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The Club (2008)

The video for the Black Eyed Peas chart-topping pop single "I Gotta Feeling" contains scenes that should by now be well-familiar to the average pop viewer: Dionysian spectacles of club revelry. Flashy bling, sunglasses and scantily-clad women pulling up their stockings in preparation for a night out, shots of smartphones swiveling open with technocratic ease, and the ever-cheery Xanaxed  masses texting, always texting, to fill the conversational void in between sips from fluorescent martinis. A rotating cast of multiethnic Manhattan hipsters, many of whom look like strippers, are pictured burning the night away and ‘Xpr3ssing th3ms3lv3s’ in a way that feels ubiquitous and familiar after decades of watching bubble gum, beer and soft drink commercials. At the end of “I Gotta Feeling’s” synthetically perfect, ecstasy-dosing intro, the Peas’ lead rapper Will.i.am pogoes up to the video camera and lip-synchs the words,

Tonight’s the night! Let’s live it up! I got my money! Let’s spend it up!

“Go out and smash it!” he follows up, “Like, oh my God!”

“I Gotta Feeling” is an audioanimatronic near-flawless pop gem, pumping away pneumatically, as if it were written by a computer program meant to prepare humans for a night of loose inhibitions. “I Gotta Feeling” is the Las Vegas casino of pop music—a lit-up, splendorous spectacle that by some voodoo makes the listener want to just give in and spend all their money, anything in pursuit of a ‘good time’. In this sense, the song is a slap in the face to the doomed young people of the Great Recession, literally born in the wrong era, who thanks to the hard work of their Baby-boomer parents will never get a chance to experience that pure 1980’s abandon of having vast floes of money to ‘spend up’ on leisure and cheap cocaine. A recent Department of Labor study found that last year, half of young American adults ages 16-24 were unemployed and alcohol sales at clubs were down by more than 10%. A more honest, mainstream portrayal of modern American life on a “good night” would be the glamorous clubgoers staying at home to huff computer spray cleaner and drink King Cobra tallcans. Really, in 2010, who can afford to “p-p-p-party every day”? The disconnect between American reality and artistic representation of America has become stark and feudal, out of touch, as evidenced by Jay-Z’s aristocratic “Empire State of Mind” which lords some  expensive, cadaverous ‘New York Lifestyle’ over the inhabitants of the rest of the country—as if Jay-Z is pistol-whipping the unemployed and hopeless inhabitants of the Rust Belt with his enormous New York schlong and saying, “Don’t you want to live here? Don’t you want to live in the greatest CITY IN THE WORLD?”

In 1997, Twelve years previous to the release of "I Gotta Feeling" a band called Chumbawamba released a #1 Billboard single called "Tubthumping" which, similar to the Black Eyed Peas song advocated binge drinking and the holistic benefits of “cutting loose.” The band, previously known mainly in the underground as a group of theatrical, anarchist squatters were quickly deserted by their former fans as punishment for their foray into the mainstream. “Tubthumping” was derided as an annoying fad song, an apolitical jock jam, proof that the beloved but ineffectual punk band had “sold out” on their former ideals. And as their betrayed, moralistic fans had feared, the song even became a de facto soundtrack for European football riots. Chumbawamba claimed that their newfound fame was more than just another feckless example of a band selling out. They had written ‘Tubthumping’ as an explicitly working-class anthem, they claimed—a song, like “I Gotta Feeling”, that was meant to be by everybody, and for everybody, a melodic manifestation of some kind of human Weltgeist that everyone could dance to and get behind. And it was: millions of people across the world drunkenly sung along, shouting, “I get knocked down! But I get up again!” or watched the video with some fancy CGI of a dancing baby. “Tubthumping”, Chumbawamba claimed, was a celebration of the people’s will and resilience, those people who were always getting ‘knocked down’ but then got back up again. In the liner notes of the record, the band wrote: "Tubthumping" is Shouting to Change the World (then having a drank to celebrate) It's stumbling home from your local bar, when the world is ready to be PUT RIGHT. Below their explanation there was a quote by Malcolm McLaren, the impresario who had created the Sex Pistols: People are sick everywhere. People are sick and tired of this country telling them what to do.

Both “I Gotta Feeling” and its Nineties precursor “Tubthumping” are pop songs, structured, written, and distributed with the intent of reaching the widest number of people possible and being palatable for mass consumption. But beneath both of the song lies the smoldering coals of the people’s will. After a couple verses The Black-Eyed Pea’s elaboration of what a “good time”,  they begin to implore that the listener that a good time is not only to be found in the trendy Manhattan clubs they appear to be dancing, but also in “smashing it up”, “burning the roof”, and “shutting them down”, activities that are more likely to be pursued at the recent G-20 protests in Pittsburgh than at the club on your average jello-shot swilling Friday night.

The club is a modern pleasure dome, a public relief center not unlike so many other late-capitalist retrofittings: gyms, psychiatrists, brothels, alcohol and the lottery all serve as pressure release valves for the citizenry of a frustrating, often-unbearable economic system. The club is a temporary cellblock, a juvenile detention center where young people can pay a cover charge and voluntarily keep themselves off the streets at night. Within small groups of left-wing radicals in recent years, a proposed alternative to the club has seen some praxis: the illegal street party. The intentions of the illegal street party are fairly innocuous: the radicals want to create a benign TAZ (a “temporary autonomous zone”) where leisure capitalism can be suspended, albeit briefly, and the Weltgeist can be allowed space to flourish, as it has for thousands of years before now. Unfortunately, these attempts at reclaiming public space often end in grim showdowns with authority and are brutally crushed by the police. The sad truth is that it’s hard to dance, have fun and build community in the streets while you’re staring down the policeman’s truncheon. To observe an illegal street party being dispersed by tear gas and loudspeakers is to watch the unbelievable pettiness of capitalism. As people are tackled to the ground and arrests are made, authority seems to say: Don’t want to dress up in high heels and short dresses, wait in long lines, pay ridiculous amounts for beer and cocktails that might get rufied, and in the end get groped by strange men? Too bad. Stay home, but don’t party in the streets. At the Brooklyn street parties, the cynical bystanders and bloggers of Bedford Avenue step out from the expensive bars they’re schmoozing in, and immediately ally themselves with the status quo before heading back inside for another round. “Well that’s what they get for blocking the street!” the hipster schills write on Gawker and Gothamist the next day, getting red and puffy in the face. The police and public opinion both shrug and in their own way say—That’s what you get for disobeying the rules. Now get back to the club.



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