Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Open Thread: Why Do We Care?

The recent death of my maternal grandfather, with whom I had a very close relationship up through my early college years, has underlined for me many of the existential questions that are part of my mind's background hum: specifically, what is the point of all this? When we lay on our deathbeds, what will we think of as having accomplished in life?

When I listen to NPR or read the paper or even walk into a bookstore, I find myself in the presence of people who have, at least for some moment, accomplished something: they have brought peace to war-torn nations, they have climbed up the mountain of Moloch, they have created something that others find pleasing, or intriguing, or thought-provoking. Then, there's the rest of us: going through our lives, earning paychecks, coming home at night, going out on weekends.

When I was in graduate school I first came upon the idea that there was real value in parties; for me, they were about bringing people together and seeing what happened as a result. When I got into the rave scene I loved the utopian idealism of it, the idea that PLUR could unite a diverse group of several hundred people for a night, and out of that, new things might be born. As the scene hit its heights around 2000, I began to see a darker side to it, and when September 11 happened, it had the effect of making me doubt everything I had believed; while we partied and rolled and engaged in hedonistic rites, other parts of the world were suffering, and their resentment against us seemed justified. It was at this point that the voice of that ancient curmudgeon, Ecclesiastes , began whispering "vanity, all is vanity" in my ear. When I stand on the edge of a dancefloor now I hear those words echoing in my mind along to the beat, and I find it hard to take anything I'm experiencing very seriously. We're all foolish, spoiled children, I think, and any joy I might have once felt seems like a purely personal conceit.

And yet, I still buy CDs, get excited to go out, and spend hours every week thinking and writing about what I've experienced. Something about this still seems important to me, though I have a harder and harder time understanding what that is. In dark moments I think that it's all about convincing myself that I live in an exciting, vibrant time and place, that I'm somehow important for knowing about and experiencing these things, and that they are worth chronicling, when in fact all this is an attempt to compensate for the fact that I work in a job I find unsatisfying, I know I'll never have that much money, and, chances are that I will die in obscurity. In brighter moments I like to think that this is all about seeking that ephemeral moment of dancefloor trascendance that has come to me on precious few occasions, and that all my critique is an attempt to separate the crassy commercial and mediocre from the potentially genuine and uplifting. If I'm occasionally cranky and bitchy, it's a measure of how frequently I have gone in search of this moment and been disappointed.

I would genuinely like to hear from others who are into music, DJs, and going out who have wrestled with this question: why do we care about these things? In thinking and writing about them, in applying critical yardsticks, what is it that we hope to achieve? Are we just nerdy kids trying to pass ourselves off as cool, or is there some use to it? Is it worth even thinking about parties and DJs in artistic terms, or are we simply servants of commercial interests that trade in trends? What do we say to the ascetic who whispers those words in our ears, and then turns away from us, ashamed?


Fledglyng said...

Why do I care?


I care because it's the only thing to do. There's too many jaded burnouts, milling about and stinking up the joint like so many corpses. I don't want to be just another one of those.

Marke B said...

First off -- sorry to hear about your grandfather, pup -- hope you're ok. Does blatant self-promotion count as caring? As a freak torn for decades between the dancefloor and the library, I've thought about this subject a ton, and my thought is having it's most colorful iteration yet this Wednesday in the Guardian's new Scene: SF Nightlife and Glamour magazine. The theme for the first issue (you can find it as a supplement in the regular Guardian weekly) is Nightlife During Wartime.

In my opening essay, I try to talk about how, after four years of useless protesting against the Iraq war, at least I have my incredibly creative and escapist nightlife community to keep me strong and give me hope. And it goes beyond escapism -- all the energy of protest that's come about has been founded on what nightlife has created. It may not have been very effective, but it's peace of its own sort.

I also talk about a whole bunch of other stuff (I pretend to be an expert, he-ey!), but really what it boils down to is this: I can't help myself wanting there to be a dreamworld here on earth, a personal utopia that I always glimpse on the dance floor, a lifting of spirits. I actually make a (somewhat) living off of that, but I'll never escape. It's all too joyous, the community -- of any scene or musical type.... I even love the Marina Chicks! I mean, how can you not ...luv2luv, Marke B. ;)m.

NeonBunny said...

Music, clubs, raves, nightlife, culture...

To me it's all just another form of art. An art where culture is the medium.

Culture can be manipulated. It can be formed. You can start with nothing, and give it life.

Club events are just as malible as pottery. You start from the raw materials. You shape it into your vision. You work on hardening it so that it can last. DJ's and dancing are alot like the glaze on pottery. They are what everyone sees, but they are not what gives the pottery it's strength or support.

I've always considered myself an artist. I get a thrill out of creating something from nothing. Perhaps it's because I am gay that I feel a strong need to do this. I will never have children. I will never create a legacy that will live on longer than me. So instead, I try and create culture.

Perhaps one day I will create something that will live on longer than me.

NeonBunny said...
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