Friday, April 12, 2013


Today, however, when we are bombarded from all sides by different versions of the superego injunction “Enjoy!”, from direct enjoyment of sexual performance to enjoyment of professional achievement or spiritual awakening
-Slavoj Zizek. The Parallax View. 303.

On March 4, 2013, the Guardian reported that Justin Bieber's 19th birthday had been ruined by British law. He had booked tables at the Cirque du Soir club in Soho. However when he arrived, some of his entourage were turned away because they were under Britain's legal limit of 18. Bieber then tweeted “Worst birthday.” After being turned away, Bieber's "posse was forced to retire to a nearby McDonald's."

The question arises of which activities are appropriate for the celebration of a rich young man's last "teenage" birthday. At 19, Bieber is an adult (able to vote, drink, get a mortgage, drive, etc), but is not an adult in the sense that he has the wisdom, experience, and maturity of an adult. For his birthday celebration, there are limited options. He is unable to get a clown, a magician, have a barbecue and invite all his friends from school. He is unable to host a brunch, a potluck, a fondue party. These avenues of adult socialization are closed off to him simply because of his position in the public eye and his position as avatar of a youth culture. His music is atavistic in its injunction to party, to have a good time, to be youthful, to love at full volume. Thus, any compromise on his birthday celebration would be a violation of his ethos. Bieber, by virtue of his own music, is forced to enjoy at all costs.

In this essay, I will explore the cultural injunction to party otherwise known as the super-ego ideal of enjoy at all costs as formulated by Lacan and Zizek. The injunction to enjoy is currently the cultural dominant and has come to overshadow competing discourses in popular culture. As subjects, we must enjoy or else with the "or else" being nebulously defined as a lifetime of solitude and missed experiences. The cultural injunction to party can be succinctly defined by the prevalent use of two acronyms: the oft-seen and oft-ridiculed "YOLO" (you only live once) and the lesser known but older-skewing "FOMO" (fear of missing out). The logic of late capitalism that demands subjects consume has been internalized and then turned outwards as even celebrities become subjects to a discourse of endless partying.

In 2011, Khalil Underwood uploaded a demo called "Party All Night," which was meant to attract the attention of Bieber and Chris Brown. Underwood's business model is similar to Bieber's rise to fame: upload original songs, covers, and funny videos to YouTube in the hope that a record company scout or somebody famous will notice and subsequently offer a record deal. "Party All Night," embedded above, is an atrocious song with the simplest of beats and the simplest of lyrics. The martial beat of the song demands the listener move, stomp, or clap in time while the lyrics command the listener to party all night.
No,no I don't care if you're single tonight.
Just get up on your feet and have a good time.
Cause girl we're gonna party all night.
Gonna party all night.
Gonna party all night.
Gonna party all night.
The speaker has no interest in the girl/object's relation to anything outside of the song, or presumably the club where the music is thumping and the lights are flashing. The speaker demands of the object to dance, regardless of any interpersonal relation. They must party all night, which in the context of the song and greater culture, can be taken to mean drinking, dancing, clubbing, and having sex. The atavistic pleasures of partying are simultaneously freeing and menacing. Freeing in the sense that partying represents an oasis away from the relentless labour of the modern world, the ceaseless pressures of responsibility, the endless onslaught of information pushing and pushing and pushing. Menacing in the sense that to party all night requires a commitment from the partier to expend a considerable amount of time, money, and bodily energy in the pursuit of partying. The injunction is omnipresent and inescapable. The subject must spend his body in order to enjoy fully.

In How to Read Lacan, Zizek points to a three and a half second long dissolve to another shot in the film Casablanca as an example of the ideal super-ego at work. When Rick and Ilsa are talking, the film shifts focus to the airport and then comes back to the couple. The 3.5 seconds seem to occur in diegetic time, the bed remains the same, and their clothes appear to be undisturbed. The audience is left to wonder if the couple had sex. The dissolve creates the implication that the couple might have had sex as dissolves generally signify a temporal jump forwards. Thus, the audience is given the offer to imagine their dirtiest fantasy but projected onto the ideal figures of super cool Rick and super beautiful Ilsa. The audience transposes their fantasies onto fantasy figures. This is the superego injunction to enjoy, Zizek argues. Zizek writes, "You can indulge in it, because you are absolved from the guilt by the fact that, for the big Other, they definitely did not do it."

Guilty pleasures are evacuated of their guilt through the cultural injunction to enjoy. Through what Zizek calls interpassivity, cultural objects do the work of feeling guilt, being critical of capitalism, having negative thoughts for the subject. This is the Lacanian notion of "decentrement," the decentered subject. Deeply felt intimate feelings can be externalized and then experienced through substitution. The subject defers the labour of feeling guilt about guilty pleasures by substituting another subject or rather, in commodity fetishism, the object. The guilt and enjoyment are displaced onto the Other, in Lacanian terms. Thus, enjoyment is "not an immediate spontaneous state, but is sustained by a superego-imperative: as Lacan emphasized again and again, the ultimate content of the superego-injunction is 'Enjoy!'" (Zizek).

The enjoyment of the guilty pleasure comes not just from the first order consumption of the pleasure but also from the second order of guilt, the violation of the prohibition. The subject experiences enjoyment through both interrelated orders of enjoyment, as the first is a pale shadow of itself if not paired with the taboo.

Generally, the guilty pleasure, as formulated by popular culture, is defined mostly in terms of edible, consumable products such as chocolate or red meat. However, in consumer culture, the commodities being sold contain within themselves a paradox: the market needs to sell these products, but needs to maintain the prohibition in order to create the need. Thus, a third order of enjoyment is created through the commodity culture. The subject receives pleasure from and through the Other by acquiescing to the injunction to enjoy.

Zizek points to the paradox of the superego injunction with the example of "a father who works hard to organize a family holiday and, after a series of postponements, tired of it all, shouts at his children: 'Now you better enjoy it!' (Zizek). This can be extended to the injunction to party that comes from the hands of the subjects also embedded in the same discourse.

Bieber, Underwood, LMFAO, Ke$ha Andrew W.K. are all examples of artists that must heed their own call. They are subjects to the menacing enjoinder to enjoy at all costs. Of all the artists working within popular music, LMFAO appears be most emblematic of this phenomenon. Specifically, LMFAO have even re-deployed the slang "party rock" to mean a complex set of signifiers.

In an interview with Las Vegas Weekly, DJ Redfoo gives a generative definition for party rock:
The Party Rock … it’s an experience, it’s a lifestyle. We feel that it’s a way of celebrating life, it’s a way of partying …
Rather than simply be one of many activities that subjects engage in (labour, leisure, sleep, etc), party rock comes to encompass an entire mode of living. Partying becomes analogous with "alternative" lifestyles such as the naturalist's dream of living off the land in a commune, or maintaining military manners in daily lived experience. Rather, party rock becomes a discipline.

As per Foucault, a discipline is one of many mechanisms of power that regulates and mandates the behaviours of subjects within a social setting. In order for power to be exercise, the bodies are subject to regulation through the organization of space, of time, and of their behaviours. Discipline, in Foucault's formulation, is enforced with the help of surveillance. Thus, party rock exists as a Foucauldian discipline. Party rock can happen anywhere but it mostly takes place within the architecture and space of the dance club. The dancefloor is, in a way, similar to Foucault's formulation of the prison.

In downtown Williamsport, Pennsylvania, there is a building called "The Cell Block" which is a dance club made from the husk of a prison built between 1799 and 1801. The old prison ceased its initial function in 1982, and in 2001, a developer turned the site into a dance club, as its location is perfect for students of both universities in the area. While its geographic and urban location is ideal, its very structure speaks to the apt comparison between prison and dance floor. The superficial links between the prison and the dance floor abound: both employ guards to control movement in and out, both order and manipulate bodies through space. However, the urban space of the dance floor and the punitive space of the prison share more than cosmetic similarities. Both spaces are devoted to concepts of containment and release, spectacle and observation, and highly specific gendered gestures. The DJ booth observes and regulates similar to a panopticon, and the coordination of bodies through space maintains control despite dance being a method of losing control. It should be no surprise that one method of torture devised by modern military organizations is the relentless repetition of loud dance music to disorient the subject.

Party rock, with its idealized unfolding localized on the dancefloor, is menacing in its disciplinary power.  Despite being called "rock," "Party Rock Anthem" is not a rock song. It is, on the surface, a pop song influenced by electronic dance music. However, it is an anthem, in that announces and celebrates a "way of life." On the site, Mark Lee argues that:
LMFAO has effectively created a new definition for the noun “rock.” ”Rock” is a state of mind, not a music genre. LMFAO is simply taking the evolution of the culture that grew up around “rock” music to its next logical step: divorcing it from its source music altogether.
Emphasis mine. Party rock is not simply an activity categorized under the all encompassing term "leisure" but a state of mind, a way of life, an alternative lifestyle that is no longer alternative. It has become the dominant. The anthemic song also features the super-ego injunction right in the first few moments of the song:
Party rock is in the house tonight
Everybody just have a good time
And we gonna make you lose your mind
Everybody just have a good time
The song instructs and demands that the subject have a good time. Within the logic of the song, which is also the logic of a way of life, there is no room for anything but partying. In order to achieve this state of being (state of partying), one must lose their mind. The subject must surrender their own individuality to become part of the discipline. The consumption of alcohol and other depressants, implied in the concept of party rock, contribute to the docility of the body, a necessary element of the disciplinary power. The body is subjected to uninterrupted coercion in the form of repetitive ceaseless martial beats, pounding from the DJ booth. The intoxication from the alcohol combined with the numbing effects of the relentless noise of the club sustains the docility necessary to maintain discipline.

While music videos depict ordered, tightly controlled, uniform dancing, in reality, the dance floor is a messy display of uncoordinated bodies, sticky floors, spilled drinks, and garbage. Superficially, party rock does not resemble a military order, a school, or a monastery. However, party rock deploys a careful phrase in order to mediate the undisciplined actions of the discipline itself. LMFAO's 2011 album is entitled, Sorry for Party Rocking, a disingenuous phrase that excuses and dismisses any criticism of the lifestyle. Urban Dictionary provides a succinct and generative definition: "the act of apologizing for having an awesome time." Party rocking is allowed to extend and envelope any questionable behaviour that might arise. Party rocking sets the terms and limits of what is possible through the simple disingenuous phrase. In this way, party rocking becomes a discourse, in Foucauldian terms. "Sorry for party rocking" allows for problematic behaviour and actions to be categorized under the protective umbrella. Party rocking is benign, fun, inclusive, and does not hurt anybody due to its pursuit of a good time. Thus, when anything negative occurs, the unwelcome behaviour can quickly be appropriated by party rock the discourse in order to alleviate the action of its crime. The song "Sorry for Party Rocking" is didactic. It instructs how to minimize instances of "party fouls" by repeating the mantra. The speaker sexually harasses somebody in the club by groping them and this behaviour becomes excusable once the mantra has been repeated. The phrase becomes the disavowal of the guilt associated with atavistic behaviours, the ones prohibited by the Big Other. Essentially, "sorry for party rocking" is a intonation of the super-ego injunction.

LMFAO's contribution to this collaboration appears to be simply the repetition of the words, "And party" over and over. LMFAO appear to be steadfastly and studiously committed to the party rock way of life. As they write paean after encomium to party rock, it becomes a sort of Other than they are writing to. In other words, "party rock" and its set of behaviours that must be followed are a Big Other. It is a purely symbolic order, a collective lie that all bodies are subject to. We know that a lifestyle of pure partying is physically exhausting and consuming (the Real), yet we agree that party rocking is fun, inclusive, and appropriate (the Symbolic). We obey the superego injunction to party for "fear of missing out" or simply to avoid violating the order set by the Big Other of partying.

The party rock subject simply ignores cultural prohibitions on partying without limit and engages in partying for the sake of appearances, in order to appease the Big Other, the symbolic order. Thus, Justin Bieber's birthday celebration could only have happened in a nightclub. Whether Bieber wanted to party or not, he must maintain the appearances of a party rock subject, he must obey the super-ego injunction, he must enjoy and the only way to enjoy is through the labour of partying.

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