Every community claims to offer its members different benefits. Fashion offers glamour and self-esteem. Higher education offers preparation for adult life. Religions offer various types of spiritual guidance. Nightlife is similar. At its core, nightlife is a marketplace of transgression and we need that service to advance as a society.
What is Nightlife Transgression?
Transgression here means deviating from the norms of contemporary society. The environment of nightlife offers us the chance to transgress on a variety of levels that we can’t or won’t do in daily life.
Forms of Nightlife Transgression
1) Sexual: As a sexual metaphor, nightlife encourages various forms of sexual expression, pursuit and exploitation as a fundamental activity. On a certain level, the sexual instinct within us that nightlife caters to provides the motivation for all other forms of transgression.
2) Creative: Driven by sexual energy, the music, fashion and dancing in nightlife is a thinly veiled public expression of indiscretion that has produced enormous amounts of artistic creation.
3) Consumption: In nightlife, food and alcohol are consumed in combinations and quantities that are often frowned upon by polite society. Illegal substances are also found in nightlife and their consumption clearly crosses public norms,.
4) Social: The subtle and blatant role playing that patrons engage in is an expression of transgressive behavior in modern nightlife. To a certain extent, the racial mixing and subculture creation that nightlife fosters is also a form of transgression even if it is not explicitly rejected the way some other forms of nightlife transgression are.
Benefits of Nightlife Transgression
Deviating from the norms of society provides the catalyst that a culture needs to progress and advance. The transgression inherent in nightlife has created several sparks that have led to evolution of American life.
1) Race: The racial and class mixing of the jazz and disco ages supported widespread integration among different ethnic groups.
2) Sexual Orientation: Increased acceptance of the LGBT community was sparked by nightlife persecution and protest several decades ago.
3) Socialization: The safe havens created in nightlife for various marginalized groups allows for interpersonal bonding that isn’t readily available in day to day life.
4) Creativity: Finally, nightlife offers an organic environment for artistic and creative progress that cannot be replaced by mainstream or social media. Although not everyone enjoys nightlife’s cultural advancements (because every generation rejects the new music and fashion of the next generation) it is the act of transgression that gives rise to creation. Nightlife is the social laboratory for that creation.
Detrimental Effects of Transgression
Public discussion about nightlife often focuses purely on its negative aspects. This creates a perception that nightlife is nothing more than a harmful influence on the city. Transgression in nightlife can create malicious criminal, social and health impacts from overconsumption or illegal consumption. Overspending can create financial liabilities as patrons pursue the objects of their transgression. Destructive prejudices including racism, misogyny and homophobia can also be a part of nightlife transgression. It would be naïve to suggest that all transgression in nightlife is positive. However, it is just as naïve to conclude that all nightlife transgression is negative. Both exist in this environment and one should not overshadow the other.
Another adverse type of transgression is pseudo transgression. This situation is the watered down experience that attempts to create a transgressive feeling but it purely a commercial endeavor that does nothing to move nightlife culture forward. Scenes where everyone wears the same clothes, listens to the same music over and over and sheepishly follows established trends are as harmful to the spirit of nightlife as any other detrimental effect of transgression.
Checks and Balances
Nightlife operators need to combine two ingredients in order to be successful. On one hand, they need to generate revenue that will pay the bills and satisfy investors. On the other hand, the need to provide an experience that promotes the benefits of transgression while limiting the detrimental effects. Programs like the Nightlife Best Practices and the internal policies of each venue provide a system to ensure transgression does not get out of hand. When handled correctly, the nightlife experience can feel liberating without being dangerous.
Nightlife is a marketplace of transgression. While there are clear detrimental effects, New York needs the catalyst that nightlife creates to advance artistically, culturally and socially.