Nightclubs and Nihilism

If you’ve never been to a nightclub before, allow me to paint you a quick picture: The lights are colourful yet dim, with the occasional flashing strobe.  The bar is generally pressed against the far wall of the establishment, in which two or three baristas are scrambling to keep up with the onrush of orders shouted over the din, the disorganized exchange of sticky dollar bills, and the patrons who are thirsty for more than a vodka cranberry.

The bar, though every club-goer’s first stop, is not the main focus of The Club; rather, the main appeal of the room (and my main strategic focus) is the dance floor.

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Here is where anyone can witness true nihilism at its finest.

Martin Heidegger defined “nihilism” as the result of single-minded fixation on one goal or aspect of human life at the expense of all else.  Hyper-focusing on only one aspect of life amplifies not both its importance and its omnipresence in society, while allowing other potentially important values to fade to the periphery of human consciousness.

Dirk Leach observed nihilistic patterns in the monotonous and mindless routines involved in the mechanical labour he performed at an automobile manufacturing plant.  A job that has been systematically standardized to maximize the speed and efficiency of the manufacturing process not only minimizes the importance of other facets of the workers’ skillsets (such as rest, creativity and/or communication skills), but also actively suppresses them, dulling the worker’s sensibilities and acuteness until he himself forgets they ever existed.  For this reason, Leach specifies that nihilism hides in places where there is repetition, monotony, and too much of one thing, such as countless mechanical parts on an endless assembly line.

Having displaced what it deems “of no account”, the object of our current focus begins to lose any discernible meaning for us as well.

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Similar claims have been made that the modern, industrial world makes us nihilistically oblivious to the omnipresence of technology and environmental destruction around us.  The image below, a screen grab from Godfrey Reggio’s experimental 1980s film, Koyaanisqatsi, shows happy-go-lucky sunbathers frolicking in the shadow of a huge nuclear power plant.

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I agree with Reggio, but add that Heidegger and Leach’s notion of nihilism has also shaped the experience and expectations of nightlife frequenters.  As any club-goer could tell you, the club attracts a LOT of one thing: people.  Neglecting to enforce the capacity restrictions on club entrance, money-hungry bouncers often usher in hundreds of patrons to the point where people need to hold on tightly to their friends so they don’t get separated while weaving through a seemingly endless throng of overheated human bodies.

Simply lining up to get to a bathroom can take up most of the night.

The deprivation of privacy is the first element of nihilism in the club, as it conditions club-goers’ expectations: like at a rave, the club’s crowdedness breeds a new kind of partier: one who not only can survive without needing privacy, but also has an aversion to it.

We are a generation of extroverts who thrive in social situations and feed off anyone’s company except their own. Those same people who complain about an over-crowded dance floor are often the first to leave if there are “not enough people there”.   To further prove my point, female bathrooms and even stalls, arguably the only designated private place in the club, are often occupied by multiple girls at once.  So much for the “privy”.

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The other omnipresent element of clubs is the music (if you can call it that): managed and mixed by a deejay on a high-rising platform, club music is so loud that regular conversation is impossible. A person needs to physically shout directly into another ear to be heard over the pounding beat, and often, after the third or fourth repetition of what they said, gives up talking altogether.

With an absence of all forms of verbal communication such as conversing, joking, and–dare I say it—verbal consent, what takes over is body language.

Without oral communication, club goers must instead–as the Shakira song goes– “rea[d] the signs of [others’] bod[ies]”.   Consequently, your personality is pretty much forced to take the backseat, as your desirability in the club depends—for the most part—on your backseat.  This whole process of muting one’s personality is best achieved with the help of intoxicating agents that slow your thoughts and reaction time, and help convert your physical movements into a caricaturized representation of your internal state, not unlike an emoji.

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In this way, the ideological values embedded into the framework of a structural system have the power to emphasize or de-emphasize certain characteristics of humanity.  In the club, the only omnipresent reality is corporeality, as all else is pushed to the background.  Club-goers communicate by waving, smiling, dancing, touching, or physically approaching or retreating from someone.  While unwanted physical contact is a common unpleasantry in clubs—usually for women–in a physically-defined environment such as a club dance floor, touching can in some cases, act almost as a means of asking permission to touch, and denial of that permission is also communicated through physical means (often by moving someone’s hand, or one’s self out of reach).

In the absence of verbal and other forms of communication to prolong the spaces in between touches, physical touch becomes both the preliminary and advanced stages of communication.  The obvious outcome of such an abundance of physical communication is that physical touch itself–though omnipresent and encouraged in every song with lyrics–loses its meaning.   Preliminary physical advances are usually welcome and more are quick to follow.  Thus, the over-crowdedness and loudness of clubs are conducive to physical relationships that progress rapidly and often terminate just as rapidly either that night or the morning after.  So many physical relationships that begin with such acceleration burn out quickly because without the initial ability to properly communicate or present one’s personality, the parties involved can rarely ever develop other kinds of connections that could seed a more profound relationship.  Hook-up culture, in which people deliberately and regularly seek out–oxymoronically–meaningless yet physically intimate encounters, might then be considered the product of intimacy’s ubiquity in the club setting.

In this way, the club exemplifies elements of nihilism articulated by Heidegger and Leach: Club-goers’ near nightly immersion in the same music, crowds, and physically intimate situations makes all of these things repetitive and monotonous, thus destroying their potential to ever recapture any meaning.

It is no wonder club music producers and deejays killed the song lyric without any protest from the partiers.

No one was listening.

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