I joked on Twitter the other day that a world that allowed disco to die is inherently evil. While “evil” might be a bit of a stretch, I really do believe that American culture (and not just American culture, but that’s the one I know best, being American) has suffered ever since disco’s demise in the early ’80s. Here are a couple things we know about disco:
1) It’s fun
2) It’s diverse.
Disco was created by people of all races, genders, and orientations. Women and men alike sang; blacks, whites, and Latinos danced in the same clubs. Women sang freely about their sexual desires. LGBT people not only found clubs they could dance in with each other, but also found mainstream success. I can’t think of a single popular band today as diverse as the Village People – both racially and based on sexual orientation. During the disco era, people really were hopeful that everything was getting better. Then Reagan and wolves of Wall Street came in, shat on everything, and set us back decades.
The “disco sucks” movement was tinged with homophobia and led to an era of rock music dominated by straight white men. Yes, I love KISS and Motley Crue, but get real – rock and roll since the ’80s has been almost exclusively the provenance of straight white men. The “disco sucks” movement told black and LGBT people and women to stop singing, stop dancing, stop having so much goddamned fun.
Ah yes, fun. Disco was all about fun. Clubs with extravagant light displays, musical groups that didn’t take themselves too seriously, costumes ranging from divine to ridiculous, and bold dancing were all mainstays of the ’70s disco movement. But then fun was frowned upon, and ironic detachment and a “too cool” attitude reigned supreme in American culture – and has ever since. Today, disco is derided as tacky and lame. Fashion has reached an all-time low point of creativity and color. Every man I know wears the same outfit, and almost nobody wears prints outside of your basic flannel. The “cool” music among my peers is still mopey indie rock (I guess? Sometimes I don’t know what people actually LIKE because disliking stuff is apparently cooler).
I love Nirvana, and yet I believe their influence has generally been harmful. The glamorization of depression and suicide is dangerous for impressionable teens and 20-somethings. The music you listen to DOES matter. When I was listening to a lot of Nirvana and The Mars Volta in high school, I started to realize that I became less happy, less social. A friend of mine who was extremely depressed in college was advised by her therapist to stop listening to Jeff Buckley. While I think there certainly is a time for sad music that you can identify with when you’re feeling low, there’s also a need for joyous music that helps you feel great. Dancing lifts your spirits. When you’re having a crummy day, put on a song that makes you want to move and 9 out of 10 times, you’ll feel better.
I’m dying to see a return to fun in America. I want to see America dance without derision, to dress differently without being labeled “tacky” or “trashy” (just classist terms invented by yuppies, anyhow). I’m sick of a culture that praises ironic detachment, where everyone’s in a battle for who can care less and the mark of coolness is is being the asshole in all black, sitting in the corner making fun of everyone dancing. Having fun is one of the greatest parts of being alive, and I’m gonna keep doing it – and looking great and dancing to disco ’til I die.