Busting at the Seams


By: Amber-isms

During Prohibition in the United States, while many Americans were secretly distilling gin in their bathtubs, Montreal came to be known as North America's 'sin city'. Quebec's laxer regulation on fun and games, and a higher tolerance for which helped tie and secure the knots with alcohol, gambling and prostitution, also opened up a seductive market for fellow boozers strung-out silly for sin beyond bathwater.

Pleasures formerly forbidden are now fully incorporated into popular culture, privately owned and manufactured; capitalism is the new mandate for fun. We have entered an era of conspicuous consumption whereby people and markets are more edgy than ever before. Alcohol might help, but fear of rejection is today's best-seller. Americans are no longer alone to revel in the infatuation stage of a discombobulated relationship with vice; society isquite literally head-over-heels in love and in over its' head with consumption. The explicitnature of the free market invites us all to walk the runway wearing nothing but our hearts on our sleeves, encouraging us to strip down and take to the streets with our bottles of angst for all to pop and enjoy.

Montreal, nightlife capital that she is, has an unnatural selection of shady economies she shouldn't be so proud of. Her museums are bold, beautiful and filled with fine art, but her streets, old and restless, are littered with cheap commercial entertainment. Among these is an infamous strip called Crescent that thrusts out of the west-central section of downtown Montreal. Once belonging to the richest district in the whole of Canada and still referred to as the city's 'Golden Square Mile', it is now part of a sleazy tourist attraction with a social hub of boisterous debauchery that speaks volumes about the profiteering nightlife industry. Crescent has become the most densely-packed meat market in town, butchering peoples' integrity and making spectacles out of them for profit.

So what exactly do these Crescent Street merchants have to say for themselves?
''Our objective is to reinforce the image of the street as being a commercial street focused on entertainment, hospitality and quality establishments. We take care of our environment by ensuring safety, cleanliness, promotion, and by looking after the general improvement of the street.'' Further reinforcing the seamless image of a trade full of tricks, pick-up lines and cliches such as: ''...this tiny strip is the heart and soul of the action of the city .'' (Crescent Street Merchant's Association)

Or so it seems?...

Come Saturday night, Crescent street floods with human cockroaches all looking for a weekend escape from the everyday drags of human life. For a large part of Montreal's young, innocent, naive and hysterical, her antsy meandering tourists and strung-out Americans, for all her haggard old regulars, lonely creatures and lost souls, home is where the heart of downtown races and the mind just stops. Everyone here is open for business, closed for conversation and free of all intellectual charge. Merchants can be altogether pushy but consumerism is pushing the outer limits of self-control.

People consume alcohol, they consume the aesthetics of a club's design and perhaps, most importantly, they consume each other as cultural objects.'' (Rigakos 2008)

Out here, in the concrete jungle, is a whole different ball-game to which there are just as many exceptions as there are unwritten rules and just as many unspoken languages. Emotions and stakes are high, thus calling for cold-cut beefy bouncers. Money talks and sex sells well, but neither of them, though mandatory, guarantees a spot into the nightclub pageantry; social status is key and the only one to a doorman's stainless steel heart. Getting past the dictatorship of the gatekeeper and his velvet rope is a humiliating trial, but risky business is part of a show lots of people are willing to pay and line-up for, no matter how extremely cold the conditions or excruciatingly long the queues. So long as skirts are ridiculously short and heels painfully high, the idea is that there'll be enough eye candy to go around and keep everyone on their toes. Given the status quo, it goes without say and is of no coincidence that a nightclubs' darling customers are primarily young freshly-plucked females with the 'goods', followed by googly-eyed males with the means. High-rollers, the occasional guest celebrity and other 'very important persons' with the desirable VIP status to reel them in before the crowds, hold up the line with visible god-like auras.

''A wonderful sense of hospitality characterizes this street.''
-Crescent Street Merchant's Association

By the time all the headless chicks and ballsy boys make their red carpet entrance, everyone is already radiating with hormonal urgency and ready to go. But a fast and furious 'rhythmic obedience' (Adorno 1941:310) tells them otherwise and carries them along toward the bar for another interesting show of statuses, none of which is of any interest to the top-heavy Barbie doll serving the drinks. She's seen it all and her pouty face won't wash off until the night her counter-top is just as heavy with tips, enough to pay for a pair of breasts that turned out to be more of a pain in the ass than of any use. Maybe she figures the least they could do is smile on her behalf or perhaps she knows the business inside-out and that nobody here is thirsty for hospitality. Soon enough, under the comfortably disinhibiting effects of alcohol and dim lights that make beauties out of everyone, all hell can finally break loose. Barbie's last call for alcohol shouts out the cue to sex, drugs and violence, as they wait impatiently at the exit, right behind the bouncer.

Nightclubs are overrated. They hustle, bustle and bust at the seams with superficiality, from the outside in. Crescent's share of nightclubs showcases horrifying back-to-back episodes of real live people crafted into commodities and man-handled at the doorstep.

''Put simply, the city provides the crucial mix of people and power, attention and anonymity, money and markets, necessary to generate a genuine cultural scene. It is both content and context, cause and effect, creator and destroyer.'' (Hume 2001)

-The Official Crescent Street Merchants Association Web Site. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.crescentmontreal.com

-Rigakos, George S. 2008. ''Nightclub: Bouncers, Risk and the Spectacle of Consumption.'' Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

-- Adorno, W.T. (1941) : "On Popular Music", in Frith, S.&Goodwin, A. eds. On Record. Routledge (1990).

-Hume, Christopher. 2001. "Art of the city: Exhibit shows how relationship with cultural creativity, or lack there of, can make or break a metropolis." Toronto Star 10 Mar. 2001, online ed.

Image source: Flickr.

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