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Another blow to quality of life

The State of Pennsylvania has made a very old CMU Fine Arts Department tradition untenable. The 89 year old quadriennial Beaux Arts Ball is so well known in the arts community that its passing rated a New York Times story. They call it “the original toga party”. That is putting it mildly.

Although the article presents a number of reasons for the passing, the biggest one is Statist intervention. They grey minded, grey suited, grey souled clones killed it:

‘The off-campus establishments have liquor licenses and are prepared to uphold the state’s liquor laws,” the dean said. ”Responsibility for alcohol is the main reason the ball was moved off campus.”

At the 1985 ball, which attracted more than 1,200 people, the building received more than $50,000 in damage. The Student Affairs office reported open drug use and under-age drinking. Since then, Pennsylvania passed a law requiring universities to be responsible for drinking on their campuses.

I might add I was costumed as sort of ‘Retief’ type interstellar adventurer at the 1985 affair, complete with cape, tights, a chestpiece glittering with LED’s and a mean looking laser side arm in my quite real holster.

And yes, it was … quite a party.

17 comments to Another blow to quality of life

  • Please tell me someone had the sense to have taken a picture?

  • llamas

    “Although the article presents a number of reasons for the passing, the biggest one is Statist intervention. They grey minded, grey suited, grey souled clones killed it . . . ”

    Yeah, those rotten old fogies. How dare they disrupt the freedom of drunks to cause untrammelled property damage? Don’t they realize that getting drunk and smashing other people’s property are at the very heart of individual rights and liberties?



  • James

    Agreed, llamas. Wrecking the host’s premises is bad form, even if nerdly space cadet attendees were not to blame.

    Not much wind in the sails of your lamentation, Dale.


  • Dale Amon

    Sometimes I wonder if people even bother to read the article before commenting. You guys could hardly be more off the mark.

    First, it is an event of the Fine Arts Department for the students and those associated with that Department. The attendees were therefor student painters, sculptures, dramats, stage designers, classical musicians, etc and their girlfriends or boyfriends.

    Second, I wonder why no mention was made of the parties in 1988, 1992, 1996 , 2000 and 2004?

    Thirdly, if you are imagining the place being trashed, you have a hyperactive imagination. 4 floors with lots of beer and cups on the marble floor and I expect the loos were pretty overused. If there was anything actually broken I didn’t see it. I suspect the majority of the cost was just cleaning up. It is a BIG building and the party takes place throughout. Imagine a ball with nought but artists in a Greco-Roman hall with marble statues, stone ballustrades on the balcony, etc.

    Foruth, my own experience of CMU is that mostly we dated on campus. So I will guess of the 1200 probably 1000 were students who were paying such a large amount per year to be there that the pro-rated extra cost of $50 a head for the clean up afterwards is really lost in the noise. There have been Frat pranks that went awry and probably cost that much.

    Fifth, the cost of that one cleanup 20 some years some 23 years ago was not the reason the ball was moved off campus and subsequently failed. It was moved because the State of Pennsylvania would rather that college students go off campus and work with their friends to get their cases and kegs than have it in a reasonably contained environment.

    Of course that said, I remember walking into my local in Squirrel Hill on my 21st Birthday… and buying a celebratory round in a place where I had been a regular for at least 3 years!

    And sixth, remind me never to go out partying with you. I prefer the wilder side and the idea of ducking a few thrown bottles or a brawl doesn’t put me off at all. In fact I’m rather good at not even
    spilling my pint while I move out of the way…. one gets used to that in some parts of Belfast…

  • Dale Amon

    And to summarize: if the UNIVERSITY had been all that upset, there would have been no ball in 1989. Funny thing… there were quite a few after that.

    The only reason they stopped was because of the frigging Statiist a**seh***s.

    Well, come the Revolution, lads.. 🙂

  • llamas

    Dale Amon – self-evidently, I read the article. If there is a fevered imagination at work, it may be that of the reporter who recounted the damage toll from 1985. I took that report at face value. I notice that you don’t dispute the figure, merely the exact expenditure category that it may have fallen into.

    Oh, so you only made an unholy mess and spilled beer everywhere, leaving it for others to clean up? Oh, well, that’s all right, then.

    You don’t want to party with me – that’s fine. I’ve been thrown out of Hammering Hank’s in Cheboygan, Michigan – for cause. I’ve Ragged in London and in Cambridge. I don’t know that you could keep up. It’s just that I don’t consider it my right to party on down in someone else’s property, get drunk, make a filthy mess, expect others to clean it up, and then cry the blues when I don’t get invited back. And that pretty-much sums up your description of this particular event. Feel free to correct me if I have misunderstood your basic description.

    And – furthermore – you may not agree with the laws regarding the drinking age, or the drug laws. I know I don’t. But what do you expect a public institution like CMU to do, in the face of an event which they know, with 100% certainty, will involve underage drinking, and probably illegal drug use as well? Condone it? Look the other way? You know they can’t do that – and you don’t want them to, because that’s the route to having them only pay mind to the laws they like. Don’t ask for what you want – you might just get it.



  • Dale Amon

    You still don’t get it. The University ran the event every 4 years for the next 23 and even then did not stop it, just made it move off campus to satisfy legal worries due to the State. Once off campus it was just another disco night and at that price was not of value to the students.

    The Beaux Arts Ball was something very special. Screw the State.

  • llamas

    I get it, all right.

    Just for fun, I pulled down from the shelf a book of Brassai’s photographs, that includes a large number of images of the Paris Beaux-Arts balls of the 1920s.

    It would appear that these were very-bit as Bacchanalian as the revels you descibe. The dress code for female attendees was topless (at a minimum), while the men passed on the togas and went straight to loincloths and gold body paint. It must have been a sight to see. And I’m sure that there was plenty of revelry, of all sorts, that went on there.

    Somehow, they managed, even in those tighter-laced times, to enjoy their entertainements and have them tolerated by the city and its citizens – probably because their festivities brought pleasure and entertainment with few or no negative side-effects. People in those days knew how to behave properly.

    Most social events of this type degrade rapidly – the spark of joy and genius that made them so attractive and wonderful is very delicate. And part of their attraction is their exclusivity. To misquote Yogi Berra, they become so popular that nobody goes there anymore.

    From your own description, it sounds like that’s what happened here. This went from being a special event to being just another disco, complete with a surfeit of drunkeness and everything that goes with it. And CMU finally decided that they’d had enough – the negatives outweighed the positives by too great a margin. It really has nothing to do with the state, more to do, perhaps, with the fact that the event had morphed into something that just wasn’t welcome anymore. From the descriptions, it’s hardly surprising – I know of very few places except hard-core discos and dance clubs where a bunch of rowdy drunks are considered a welcome addition to the milieu.



  • Dale Amon

    Again, wrong. The event didn’t descend until the faculty moved it off campus. It went on for 89 years until fear of the new State laws and the risk-averse climate of what currently passes for a free country made them move it off campus, only for the reason that someone else would do the ID checking.

    There were no complaints from the wider community (other than that engineers and H&SS people couldn’t be part of it unless they were either dating a FA student or (as in my case) had some other connection with the department (I worked for an interdisciplenary group).

    I really do not understand your problem. It is private property, the university had no problem with it internally (at least not enough to cancel the next one 23 years ago due to one that got a bit too big), everything was consensual, most people had a great time and have fond life long memories of ‘their’ event, the students paid for it (through the nose and every other oriface, perhaps $15-20K a year even back then). So what is your problem?

    I might note that other events like the Penn State “Phi Psi 500” have also been ‘tamed’ and dumbed down. This is a general problem of Nanniests using the State to force everyone else to act by their rules.

    And btw, I only wish it was as Bacchanalian as the original… perhaps back in the 60’s when Andy Warhol was a student. Now I’ll bet that was a truly amazing party! I did hear rumours of a Mazola party in a closet in the building from that era…

  • llamas

    Dale Amon – well, since you won’t let it go, here comes the smack-down. You wrote:

    ‘The University ran the event every 4 years for the next 23 . . .’

    Wrong. It went on a 11-year hiatus, from 1995 to 2006.


    Obviously, a central pillar in the cultural life of the University . . . . Don’t you think you ought to know a bit more about this?

    Why did it disappear for a decade? Well, from CMU’s own student newspaper, ‘The Tartan”,

    ‘So what caused the ball to disappear for 11 years? In 1985, the Beaux Arts Ball turned into a chaotic and hedonistic free-for-all as the party got way out of hand. Students just went wild, and many recall beer flowing down steps and through floors into staff offices. It cost the CFA thousands in damage and scarred the ball’s already controversial reputation.’

    I think that my analysis perhaps has more truth to it than your happy memories of an event that others have charitably described as a ‘chaotic and hedonistic free-for-all (that got) way out of hand’. A bunch of drunks made a filthy mess – and you’re upset because they aren’t going to be invited back?

    Not that I’m opposed to chaotic and hedonistic frees-for-all, possibly involving illegal acts and substances – on the contrary, I’m a big fan. It’s just that I don’t expect others to provide the venue (for free), condone the lawbreaking, and clean up the mess afterwards.

    I twice had the occasion to act as a steward at the summer balls of one of the Inns of Court. ‘Steward’ meant that I was dressed in a dinner-jacket and went to trouble first. Real security – beyond the impeccable dinner-jacket and the quiet word in the ear – was provided by a company from the Inns of Court & City Yeomanry. They were there, not for decoration, but because there had been – incidents – in the past.

    These balls were flowing rivers of every vice and decadence you can imagine. Those members of the Inn who lived in either went to the country for the weekend, or relied on the stewards to get them to and from their homes. Alcohol flowed in the gutters, naked women cavorted on the lawns (and elsewhere) and there were some legendary fistfights. I well recall the company sergeant saying in my ear ‘Leave them be for a bit, sir – wait till they’ve knocked it out of each other, before we step in’. Also the young lady of unimpeachable family wandering around wearing only silver dance slippers and carrying a rolled shoulder of pork, which she was offering to trade for – well, never mind.

    Yet there was no property damage – unless you consider sidewalks rinsed in beer to be ‘damage’. Noone got hurt that didn’t go looking for it, noone got molested or abused that didn’t go looking for it, the residents came back to find their homes untouched and their offices pristine.

    These events can come off as wild as you want them to be, and more, and be welcomed back with open arms. It only takes common sense and a modicum of discretion. It merely appears that the CMU Beaux Arts Ball was not operating along those lines.



  • It would appear I’ve led a sheltered life.

    Well, sort of. I have been involved in the odd debauch in my time.

    I saw a girl screwed on a pool table at KCL on The Strand. I have danced over broken glass at the Irish Club in Nottingham. Unbelievable fisticuffs broke out there all the time. The bouncers were members of the Club’s Rugby team so the standard jocular atmosphere was rapidly restored.

    And a London University Law Society Ball I once went to turned into a veritable riot. I excited stage-left carrying a very large bag of sauce which I proceeded to schlep to a flat in the West End. I did this because a Canadian solicitor told me to. I have no recollection where that bag of sauce ended-up.

    So, I dunno. I dunno who to agree with here. I guess I’ll leave the final word to Germaine Greer. She once said that drugs shouldn’t be legalised because that would take half the fun out of them.

  • llamas

    Nick M. wrote

    ‘I have danced over broken glass at the Irish Club in Nottingham. Unbelievable fisticuffs broke out there all the time. The bouncers were members of the Club’s Rugby team so the standard jocular atmosphere was rapidly restored. ‘

    You mean the bar at the Irish Centre? Just south of the centre of town, off Maid Marian Road?

    Many years ago, I would occasionally get to tip a pint at the bar in the basement of Nottingham Central police station, and I recall the place being discussed as being essentialy self-policing. Never was there myself.



  • Dale Amon

    As I left for Ireland in 1989, I missed that bit and must admit to being rather surprised that it was indeed suspended. So long as this was a matter entirely within the University community I have no problems with them making their own decisions for their own reasons. I will of course take sides within that community but that is not an issue for here.

    I’ll have to have a chat with a former Dean of Fine Arts see if I can get the inside scoop.

    You presumption then is that the restarted event was sent off campus entirely for university internal reasons and it had nothing whatsoever to do with legal worries over the Nanny Statists?

  • Dale Amon

    I might add that the statement of the current Dean:

    “The off-campus establishments have liquor licenses and are prepared to uphold the state’s liquor laws,” the dean said. ”Responsibility for alcohol is the main reason the ball was moved off campus.”

    Tends toward an interpretation that it was moved for reasons of State law.

  • llamas, the same place. Big Hang-out for Nottingham Students. Like me.

  • Midwesterner


    There may be a faction that is new since your time. I once had the regrettable er. . . , pleasure of serving as [administration supervisory cmte]/[student activity cmte] Liaison Officer. It was a standing committee that only met when an incident occured. We had an incident in which police came to a rather large party and reported that they left in fear of their own safety. The police had actually substantially exaggerated the incident not by adding to, but by omitting from the official police report. For example, the police report stated that an attendee at the party had deliberately released the quick releases on the front wheel and seat post of the police bicycles. This was true. What was left out of the report was that immediately prior to doing that he had been attempting to suck the air out of the tires through the valve stems, was wearing a mop died black on his head and telling everybody he was a pirate captain. Or at least attempting to. A lot got lost in the translation. He truly was crawling on all fours. Kind of casts a different light on it, no? While this kind of drinking may be a real problem, the campus police misrepresenting his drunken silliness as a calculated attempt to cause harm to LEOs was lying in no uncertain terms.

    In committee we were able with much back and forth and genuine good faith effort on both sides to agree to changes in alcohol, food and open/closed event social policies that actually applied across the campus and remained in effect for ~10 years. It was recently chucked out for no apparent reason. Literally, I mean nobody I asked whether in favor or opposed to the changes could give any reasons for the change.

    Having observed the beginnings of the process that resulted in that, I have opinions.

    1. The enhanced role of the dept of risk management (insurance liability) in every facet of campus activities. While these guys should always be consulted for advice, they should never be given either real or de facto authority. They always error on the side of ‘caution’ as in ‘no legal liability’.

    2. Nanny state puritans. These are well discussed at SI already and you know them well.

    3. The 21 yo drinking age in light of the first two items. As the rules have become stricter on segregating 18-20 yo’s from people who consume alcohol, it becomes more difficult to hold events. The lazy solution is to ban alcohol entirely.

    4. The general category of activists in areas like ‘hate speech’ and ‘[name an oppressed group] rights’. Alcohol tends to open the floodgates of communication and free speech is threatening to these groups. As someone who was occasionally mistaken for a conservative on a far-left campus, I can vouch for the intimidation potential of free speech, but if hearing alternative opinions upsets you, there’s the exit, in the future don’t come to our parties.

    Unfortunately, these people have acquired the power to ban parties that do not meet their approval.

    There are probably more forces at work but I was amazed how much things changed as measured by five year benchmarks from, say 1985 through 2005. I was not present at parties in 1985 but I saw records and was amazed by the keg/person ratio. It dropped steadily over the years until alcohol was entirely banned briefly. I don’t know its present status.

  • Gregory

    All these comments and I can’t believe nobody has mentioned the most important thing yet…


    I admit, I’ve only read the Eric Flint – edited versions, but that man is the absolute best fictional diplomat ever. Unless James Bond is also a diplomat. Heck, he’s quite possibly the best diplomat – no exceptions.

    Re-reading the stories, there’s a great deal of prescience about it, isn’t there, though? 🙂

    /oh, yeah, rock on with parties and all. Although I always preferred booking out the whole bar/club and doing whatever you wanted to do. I swear my colleague got pregnant in one of those ‘do’s.