Description (What is being performed):
Drone Rat is a social club that consists of a group of friends from high school who post humorous media in a private group on Facebook. This collective also functions as a way for these people to stay in touch as they relocate and start to become more busy. Every year an awards ceremony/social gathering/hazing event takes place to celebrate the best posts and the groups friendship as well as to test each indivuals dedication to the group. I had the fortune of attending the most recent event in December, which is said to be the 5th annual gathering.
Below is a documentation of the event. Note that it ran over 5 hours long so only significant moments will be presented in this version of the account:
It was the early afternoon of December 21st 2015. I headed over to the informants parents house which was the grounds for hosting the event. I was at the drive way by the informant. He asked if I’d like to partake in the opening ritual. I wasn’t sure what that was but agreed to it. He brought me inside to what was a rather large home. Very naturalistic, lots of skylights and plants. In the living room was a group, presumably the members of Drone Rat who were all dressed in suits and drinking glasses of whiskey. They were engaging in typical banter that close friends often do, at least here in the states. I knew a few of them…we engaged in conversations mostly about how “pumped” they were for what awaits. They were just as clueless as I was as to what this ritual consists of…supposedly it changes every year, each more absurd in its presentation than the last…20 minutes pass and every is getting anxious…you can tell everyone is getting heavily toxicated at this point…supposedly they were still waiting on a few members to arrive…after about 5 more minutes two of the remaining members show up…everyone cheers them on, calling them by their nicknames…the leaders of the group, including the informant come back out to the group and announce that the ritual will commence…they guide us to the top of the driveway where a UHaul truck awaits with music blaring from the back…judging by everyone’s reactions this is defiantly a step up from last year. Everyone piles inside the back, a few reluctant. I was ordered to sit up front with the driver who was the informants brother. The truck takes off and you can hear everyone yelling out of excitement. Not for certain, but I’m pretty sure they were passing around drinks in the back as well…I ask the informants brother the point of this and he says its to make them think they’re being taken somewhere else…he goes to state that the event has taken place at the same place for too long and now it’s time to relocate, but it wouldn’t be Drone Rat without making everything seem cryptic up until the point of the reveal. We drive around a few neighborhoods close by, in a circle a few times then head back to the house…each of the members are then blindfolded and brought through an elaborate pitch black tunnel and placed in front of a table. This takes about 20 minutes. At this point you have 12 men in suits blindfolded in the pitch black surrounding a table…their blind folds are then removed…all of a sudden loud obnoxious music from the experimental hip hop artist Tyler the Creator starts to play out of no where and a spotlight turns in above the middle of the table. Awaiting each member is a bottle of Guinness beer with a sock over the top, a cigerette, a small container of liquor, crackers, and meat. They’re instructed to eat, drink and smoke everything and then head down the mysterious corridor where a strobe light is flashing. One by one each member finishes their things and heads down the corridor where a person with a beer awaits. The member is instructed to shot gun the beer and walk into the next room. The next room is a large space with a stage and a projector playing a looped video that says “Fight, Fuck, Feast, Repeat” each word being paired with a derogatory image to match it. Some 60s Japanese rock song plays along side. THe place is decorated in Christmas lights…there’s even a mini bar with beer and liquor. Once everyone is finished and get accumulated in the new room they are asked to be seated. A preprogrammed voice introduces the host of the evening who comes on the stage. He is applauded by the members. He goes on to thank everyone, crack a few jokes about the members and acknowledges the absence of a couple of its members. He then asks the informants brother to come onto the stage and to sing the pledge of allegiance. THe members stand and join in unthinkably…after, the host comes back up to introduce the informant who is one of the leaders of the group. He gives a speech and then introduces the first awards category…this being funniest picture…A video plays showing each of the photos with music playing the background…very much like a slide show only the images are given a Ken burns effect and any written word on the image is spoken by a pre recorded voice. One of the images consists of screenshot of one of the members Instagram showing a picture of someone else’s post. I promised not to share the nature of the content, but it certainly got the crowd laughing. After all the images were shown, a screen pops up showing each of the contenders and a number beside them. The members are then instructed to write down the correlated number of the post they liked most on a piece a paper. Afterwards they were all collected and counted…the winner was announced…the winner goes onto the stage and is awarded a trophy which was a golden circa hands statue. The winner gave a brief and comical speech then sat down. THis routine went on for about 2 hours. The categories were things like “Best Post” and “Best Video”, “Slander”, “Best Comment on a Post” and much more. By the end everyone was heavily intoxicated…then the host stated that they had a surprise…the lights dimmed…on the screen popped up an image with the title that you would see for a music video…The title was
“Drone Rat Theme Song 2015” and was written by a few of the members. The song played to what looked like footage from a children’s tv show only something more adult in nature. THe music was hard hitting electronic music, dubstep and hip hop infused. The members started to aggressively flail their arms and stomp their feet like core dancers. Once the song was over they replayed it and danced in the same manor…after everyone seemed a bit tired…they at this point questioned where they actually were…they stepped outside to see that in fact we were in the backyard of the informants house…A few had guessed this from the beginning…the members, intoxicated and a bit tired walked inside to find the informants mom and dad cooking a large feast…lots of meat, pasta, bread, salad, and desert. Everyone feasted at a large table…as they were doing so a few of the member’s girlfriends showed up…everyone continued to feast and then went their separated ways…all the trophies were left behind which is an ongoing joke between the members who put on the event and the recipients of the awards…the members wants the receipients to take the awards home just as one does in most ceremonies, but ever since one of the recpeients didn’t a few years back, word got around, everyone found it humurous and continue to do so.
The Informant (Background info about performance from informant):
Why do they know or like this piece?
Me: “What draws you to doing all of this?”
Informant: “You’ll give different sides depending on who you talk to. Those who experience the ceremony find its a way for everyone to catch up after not seeing each other for almost a year. Also it’s something to do when we’re home with our families during Christmas break. The less apparent but certainly truthful aspect is that its a form of comfort, like comfort food or piece of entertainment. These are people we grew up with and have a long standing history of jokes and memories that when we reconnect, whether it be in our online group or in person, acts as a way to escape any sort of hardships we may have at any given moment. For us who put on the event and come up with the elaborate rituals, I think we may be just a bit sadistic, or maybe just a bit playful (laughs)
Me: “That’s interesting (laughs) I can see how all that makes sense.” Now tell how this was oringaly concieved, as in the group and the ceremony.”
Informant: “**** who is the founder of the group was livening in Los Angeles right out of high school and was a bit lonely and he wanted a way to be able to keep in constant contact with his friends so he made this group. As far the ceremony I think him and I were talking one day and the idea just sprang to one of us, I don’t remember who.”
Me: “So it acted like a genuine need”
Informant: “Yeah, exactly.”
Me: “One last question, what does this mean to you?”
Informant: “Well much of like I said before, it’s an a thing where we can bond, you know, a method of celebrating our friendship.”
Me: “Great, thanks man.”
The Analysis (My Thoughts):
Much like the informant said, I see this as a gathering for a group of friends to reconvene, to escape from their daily lives, and to build a sense of purpose outside of the normal routine. Looking past all of this, the ceremony will be of greater focus. What I immeditely thought after it ended was the the structure resembled much of any other ceremony where everyone comes together, theirs a build up to the ceremony, theirs dancing and feasting afterwards. What happens within each of these events is what sets it apart, and in this case in a very bizarre way. Things like roaming around in a UHaul, being blind folded, and having to eat, drink, and smoke a bizarre grouping of items turns this into almost a hazing event, akin to a fraternity. The thing is none of these members are plaiges, they are the same status as those who are conducted this ceremony. This feeds into to what the informant said about feeding into their sadistic desires. ALthough these members aren’t forced to do any of this and won’t lose membership if they fail to submit. So I question why they would do such nonsense. My guess is it is again a form of escape. Much like one would put themselves in a haunted house during Halloween. Moving on to the ceremony itself, it resemlbes the traditions of the typical ceremony,especially awards ceremony in America: you have a stage, the mc, drinks, lighting, speeches, etc. The way in which the voting process of the winning videos is very democratic, which is unlike many of the awards ceremonies which shows the leaders of this ceremony value the fairness of its members, unlike what you may gather from the ritual beforehand. The content, although I promised to not talk about any of it explicitly, is clearly niche humor. Much of which relates to people all of these people know and who aren’t at the ceremony. Other types of content is sometimes political, often wordly and much a product of the Internet generation. Seeing the way everyone reacts during the ceremony, it is almost as if it’s a comedy show in itself. THe speeches by the winning recipients being a component of this. Moving on to other aspects like the design of the ceremony, which includes building a “fortress” as they call it, which is made out of black tarp and PVC pipe, took an entire week to design and construct and was about 600-800 square feet in size. This was resurrected by what the informant calls “The Committee” which includes the infomrant, the leader and two counsel members. The entire process is said to be taken seriously like any job or event coordination, which is another example of the members showing how much they value what they do. If anything this committee values the reconvening the most consider the amount of effort it takes for them to put this together. From what I was told it was about 2 months in total.