If you've seen a video of students jumping off roofs, shotgunning a seemingly endless sequence of beers, breaking tables, drunkenly harassing fast food workers, or being annoying in an Uber, chances are it probably originated in an account like these. The influence of these pages is wide-reaching on campus: it’s not uncommon to see students scrolling through them in lecture halls, giggling amongst themselves as their professor drones on.
Twenty-one-year-old Alex Metaxas is the man behind Western Savages, which has grown to 20,000 followers since October 2017 and is a hot topic of conversation not only at his campus in London, Ontario, but also among Canadian university students who are envious spectators of Western’s party scene. The page blew up after Metaxas shared a student submission of two women falling in high heels with a funny voiceover to his then-3,000 followers.
Metaxas’ content reaches far beyond belligerent partying documentation—a quick scroll through his page reveals a dude playing bagpipes in the library, a class presentation on how to roll a joint, and Lil Uzi Vert in “Western drip” accessorized with layers of ice. His account has become so influential that he's positioned himself as an ideal advertising channel to reach the student body. He simultaneously promoted the University Students’ Council of Western’s (USC) Purple Fest, which aimed to help tame illegal street parties, while also sharing disruptive content that originated at said parties and a video of a kid jumping the fence to get into Purple Fest.
Running a content farm comes with some obvious ethical dilemmas: people may find themselves featured in compromising situations without their consent. A Western student recounts their experience of totalfratmove, a similar page with 1.5 million followers to date, posting a viral video of them passed out at a street party as a cop tells the people recording to “grow the fuck up.”
“Please don’t @ me,” the student told me over text. “My mom is already triggered … she saw [the video] and screamed.”
The page didn’t reply to their DM request to have the video taken down, but in a request for comment for VICE, the company stated: “We have always operated under a strict policy to remove content when we receive a request to do so. Due to the volume of direct messages we receive on Instagram, we are not typically able to review every message we receive on the platform. However, our company's direct contact information is readily available and easy to find for anyone who wishes to contact us directly. This includes a direct email link on our IG profile page.”
“There have been people before who have gotten upset they got posted, and when they ask I just take it down,” says Alex Stekl, who runs UWO Party Life, a yet-to-be monetized subsidiary of Canadian Party Life. “There hasn’t been anything that severe so far, but if it did happen I would cooperate.”
“I’m still at a point where I can for the most part monitor every message I’m getting. If something is seriously problematic for someone … they will message me,” says Metaxas. “When someone sends me something that I think the person in the video might not be cool with, I wanna make sure that they have their consent before I even post it. Because it’s bad on them, but it’s also bad on the page to post something and have to take it down like 20 minutes later.”
Whether or not a post is crossing the line is difficult for curators to determine. Metaxas says a viral post will often find its way to an audience, whether he posts it or not. “If one random person is offended by [a post] for some reason, that probably won’t be enough for me to take it down,” Metaxas told VICE. “A lot of people are sometimes a little sensitive … The fact that it’s crazy, savage content is why you’re following the page. If I just start censoring content to make it neutral, then no one’s gonna wanna follow.”
Mitch Pratt, the president of the students’ council, shares some concerns about this indifferent attitude to holding a position of influence. He’s no stranger to the full send lifestyle, however he’s “also seen the unsafe evolution” of Western’s street parties, which is why the USC put in work to make Purple Fest happen as an alternative event.
“I’m worried we’re gonna try to do greater and greater stunts, and push ourselves to unsafe habits … I worry what examples pages like this are setting. Is your two minutes of fame worth being unable to walk from jumping off a roof onto a beer pong table like 20 feet up?” he asks.
Metaxas and Instagrammers like him have taken heat for posts showing people who appear to be in mental distress, and captions that veer into sexism and transphobia.
“That one wasn’t bad,” Metaxas says of a post that showed police pinning a screaming woman to the floor of a library. “It was viral content that she was like kicked out but she kept coming back, so she was breaking the law … sometimes the best content is sort of controversial because it’s out of the ordinary.”
“I’ll feel immoral if I don’t say this … we’re nice people, but to be completely honest … some of these accounts are borderline really offensive,” says Stekl’s friend Connor Entwistle, who turned down working on UWO Party Life to focus on his well-established BC-centric meme page. “[They’ll] post something that’s like, there are only two genders.”
“A lot of people scroll past [these captions and comments], but I do read [them] sometimes and it sours my opinion of the person on the account, and all the people that comment on it and think it’s hilarious,” Entwistle adds.
As a marketing guy, Metaxas always had money moves in mind for this page. He was already making content that he licensed to massive media outlets, with his video of a beer pong shot from one condo balcony to another spreading among WorldStar, totalfratmove, BuzzFeed, and 6ixBuzz. “I knew the content I was making and the ideas I was coming up with were valuable. If they could reach these big pages, why couldn’t I start something myself?” he said. He filled a niche in the Instagram market by targeting a devoted, localized, and consistently growing following at Western, which he says “adds a whole other level of relevance … it means more than just following and watching people drink … it’s just pure student experience.”
The fourth-year Management and Organizational Studies/Marketing student has seen his rambunctious project attract attention to its marketing potential. Far from its controversial content being a deterrent, the page has been viewed as a goldmine for advertisers and an impressive accomplishment to Metaxas’ potential employers in London and Toronto. Metaxas works with local event marketing agency PremierLife to host Savage Fridays at their infamous bar, The Barking Frog, with the aim of building a stronger preference for it among students.
Most recently, Western Savages partnered with a student-owned delivery service to bring McChickens to a lecture hall of ravenous biology students who won an intense IG comment contest. Metaxas didn’t bother getting permission to do this from their memeable professor Tom Haffie (affectionately known as Haffie), to whom he bestowed an apple in lieu of a greasy sandwich.
Food is a common theme in his advertising, since it’s relevant to students—he refuses to share anything off-brand. He claims to have had a hand in DoorDash breaking into the London market by posting his referral code on Western Savages, earning himself over $4,000 in referral credits despite not having an official partnership with the company. For local businesses, associations with his followers will tie them to what Metaxas says is “a loyal base. In London, the consumer market is the student market.” He’s right—the student body alone accounts for about half of the London Transit Commission’s ridership (more than 50,000 full-time students at Western and Fanshawe combined are eligible for student union issued bus passes, and London’s population is roughly 400,000 people).
Metaxas’ participation in promoting Purple Fest through the USC’s official partnership with PremierLife has been instrumental in building his legitimacy as an advertising partner. It was an unlikely pairing, but the student union was keen on “pumping out better messaging for students” by working with PremierLife, according to Pratt. He clarifies that the USC did not reach out to Metaxas directly, rather that he was engaged by PremierLife to participate in this project.
Western Savages launched this year's "Fake Homecoming" (FOCO) event page in rebellion against the university administration, who had moved the official homecoming date to a later (read: colder and closer to exams) weekend in hopes of stifling street parties. Western's homecoming street parties have always been notorious, but the past couple of years have been particularly rowdy due to conflict between the administration, police, local community, and students.
In attempt to help shift this dangerous FOCO culture and provide cool alternative programming, the USC put together a massive on-campus event called Purple Fest, for which they sold over 11,000 tickets. They collaborated with PremierLife to take over Metaxas’ event page—which already had thousands of guests engaging with it—and repurpose it for promoting the festival, which featured Lil Uzi Vert, Juice WRLD, Loud Luxury, and Murda Beatz.
Pratt explains the USC had some concerns about the racial connotations of the meme page’s name: Western has an Indigenous strategic plan in place, and councillors and elders at the university’s Indigenous Services were disappointed to read about the page in Western’s student paper. Ultimately, Pratt could not “attest for every partner” and how they decided to reach out to students, but he says “[it’s important] to try to use best practices to partner with an individual with said name.”
When informed that some Indigenous community members take offence to the word “savage,” which has historically been and still is used in a discriminatory manner against them, Metaxas overlooks the criticisms and insists he did not have negative intentions in using the word. “In this day’s era, I’m pretty sure most people know that savage is more meaningful of like, partying and being a savage right? Not so much what it might have used to mean … [when] the [Western] administrators and stuff brought it up … in my opinion, I thought it was to the extreme, even a lot of the people I was working with, it almost felt like they were just trying to pick a reason to or get an excuse for us not to work with them.”
“You have to take risks if you wanna be successful right, and … you’re taking all the relevant material out of that content,” says Metaxas of Western and the USC’s social media content (full disclosure: I currently run the latter’s social media). “Sorry, guess what—your students drink, and they drink a lot … Obviously, it’s like—you wanna be ethical then you do the USC, you do the Western route. You wanna be successful and relevant, you do my route, right?”
Pratt seems a little irked by these comments; as a student union leader who works with many stakeholders, it’s tough to be in a place where you’re expected to both be cool among students, but also make sure the power players are listening to your advocacy on their behalf. “Realistically, I think as one of London’s largest non-profits, and essentially a $30-million organization, we at the USC are the only ones who could have ever pulled off something that was the size of Purple Fest,” he states.
Despite all the flack university students get for partying and fixating on these IG pages, it’s an inextricable part of the student experience. Pratt points out that Western students have a “work hard play hard mentality,” and that “the social and the academic are completely wrapped into one another.”
For students, being featured on a party page is often a crowning achievement, and the curators feel that adrenaline. Seeing their face on these pages is a bigger deal for some people than getting on the Dean’s Honor List. “You get to see all these people try their best to get on your page,” says Stekl.
But if you go too hard, you also run the risk of having your foolishness immortalized and monetized on the internet. So far, that’s been good business for Metaxas.
Western University did not respond to a request for comment for this story by press time.
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