Almost every metropolitan area I’ve visited in the United States has a bar district where people go on Friday and Saturday night to drink excessively and engage in mob behavior. In Chicago, I remember there was what amounted to an inbound rush hour on the freeways every Saturday night as people attempted enter the city for dinner at the restaurants and drinking in bars. A more impressive spectacle still is Sixth Street in Austin, Texas, where they close the entire stretch to automobile traffic to accommodate the enormous crowd. I used to live just a block north of it on Seventh. The noise of all the people and the music blaring out of the bars created this strange echo chamber effect that climbed the hill to my apartment and sort of fluctuated in the wind.
The institution of weekend revelry, a phenomenon that occurs everywhere in the developed world and almost nowhere outside of it, arises always from the same spontaneous impulse that is shared by all of us: to unburden ourselves of our labors and dissolve into the shambling throng. For 5 contiguous days, we rise earlier than we would otherwise care to and submit ourselves to the common effort of generating surplus capital. But for about 28% of the typical lunar cycle our freedom is not taken from us, and to compensate for the disproportionate number of days lost to work, we exercise this brief freedom excessively. I’m reminded of a passage in Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass where Douglass describes the relaxing of work requirements and discipline normally placed on antebellum slaves during the Christian holidays:
“The days between Christmas and New Year’s day are allowed as holidays; and, accordingly, we were not required to perform any labor, more than to feed and take care of the stock. This time we regarded as our own, by the grace of our masters; and we therefore used or abused it nearly as we pleased… This time, however, was spent in various ways. The staid, sober, thinking and industrious ones of our number would employ themselves in making corn-brooms, mats, horse-collars, and baskets; and another class of us would spend the time in hunting opossums, hares, and coons. But by far the larger part engaged in such sports and merriment as playing ball, wrestling, running foot-races, fiddling, dancing, and drinking whiskey; and this latter mode of spending the time was by far the most agreeable to the feelings of our masters… From what I know of the effect of these holidays upon the slave, I believe them to be among the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection… These holidays serve as conductors, or safety-valves, to carry off the rebellious spirit of enslaved humanity.” (74 – 75, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Written by Himself)
A continuance of the bread and party tradition. Imposed celebration as a means of pacification.