For one week last October, the University of Connecticut received frenzied international attention, not for basketball or puppetry, but because one drunken sophomore demanded jalapeño bacon mac and cheese.
Luke Gatti, 19, entered the Student Union on the night of Oct .4 while evidently drunk and was denied service. A nine-minute YouTube video shows Gatti berating and then shoving manager David Robinson. Employee Bill McKay then restrained Gatti until police arrived.
“Drunk Kid Wants Mac and Cheese” went viral. It was featured on the blog Barstool Sports and Heavy.com. It was picked up by major media sources such as The Hartford Courant, USA Today, and The Huffington Post. It went international with The Daily Mail in Britain, and “Conan” made a mock commercial for mac and cheese.
“The thing that makes it so worthy to be viral is that it’s a video,” said UConn journalism professor Marie K. Shanahan, an expert in online journalism. “It’s the fact that we can watch it happen over and over again. Pause it, take screenshots, pick it apart, that’s what makes it so viral.”
The video “Drunk Kid Wants Mac and Cheese” is complete story with a coherent plot and defined, relatable characters in situations just slightly more extreme than those we’ve all experienced.
Robinson was relatable to almost anyone who’s worked in a service job. The bystanders in the video who try to intervene make viewers question what they would have done in that situation. McKay comes off as the employee who truly respects his boss and hates to see him abused.
Gatti himself became a major subject of conversation, especially after it surfaced that he was involved in similar incidents at UMass Amherst: on one occasion he was charged with disorderly conduct after calling a white officer the N-word at a party and on another he was charged with assault and battery of a police officer.
"Everyone else wants a piece of it,” said UConn journalism professor Marie K. Shanahan, an expert in online journalism. “You saw memes being created, you saw it on [Buy or Sell UConn Tickets]. It was on ‘Conan.’ Everyone's taking these little pieces of it because it's ridiculous, but it's compelling in a sense. It's compellingly ridiculous."
The Hartford Courant published an opinion, “Why UConn Mac and Cheese Attack Isn’t Funny,” by Holly Wonneberger, herself a UConn alumnus. She drew comparisons between Gatti’s behavior and sexual harassment on college campuses.
“Imagine all of the circumstances in this scenario, but instead, someone is demanding a phone number, sex or repeated non-consensual contact,” Wonneberger wrote.
McKay, the dining services employee seen restraining Gatti in the video, submitted a letter to the editor of The Daily Campus in which he expressed forgiveness for Gatti and noted that social media can amplify repercussions of poor behavior.
“Everyone has done something stupid in their life,” McKay wrote. “There are no exceptions to the rule. Some mistakes are obviously bigger than others. Some, like this one, seem bigger because of the social media that exists today.”
Daily Campus staff columnist Stephen Friedland wrote that many of us today can relate to fear about our mistakes living forever on the Internet, even though Gatti’s acts were extreme and despicable.
“Sure, he did have multiple chances to rectify his behavior, but my big problem with the viral campaign exposing Mac and Cheese Kid is this one shameful, embarrassing, pathetic instance is all he will ever likely be known for, effectively denying him the multifaceted essence of a human being capable of change,” Friedland wrote.
Gatti released an apology video, “Drunk UConn Student Apology Mac and Cheese” about a week after the original went viral, but it received nowhere near the attention of the original video.
"The shock and awe value of the initial thing will never be encompassed by the sincere apology,” Shanahan said.
UConn Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz confirmed on Oct. 21 that Gatti was no longer enrolled at UConn. Reitz also said that by the end of October that the media inquiries about the incident had largely ended, as is the nature of viral videos.
It’s unfair to discuss UConn’s 2015-2016 year without mentioning Mac and Cheese Kid, but for the most part the associations the incident brought on the university have passed. Even the Wikipedia pages for the University of Connecticut and Gatti’s hometown Bayville no longer even mention it.
The story will likely live on only as a vague memory to chuckle, cringe or shake one’s head at.
Chris McDermott is the news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.