A Real 'Teenage Wasteland': What Would You Do?
Would passersby react to seemingly underage teens drinking in public?
Jan. 11, 2011 — -- Underage drinking has become a popular form of entertainment. The Internet is overflowing with videos of teens bragging and showing off their ability to chug or funnel massive amounts of alcohol. Reality shows like MTV's "Jersey Shore" highlight the cast's daily alcoholic excesses -- though the cast members are all of legal drinking age, many of their fans are not.
And it isn't all fist bumps and games. DWI accidents take thousands of young lives each year and account for 60 percent of all teen car accident deaths. And the CDC says people who begin drinking before the age of 15 are more prone to committing homicide or suicide, poor school performance and risky sexual behaviors.
So we wanted to see how society would react when confronted with underage drinking. We set up cameras in downtown Montclair, N.J. and had a group of actors portray four underage teens standing out on a public street drinking what appeared to be cans of beer -- in reality, the sanitized cans were filled with ginger ale -- in brown paper bags.
Perhaps it's because underage drinking is so common, but when we had our actors -- three guys and one girl -- simply drinking and engaging in chugging contests, most people simply walked past them. One woman walked past with her young daughter laughing, and a man gave one of our actors a low five.
Teens Get Rowdy
Yet as our teens' behavior grew louder and more rowdy, and they began falling over themselves, we noticed some passersby appear to grow concerned.
John Curtis Jr. walked past with several people and could be clearly seen on our cameras stopping and looking for help as the teens tried to hold up our stumbling actress. Curtis appeared to continue on his way, but it turned out he was just moving away from the scene to call police for help.
"I'm a former school principal, and I worked with teenagers, and kids like that, and I see, you know, Saturday morning, kids out drinking beer, and all the wrong things were happening," Curtis said after we let him know it was all part of "What Would You Do?"
Curtis said the teens appeared so drunk he was worried that stopping and getting in their faces would only escalate the situation.
"I didn't really want to set up a confrontation, you know? So I wanted to get the authorities here and get some help to the situation," he said.
The majority of people who noticed our teens, however, seemed reluctant to get personally involved at all. So we asked our 16-year-old actress Jillian to up the ante by appearing heavily intoxicated, unable to hold herself up or function -- and we had our three actors appearing to force her to drink more "beer." Finally, as our actress appeared to be in trouble, more bystanders began to step in.
Isabelle Alsop saw our actress being held up by our actors while they drank, and she came right over to them asking Jillian if she was okay. When our actors protested that Jillian was okay, Alsop and another man accompanying her told the boys that Jillian was not okay, and she needed to get medical help.
Our actors tried to continue partying, prompting Isabelle to call Montclair police, who were already aware of the "What Would You Do?" scenario. At that point, our actors dragged Jillian away from Isabelle, into an alleyway park behind them, but Isabelle wouldn't let them out of her sight, and followed right behind them.