The 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix was lying on its side. Many of us saw it on television, online, in the papers. As for the car’s owner, he’d paid his $15 to get into a party that had obviously gotten way out of control. When West Chester police arrived to stifle the melee, two arrests were made.
This is what can happen when Jeffrie “Yofray” Ray comes to town in search of full-frontal bacchanalia. Property is destroyed; people end up in jail; reputations are upended. (Never mind those tender, young livers.) Parents are forking over tens of thousands of dollars each year to put their kids through college, and Ray is more than happy to show them where some of that money is going. Go to imshmacked.com, and you’ll see a student immortalized for rip-cording a beer in three seconds. You’ll see another passed out as his buddies redesign his facial features with a Sharpie. And there’s oh-so-much more where that came from.
This fall, the Lower Merion High School alum is traveling the country yet again, video camera in hand, ready for anything. He’ll throw a party, rake in a pile of cash, post the highlights on his website, and move on down the line. “I’m just documenting it. It’s going to happen either way,” says Ray. “But I don’t encourage people to do dumb things.”
He doesn’t have to. On the I’m Shmacked site, you’ll find a series of clips chronicling Ray’s take on a particular school—shots of campus buildings and sports venues, college towns, and those aforementioned enthusiastic partygoers showing off for the camera. A budding filmmaker who hopes to someday be the toast of Hollywood, Ray stands to make $20,000 per college visit this fall, and he’s planning 30 of them. Not a bad way to make a living—if you’re 20.
Slang for an advanced state of inebriation, “I’m schmacked” was uttered all too frequently by a brother of Ray’s friend. “We started saying it, and it stuck,” says Ray of the not-so-subtle moniker for his budding online enterprise.
Ray and his cohort, Arya Toufanian, have become notorious almost by accident. Their website has been featured in the New York Times, alternately celebrated and derided in the college press, and covered by ABC News. More recently, one of their cameramen was briefly incarcerated after a Sept. 9 I’m Shmacked party at the University of Delaware, where up to 4,000 students rampaged through Newark, taking to rooftops and climbing on passing cars.
Still, Ray says the goal has always been to offer prospective students an inside look at a school’s social life to aid in the decision-making process. Toufanian is more philosophical. “It’s a time in history that we won’t get back,” he says. “We’re archiving it.”
Presumably, kids already know that the University of Michigan is a Top 25 school with excellent engineering and business programs. But do they know how wild things get at Welcome Week? “You can find out that a school has a great business program, but the social stuff isn’t there,” says Ray. “A friend of mine went to [the University of] Alabama, but he discovered that it was too Southern and too Greek for him. You can see that in my videos.”
Born in Lancaster, Jeffrie Ray eventually settled in Narberth with his divorced mother, Nicole. He maintains a good relationship with his father, Steven Humphrey, a graphic designer.
“He’s always marched to the beat of a different drummer. He doesn’t put any limits on himself,” says Nikki Ray. “What I admire most is that he’s living his life. I don’t know anyone his age who’s traveled as much as he has. I wish I’d experienced that—not in the particular way he has, but I didn’t get to travel like him.”
At Lower Merion, Ray was a bit of an AV geek and a solid student, gaining admittance to New York City’s School of Visual Arts for the 2011-12 school year. As a high school senior, he spent his weekends going to parties and making Jackass-like videos with friends. “I got a better camera and filmed everything—drinking, smoking, our pranks,” says Ray. “We didn’t have to do a lot in school; they take it pretty easy on seniors.”
Ray would carry his camera everywhere, shooting 20-second clips of random activities for inclusion in a video compilation he was working on. With such memorable “chapter” names as “Dumb S–t We Do,” Ray’s much-hyped opus was set for release on the last day of school.
But then disaster struck: Ray was trying to make room for the film on his computer when he deleted it by mistake. Fortunately for him, the trailer had already been distributed. “People saw it and asked, ‘Who is this kid?’” he says.
Ray had apparently found his vocation, much to his mother’s initial dismay. “I was definitely worried about it. I didn’t get it at all,” she says. “It wasn’t until I spoke with another younger person that I got it. I remember them saying, ‘Ms. Ray, he’s showing us what it’s like at different schools.’ I didn’t have any exposure to [colleges] when I was in high school.”
And what does she think about the videos? “After watching a few of them, each school feels different; he can convey that through his films,” she says. “I judge a medium of art by how it moves me. His films bring out emotion.”
And not always positive emotion. “That’s the downside of this that he’s going to have to come to terms with,” says Ray’s mom. “He has to realize that there are unfortunate consequences when people drink. They don’t make good decisions, and something may happen.”
“It would be ignorant to say partying doesn’t happen in high school,” says Doug Young, Lower Merion High School’s communications director. “We’re aware of it.”
He’s also aware of the I’m Shmacked videos. “If kids are asking, ‘Does this happen in Lower Merion?’—the answer is yes,” Young says. “But we address that a lot of different ways with our curriculum.”
Trouble is, Ray’s Lower Merion video trailer won’t go away. Whenever some controversy involving I’m Shmacked unfolds, folks throughout the country return to that clip—and most don’t realize that it was done by students. “It’s been blown out of proportion,” Ray says. “We were 17 years old; we were doing stuff kids do. It happened years ago, and some outlets make it seem like I went back to high school while I was in college.”
The summer after graduation, as his classmates headed to college, Ray was spending time at Temple University, filming whatever he and his friends were doing. He took the footage, edited it on the Movie Edit Pro software program and posted it on the Vimeo hosting site. “It blew up,” he says.
When Ray went to Manhattan to start school, he found he had a convenient schedule. Monday classes didn’t start until 4 p.m., and he had nothing on Fridays. One weekend, he headed to West Virginia University to visit some friends, camera in tow, posting the video he made of parties and campus sights. At the time, the clip had more than 500,000 hits. “Everyone was talking,” he says.
That was enough to convince Ray to leave college. “Was I disappointed when Jeff quit school to pursue this? Yes. Do I worry about my son? All the time,” says Nikki Ray. “But I believe experience is life’s best teacher. And Jeffrie is getting one hell of an experience.”
Ray wound up at 12 different campuses in 2011 and 2012, among them top party schools Syracuse and Tulane universities and the University of Colorado. At the time, no one had heard of I’m Shmacked—but the anonymity didn’t last. “I wanted to show what college was like,” Ray says. “I was just a freshman, and I would say, ‘Nuts, I would’ve killed to have seen this kind of stuff while I was in high school.’ But people can’t be so naïve as to think that all they do in college is party.”
By the spring of 2012, I’m Shmacked videos were really catching on, though the only real money Ray was making came from the $20 T-shirts he sold. By then, he’d met Potomac, Md., native Arya Toufanian, and the two made some big plans. They flirted with a management company in New York but weren’t happy about surrendering an income percentage. By last fall, there was money coming in. “We want to have influence with the college crowd,” says Toufanian. “That way, we’ll be able to build other businesses.”
The two staged several events at schools around the country. They’d rent a club, fly in DJs, sell up to 1,000 tickets at $20 each and “walk away with $10,000,” says Ray. They posted videos on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and their website. This fall, I’m Shmacked will hit 30 campuses. Toufanian—who left Washington, D.C.’s George Washington University after three years—is making many of the stops, and Ray expects to bring in $300,000 now that things are more organized. “It’s different,” he says. “People know us.”
They certainly do. The New York Times described Ray’s creations this way: “Woven into the scenes of debauchery are bucolic shots of the campus with flags waving in the breeze, the football stadiums or hockey arenas filled with athletes and cheerleaders, and the local university swag shots.”
Ray asserts that the clips highlight more than just partying, although there is a preponderance of “debauchery.” It’s pretty one-dimensional but also weirdly compelling. “We’re changing the course of people’s lives,” says Ray. “They’re going to schools because of our videos. If I had I’m Shmacked when I was in high school, I guarantee you I’d be in college now—and at a great place.”
It was supposed to be a run-of-the-mill Cinco de Mayo party. But one of Ray’s elementary-school friends had been pestering him to bring his camera. Facebook and Twitter had done their job, and it seemed like every college kid in the area—and even some thirsty locals—had descended on the house on South Walnut Street near West Chester University. It was a combustible mix, especially at $15 a head. And Ray contends it wasn’t something he’d planned or wanted.
At first, things were pretty cool; the hosts had honored campus security’s request to hang tarps to contain the crowd. Police officers arrived and asked them to turn down the music. But when they later decided to break up the party, the 500 or so participants were none too pleased, and a near-riot ensued. “A couple cops got ego-ed out and started tearing the tarps down,” recalls Ray. “People started yelling at the cops, and then somebody flipped a car.”
Those arrested “were not West Chester University students,” says Jim Brenner, an associate professor of health at WCU. Rather, they’d come to the party after learning about it on social media, which fuels much of the I’m Shmacked hysteria. Videos can travel exponentially, so the parties Ray and Toufanian throw attract mixed crowds. “I don’t know how you stop it,” says Brenner. “He’s not doing anything illegal.”
And it’s not as simple as blaming one person. “Ultimately, you have to look at it as a multifaceted problem that affects all of us,” Brenner says. “The community needs to think about it. What are the strategies? What is the university going to do about it? I had some students who said, ‘I’m not going to that party. I’m graduating soon, and I want to get a job. I don’t want to live in infamy on the Web.’”
Other local schools wouldn’t respond to interview requests, though Temple did forward this statement: “Anything that promotes high-risk drinking and other behaviors goes against everything we do to support students in having a healthy, safe and fulfilling college career.”
For nine years, Rob Turrisi has been a professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State University and a researcher at the school’s Prevention Research Center. He publishes his results at ace.parentteenpartnership.com, which strives to educate parents and teens on the dangers of alcohol abuse. Turrisi is not at all surprised by the sort of behavior documented by Ray. “It’s not anything people are unaware of,” he says.
Turrisi has defined four types of partiers. The first is heavy consumers, who partake on weekends and throw in a weeknight or two. Social partiers—a few drinks once or twice a week—are next, followed by the occasional group and those who completely abstain. “Data shows that [heavy consumers] make up about 20 percent of students,” says Turrisi. “The videos show a social setting that’s attractive to groups of people who want to party on the weekends. What it doesn’t show is the people who end up in the backs of police cars, in the emergency room, or in a fight. It also doesn’t show the close to 500,000 sexual assaults reported each year or the 2,000 students who die each year from alcohol poisoning.”
Turrisi is also convinced that, while the visuals are compelling, they’re hardly the main reason kids chose a college. “I can’t believe this is a big-time criterion,” he says.
So you could argue that I’m Shmacked is only a big deal if we make it a big deal—and that its founders are pragmatic, somewhat misguided souls who stumbled upon a new way to maximize the Internet with thousands of willing accomplices. “I’d never want to have another partner,” says Toufanian. “I trust Jeffrie to act like himself. He’s a happy-go-lucky guy who’s good-hearted and has good sense.”
More than anything, Ray wants to make movies. He spent the summer in Los Angeles, and he’s looking for an internship. He’s also writing a script. Yet, for someone who’s seemingly so bent on self-made success and self-promotion, Ray—like many overstimulated young adults his age—isn’t the easiest guy to nail down. His voice mailbox is perpetually full, his email correspondence cryptic and noncommittal. After sitting for an interview, Ray later skipped out on a photo shoot for this story, leaving town for yet another cross-country campus jaunt before we could reschedule.
Meanwhile, college students will fork over their parents’ money, get shmacked and vie for infamy in Ray’s next video. “It’s pretty surreal,” he says. “Day by day, I can’t grasp this thing.”
But he’ll sure be keeping a firm grip on that camera.