Friday, November 30, 2012

The Neverending Story: Star Wars Edition

Four billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. And I guess it is.  It's also kind of a meaningless figure. If you told me you had four billion dollars, you might just as well have said you had a hundred bajillion cazillion shmashmillion dollars, because both figures are beyond my realm of comprehension. When dealing with money in particular, numbers as high as four billion become surreal and completely theoretical. The difference between having a hundred million dollars and four billion dollars is arbitrary at best. Most regular people can determine the worth of five dollars or ten dollars or even twenty dollars, because they can conceptualize the quantity of shit that amount of money equates to. We kind of have an idea, given the current (un)fair market value of most products in that price range, of the amount of physical matter we could acquire in exchange for those sums of money. Even values like a million dollars are within the grasp of most ordinary citizens. After buying a decent house and a car or two, you'd maybe have enough money to last for the rest of a decade, assuming you set aside a comfortable annual allowance of $50,000 a year and maybe invested a bit.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Delete Method

Bachelor parties really aren't my scene.  It seems highly illogical to me to celebrate one's bachelorhood (or eminent loss thereof) long after the fact.  Bachelor parties typically happen in temporal proximity to the actual date of the wedding, which according to the Western tradition occurs after a period of engagement, which in turn is preceded by a period of dating, and all of which presuppose the monogamous intent of both parties involved which means that the state of bachelorhood -by its very definition (ie. not being involved in a romantic relationship)- for each party has actually been abandoned for some time.  It would make slightly more sense to have a bachelor party every time one of your friends became romantically involved with another person, a social innovation I'm sure certain industries such as strip clubs and breweries would have very little argument against, except for the obligatory social custom of trying to politely decline a generous offer that you actually have every intention of accepting.
"Let's just do the same plot from the first movie."
"No, that's crazy, no audience would be stupid
enough to pay for... Oh, really?  Alright, let's
get Pauly Shore on the phone for Part III."

But that would only seem slightly less illogical to me.  The entire modern day mythos surrounding the bachelor/bachelorette party hinges on the presupposition and expectation that this particular social event automatically comes equipped with a licence for all manner of stupidity and downright asinine behaviour as glorified in such cultural texts as THE HANGOVER.  Normally, I would not be overly critical of such hedonistic impulses.  In a lot of respects, Oscar Wilde and Lord Henry Wotton were right on the money, philosophically speaking, with regard to certain lifestyle choices.  However, the carte blanche for drunken debauchery in this particular instance lacks resonance with me because it is so explicitly scripted.

It doesn't come down to whether or not the social circumstances are constructed.  Every cultural script we follow every waking minute of our lives is constructed, whether consciously or unconsciously.  The point is whether these constructions are organic.  Are they constructed in such a way as to mask the nature of their construction.  It is a distinct level of disillusionment when we see the puppet's strings.  It is another level entirely when the puppet sees his own.  A skillfully designed performance keeps the machinery far from view.  Though we are conscious of its existence, we are not constantly reminded of it and can engage in the oft-quoted "willing suspension of disbelief" that would no doubt earn the Keats' estate a nickel every time it was uttered had he been prudent enough to copyright it thereby ensuring that his progeny had more than ample financial means to sustain itself indefinitely.  It's the difference between fantasy and delusion.  It's one thing to allow oneself to believe in the Infinite Possibilities of Existence; it's another thing entirely to tend an orchard you know for a fact will bear no fruit.

A few weeks back, I participated in my first true bachelor party experience.  For my own wedding, I forewent what I saw as a needless and potentially expensive ritual which would force me to reallocate financial resources over my then-bourgeoning DVD collection.  The closest I came was a night of video games fueled by copious amounts of alcohol on the eve of my wedding, during which time my youngest brother (a fresh-faced whippersnapper of 17 years at the time) provided countless hours of amusement, drunkenly stumbling around for our entertainment with no concern for his dignity or personal well-being.

But this time, I was to engage in the Authentic Bachelor Party Experience.  As best man, I had intentionally neglected my particular duties surrounding this ritual, hoping instead to default to the groom's earlier suggestion of a leisurely weekend camping trip punctuated, of course, by alcohol/weed-inspired hijinks.  This was purely for selfish reasons.  As a starving student and the only one involved in the wedding who would have to travel a minimum of six hours just to reach the festivities, this option would have required less financial investment and less travel time on my part.  Alas, my machinations were for naught as another friend of the groom took it upon himself to organize a bachelor party proper.

I didn't know much about being the best man in a wedding, but I knew that even if I wasn't spearheading the campaign I couldn't be the only asshole who didn't show up.  Despite my desire to maximize my own convenience factor, I knew that my primary role was for Moral(e) Support, and my participation in such activities was obligatory, even if the bulk of my trip would consist of travel time and I really had no desire to spend large quantities of money on alcohol and cover charges with narry a Blu-Ray or video game to show for it.
Based on the true story of the life
and times of Jesus Christ

From its earliest inception, I knew that this would be a traditional bachelor party in every sense of the word.  There was talk of typical activities, but the one that seemed to dominate was, of course, the time-honoured tradition of the strip club.  I suppose it was inevitable, with the sole purpose of half the group to make our way to the nearest strippers (Who, on an interesting side note, they kept referring to as "rippers," a truncation that I'm not sure is part of a larger sociolinguistic context of which I am not aware, or simply due to a specific, regional dialect).  At any rate, we ended up at a local establishment that regularly headlined the talents of beautiful, young women willing to take their clothes off in front of a room full of (mostly) strangers as the climax of our evening.

Now, perhaps I'm in the minority of Heterosexual Men Who Aren't Morally Opposed to Strip Clubs But Finds the Prospect of Going to One Unappealing.  And it's not because I have any moral or social objections to the erotic arts, or because a strip club is supposedly hygienically inferior to other bars.  There are two main reasons that the concept of the strip club takes the wind out of my sails (so to speak):

1)  I hate high-pressure sales situations.
2) The whole experience seems so contrived.

I know that high-pressure sales tactics are implemented for the same reason that nuclear weapons are effective: because they get results.  And I know that the base salary for strippers is probably not that great and that the real incentive for the profession is the fat stacks they can rack up with the sacred tradition of the lap dance. I just don't like the expectation that walking onto the premises of a business means I have entered into some kind of silent yet legally binding contract that I must now partake of its wares or services in some way.  The notable exception to this rule, of course, being food and drink.  I can understand how the food services industry in particular relies on the volume of customers to maintain a sustainable business model and you can't just have shiftless layabouts taking valuable space away from other potential customers.  And to be fair, I did buy a couple of (overpriced) drinks at the club we went to.

I did not, however, end up going to the notorious "back rooms" with any of the lovely ladies.  In part because my wife (who's pretty fucking cool most of the time) had laid out strict ground rules in anticipation of the eventuality (or likelihood) that the bachelor party would end up at a strip club.  Her rule was basically look but don't touch, which I can appreciate, because if she were participating in the even more depraved bachelorette party I probably wouldn't want some dude grinding up against my wife with his sweaty ballsack and no-doubt meticulously manicured asshole.  Maintaining a relationship can be a tricky balance sometimes, and as sexual beings it's one thing to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of other attractive human specimens through the visual cortex, it's quite another to engage in full-on physical contact (especially in our bathing suit places) in a sexually-charged context, which to a great number of people who embrace monogamy in all of its forms bespeaks a certain level of intimacy.  Which is to say, I can appreciate and respect why my wife didn't want my face buried in some other woman's tits while under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol.

But even if I was a single guy living the high life, I still think I'd be unlikely to get a lap dance at a strip club.  And it has nothing to do with the potential hygiene issues for both of us that might result from grinding my crotch with her loins unfettered.  (In all fairness, though, I don't know where her pussy has been, and she doesn't know where my pants have been.  This is not to try and cast some type of stereotype that strippers are "dirty" in some way, and for the most part I'm sure they take fine care of their pussies.  Nor is it to imply that I typically wear unusually soiled or contaminated articles of clothing.  I'm just saying.)  It's more about how explicitly artificial the whole the whole situation seemed.

The lap dance seemed like a highly illogical place to go after witnessing the same stripper ply her trade on stage.  It was like trading one form of blue balls for an even worse, more intense form of blue balls, only you're not really trading because you're paying a lot more money for the lap dance.  It is the strip club equivalent of (what I assume) is the law of diminishing returns: you are never more acutely aware that you won't be getting any pussy than when you are closest to the pussy that you know for a certainty you won't be getting.

I remember through my drunken haze a bunch of guys sitting across the stage from us.  They were young guys, probably university students putting their student loan money to good use.  There was one guy who kept lying down on the stage with a five dollar bill on his face, which would elicit the appropriately seductive response from whatever woman was on the stage at the time by getting up close and personal before taking the money.  Probably the image that stuck in my head the most from that particular mission was the final act of the night who ended up removing the bill using only her vagina.  Never having been a woman I'm not exactly sure how hard it is to pick up objects with your vagina, but I was fairly impressed nonetheless.

But there was one of these kids that stuck with me just as much.  It was this kid in a hoodie and glasses, who in between cheering on his drunken friend with the never-ending supply of five dollar bills, and one trip to the back room with a slim blonde, could be found nursing a drink staring up at the dancers on the stage.  I remember him because of the look of awe on his face.  This was basically the wet dream of every marginalized adolescent boy who was either too unpopular or had lacked the confidence to see a lot of action in highschool and had to watch as others went off dutifully to the front lines to "take one (or a dozen) for the team."  I could clearly see that he was not one of the galant members of the football team or popular crowd who had served their time down in the trenches and done their small bit for king and country.  I could see it in his face, because I too had largely served at the homefront during those turbulent times.

And here was a teenage fantasy come to pass: fully grown, real-life, attractive (for the most part) women ready, willing, and able to take their clothes off.  It was almost too easy.  Like a slap in the face.  For a kid straight out of high school who -let's face it- was probably no Romeo, there was probably something mystical about the whole thing.  After four years of trying (to some extent) to find a woman who was willing to get naked in your presence and largely or entirely striking out here was a room full of women who would willingly take all of their clothes off and show off every single inch of their body for you in less than five minutes flat.  It must have seemed like goddamned Christmas in Valhalla.

But the look on this one kid's face really exemplified the whole experience of the strip club.  I won't compare strippers to used car salesmen, because that would be unfair to the strippers, but there was a social practice at play that, for lack of a better word, took the form of a hustle.  And it went something like this:

First, they'd bait the line as they danced on stage.  With the distraction, it was easy for them to pick out their marks.  With all of the raging hormones and inhibitions lowered by alcohol it must have been ridiculously easy for the dancers to immediately pinpoint exactly which sets of eyes were drawn to her more than others and lingered those extra two or twenty seconds.

Second, they cast out the line.  After determining their marks, they would make their way through the room and start working them over.  It wasn't hard (or was it? Giggety!).  Every heterosexual man in the place had laid his cards clearly on the table.  It was simply a matter of convincing them to go all in.  The tactics were deceptively simple.  Physical proximity.  They'd invite themselves to sit at your table, and you have no reason to decline.  Emotional engagement.  It was friendly conversation.  What's your name?  Where are you from?  What brings you here?  Then feign a little interest.   The ultimate strategy was equally as simple: make the client feel special.  Like he's the only one in the room.  Like you hand-picked him from the rest.  He was somehow different than the rest of the rabble.  

Third: hook, line and sinker.  All that's left is to reel them in.  The slow walk to the back room.  Behind closed doors, anything is possible.

The whole process, from bait, to cast, to reel, was slow, deliberate, and calculated.  It was straight out of SunTzu's companion piece, The Art of Seduction.  (Those ancient Chinese generals really knew how to swing.)  But looking at that kid across the stage, and as the short blonde with the heart tattoo above her left breast led him to the back, it all became depressingly clear to me.  By making everybody feel special, it really just made me realize how not special I was.

Far sooner than I expected, the lights came on and we, along with the last lingering patrons, wandered out into the night and I was left with a lingering quandary.  As a heterosexual male, I can't deny finding pleasure in the aesthetic beauty of the female form (read: I love tits).  At the same time, I couldn't help but wonder if I was in some way objectifying these women.  I found myself questioning whether the profession of stripping was empowering or degrading to these women.  Or was the potential for empowerment and degradation of stripping any more or less than working at a fast food restaurant or anyone else working in the service industry?  Was my crisis of faith specifically because of the inherently sexualized nature of the proceedings which I was unfamiliar with?

On the other hand, was it possible to just have a little bit of fun and just enjoy the illusion of seduction, the rush of endorphins, and a pleasantly persistent erection without worrying about the potential sociological ramifications?  

Maybe.  Maybe I was overthinking the whole thing.  Was it possible to simultaneously admire and objectify another human being?  Was it possible to reconcile the tension between my dick and my brain?

Or was such stuff the spice of life?