The first time I ever saw a nightclub was in the movie 'Saturday Night Fever'. I was bored stiff - I was too young to understand the nuances of the movie then; I saw it again recently and liked it plenty - and I was terribly disappointed in John Travolta (he was being nothing like the Danny I knew from Grease and Sandy was nowhere in sight). I didn't know what the big deal was with a nightclub - it just looked like an overcrowded avenue with horribly flashing lights, barely tolerable music and badly-dressed people drinking away and hitting on other badly-dressed people.

Naturally I was astonished when I next got reading about popular musicians and music bands and discovered that going to nightclubs was considered 'cool and hip'; that some clubs, like Annabel's in London, Studio 54 in New York and Whiskey a Gogo in Paris, were actually considered the acme spots of hi-fi socialization. People went to such famous nightclubs to see celebrities and rub shoulders with them, to be seen with other celebrities if they were already in that bracket, to be photographed by press photographers, and to be written about by gossip columnists. It seemed a pretty pathetic and shallow way to pass your time, and I started questioning what all the fuss about being famous was anyway. These people got into such incomprehensible and idiotic scrapes. I would come across newspaper reports that the socialite so-and-so had been seen at this club or that, and I would think, so what? I still think that as a matter of fact - waste of newspaper space second only to the news of some football player's girlfriend's tastes in shopping and lingerie and that girlfriend's mother's indignant opinion of the couple's shaky relationship. And only slightly more tasteful than the news of some 18-year old Brazilian going into delirious throes because Prince William groped her in a nightclub and of some 30-year old giving preening sound-bytes to all and sundry because Prince Harry groped her.

Nightclubs, I read, weren't just places people went to socialize and hear canned music/live music, they were a breeding ground for the drug culture and, uhm, for some actual breeding too. People indulged in 'recreational' drugs like LSD, cocaine, marijuana, amyl nitrite and so on, and in casual, sometimes public sex. This may not raise too many eyebrows anymore, but it was apparently ground-breaking behavior back in the nineteen-seventies.

I read up some more on nightclubs and I found out the following -
  • Nightclubs are dependent on local regulations. This means, as per the local rules, they may either close at 11: 30 p.m. or 1 a.m., or may stay open until the wee hours of the morning.
  • Most nightclubs have age regulations and require you to show some proof of your age before you are allowed entry. If you are underage you will be turned away from an over-18 venue and have to wander away to find an under-18 one. Yes, tweens, there are places catering for you, minus the alcohol, drugs and hopefully the sex.
  • You have to pay an entry fee to be allowed inside. There may be concession cards for regular members. Some clubs allow free entry for people who turn up very early, for single women, or on certain special nights. You could also get in free if you are great chums with the bouncer or the owner.
  • Many clubs have a DJ to regulate the music and he/she is often a celebrity in his/her own right.
  • Some clubs have live entertainment, which may consist of a solo singer, a music group or band, a stand-up comedian, a dancing troupe, a strippers group and so on.
  • Nightclubs have extra thick, sound-proof walls and often no windows, to both avoid becoming a noisy nuisance to people in neighboring buildings and to create an illusion of an unending night of fun for the party-goers inside.
With the coming of globalization and all, nightclub culture is making its presence felt here in India. There are some interesting ones in major cities like Bombay, Bangalore and Delhi, but we even have a couple in my small town now (where everyone shows up looking highly self-conscious and shuffle away in mutual embarrassment). It looks like it's not going to be long before we become bona fide members of the notorious global clubhood.

Does the Mainstream Still Exist?

For at least a century, terms like 'avant-garde' and 'cutting edge' have been associated with cultural products that lie outside the mainstream. That is, the cutting edge is usually something that most people aren't interested in. By the time it becomes mainstream - in other words, by the time the majority of people come to know about or appreciate it - the cultural product in question isn't cutting edge anymore. This is true in almost every medium, including painting and other visual arts, film, music, and literature. The things that have real, lasting cultural importance are, at first, adopted and endorsed only by a select few.

Becoming Mainstream
Of course, the question that is raised by these considerations of the cutting edge is: what causes cultural products to rise from obscurity to cultural importance and, eventually, to enter the mainstream? There is an argument to be made that the tastes and whims of influential people and institutions have as much to do with this process as the content of art and media itself. For example, Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the most famous "outsider artists" in history, rose from obscurity to massive prominence largely thanks to the influence of Andy Warhol and his associates.

The point is even more strikingly made in the example of music. Which musicians become famous has historically been almost entirely up to the record companies. Much mainstream pop and rock music is tailor-made by large record companies to have a high profile and high sales from the start, with little thought to artistic expression or cultural importance. More experimental musicians, however, have to get lucky with record companies in much the same way. Out of 10 culturally relevant musicians, one might get a decent deal with an independent record company, without which their music would never be heard. Which one of the 10 gets this exposure is, perhaps, the luck of the draw. If the indie band goes on to become hugely influential to future musicians, the role that fortune played in this state of affairs ought not to be overlooked.

Who Decides What's Important?

To some extent, then, the avant-garde is determined by those who are already part of the mainstream. Record companies, production companies, established artists, and art galleries all have an important say in what's cutting edge, so the distinction between the avant-garde and popular opinion is perhaps not so clear cut. In order for creative endeavors to have an effect on culture, someone with the power to impact culture has to get involved.

Underground Promotion

Historically, small-scale promotion of new, exciting media has been important. When a new band or independent filmmaker arises and appeals to trendsetters, these trendsetters spread the word in a number of ways, and this "underground" promotion helps avant-garde artists along the path toward cultural relevance and mass appeal. In the past, if something gained enough of an audience to be noticed by larger institutions, it had as good as succeeded in "breaking through." Today, however, it is becoming less and less clear what a breakthrough act is, what the mainstream is, and whether the concept of mainstream versus avant-garde media retains any relevance at all.

Becoming Famous Online

The most obvious example of the cultural shift that has taken place over the past decades can be seen in the way the internet has affected the spread of cultural information and media. In the past, a new pop group had to start locally, growing in importance via word of mouth and bootlegging, eventually earning the attention of a large record company and growing in popularity (and, often, decreasing in cultural importance) from there. Now, this process has been almost completely overtaken by online word of mouth. A new band, instead of distributing demo tapes to record companies and radio stations, can put its music on the internet for all to hear. People anywhere in the world can listen to and respond to the band's music, vastly increasing the potential increase in popularity via word-of-mouth. Thus, culturally important, experimental musicians can become widely known before they have been noticed by the mainstream. It hardly needs to be said that this places far more importance on the content of the media being distributed online. The support of an established artist is no longer necessary for new artists to become successful. Instead of a cultural hegemony of the influential, we now have a situation where, thanks to technology, culture is becoming more democratic.

The Democratization of Culture

The democratization of culture is, perhaps, killing what was once known as the mainstream. Because institutionalized support is irrelevant, a musician, artist, or even (though to a lesser extent) a filmmaker can become successful and well-known without ever becoming famous in the traditional sense of the word. Instead of culturally important media products rising to the mainstream after slowly gaining acceptance in avant-garde communities, many media communities remain avant-garde. Not only does this eradicate the idea of a strong distinction between cultural relevance and mainstream prominence, it calls into question the future of the mainstream. With a more democratic approach toward culture, the cultural hegemony that established the mainstream in the first place may no longer be necessary.

Inexpensive Entertainment Options

Summer is here, which means that people will be looking for lots of things to do to fill the long daylight hours and warm nights. It can be easy to get sucked into the trap of spending lots of money on summer entertainment, but you don’t have to break the bank to have a lot of fun. There are plenty of free or inexpensive ways to keep you and your family entertained this summer.

Free Museums, Concerts, and Movies
Check the local paper or the Internet for free stuff to do. If you live near a major city, chances are there are plenty of awesome activities the whole family can enjoy. Museums usually have free or reduced fare days that you can take advantage of. On these days, the museums are usually packed with people, but it can be a good excuse to get out of the house and learn. There are also a plethora of free concerts and movies in parks both inside and outside of cities. Pack up your lawn chairs or a soft blanket, and get there early for the best seat in the house. You can even bring a picnic to these events, which can save money while being fun for the whole family or a romantic date night.

Visit the Library
Libraries are the most underused resource for free entertainment during the summer. Libraries have so much more than books. They carry CDs and movies, too, and often have free or inexpensive summer programs – like story time – for the kids. Many libraries also have digital subscription programs where you can get e-books, music, or audio books for free and install them on your MP3 player or e-reader right from your home computer. All you need is a library card. Don’t have one? Just bring a recent piece of mail to your local library and they’ll sign you right up.

Backyard Games
If there isn’t a park near your house, try playing some games in the backyard. Playing catch is an all-time favorite for dads and sons, but you can also try some new games, as well. Bags tournaments are a great way for kids and adults to have fun and improve hand-eye coordination at backyard barbeques.

You can also try your hand at bocce ball, croquet, or horseshoes if you have the equipment. Of course, you could always sit and dip your feet in the kiddie pool as you watch people playing, too.

Potluck Parties
Potluck parties are great ways to get friends and family together without breaking the bank. Asking everyone to bring a dish to pass will help you save money and ensure that everyone has something there that they like to eat. If you are having a lot of people, think about preparing a list of items you need and have people sign up to bring them so you don’t get duplicates. Specifying what course people should provide can help, too.

ParkPlay at the Park
Some good playtime at the local park can be great exercise for adults, children, and pets. Best of all, it’s totally free to visit the park, and you might even make some new friends while you’re there. If you can walk to the park, you get bonus points for fitness. Make sure you pack plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen to keep playtime safe and fun.

For those rainy summer days, DIY projects and crafts are also one of the options that can keep you busy while you are stuck inside. Your local craft store most likely has lots of inexpensive ideas for projects that the whole family will love.