Nightlife as a Marketplace of Transgression

By Gamal Hennessy
Every community claims to offer its members differentbenefits. Fashion offers glamour and self-esteem. Higher education offerspreparation for adult life. Religions offer various types of spiritual guidance.Nightlife is similar. At its core, nightlife is a marketplace of transgressionand we need that service to advance as a society.

What is Nightlife Transgression?
Transgression here means deviating from the norms ofcontemporary society. The environment of nightlife offers us the chance totransgress on a variety of levels that we can’t or won’t do in daily life.

Forms of Nightlife Transgression

1) Sexual: As asexual metaphor, nightlife encourages various forms of sexual expression,pursuit and exploitation as a fundamental activity. On a certain level, thesexual instinct within us that nightlife caters to provides the motivation forall other forms of transgression.

2) Creative: Drivenby sexual energy, the music, fashion and dancing in nightlife is a thinlyveiled public expression of indiscretion that has produced enormous amounts of artisticcreation.

3) Consumption: Innightlife, food and alcohol are consumed in combinations and quantities thatare often frowned upon by polite society. Illegal substances are also found innightlife and their consumption clearly crosses public norms,.

4) Social: Thesubtle and blatant role playing that patrons engage in is an expression oftransgressive behavior in modern nightlife. To a certain extent, the racialmixing and subculture creation that nightlife fosters is also a form oftransgression even if it is not explicitly rejected the way some other forms ofnightlife transgression are.
Benefitsof Nightlife Transgression
Deviatingfrom the norms of society provides the catalyst that a culture needs toprogress and advance. The transgression inherent in nightlife has createdseveral sparks that have led to evolution of American life.
1) The racial and class mixing of the jazz and disco agessupported widespread integration among different ethnic groups.
2) Increased acceptance of the LGBT community was sparked bynightlife persecution and protest several decades ago.
3) The safe havens created in nightlife for variousmarginalized groups allows for interpersonal bonding that isn’t readilyavailable in day to day life.
4) Finally, nightlife offers an organic environment forartistic and creative progress that cannot be replaced by mainstream or socialmedia. Although not everyone enjoys nightlife’s cultural advancements (because everygeneration rejects the new music and fashion of the next generation) it is theact of transgression that gives rise to creation. Nightlife is the sociallaboratory for that creation.

DetrimentalEffects of Transgression
Publicdiscussion about nightlife often focuses purely on its negative aspects. Thiscreates a perception that nightlife is nothing more than a harmful influence onthe city. Transgression in nightlife can create malicious criminal, social andhealth impacts from overconsumption or illegal consumption. Overspending cancreate financial liabilities as patrons pursue the objects of theirtransgression. Destructive prejudices including racism, misogyny and homophobiacan also be a part of nightlife transgression. It would be naïve to suggest that all transgression in nightlife ispositive. However, it is just as naïve to conclude that all nightlifetransgression is negative. Both exist in this environment and one should notovershadow the other.
Anotheradverse type of transgression is pseudo transgression. This situation is thewatered down experience that attempts to create a transgressive feeling but itpurely a commercial endeavor that does nothing to move nightlife cultureforward. Scenes where everyone wears the same clothes, listens to the samemusic over and over and sheepishly follows established trends are as harmful tothe spirit of nightlife as any other detrimental effect of transgression.
Checksand Balances
Nightlifeoperators need to combine two ingredients in order to be successful. On onehand, they need to generate revenue that will pay the bills and satisfyinvestors. On the other hand, the need to provide an experience that promotesthe benefits of transgression while limiting the detrimental effects. Programslike the Nightlife Best Practices and the internal policies of each venue providea system to ensure transgression does not get out of hand. When handledcorrectly, the nightlife experience can feel liberating without beingdangerous.
Nightlifeis a marketplace of transgression. While there are clear detrimental effects,New York needs the catalyst that nightlife creates to advance artistically,culturally and socially.