I don’t admit to liking Vice.com. It’s too obviously aimed at people of a certain age. If Vice.com saw itself in the mirror, it would roll its eyes and call itself a posing cunt. In fact, no; it would point out its own reflection to a third party and say ‘It’s easy to call Vice.com a posing cunt, but maybe it’s just a website trying too hard to appear to its target demographic.’ Placing the idea that Vice.com is a ‘posing cunt’ in the head of the auditor, but refusing ownership of such an unpleasantly judgemental comment.
But, as part of said demographic, I confess that Vice.com does succeed in piquing my curiosity and draw my cursor from time to time. One such article was Clive Martin’s ‘How Sad Young Douchebags Took Over Modern Britain’. I first read the article copy-and-pasted onto another website, which had the effect of removing the accompanying photos. It’s easier to agree with in that format. The way it’s presented on Vice.com tells the story of unwitting drunk victims asked to pose by a friendly cameraman at a nightclub, unaware that their mugs are about to be plastered across a mocking article designed to evoke smugness in a readership of students and graduates. Nevertheless, Martin is an entertaining writer with a penchant for witty aphorisms, perfect for an era in which people tend only to skim and share, and he sketches a recognisable image of young men in Britain today. This article particularly drew my attention, though, because it felt like an incomplete thought. There was the seed of an interesting idea hastily cast onto the barren ground of too many absurd similes and lofty claims.
The central observation is correct; there is a trend for young men to make themselves muscular, get a tan (real or fake) and flaunt these attributes in revealing clothing on nightclub dancefloors. Anyone between 18 and 30 will be able to picture the sort of guy to whom he refers. Martin comes to some strange conclusions about what spawned this craze. Apparently this is a wave of young men who lack role-models, who feel disenfranchised and are ‘testing the boundaries of decency’. The cosmetics industry is to blame, as is declining social mobility, even the Iraq war gets a mention (you see what you did, Blair?!). All this feels like Martin vaunting for profound causes of a banal problem. I have no more insight into the cause of the craze than he does, but I tend to think that his bloggerly ambitions have prevented him seeing the most obvious culprit. So in attempting to confront the hulking foe that is ‘The Modern British Douchebag’, I’ll reach a frail arm into my 30” waist jeans and pull out Occam’s Razor.
Martin’s very notion of ‘the douchebag’ is based on their sartorial and behavioural transgressions in a specific environment; nightclubs. What they do the rest of the time- we can see they go to the gym I suppose- is not discussed. This is a beast whose habitat only exists between 10.30pm and 3am at the weekend, a fact that should lead Martin to a conclusion he seems to ignore: nightclubs aren’t just where you see these guys, they’re also why you see them.
Nightclubs turn socialising into a transaction: you pay to enter the club, and you continue paying throughout the night by purchasing drinks that cost far more than sum of their parts. But what the nightclub is actually selling remains obscure. A nightclub is essentially a big room with loud music. The club’s proprietors may be the people you’re handing money to, but they’re not in possession of what you’re buying. The other people in the club are the product they’re selling, and ‘selling’ is the operative word. You, as a patron of the club, have, in a sense, hired a room full of other drunk people for the night, and this transaction colours your behaviour towards them. Men in nightclubs will unashamedly circulate propositioning numerous different women. This would be unimaginable in practically any other social environment. But then, in which other social environment do you pay an admission fee for the sole purpose of being allowed a fixed period of time interacting with strangers? I can think only of business conferences and speed-dating, both of which create a similar brand of cordial ruthlessness in which people present a smile before discarding anyone who does not fulfil their criteria.
So far, so self-evident, but I believe conceiving of nightclubs as places in which you purchase interactions with potential sexual partners is crucial to understanding ‘the modern douchebag’. He is a young man whose social life has been commodified (in the Marxist sense) and sold back to him. As such, he seeks to derive maximum value from his money. This entails turning himself into a hyper-adapted nightclub specimen, or, as Martin puts it; ‘an erection in a vest’. Nightclubs are a reductive force that turn young peoples’ social lives into empty experiences. Like Martin says; ‘friends become wingmen’. This is no trivial point of sophistry: it speaks to the fact that when young people socialise in nightclubs they do so without a collective consciousness or the fermenting of any new ideas. Friendships degenerate into relationships of convenience based on a collective knowledge that one cannot go to a nightclub alone, and weekends become benders culminating in a hungover gouch infront of Sky Sports’ Super Sunday.
During the handful of years after which I had discovered alcohol but before I was old enough to attend nightclubs, I would spend the school week hoping that one of my friends would produce a plan for the weekend: a house-party perhaps or, failing that, a plan to procure booze and drink it outdoors somewhere. These plans would normally take shape over the course of the week. Vague ideas on Tuesday were intricate schemes by Friday. Sometimes, though, there seemed to be nothing going on. On such occasions I fantasised about being 18 and having access to clubs. This, I thought, must be like being invited to the most extravagant and boisterous of house-parties every single night.
At 18 I found that nightclubs aren’t quite what I had envisaged. What’s more, the houseparties all but dried up once my peer group were old enough to go out on the town. I began to appreciate that the houseparties and gatherings in parks and carparks I had enjoyed in my mid-teens carried a sense of camaraderie that nightclubs do not. Yes, a nightclub is like a party in that there are girls and booze, but nobody is going to offer you some of their vodka if your bottle is empty. You’re not going to meet somebody with whom your opinions chime that just happened to end up on the same sofa, and you’re not going to speak to a girl without the instant assumption that your convivial tone is merely a disguised proposition. Other people at parties are a temporary peer-group, whereas other men in nightclubs are competitors, and girls are a scarce resource you’re all pursuing. A nightclub may look like a party but it is not a social occasion, it’s a place of business.
I’ve been going for 5 years without really making any friends I hadn’t already met via another source. Hundreds of nights out ‘socialising’ and my social circle is more or less the same group of people I knew when I was 17. On a micro level this sounds like nothing more than the tale of a sadsack twentysomething. On a wider scale, though, this is the experience of thousands of people, male and female, disconnected from each other by contemporary modes of social interaction. On Sauchiehall St on a Friday night you’ve got 4000 young people (guestimate) collecting in one area. Most of them are frequent visitors of the various bars and clubs, most of them will be pretty similar in outlook and experience. This could a breeding ground of ideas and a sense of collective identity; instead it’s a rabble of disconnected groups jostling in a queue for jagerbombs and chips ‘n’ cheese. Instead of anything meaningful, the only cultural movement it creates is the nothingness of Martin’s ‘modern douchebag’. Nightclubs, as counterfeit parties offering market-place efficiency’s brand of socialising are doomed to create people who look like walking monuments to a vapid culture.
The problem isn’t so much what nightclubs provide: booze, pop music and the chance meet someone and get laid, it’s what they strip away from this experience that damages society. Young people’s compulsion to meet and impress each other can precipitate great acts of ingenuity. Every teenager who learned to play guitar and went on to write a seminal album did so to impress somebody. In the words of Vicktor Maskell; ‘We erect a statue in our own image inside ourselves – idealised, you know, but still recognisable – and then spend our lives engaged in the effort to make ourselves into its likeness.’ This is narcissism, but narcissism is a universal trait. The point is that narcissism can lead to many things depending on what the statue in your head looks like. For the ‘modern douchebag’ that statue isn’t playing a guitar or kicking a ball or writing a book, it’s just a guy with a rippling torso who stands still. And why not? When you spend your time in rooms filled with moronic music in which it’s impossible to converse with anyone, that statue represents the most esteemed person an ordinary young man can feasibly become. The problem’s not that they look up to Joey Essex, it’s that they’re actually right to do so in this culture.
Martin puts forward the idea that these muscular guys are simply imitations of brawn. Their physique, as a product of weight-training and Creatine creates a mirage of might that is belied by their preening vanity. I imagine he would be more comfortable typing this sentiment than explaining it to the objects of his ire in person. The desire for physical self-improvement, to my mind, is generally positive. If somebody is forgoing McDonalds because he wants a six-pack, and can be bothered putting in the hours at the gym, it seems churlish to attack him for failing to form a coherent philosophy around this fact. He wants to look like an Adonis so he can get laid, so what? Martin, like me, just has other, non-physical, modes of expression for his fundamental vanity.
The target he should be aiming at is the industry built up around young people socialising. It boils our conversations down to staccato sentences hollered over deafening meaningless music. It turns meeting somebody into the act of ogling them across a dancefloor before rubbing yourself against them. It places a premium on biceps, tatoos and a complexion just south of jaundice. It’s futile to criticise the artificial Adonis for being the product of his environment while perpetuating it with our hard-earned every weekend.