Sunday, May 26, 2013
On the Make: Nightlife as a Lifeless Sham
On the Make takes a critical look at image management in the nightlife setting. Using Philadelphia as a case study, the book explores the motivations and tactics of various groups to deceive, manipulate and hustle people for various ends. While the book does offer insight into the intrigues of social interaction, the tone drains almost all pleasure from the actors. It leaves you wondering why anyone would engage in the experience at all.
The central idea behind On the Make is that nightlife can be seen as a series of con jobs or hustles. These are designed by the con artist to separate the victim from something valuable by offering them something worthless (or very close to it) in exchange. Club owners create artificial environments and force their employees to engage in false friendship or flirting to separate the patrons from their money. Public relations companies, local media and promoters make up flimsy events and pay celebrities to show up at venues in the hopes of luring the naïve and desperate. Men engage in complex rituals to solicit sexual contact from women and prove their masculinity to men. Women use more complex (and more successful) tactics to counteract lecherous men, acquire drinks and special treatment and pursue their own sexual conquests. Everyone participates in and has knowledge of a thinly veiled façade designed to create and control image. In nightlife, no one and nothing is what it seems.
There is a significant portion of every urban population that avoids the club scene because they see it as "artificial." That group will find a lot of ammunition for their position in this book. Most of the work paints a negative, predatory picture of nightlife culture. It also largely ignores two important facts. First, image management or hustles are not exclusive to nightlife. They are the common mode of conduct in everyday life. The way most of us act at school, work or at home on a daily basis is as much of an act of deceit as anything that happens in nightlife. Avoiding nightlife in an attempt to avoid fake people or because you don't want to put on an act is futile. Those people and that act are part of your everyday life.
The other thing that Mr. Grazian and other nightlife opponents ignore is the cultural components of nightlife that are fundamental to the experience. Even if you eliminate or discount the musical, fashion, and gastronomic contributions of nightlife culture, the social aspect cannot be discounted. The interaction between people for camaraderie, sexuality and self-expression can be exercised in nightlife in ways that are not acceptable in professional or family life. More importantly, the pleasure and release that can come from nightlife culture does not occur in other aspects of life. Nightlife may in fact be an illusion, but it is an illusion that makes reality worthwhile for the people who enjoy it.