Sunday, March 27, 2011

Having the Time of Her Life: Dance/Display/Fantasy

I spent last night (literally, it was an overnight that ended at 7am) at a hip hop show, a benefit for earthquake relief put on by Pop Group Records. I got there quite early, saw Club Asia before the lights were turned down, before the large staff blended into the crowd, running around with clipboards and checklists through what still looked like a workplace but was about to become a playground. Asia is a fantastic club, really, like a smaller but Tokyo-polished version of First Avenue in Minneapolis – that is, a hipster mecca, elevating underground music to a professional level of polish for a select (read: small) number of devotees. Although someone with connections to the club once stated with certainty that it was a money-loser subsidized by Vuenos, the cheesy dance club next door owned by the same people. So maybe good taste doesn’t pay. But it was a great night – I saw my friend the writer Shin Futatsugi for the first time in months, and the chance to get to know everyone in the Pop Group circle a little bit better. The place was full, so though Hiroki (head of Pop Group) didn’t seem super impressed, I gather some money was made for earthquake victims.

Early on, when the club was still only about a third or less full, one audience member was dancing to the early DJs. She was really enthusiastic and really attractive, owning the hell out of a charming and unusual fashion sense. I was up towards the front, against a wall, leaning against a table and taking some notes. As I half-wrote and half watched her dance, I had an experience that is embarrassing, but which, if this post is to have a leg to stand on, is not unique. It was impossible not to, at least at the back of my mind, think that she was dancing for me. When I’ve had a few drinks, this sense can become explicit and make me act like a stupid (read: average) male, but even standing there clear-headed, I could sense the logic unfurling in the back of my brain – she had noticed the tall, nerdy-looking writer, and was trying to . . . well, you can imagine the train of thought only gets more pathetic from there.

Of course, this was just a girl having a good time, and she didn’t deserve to be the object of even my most subconscious narratives. But it wasn’t just me – she was dancing in a mostly empty club, and couldn’t have failed to be somewhere in the attention of most if not all of the dozen-odd other people playing the wall. This, of course only adds to the bathos of my fantasizing – I’m sure it was shared by more than a few of the other guys around. In fact, I realized, the girl was both an object of desire and, in a less direct but structurally similar way, a model of enjoyment that served a variety of purposes in giving meaning to the event. She was a non-romantic, fantasy object for all of the workers who had set up the show, for the staff and servers and even to some extent the musicians. They were all there for her, to create the enjoyment of which she was the model.   They certainly, in reality, were also doing it for those of us vaguely nodding our heads, enjoying the music and the feeling of being there in less expressive ways. But this explosively dancing girl required less interpretation.

I thought, particularly, of myself and the photographers, writing about or documenting the event. Her presence justified our activities, because she was the real thing – someone genuinely enjoying a party whose purpose was enjoyment. We, the watchers (professional and otherwise) needed her, because she enabled us to justify the fact that we weren’t engaged in a direct enjoyment of the event. To paraphrase Zizek’s formulation about laugh tracks, we needed that one girl to enjoy the even for us.

But even as I write this, I have to point out that it misses one dimension – that the photographer or the writer is not merely at a distance from the activity of ‘pure’ enjoyment, but is engaged in a ‘pure’ enjoyment of their own activity, one that the dancer in turn doesn’t know. The ultimate example of this is the musicians themselves, who I can guarantee from experience are having more fun than almost anyone in the audience, an enjoyment enhanced by, but not dependent on, enthusiastic audience members.

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