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Participatory Culture – [.STA!.STA!.we.push.our.tub.for.united.way.]

This is what the United Way event organizers came across about 10 years ago on some random person’s blog:


They sat there, looked at it, looked at each other, and said, “Do you think that could actually work?”

As we sat there and listened to this United Way representative talk about the planning behind this event, we couldn’t help but laugh. I wish I had the original posted picture for you (since that was just my re-creation), but that is literally all the picture had. A huge event across all of Oakville began because of some idiotic idea by a bored blogger. Little did he know, his idea would soon become an amazing fundraiser for The United Way, and a giant competition between high schools.

The idea was to get the best bathtub you could find, and overhaul it. Add anything and everything including glitter, paint, railings, a sound system, and most importantly, WHEELS. Then, downtown Oakville, Lakeshore was completely closed off in order for high school kids to cheer, dance, and run. This wasn’t a kiddy race either. Helmets, knee pads, elbow pads and laced up runners were all securely locked on to the members both in the tub, and the ones pulling and pushing. Dangerous? Maybe. Thrilling? Definitely.


As an executive member of student council it was my responsibility to get the word out to the rest of the school how big this event was. St. Thomas Aquinas is a great little high school that was as involved with the community as 800 kids could be. A couple of years ago the Oakville Beaver titled STA as, “the little school with the big heart,” and has stuck since. In 2006, we ended up winning the 4th spirit award in a row from that same event. How was it possible that we were able to continue this high energy and concern for the cause were cheering on?


The reason why I chose this as my participatory culture topic was because of the work that went into promoting this race. Sure this was a charitable event, but so are the other 20 that STA participates in. Flyers are posted around the school and announcements are made to encourage student involvement in walks, bake sales, teacher vs. student sports games and much more. So what made the bathtub race so popular? Sure it was unique, but it was just another “I love my school… go Raiders… rah rah rah” kind of event. Our secret to our success was we decided to promote it, the same way that the idea was created. Blogging, and online.

The reason why this Bathtub Race will go down in history and remembered forever is because there was a HUGE participatory culture. This wasn’t just a “drop your money in the jar for the people” or a “buy a cookie for the other people” this was an interactive learning experience. I don’t only mean interactive because of the physical activity, but because of the creation and modifications that were made to the races because of contributors wants and desires. Students were no longer seen as a part of the huge market, but as producers of the event. This is a perfect example of how “more than one-half of all teens have created media content,”[1] explained by Henry Jenkins.


Jenkins also goes on to explain his five points that make up a participatory culture. [2] I will touch on the last three.


3. With some type of informal mentorship whereby the most experienced is passed along to novices – Kids waited to come to STA to carry on the legend of the Bathtub races. It would be promoted by friends and family to younger siblings, hyping them up before the chance got to them.  

4. Where members believe that their contributions matter – the interesting thing about the ‘STA bathtub race blog’ that was created (once again, I wish it still existed) I remember reading just as many postings about the United Way as I did “we’re gonna beat the other school!” People in my school felt this was a worthy cause, giving even more incentive to participate.  

5. Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another – this ties into #4 as well. Everyone felt that themselves, as an individual, was not just a number, but seen as part of the group. Whether grade 9, 10, 11 or 12, events like this is what made our entire school a family. Not my group of friends, or even my grade, the entire school worked as one, especially for this event.

Students were making videos, cartoons and songs that were being posted online about this one day event. It truly came out to be the best ‘group expressionism blogging’ out there.  


The bathtub race was unfortunately cancelled in 2007, due to “safety precautions” and the blog link was deleted. Otherwise I would love for you to check out the postings. It was filled with pictures and adrenalin. The attached article was written by the Student Council President, and printed in the Oakville Beaver Newspaper about how the event would be missed. [3]

What I talked about in this blog could apply to so many of the mass comm. topics that it is crazy! Mass media, net neutrality, activist project and so on! Something that Bill Moyer’s touched on in his interview was the topic of “cultural shift”[4] and I really do see this as a great example. The internet is changing our society, being the reason for the huge generation gap. I just hope that people get the message that word is not only spread by mouth anymore, but online as well!


[1] Jenkins, Henry. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. MacArthur. 25 Nov. 2008 <;.

[2] Participatory Culture. 26 Oct. 2006. Terra nova. 25 Nov. 2008 <;.

[3] Bathtub race will be missed. 15 Sept. 2007.The Oakville Beaver.25 Nov. 2008 <;.

[4] Bohler, Megan. The Transmission of Political Critique after 9/11: “A New Form of Desperation”? M/C Journal. 25 Nov. 2008


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