So a funny thing happened on the way to the beer ticket window at Kulture Klash 4: A guy looked at our wristbands and redirected us to the VIP Lounge, where free beer and food awaited us.
How did we wind up with VIP wristbands? Well, the most likely answer is there was some kind of screw-up, and we later heard rumors that something had gone wrong and flooded the lounge with people who weren't so important after all. Which I think is just divinely sweet.
But here's the lesson I hope the excellent people behind the influential Kulture Klash series learn from this glitch: You're misreading our new culture when you add a VIP room to your party.
I know, I know: There are plenty of beautiful twentysomethings and over-moneyed fortysomethings out there who think there's status and magic (and cocaine and sex) behind a velvet rope. And yes, I was amazed at how many people went to this big jumpin' art party and then spent the night sequestered in the "lounge." It's an expression of nightclub culture that doesn't interest me. I get that.
But if Kulture Klash means anything -- and from talking with its originator, artist Scott Debus, I believe he wants it to have meaning -- then this flirtation with artificial status distinctions via VIP lounges is a dangerous rope to walk.
Because the larger cultural revolution in America today isn't about social hierarchies, or money, or celebrity, or any of the things associated with the term "VIP." Here we stand in this digital commons, conducting an enormous experiment in art and politics and values and relationships, and the beautiful thing is that what makes you important here is what you bring to the party. True, there are celebrity and status exceptions, but it's also true that these tend to get quickly deflated if they prove phony.
In the digital culture, the values of the VIP lounge are a trusted indicator of douchebaggery. To exalt one group, you must devalue all others, and if it's not clear why or how those distinctions were made, then you've just hurt people for no good reason. Demeaning others for no particular reason is generally bad for your soul. I don't recommend it.
I want to sing the praises of Kulture Klash. We've been the three of the four, I know many of the people involved well enough to chat with them, and they're generally really nice, forward-thinking and deeply community-minded. But if I go to the next one and there's any kind of arbitrary VIP room, that will be my last KK. Not because I want KK to bend to my will, but because I love what it could be too much to participate in its perversion.
KK celebrates the art and music of outsiders, of the streets, of subcultures that scrap for their share. If you're going to represent those values, then walk the walk.