Monday, July 23, 2001

Week of 07/23/2001

The Rage Against The Raves
- by David Matthews 2

"Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature." – Tom Robbins

Bright lights, loud music, human bodies moving together to a pulsating beat that stirs the emotions and reminds people of what it is like to be young and full of life.

Boy, that sounds awfully lot like a commercial for booze. Either that or for a deodorant.

Actually, it best describes the party scene. It is the scene that we all wish we could enjoy. It is the scene that we see on MTV and in the movies.

But governments large and small are seeing a completely different scene. They’re seeing these celebrations of life as thinly veiled sales pitches for illegal drugs.

The focus of their target, however, is NOT at the established nightclubs, where drugs have traditionally been distributed, but rather that fringe party scene called the rave.

Raves are underground parties, often held in empty warehouses or anyplace that can be used to quickly set up music, lights, and host a collection of young people looking to have a good time. The music is often a collection of techno, rock, disco, and whatever other mixture the deejay can provide to keep the crowd upbeat and happy. Think of it as Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday all compressed into one small location.

It is here, the government says, that drugs and sex are traded freely.

Although they will not get into detail about the sex (after all, they don’t want people to be "obsessed" by it), so-called "drug experts" will go on and on about the drugs. They’ll talk about how drugs like ecstasy, LSD, and cocaine are passed out like breath mints. They’ll talk about drug paraphernalia in the form of glow sticks, vapor rubs, dust masks, inhalers, and even – and I kid you not – baby pacifiers. They’ll talk about the number of kids who are admitted to hospitals suffering from drug overdoses, and then proclaim that these raves are to blame for ruining their "perfect" society.

Then they’ll proclaim… well, you can already guess what they’ll proclaim: that these raves must be shut down "for the sake of the CHILDREN!"

The hard part is trying to find someone to be held accountable for these raves. Raves are, by their very nature, underground parties. There is not one single physical person they can hold responsible for a rave.

So the government, in its mad quest for a scapegoat, has turned to the owners of the physical property where these raves are held.

The city of Chicago, once famous for promoting the underground booze culture known as the speakeasy during Prohibition, now has made it illegal for building owners and managers to knowingly allow a rave where drugs are used, distributed, sold, or made. In other words, if they believe drugs are there, it is an "illegal" rave, and the building owner or manager can go to jail.

Even power-mad Uncle Sam is getting into the act. The same federal government that made it virtually illegal to possess large amounts of cash in an airport, or to buy a plane ticket using anything other than a credit card, is now using a federal law that was originally designed "exclusively" for so-called "crackhouses" to go after promoters of raves. Of course, as we should all know by now, there really is no such word as "exclusive" when it comes to federal laws. They’ll exploit any law faster than certain politicians will exploit their interns.

The arguments are, of course, nothing new. When governments are frustrated that they cannot go after every instance of individual activity, they will instantly turn their self-righteous fury at the establishment where the activity goes on. A dancer at a strip club freely goes home with a patron, and instantly the club is accused of "encouraging prostitution." A patron at a bar has four drinks and then drives home drunk, and the bar is held responsible for "encouraging drunk driving." A patron at a nightclub does a hit of ecstasy, and instantly that club is branded as a "crackhouse."

But I think there is more to this "rave rage" than readily meets the eye. Drug use, after all, is probably just as prevalent at concerts and "established" nightclubs. So why is it that these raves are being singled out?

Well let’s get brutally honest here… I think these raves are being singled out BECAUSE the government can’t control them!

Think about all of the ways that governments both large and small are able to control and regulate the normal nightclubs.

First of all, they’re subject to local zoning laws. They’re told where they can be located, how many people can be in there, and how late they can operate. They are forced to comply with local safety and fire regulations in terms of the kind of equipment they can use, the kind of lights they can use, how loud the music can be, and even how many bathrooms they must have to accommodate their patrons. And to make sure those clubs are complying with those regulations, there are regular inspections.

If they’re providing drinks or food, they have to get a restaurant license. Then they have to comply with the regulations regarding food handling, storage, and disposal. If alcohol is there, they must comply with yet another set of rules and regulations. And if they cannot provide food or drinks, they’re often barred from letting the patrons bring those items in as well.

The owners of these clubs are also subject to rigorous background checks, and sometimes must post a bond and/or have some kind of liability insurance. They’re subject to rigorous bookkeeping rules as well, making sure that every cent is counted and every level of tax collector is satisfied.

Because these clubs cannot allow everyone in, they often have to screen people at the door. That means hiring bouncers or security people, who often have to also be screened and bonded. And the more popular the club, the more selective the staff can be of patrons. After all, when room is at a premium, only "the best" can be allowed to party. That certainly leaves a lot of partygoers out in the cold.

And now local clubs are being forced by the moralists to prohibit certain behavior by their patrons. Up-close so-called "booty dancing" has raised the ire of the self-righteous dysfunctional elite. If it bears any resemblance to sexual activity, these political thugs are quick to condemn it and urge its immediate prohibition.

You can see what kind of control government has on the "acceptable" places of entertainment. And government expertly wields that control like the proverbial Sword of Damocles over the club owners and staff members, always threatening to use it if they are not appeased.

Now think about this: raves are under no such government-imposed limitations.

They are mobile, which means they are not bound to zoning laws. Organizers are neither bonded, licensed, or insured, and they do not have to go through any kind of background check. They don’t have to comply with safety or fire regulations. Food and drinks are quite often BYO (or "Bring Your Own"), so there is nobody to be held accountable to any kind of food or liquor regulations. Patrons can do drugs, have sex, booty-dance, slam-dance, and have all sorts of fun that they want to without anyone telling them what to do, and without anyone to be held accountable for!

Which is precisely why governments large and small hate raves. They hate knowing something exists that they cannot regulate, tax, and otherwise control.

But it is not just the government. The more "acceptable" nightclubs hate the raves as well. After all, they’re forced to comply with all sorts of rules and regulations that the raves, by their very nature, avoid.

Not to mention the raves eat away at the customer base of the nightclubs. If a rave becomes too "trendy", then the patrons who are sick of having to go through all of these BS screening procedures will go there instead of the nightclubs. For the nightclub owner, it’s a simple matter of survival.

Now here’s the dirty little secret that nobody wants to accept: it is the government and the nightclubs that CREATED these raves!

It is basic nature, folks. If unchecked, governments are naturally prone to seize control of everything it can. Guided by equally power-mad moralists, governments do not stop until every single object, every single item in their grasp is under their regulatory control. And if they cannot control it through regulation or legislation, then they feel such an object does not deserve to exist, and thus do everything in their power to outlaw it.

Many young people, on the other hand, are prone to rebel against everything trying to control them in order for them to develop their own individuality. They’d defy the law of gravity if it were possible. Why do you think bungee jumping has become so popular?

Those two ideas are bound to collide. And quite often that collision is over one thing… fun.

If local and state governments were not obsessed with regulating pleasure, then they would not have created the need for our youth to search for fun through more illegal means. If nightclubs were not forced by both government and their own success to be so restrictive in who can enjoy their establishments, then there wouldn’t be the need for our youth to seek fun through the raves.

Think about this for a minute: where are all of the best places to go for our youth outside of the raves? Once upon a time it used to be Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Then the local governments started cracking down, and the youth sought out other venues. Now the party areas are places like Cancun and San Paulo Island. Anyplace where the local government will allow the young adults to visit, have a good time, spend their money, and not get hassled and chased away.

And despite the denials of local officials, government DOES quite often take that shortcut and go after the places where young people try to have fun. It is a simple equation for them – no rave means no place to sell or do drugs. And if it pisses off a bunch of young adults who don’t know any better, too bad.

Yes, there is that fringe element out there looking for trouble. Yes, in that quest for fun, some people do cross the line. But whenever government officials decide to stop fine-tuning their enforcement towards individual action and start declaring all young fun-seekers to be guilty until proven innocent, they drive those young people to look towards more illicit activities like the raves. They stoke that need with very little so-called "acceptable" means to achieve it.

Look, "the pursuit of happiness" is not just an empty idea written on some 225-year old piece of hemp paper. It really is a basic and fundamental right of all people, young and old. Temper that right cautiously. Let the people celebrate life without too many hassles, for if not, then you will have nobody to blame but yourself for the chaos that would eventually follow.

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