ve got to at least know first.