(i) TAO Downtown
"It is difficult to convey just how incredibly seductive and thrilling these nights could be..."
‘Perfect timing,’ one of our promoters, M, greets me as I arrive an hour later than was asked. A friend called just as I was crossing Seventh Avenue, there was a bomb threat a the NYU dorms. She doesn’t handle those things well. I awkwardly satellite at an adjacent empty table for a few minutes, until another waiter M can bark at comes into range. ‘Hey, can we pull up a table for her?’ The flamingo’s cute. Hate to be the busboy stuck spending his afternoons blowing these up, though. Or maybe the bartender handles it while he’s shaking the drink. Shake-blow-shake-blow.
Treating girls is the basis of the VIP economy. In exchange for dinner, girls are implicitly expected to spend time at the club with a promoter…The uncertainty over exactly how or when repayment happens can make a gift more burdensome than a clearly delineated market transaction. Girls and promoters dance around this silence: By accepting the invitation to dinner, she is in a social debt to the promoter, but what, exactly, is expected of her?
The night is to be rife with such ambivalence, I’m told. The rich spend, the wealthy spend nothing. My beauty is priceless, so I will go uncompensated for it. Nonetheless, I am obliged to have fun. Strings are attached to everything, and everyone wants to feel like they’re the ones pulling them. We’ll all tango through these tripwires for fear of collapsing the superimposition into any one legibility which may paint us in a bad light. And everything is already priced into those markups.
M thrusts a plate of grilled chicken my way. Just a plate, of pieces of meat, put on display, passed around a table, of pieces of meat, put on di—no cheap analogies I stop myself and heap a few portions onto my plate, eliciting another M comment: ‘I would have never guessed you ate meat.’ Starting to like this guy. I eye the rest of our spread. Not much to write home about. Of course, I was warned about this, too:
Usually at comped promoter dinners, dishes were served family-style and without regard to anyone’s preferences, and the kitchen often sent out the cheaper food, or what hadn’t been ordered much that evening.
Which, I mean, understandable, given half of it will be purged later anyways. Am I still vegetarian if I don't digest meat? I be social with my immediate tablemates for a bit. ‘I'm a fashion designer!’ I lie. ‘Totally knew from your outfit!’ they say. I don’t remember if I returned the question, or if or what they answered. One was originally from Turkey, I think.
M, again, to me. Speaking of. That men in this city so often perceive me as Ambiguous East-ish European, it feels like a recurring gag, to have a major trait of yours assumed so consistently, exotically wrong. They must not get out much. I remember what an ex told me:
‘No, I can see it. You look simple, but devastating enough.’
‘Devastating enough for what?’
I’d play dress up, if I could just buckle down and hone my accents a bit more. Olga, from the Volga, daughter of an old-school oligarch who fell out of favor with Putin decades ago. Or Petra, who has seen things dangerously beyond her ninteen years in Berlin nightclubs, you know they’re serious over there. At least I know I’ll be babushka-viable, after I hit the wall.
‘No, I’m from Texas!’ I tell M.
He asks, ‘You like the Cowboys?
‘I don’t really follow sports.’
‘C’mon you grew up there though, right?’
‘Yeah, but geographically closer to the Texans. So that’s my team? Why, are you a Cowboys fan?’
‘No, I like’ some team from Florida, I can’t remember. ‘But I’m from Detroit.’
‘What? Don’t they have their own team? Aren’t they pretty notable? You guys are weird.’
He gives me a that’s the way the ball bounces shrug, it’s then I notice he’s wearing a black tee. They all wear black tees. Clients, too. It’s like they’re all in on some grand shoot-the-moon strategy where most men wear Fruit of the Loom, but enough wear Tom Ford to introduce just enough uncertainty such that any one man exists within a rich-not-rich superimposition. And it’s rude to collapse that superimposition.
Just like it’s rude to ask a woman what she weighs. Tit-for-tat. We have our own shoot-the-moon strategy, we simply winnow ourselves so thin we’re one-sided. So thin your guess will be too high knowing your guess will be too high. Nothing much collective about it, but then, that’s the point: we, the tall, the thin, the young, the pretty, are the negative space of our gender:
One powerful pull for women to join the VIP scene is precisely the knowledge that other women are not allowed in. Part of the fun is getting to join a world that excludes and devalues others.
‘It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play,’ a card-carrying womanizer once said. Royalty, as it is known, is not the fault of the royal, so much as the fault of each and every commoner who is born not-royal:
“Oh, no, models in New York City are, like—how can I compare them?” Eleanor continued, “I’m not gonna say they’re like the royals of England, but I guess—it’s not power—but the praise they get, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life.” Exploiting our fundamental human assumption that the more attractive you are, the higher your social status is, clubs and their promoters want beautiful women of a specifically rare sort: fashion models. Or at least women who look like they could be models.
Why I’m in that latter category—why I’m not a model. Must’ve been the mall scout’s day off in the suburban Texas town I grew up in. I’ll confess, and people will almost always but you me for answers, like they would a rich man who blows a significant portion of his wealth on rubber ducks. Fashion designer is my current answer: people accept it as a worthy surrogate without much complaint, with the same reverence they afford an actor who does his own stunts.
And mere weeks ago had you subjected me to word associations, it would have gone something like global variable! party toe the line! circuit city! Years of living in New York City, and this Slavic Seductress remained totally oblivious to the club scene all around her, petering away her partygirl potential—all those gaudy pairs of Louboutins I could’ve been sugar daddied!
But the heroine’s journey, uh, finds a way. On a recent Saturday afternoon, I’m walking home from the gym through the West Village. A white, four-door Porsche slows down, just as it passes me, and the man driving it calls out to me:
I ignore him. It’s never that easy. Up ahead is a corner restaurant with outdoor dining booths running along the cross street. I round the corner, slowing my pace. Suddenly, the vehicle zips to the other end of the booths, then idles. Until I walk past, then matches my now-brisk pace.
I again slow the pace of my walk, absorb another Hey, beautiful, and with all the detached graciousness I can summon, I make eye contact.
My spine straightens into even more of a question mark, bracing itself for his impending query.
‘I wantchou to come party with me.’
All the men in my life tell me never to be the first to name an amount in a negotiation. And no or fuck off or whatever is still an amount, to these types. So I keep mum, wait him out.
‘Come, have some fun with me.’ Already holding out a fanned stack of business cards, he retracts his hand into the vehicle and scoops up a second helping, as if seeing me up-close cinched something for him. ‘And bring all your gorgeous friends too!’ he says, as a silent-laughter smile breaks out over his face. He turns and drives away.
The minute he’s gone, I tear the slips of paper up and walk away in the other direction, feeling very much like a big shot. I was pretty pleased with myself until I looked up Very Important People several days later, after stumbling upon author Ashley Mears’s interview with Tyler Cowen. And a dozen pages or so in it dawns on me that no, all these men, they aren’t inviting me to participate in something shady, or at least nothing shady enough for me to cave to my stranger danger part. Though I’m far from the first to harbor an unexamined suspicion of promoters:
Promoters are widely criticized as pimps and “model wranglers,” for whom the fashion industry’s surplus of underpaid newcomers, known as “girls,” are easy pickings…the strategic tricks they use—gifts, flirtations, touches—do in fact resemble the work of pimps. Promoters were painfully aware of how their job looked, and they tried very hard to distinguish themselves.
When I first moved to the city, I remember promoters were seemingly every fifth match on Tinder, but from what I can tell they’ve since banned all such off-label uses. Too, numerous times I found myself on the blunt end of what I now recognize as promoters’ top-of-funnel efforts while a member at the Equinox in Soho, in an area the book confirms as ground zero for promoter activity:
As he typically did on a sunny afternoon, Sampson parked his black SUV at the corner of Spring Street and Broadway in SoHo, downtown Manhattan. Two renowned modeling agencies are located at this corner; nearby are a dozen casting and fashion studios. It was a warm Friday, ideal conditions for scouting. If Sampson didn’t have afternoon plans to take models to lunch or to castings, he came here looking to meet new girls.
Having torn up my one active lead—and no longer vain enough to work out at the Soho Equinox—I was in a pickle. Time was of essence. Each tick of the clock, one second closer to my turning twenty-five and sprouting wrinkles. It’s not often one can review a book directly, just by living in its world for a while.
I suppose I might have waited a few weeks, until I crossed paths with another promoter, but I was impatient, and cold-messaged the most-followed Instagram account I could find with promoter somewhere in the name. This was R. He seemed nice enough, and put me in a group iMessage with and an unidentified number, and the unidentified number put me in a second group iMessage with M, and thankfully the round robin stopped there because I was starting to get the girl is missing vibes from the whole thing.
Book list to guest list I think, as I join in halfway through a lumbering Happy Birthday we’re all singing to an older man at a nearby table. The majority of us have our phones out, capturing stories of the moment. After we conclude with a ‘yooouuuuuu’ that cadenzas off into a dozen different tonalities, a gaggle of giggles erupts, as if each of us is floating in the in the wake of the funnest thing we’ve ever done.
It appears we’re leaving now. M, who’s been standing for some time, comes over to me. ‘Partygirl, you’ll go with A he gestures to two girls already standing together behind him and K to TAO.’ I greet them, I haven’t met either yet. By the four criteria I identified earlier, we’re the only three women out of the dozen who fulfill them all. I take a last swig from my drink as I stand to join them, resisting the urge to deflate the flamingo and stuff it in my purse as a souvenir.
We make our way outside the restaurant and perch ourselves on the tip of the triangle of pavement formed where Greenwich Avenue veers into Seventh, and await an Uber that will take us to TAO. The girls seem like close friends. And I gather this is not their first rodeo, judging by their current conversation about the merits of pregamming, into which I interject ‘This is my first time going out clubbing, ever!’
I have no clue why I chose to girlboss it up here: ‘Yeah, my job is pretty stressful! Someone from work told me I should try this because they said I might like it, because work hard, play hard, right?’
One of the other promoters called the car for us, and he sends A periodic updates in the form of screenshots of the Uber app. ‘No, he’s down here!’ We follow her south down Greenwich. ‘That’s cool though! Don’t worry! We’ll watch your back tonight, you’re with us! Shit, this way I think!’ We dogleg it down Perry Street. ‘Are you with V?’ I have no idea who V is, but when in Rome. ‘Yeah, I am!’ ‘Oh, we loooooooove V! He really takes care of the girls he brings out with him. He took us to get facials, after we’d been out one night with him a few weeks ago!’
Further obfuscating their labors were the many pleasures women experienced from their position as girls.
‘It was like, six a-m! Wait—this way!’ Neither mentions R at any point. I’m just along for the ride, I guess. Which so far has just been a lap around this entire little triangle block thing Brasa’s on. We still can’t pinpoint our driver; all this trigonometry is giving me blisters. One of the promoters in the book chauffeurs girls around in his own Escalade, V needs to get with it. ‘Oh shit, is that it?’ A starts towards a white Camry flashing its hazards. It was it, we pile in.
Maybe R’s the intake form. Dinner is the cattle call, where M sorting-hats us by our looks. Harsh, but, well, the categories were made for men. And maybe V’s the more white-glove of the trio. A true model wrangler, a proficient pamperer. Not all men are such good sports:
Models, on the other hand, were more likely to be a “pain in the ass”—they were too demanding, in his view, probably because they knew their value.
A, K, and I, what is our value? Its essence, exactly? Can we roll it up, can we smoke it? If you can think of babies as time billionaires, are we looks billionaires? Exceeding the GDPs of whatever podunk Balkans we hail from? During these evenings, the following take from the book became a sort of Tuanian koan for me, in my greater moments of dissonance:
A “girl” is a social category of woman recognized as so highly valuable that she has the potential to designate a space as “very important.”
Which, if you can muster more surface level-reading than the contents of Borges’ library printed on a Gabriel's horn, is kind of sweet and uplifting. But of course, Very Important People leaves skin-deep value judgements in the capable hands of the nightlife denizens it interviews:
“It’s the quality of the woman. It’s the perfect thing. It’s just so beautiful to see and watch. A model is a model. She goes into a club, and she’s, like, flashlight. She’s here, you know. And the guys next to her, they’ll be like, ‘Damn, this club is hot. Get me another bottle.’ ”
Here, want another? Choosing at random:
“Some girls are street pretty and some girls are models,” Malcolm concluded. At the time, Trevor couldn’t quite tell the difference. Sampson was constantly reprimanding him: “He’s bringing me girls all tits and butt, you know, girls he likes. I’m like, ‘That’s not what they want. That girl is just taking up space. Don’t bring that. No tits and ass. Just skinny and tall.’ ”
A superficial value judgment a day keeps the inner beauty thinkpieces away:
Likewise, a New York club owner told me that models weren’t even that pretty. To him, they were strange, but “it pops in the club because they’re seven feet tall.” Promoters’ own tastes in women may have been different from that of the VIP look, but their work necessitated a restructuring of their vision around four key indicators: height, slenderness, youth, and facial beauty. This vision of beauty defines the VIP field as a high-status space, crowding out and even belittling alternative visions of beauty.
Height, slenderness, youth, and facial beauty. Height, slenderness, youth, and facial beauty. Heightslendernessyouthandfacialbeauty. These four elements alchemize into the gold standard of, well, everything. Everything life has to offer is more fun if you’re a model: coding, law, elephants, all are bathed in the glow of your magnum halo effect. Because, while Webster’s Dictionary doesn’t define off-duty (adj.) as a superimposition of a slouch and a flex whereby one woman’s proclivity is transformed into another’s accessory, it certainly ought to:
“…to most people, models represent the dream. They represent the elite, trendy world, the high-end world of fashion and beauty. They are the dream. I am not attracted to her, but she is my target. We need those girls.”
And just like not all clients can’t be Saudi Royals or Jho Low, not all girls can be models. There’s a pecking order to these things:
“She’s hot,” he said casually as we kept walking. “She’s not a model but she’s hot, I’d definitely get with her. That’s what we call a good civilian. There’s models and there’s good civilians. A good civilian is a girl who fits the description of model but is not really a model. Like she’s not as slim or, you know what I mean, she’s not five eleven, but she might be five eight. She’s just a pretty hot girl, something that the clubs will see and say, ‘Ok, she’s pretty hot.’ ”
“But you can tell the difference?” I asked him.
“Oh, everybody can tell the difference.”
Hence why M split us up from the main group, perhaps. Away from the good civilians. A, who is showing K and I a TikTok of her cat-cowing ‘I mean that’s like a good cat-cow, I really worked hard on it’ and K if either actually models. ‘Kinda kinda’ I receive in a flam. No one just whole-hog hustleporns it like I’m passionate about modeling. Always Yeah, I’m good at this, but I don’t really think about it. It just happens. But it’s not, like, my thing.
Do such fine-grained differences between models and not-models really matter? To someone spending oodles of money for the privilege of our company, yes, they do:
“Someone spending $15,000 a night in a nightclub wants the real thing,” he said. “Just the peace of mind that he is now part of that A-list, that social elite. I think that is what the actual difference is.”
Curiously, this pickiness lends some credence to the common promoter refrain I am not a pimp:
Promoters emphasize the visibility of beautiful bodies, not the quantity of sex acts that can be consummated among them. Thibault explained as much, emphasizing that the visible display of high-status femininity, not sex, is of prime importance.
If three inches doth tarnish a halo’s glow, the evolutionary circuits in play might be more sophisticated than Cro-Magnon do copulation (beats chest). Becoming part of the A-list was more subpar as a spread-your-genes-far-and-wide gambit back on the savannahs than it is now. The lizard-brain logic which enables sex sells as the marketing tactic par excellence has a healthy respect for diminishing returns; it’s more noble sorts of compulsion that let femininity facilitate:
While barely discernible as individuals, as a collective the girls played an important role in helping the men talk with each other about their worlds of business….Most clients and promoters simply believe that a room full of men is less comfortable than a room with women.
Did I say noble? I meant oh god please assuage my homoerotic anxieties:
Rudik, a Russian promoter working in Hong Kong and occasionally in New York City, explained that company managers entertaining clients hire him to bring girls to the after-hours entertainment. “Because it’s five guys, with a fucking magnum of champagne, and they look like fucking faggots.”
Look how straight we all are, we have our own fucking harem for chrissakes! It’s…certainly one use case of wielding femininity en masse. Pretty based, though. Of course nothing’s stopping you from using The Collected Works of William Shakespeare as a doorstop, but it’s quite a shame not to use the book for its intended purpose:
Women were conduits of men’s power, Rubin argued, because men control the exchange systems through which women circulate as gifts…
Yes! There we go, conduits of power, that’s more like it. Sounds like a band from the eighties. Do away with the Wildeian middleman altogether, yeah, now everything’s just about power…
…women are largely cut out from the value that their exchange generates…
The unequal ability of one person to capitalize on another is a classic measure of exploitation in Marx’s terms…
…Men’s surplus value from girl capital goes largely unseen, since girls’ participation in the clubs is assumed to be fun, leisure, and not work…
…It would be too easy to say that promoters and clubs exploit girls for monetary gain; we would miss a crucial insight into how relations of exploitation operate. In short, promoters show us that exploitation works best when it feels good.
…I…sure, yeah…basically. I could viscerally sixth-sense the cash fluttering about my invisible slipstream at these things, despite never having modeled or otherwise directly cashed out on my physical appearance. Hear soft little cha-chings. Picture the little pile of bills that would accumulate at my feet, if I stood in one place for a while.
Twenty dollars, I’d think, for existing in this space, for my contributions to the revelry, over the next fifteen minutes. Is that a reasonable guess for how much Tao Group Hospitality might attribute to me? Divide annual revenue of the entire company by however many clubs they own by days in a year by hours in a day by six, take out whatever five percent the alcohol actually costs, divide by number of women in the room, don’t bother weighting out models from good civ-
We double-park it on Ninth, time to go. ‘Yeah, TAO’s definitely more clubby, like, it’s an actual nightclub, it’s not, like, a bar that’s really loud with music, like some places we go’ K is telling me as the three of us slide out of the backseat and step onto pavement and bound down Sixteenth like we’re chained together, past the terminus of the line of people snaking towards the club’s entrance, squeezing our way through the tiny patch of open sidewalk between people in line and a hotdog stand, and finally stepping over the velvet perimeter of the entrance to join V, and T, apparently another promoter in their outfit.
V takes an instant dislike to me, or at least that’s what I perceive, it’s something I have a nose for in others. So I take an instant dislike to him. Years ago I had a psychiatrist who I would frequently spot in the society pages, and his desperate attempts at accessorizing his too-unbuttoned shirt with a light scarf reeked of I think I’m cuter than I really am. Ditto V. Later, I happen to look up his Insta, and find his most recent post is a short clip from the reboot of Mean Girls, in addition to promoting he’s an actor I guess, in…which he’s got some bit part where he’s…walking down some red carpet affair…with a woman on each arm. Absurd levels of consistency, it makes my head spin. Often I wonder if he was the single live player I encountered in the course of these nights.
‘Is that dress Zara?’ K asks, referring to the black slip I’m wearing, under a cropped green leather jacket that’s roughly the same shade as the lampshade of a turned-off banker’s lamp. ‘It is!’ ‘Thought so! I remember seeing it online a few months ago.’ The hem falls four or five inches past my knee, and for whatever reason I suspect it was my original sin for V, even with a considerable slit up the left leg that terminates at my upper thigh, and of course four-inch heels:
Sampson kept a simple tight black American Apparel dress and high heels in his SUV, and he was ready to tell a girl to change into this outfit or go home.
We advance to the front of the line. ‘VaxcardsandIDs, VaxcardsandIDs,’ a white man dressed in all-blacks with an aura of efficiency chants, seems he’s the head bouncer or something. The face of face control. One by one, by one, by one, by one, we comply. ‘Purses, purses,’ crowed the bouncer manning the next station, awkwardly situated right up against the bottom step of the steep stairs that lead down into the sunken entryway, one by one, by one we comply, as V and T look on, and then hold the doors for us as we enter. A very dark, stubby hallway later, I behold the main floor, which ups the ante on the sunkenness considerably. Vaguely Compactor 3263827-feeling, with the rough brick walls that glow reddish-orangish in the lights scattered about.
And the monster down below. Up until this exact moment, participation was nowhere on my radar. This is because I read a sociology book about something no normal person would get themselves involved with because they read a sociology book about it. Really, I believed I could get away scot-free as a student of humanity, eager to behold facets brought to the fore by alcohol, by cocaine, by marijuana, by ecstasy, by short skirts, by red-soled shoes, by flashing lights and sizzling sparklers, by house music, by trap music, by subwoofers, by testosterone, by peacocking, by status games, by outrageous parties, by heavenly bills.
Now, the threat of it is everywhere. I am an active inhabitant of a world I have grown accustomed to opening and shutting at will. That all eyes are on me sensation starts roaring in my ears, no longer am I concealed behind my one-way mirror. We descend down into the activity, pushing through people like they’re the undergrowth of a jungle. Crowds are really, really not my thing. The volume of the music, the lights, both hit you like Bergeronian handicaps dialed to the max. And the continued chill from V, and not really knowing anybody here, and perhaps residual transference from talking my friend down earlier, the whole feedback loop runaways me into something like a fugue state.
I’m introduced to another girl, maybe a good civilian, because she seems a bit older. I accept an empty flute glass from someone, and then they pour some Prosecco into it. V grips a half-empty bottle of champagne by the base, holds it out to A, tips periodically so she can guzzle. I type observations into my phone, lock it, and then unlock it and delete them. Tequila, then a little while later more Prosecco. A Bitcoin-themed bottle train thunders by, What if Satoshi cashed out all his holdings and went on like a giga-Jho Low bender?
K shows me a tiny blue music note tattooed on the underside of her wrist. ‘It’s a reminder to me, that the difficulty of letting go doesn’t have to be that bad, you know?’ ‘I have a difficulty of holding on in the first place,’ I tell her ‘Which is why I don’t have any tattoos.’ T sits down by me and says, ‘You look a little pissed to be here’. As the evening trances on for me, as my blood-Prosecco content gradually dulls away the agitation into a sleepiness, until about two-thirty, when a burst of reflexual anxiety Oh shit I haven’t been watching my drink! That’s what they tell you always gets girls kidnapped into sex slavery! jolts me back to my senses. Oh. I look around for a while, take it all in.
Not long after, I decide to leave. It doesn’t seem like another six-a-m spa trip is in the cards anyways. I shout my goodbyes to M, K, and T, not V, and push through the hordes to the stairs. Outside, I wind my way around the Google building, and to the sidewalk on the far side of Fifteenth Street. I sit down on a stoop to change into my flats, and am almost instantly splattered by a deluge of chemically-white bird shit. It’s the most I’ve ever seen come out of one bird. On my dark green jacket, it looks a bit like a Twombly blackboard; everywhere else, my hair, my shoes, it’s just gross.
I stand up again, my feet newly stumbly as they de-acclimatize after hours spent in high heels. My ears are still ringing ferociously. This late, the street is deserted. This feels like a setup for enlightenment. I continue home, collapsing into bed as soon as I’m through the door. Not three hours later I’m startled awake by my phone’s klaxoning; I roll over, groan, roll back over, flail around for my phone, and finally manage to shut the thing off, until nine minutes later it all happens again.
This time, I sit up and check my reflection in the wall mirror at the foot of my bed. Surprisingly intact, hungover like warmed-over death, but you can still take a protractor to my winged eyeliner. I show up to the office in full glam, why not, and once I’m at my desk, I email Mears, the author:
Somehow after living in NYC for years I never knew about the VIP world, and lumped promoters who would approach me in with whatever other creeps you just run into on the street, but having a bit more context from your book, I said yes the next time one asked me and spent last night/this morning at the free dinner and then camping out at a table at TAO Downtown.
Was definitely not my thing but was super fun to try anyways! It's not every book you get a chance to experience the subject matter so viscerally. Maybe not quite how you intended your research to resonate with your readers, but then again whose does?
A few hours later, she replies:
Wow thanks for this Partygirl, great to hear. What’s Tao like in a post COVID world?
As I type my response, I realize I’ve spent more time of legal drinking age post-COVID-19 than pre–. It also occurs to me Bitcoin was in like single digits during her fieldwork for Very Important People.:
Like NYC as a whole it seems to have fully entered into the After Times, beyond continuing to check vax cards at the door. Not much at all seems to have changed from what you described in the book, although the Bitcoin-themed bottle train was definitely new but not entirely surprising (more so since its proof-of-work seems kind of like an algorithmic conspicuous consumption).
Meanwhile, bottle-train kitsch excepted, little seems to have changed about nightlife, with its economics of pricelessness. The nuance Mears renders plenty unsubtle is that girls, their youth and beauty, are to nightlife economics what gold was to the Bretton Woods agreements: the value to which status is pegged, and pegged to that, all other in- and outbound vectors of this world, like clients' piles of money, promoters' hours of labor beneath the surface, social media-fueled lifestyle envy, beds at rehab clinics. Pop sociology book sales.
Yet of the four personas Very Important People studies⏤girls, promoters, clients, club owners⏤it renders girls most obliquely. In terms of aggregate airplay, we hear more from promoters, clients, and club owners about girls, and from girls who either are themselves promoters or the girlfriends of promoters, than girls qua girls. Most we do hear from are models, or, sorry,
“…in the morning, it’s like, ‘Hello.’ ‘Oh, hello.’ ‘Uh, what do you do?’ ”— the client here took on a high-pitched voice and pretended to be the imaginary girl in bed next to him—‘I’m a model!’ ”
The book peppers in a few exceptions⏤a girlboss with an MBA! A philosophy grad student! But the exceptions belie a rule, implicitly argued: a girl is nothing, if her looks. Melt this gold down, shape it whichever way you wish, it’s still only worth its weight. To be beautiful is to be a present tense, to bind specific points in space and time together in holy infatumony. What is it like, to be a present tense?
At heart, Very Important People is, is a book about promoters. It introduces, I would argue successfully, what must be a novel archetype to her core audience of academic-adjacents: the lives of precocious charmers, for whom vocation finds them; careers of brokers for whom the Faustian gives way to the Cossasian, whose labors hide so acutely in plain sight; desperations of dreamweavers, for whom a sort of gradual whiplash sets in, when it becomes all too obvious, all too late, that it is themselves they have hemmed in, that the affliction of a Midas Touch is something aspiration alone cannot inoculate against.
You’ll see though, her book's cover isn't this model-minority promoter. It isn’t some sleazy-snazzy client or a crusty club owner, either. It’s a girl. Nevermind that, how that meeting went, We loved your book about how sex sells, now, how do we go about marketing it…?, authors have little say in those matters. Rather, her cover, what gave her access to this world, her only vantage point, was that of a girl’s. But it's just that⏤a cover, for Mears-the-detached-observer. The full extent of her introspection follows:
It is difficult to convey just how incredibly seductive and thrilling these nights could be…
And after that, several glossy, disassociated paragraphs that read right out of a Become A Girl brochure:
Moments of delight may build up over an evening, beginning with a lavish dinner in an upscale restaurant with beautiful people who don’t have to contemplate paying the bill, followed by being whisked past the velvet rope, ahead of everyone waiting outside in line…
These intoxicants are consumed amid elaborate light and sound systems with famous DJs delivering beloved house and hip-hop beats, which inspire friends and strangers alike to lose their inhibitions…
Beloved. Mears-the-girl is left in search of an author, as Very Important People’s is totally uninterested in interrogating the qualia of one who embodies the elemental component of nightlife, like an economist studying America's role as global financial hegemon in the twentieth century is indifferent to the oxidation states of gold-197:
By considering appropriation and ownership, sociologists can move away from analyses of [bodily] capital as a personal advantage, to consider how systems of power relations enable value accumulation from bodily resources that are not one’s own.
Given the faculties of Departments of Systems of Power Relations that Enable Value Accumulation from Bodily Resources that Aren’t One’s Own Studies are human, she was no doubt keen on avoiding even a whiff of racy-New-York-diary-of-a-socialite, since:
Using sex appeal and “erotic capital” may in fact exacerbate women’s exclusion from masculine realms, which tend to be more authoritative, higher status, and better paid.
And I can’t fault her. As-is, nightclubs, today’s certainly, are almost too perfect a subject to observe under the sociologist’s microscope; catering to so many lowest-common-denominator pleasures, naturally they are ripe with delicious contradictions and just sos. A definitive, general treatment was needed, and long-overdue because we’re just nerds. We had no hope of ever infiltrating Studio 54, or the 90s scene in general, which is why potlatches and other rituals of the indigenous remain our most up-to-date touchpoints on human nature. And of course I know first-hand the first-initial trick just works.
However. An economist who wields alchemy is no longer an economist, nor an alchemist. They are a mutant of some kind. Perhaps this is not so outlandish, a few could be considered among us already. What of other subjects? Where are other openings for the interplay of insight and fiat? By definition, any such investigation proceeds against the grain of orthodox sociology, away from systems of power relations, and towards analyzing individuals’ idiosyncratic accumulations of bodily or mental, or emotional capital. From powers that be to be your own powers.
I’m not a mutant. Endowed with mint’s worth of sex appeal, bodily capital, reality privilege, fatal attraction, and feminine mystique, maybe, paired with whatever tic compelled me to spill this much ink over the sociology of the sociology of nightclubs. But I’m still very much learning how I go brr.