By Gamal Hennessy
On the Make takes a critical look at image management in thenightlife setting. Using Philadelphia as a case study, the book explores the motivationsand tactics of various groups to deceive, manipulate and hustle
people for various ends. While the book does offer insight into the intriguesof social interaction, the tone drains almost all pleasure from the actors. Itleaves you wondering why anyone would engage in the experience at all.
The central idea behind On the Make is that nightlife can beseen as a series of con jobs or hustles. These are designed by the con artistto separate the victim from something valuable by offering them somethingworthless (or very close to it) in exchange. Club owners create artificialenvironments and force their employees to engage in false friendship orflirting to separate the patrons from their money. Public relations companies,local media and promoters make up flimsy events and pay celebrities to show upat venues in the hopes of luring the naïve and desperate. Men engage in complexrituals to solicit sexual contact from women and prove their masculinity tomen. Women use more complex (and more successful) tactics to counteractlecherous men, acquire drinks and special treatment and pursue their own sexualconquests. Everyone participates in and has knowledge of a thinly veiled façadedesigned to create and control image. In nightlife, no one and nothing is whatit seems.
There is a significant portion of every urban populationthat avoids the club scene because they see it as “artificial.” That group willfind a lot of ammunition for their position in this book. Most of the workpaints a negative, predatory picture of nightlife culture. It also largelyignores two important facts. First, image management or hustles are notexclusive 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 muchof an act of deceit as anything that happens in nightlife. Avoiding nightlifein an attempt to avoid fake people or because you don’t want to put on an actis futile. Those people and that act are part of your everyday life.
The other thing that Mr. Grazian and other nightlifeopponents ignore is the cultural components of nightlife that are fundamentalto the experience. Even if you eliminate or discount the musical, fashion, and gastronomiccontributions of nightlife culture, the social aspect cannot be discounted. Theinteraction between people for camaraderie, sexuality and self-expression canbe exercised in nightlife in ways that are not acceptable in professional orfamily life. More importantly, the pleasure and release that can come fromnightlife culture does not occur in other aspects of life. Nightlife may infact be an illusion, but it is an illusion that makes reality worthwhile forthe people who enjoy it.