Ben McCall-Myers contemplates clubbing culture. Is it really worth it? [content note: binge drinking, mental health]
I want you to think about the last time you were in a nightclub. Try to envisage what was going on around you: remember the rowdy people, the loud music, the low lights. Now, mute the music and brighten up the lights. This should expose the grotesque reality of your surroundings.
Perhaps to your left, there are two complete strangers eating each other’s faces and to your right, a dazed, stumbling young man has chunks of vomit dribbling down his chin. Alas, he is pushed by a larger but equally as dazed young man as the two slur unfathomable insults at one another, colliding as a result of their shared incoherence.
You step away to escape the conflict and in front of you find three overdressed, heavily made-up women perform what, without a soundtrack, resembles a pagan ritual. They twist and contort their bodies like dolls being manipulated by a child and the aforementioned men untangle themselves to gawp apishly at their performance. This is the unmistakable environment of a British nightclub.
I hope such scene setting illustrates my point that clubbing is a bizarre tradition. Our nightlife culture serves as a poignant reminder that humans are no more than base animals who by day repress their innate inclinations towards reproduction, over-indulgence, and confrontation.
It is at night that we let loose, relying on drinking for social lubrication and to achieve an altered state of consciousness in which we are happy to do things a sober mind would only dream of. People become rowdy, aggressive, more flirtatious, and end up in situations that would have been unfathomable twelve hours earlier. It is an almost tribal release.
Whilst some may argue that the negative scene I’m depicting is symptomatic of British binge drinking culture, it is undeniable that clubbing is a universal phenomenon. From the cutting edge Techno scene in Berlin to the Hispanic fiestas that keep Latinos up until sunrise (South American and European alike), it seems people of every nation have a penchant for a good night out.
Clubbing encourages us to forget all of our problems and escape our real lives for a few hours – a universally appealing prospect. Yet, with experience, I have begun to realize the world of intoxicated strangers into which we throw ourselves is less glamorous than the pedestalled bliss I dreamt of when I was a keen and excitable seventeen-year-old.
People dress themselves up for social validation, fretting over how they look in fear of being rejected, only to work up a revolting sweat as the music grows louder, the night wears on and their inhibitions go out the window. In amongst the crowds, sexually frustrated men seem to be of the impression that groping women they’ve never met before is a charming technique of seducing a potential partner.
Others, on pills that make their faces contort and stimulate their sweat glands further yet, exclaim their euphoric and unrivaled love for one another, blissfully unaware that these are superficially induced feelings that won’t last until the contemplative morning after.
Whilst there are intricate cultural differences in terms of the music, fashion and choice of poison, the basic motivating principle is the same: a desire to be hedonistic, careless and irresponsible, otherwise known as ‘having fun’.
Filled with regret and beset by exhaustion, nine times out of ten the following day is a write-off. The human body can only take so much of a battering and all productive plans are abandoned on a hangover. The shame and self-hatred kick in when, resembling a homeless person on your pilgrimage to bed, the sun rises and professionals leave their house for work.
Sometimes, you’ll have to negotiate an awkward goodbye with someone who was much more attractive on the dimly lit dance floor and almost always, you’ll end a night wondering what happened to all the cash you took out with you. This poses the question: is it really worth it?
While it’s happening, it sure feels worth it. You’re ignorant of the farcical intoxication around you because you too are intoxicated. As the DJ drops your favorite tune, a decadent euphoria washes over the crowd of twenty-somethings whose choice to go out is an overt rejection of the roles and responsibilities of adulthood, recently lumbered upon them.
Suspended by lights and music between their day jobs and their nightly fantasies, people are easier to interact with in this nether zone. Certainly, some of my most unforgettable memories and some of my closest friendships were made on nights out. However, just like you feel at 5am, the experience gets tired. Whilst the first few trips are exhilarating and full of wonder, as a familiarity grows so does a profound disappointment.
The novelty wears off and you start to notice the people there that aren’t having that much fun: the ones drinking too much to escape from some suffering, the ones desperate for attention because of some heartache and the ones who have bottled up all their anger, all too ready to start a fight. Clubbing really isn’t all it’s made out to be – in fact, it is quite often a rather scary outlet which facilitates a person’s desperate cry for help.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t go out. Don’t be afraid of being reckless. Meet new people. Live your life. Clubbing is an urban rite of passage into adulthood and a part of the maturation process. This is merely advice from someone who feels they have come out the other end of that process. The late nights and hellish hangovers are unsustainable and not conducive to a healthy, happy or rewarding lifestyle.
These days, I would much rather go to the pub.
Ben McCall Myers, Torquay