***Editors Note: This article appeared in our May issue of the California Review.
In anticipation of Sun God Festival 2011, I’d like to take a second to talk about what the festival exactly is now, and what it used to be. We’ve all heard people say it before, or experienced it by comparison ourselves if we’ve been around for that long: Sun God really, really sucks now; it is nothing like what it used to be. This phenomenon, which has taken place over the past few years, is now referred to as the “caging” of Sun God, and we are reminded of this every year during Spring Quarter in the promises of those hoping to get elected to AS. Now the focus of this article will not be to inanely bash the administration and AS for taking away the most beloved event by the student body at UCSD. What I am going to do is lay out some information detailing various aspects of the festival from the past few years, in particular the scope and quality of the concert, ease of admission, and funding.
First, take a look at what exactly has changed about the festivals over the years. In the years before the caging, Sun God was a campus-wide celebration. Merriment was undertaken from the Sun God Lawn, to Price Center, the Junkyard Derby on Peterson Hill, and the main festivities at RIMAC field. And, movement was unrestricted between all parts of campus. There were no required wristbands, unless you were bringing a non-UCSD guest; all that was necessary for entrance in to the official concert was a valid UCSD ID card.
But, things are different now, very different. RIMAC is fenced off, and entrance can only be obtained with a valid wristband. The Junkyard Derby is now a full week after the festival. The Price Center fountain has been drained (no kayaking). Before wristbands, all that was necessary for entry to the concert was a UCSD ID. This meant that all UCSD students had the potential, if they willed, to go to the festival. Now there are wristbands for entry and the amount of wristbands is not equal to the amount of enrolled undergrads at UCSD. Aside from those who do not wish to attend there are still not enough wristbands to satisfy the remainder student body, and people go, year after year, wristband-less and downtrodden.
However, the point to be made here is that we all pay for Sun God out of our student fees, around fifteen dollars per student. So what is happening then is that the Associated Students is taking money from us to pay for a festival that is meant to be for us, and then restricting access to this festival making it so that not all of those who pay for the festival and want to attend can in fact attend.
Here I want to make one more diversion before I begin on the funding of Sun God. One thing I wanted to bring out is the “quality” of the headliners. I put quality in quotes because it’s a very loaded term, and even more so with music, which can be subjectively better or worse to every individual. But by “quality” I want to refer to two properties of the headliners: how big they are – meaning how well known they are by the general public and how many people they bring in; and a historical precedent – namely, how prominent are they in their respective field of music, and how much they have influenced music or culture. I think that both of these qualities have also been declining in the headliners of Sun God as years have gone on.
For example, in 1997 we had De La Soul, in 2001 Xzibit, and in 2004 we had Busta Rhymes. All of these acts have a full roster of albums, have won critical acclaim, and have been players in the Hip Hop movement at large. We have also had bands like No Doubt in 1994, and Social Distortion in 1998 and Bad Religion in 2003. All of these bands have helped influence the music scene, and have been showered with praise by respected critics. Now I do not here want to discredit the likes of the more recent guests such as Drake and Sean Kingston as lacking musical merit, but it is not clear that they have the musical tenacity to compare to the earlier acts that Sun God Festival has graced UCSD with.
So let’s review: the size and scope of the festival has decreased, the ability to attend the festival has decreased, and the quality of the headliners has declined. But here is what brings everything together. Between the 2006 festival and now, funding allocation has increased by 266%. Though both of these took place after the caging, the largest increase in spending has been between the 2009 festival, where there was $200,000 dollars allotted, and the 2010 festival, where $550,000 were allocated. The difference between these two festivals may be something a little more understandable to those of us still at this school than the days of kayaking down Price Center fountain. In the course of one year the spending on the festival more than doubled, but how measurably different was the experience?
My point is this: the festivals before the caging were less costly than the festivals after the caging, yet the attendance, size, and quality of the festivals after the caging has decreased significantly. This seems like a backwards cost to return ratio, our money spent on the funding of the festival is actually now being used far less efficiently after the caging of Sun God than it was when the festival was allowed the free reign that Sun God had enjoyed since its inception.
It is no surprise that the administration had tried to strangle Sun God, but the student government had always been able to put up a fight and defend it. The AS, though, has become complacent with the mistreatment of our festival, if in fact they haven’t begun to collaborate with the administration. It may be the case, however, that their silence was bought. In the 2006-2007 year the AS Cabinet and AS Office stipends were $47,250. By 2008-2009 that number had raised to $79,950, and this year the AS stipends hit $100,800. Now this may or may not be related to the issue at hand, I do not want to draw a direct causation between the rises in AS stipends and the lowering of quality and increase in funding for Sun God. There could be, and probably are, many other factors that led to the complacency of our student government with regards to Sun God, including genuinely good intentions.
But, what does this increase in funding for Sun God actually mean? Is this a sham to make it seem like more is being put into the planning and undertaking of Sun God to justify the decrease in quality? Is it, against my previous intuitions, a valiant attempt by the last two collections of AS to some how, through increased funding, turn around this vicious path that our dear festival has taken? Or, is it going to the building of a giant underground machine that sucks out the souls of students who have been depressed by the inability of their school, demonstrating its wanton lack of care for its students, to produce something that once brought true unity and happiness to campus, and made every student at UCSD proud.
Angad is a sophomore in Sixth College majoring in philosophy.