By Gamal Hennessy
An excerpt from the upcoming book Seize the Night
Communication as culture
When you walk past the bouncer and into a lively bar, it might feel as if you’ve submerged yourself into a chaotic mess. Various sized clusters of people are interspersed with floaters, stragglers and spectators. Some are laughing, some are dancing, some are yelling, some are oddly silent and a few of them are chasing each other around the room with digital cameras.
There is a certain amount of random shenanigans going on here, but if you sit back and observed them you can see that there are various types of communication, interaction and connection that going on in the room. Being able to understand what is going on will give you a stronger appreciation for the social dynamic in nightlife. The following examples are not meant to be exhaustive or exclusive. Many of these interactions can happen simultaneously and even a conversation within a group can ebb and flow from one to the other. But these examples will give you a sense of the complex dynamic going on in any crowded bar.
Sexual: The most obvious type of connection in nightlife is the sexual one. Nightlife is sex and sexual energy is sublimated in to every aspect of the nightlife experience. We present ourselves in ways that we hope will attract potential partners. We tease and flirt to test the waters. We play games of attraction and seduction to capture their imaginations and then we go where that connection leads us. Whether you are talking about pick up artists in a meat market or a quiet date at a martini bar, a one night stand or happily ever after, modern courtship happens in the nightlife space. Without it, a major link in the sexual selection process would be gone.
Business: While there is an axiom of never mixing business with pleasure, anyone familiar with the nightlife knows this combination occurs every night. Nightlife is integral to many business practices and many deals, business connections and meetings would not happen absent a night of drinking. I’ve spent time with people in the advertising, legal and media industries. Going out to “events” for or with the client is just as important (if not more important) than the work that goes on from nine to seven. I’ve seen upscale lounges sectioned off for so many private parties of investment banks and insurance companies that the place looked less like a bar and more like a convention at the Javits Center. I’ve been on both ends of the buying and selling process in several cities around the world and one thing remains constant; if a deal is going to get done, someone has to take someone out for some drinks. It could be a few pints at the pub. It could be bottle service at the newest lounge. It could be lap dances in the champagne room of a strip club. The concept is the same. If there is no pleasure, there probably won’t be any business.
Bonding: Our experiences are not limited to picking up strangers or selling something to our clients. A lot of our time is spent with people we already know and actually want to spend time with outside of work. Friends, family, couples who are dating, all use nightlife to reconnect and enhance the bonds they already have. How common is it to email friends you haven’t seen in a while and find out where they’ll be on Friday night so you can all hang out and have some fun? What is a date if it’s not a couple spending time together? If family members come in from out of town and they are not too young or too old to go out, isn’t it normal to bring them to some bar? You could get together for conversation, carousing or just to catch up. The bar or lounge are prime places to do that.
Celebration: Venues often market themselves as having the best parties in the city. We use events and occasions both large and small as the reasons to get together and enjoy ourselves. A few close friends might take you out to celebrate your birthday with you. Perhaps you attend a release party for an artist’s album or gallery opening. Maybe it’s an after party for an awards show, closed deal or concert. Or it could be a huge holiday celebration for Thanksgiving Eve or New Year’s Eve. We mark some of the significant events in our lives with a celebration and very often that celebration happens in a club.
Exhibition: The most subtle type of social communication is the exhibition. Many of us engage in a constant struggle to raise our social standing and rank relative to similar people in our surroundings or our peer group. To achieve this, we show the people around us our value through some type of display. Men will order bottle service to show that they have money to spend. Clubbers will throw themselves onto the dance floor to show that the skill they have with their bodies. Women will compare themselves to the size, shape, attractiveness and style of other women in the room. Social butterflies will move through the room collecting handshakes and kisses to show how much people love them. Drinkers will knock back beers as fast as they can to show their superior tolerance for alcohol. Each display is meant to send a signal, build reputation and ultimately value. The struggle to climb the social ladder is not unique to nightlife, but the exhibitions that can be found here are often different than what you might find in the daylight hours.
It is easy to see how music, food and architecture play a role in nightlife culture and by extension influence society as a whole. But culture is not only the artistic and aesthetic components of a society. How people communicate with each other is also an important factor. Nightlife is at its heart, social interaction. We go out to connect with friends, lovers and strangers on one level or another. Our social interaction is part of our lifestyle and lifestyle is part of culture.