A Round Red Archetype of Education in Inebriation

Growing up in the United States, the use of red plastic cups at parties was de rigueur. There has never been another container so archetypal as to be iconic, the very image of illicit American teenage drinking. From high school to college, and sometimes beyond, those cups are never far from view.

On this side of the pond, they’ve become so synonymous with underage alcohol consumption that some universities ban their use at social events, even when they’re filled with water or soda. A few even consider the display of red plastic cups in a dorm room window to be grounds for punishment, such anger do they stir in the hearts of undergraduate administrators.

And this conception of a cup in reality is reflected in pop culture, ubiquitous in the scenes of most teen movies and television shows; such a cup was even used as the trademark of Greek, a program of recent vintage about life in college sororities and fraternities. Perhaps it’s for this reason that many of my British friends were suspicious of the nature of this object.

I’d had to break the truth about so many myths of American schooling to friends here at Oxford that when a stereotype was actually grounded in reality, it was hard for many of them to accept. They insisted that it couldn’t be true that we actually drank from those scarlet coffers, that to do so seemed entirely too obvious.

But they’ve come to accept the truth, albeit with the caveat that the only reason we actually utilize such things is that the legal age for alcohol consumption in all 50 states is 21, not 18, as it is in the United Kingdom. And I have to say, it can be fun to drink from those cups – it allows everyone to feel like part of a greater whole, the mass of American students, across the country and beyond.