As much as I love my regular crowd, sometimes going to the same old places and seeing the same old people can tire a girl out.
Friday night I was looking forward to "Tragic Beauty," a much-hyped collaborative art installation at Open End by Cody Hudson, Juan Chavez, Chris Silva, and Mike Genovese made entirely from found objects: wood planks and scraps, window-panes, lava rock, newspapers, and carnations. Bands would be playing music on some of the structures, which included a shantytown with little forts and cubbyholes and even a pirate ship. Sure, it was interesting to see how the shit people throw away could be used as building material, but I found the dirty cutie-pie aesthetic a little stale. The things begged to be climbed on or somehow played with, but no one was allowed to touch them except the performers.
The event made me think fondly on the night before at Reserve, a relatively new and totally pimped-out club in River West. It's got backlit, nameplated liquor lockers, for instance, where you can store that $400 bottle of Hennessy you didn't finish. It's hardly the kind of place I would normally even consider patronizing, but I went to the unveiling of the brand-new second floor because I saw on the invite that there'd be free food and drinks.
The new 5,000-square-foot addition smelled like fresh polyurethane--they'd literally just put away the ladders--and there were plaster-dust footprints all over the floor, but it was still the perfect kind of place for a weeknight, cozy like Danny's and polished like Rodan, with warm Asian-inspired decor, plenty of low seating, and a come-as-you-are door policy, trashed sneakers welcome.
The DJ plays whatever he wants--that night I heard AC/DC, Duran Duran, Massive Attack, and Jay-Z. Nothing off the beaten path, but who cares? My friends and I danced around and then piled into a car and sang at the top of our lungs like total dorks, which was a hell of a lot more fun than mingling around some supercool art project that you can't touch. I felt like I was meeting my best friend's new boyfriend for the first time, and even though he was a little awkward and dressed a little too slick, I was instantly lobbying for marriage.
The next night my parents were out of town, so I invited some friends to their house in the suburbs for a junior-high-style party. Before breaking into mom and dad's liquor cabinet and hunkering down in front of the TV for some Saturday Night Live rerun action, we gorged ourselves at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, a kind of trashy giant-ass salad buffet called Sweet Tomatoes. In the morning we headed out for that pinnacle of suburban culture: the mall.
Schaumburg, how I love thy bargains! Sure, Chicago's got a Filene's Basement across the street from a Nordstrom Rack, but Schaumburg's got those two plus a Saks outlet all on the same strip. And then there's a whole 'nother mall right across the street.
By 6 PM all the stores at Woodfield Mall had pulled their gates down except one--Solstice, which sells sunglasses by the likes of Chanel, Valentino, Stella McCartney, YSL, and Dior. As I watched two of my friends drop $500 on rhinestone-studded Guccis, I got a pang that felt disturbingly similar to guilt, and nothing like the thrilling acceleration of my heartbeat I usually get when shopping.
I blame True/False, the documentary film festival I attended two weekends ago in Columbia, Missouri. Like most documentary fests, this one was full of all sorts of anticapitalist, anticonsumerist, pro-freaky-people films like Jem Cohen's antimall piece, Chain; Three of Hearts, a movie about a relationship between two bi men and a straight woman; and This Revolution, Stephen Marshall's mostly fictional movie filmed during the Republican National Convention, where Rosario Dawson, playing a protester, actually got arrested. (Though I didn't see her ass in jail when I was there, which makes me wonder if she got special treatment.)
On Saturday I saw Czech Dream, a film by two students from the Czech Republic about the new kinds of freedom they have access to in their relatively new democracy. Mainly what they'd gained was the freedom to consume. The filmmakers, Filip Remunda and Vit Klusak, hired a team of advertising experts and analysts to create print, radio, and TV ads for Censky Sen, a fake supermarket megamall whose name means "Czech Dream." They lured thousands of people to a meadow just outside Prague on opening day, where they were greeted by a storefront and nothing else--no parking lot, no walkways, no shopping carts. Everyone charged toward the "store" anyway.
Director Filip Remunda was at the screening, and he explained that in the past four years 125 megamalls have been erected to serve the Czech Republic's ten million residents. Families spend whole days in these places and await their openings in lines of sleeping bags. "They'd beat each other to be first for cheap products," said Remunda. "We were expecting new horizons and freedom and were immediately foolen by enormous amounts of commercials."
When the would-be shoppers saw they'd been tricked they were pissed, but they had a sense of humor about what they'd been reduced to. They laughed bitterly as they told the camera that in a single generation they'd gone from standing in line for some bananas to rushing around like maniacs to buy as much of everything as they possibly could. You can't have democracy without capitalism, the movie argues, and advertising works, even if the product being hyped sucks--or doesn't even exist.
I do my best to be a responsible shopper, avoiding anything that was made in a sweatshop (or at least waiting until the thing is marked down so far that the brand couldn't conceivably be profiting) and buying used whenever possible. But in a consumer wonderland like Schaumburg these rules pretty much fly out the window. All the anticapitalist propaganda in the world can't squash the elation I feel when a $250 cashmere cardigan, made in China but on sale for $20, is staring me in the face.
My first stop Friday night was Time Out Chicago's launch party in the grand ballroom of Union Station. As soon as I walked in, restaurants editor Heather Shouse, a very tall woman, spotted me and asked, "What are you doing here?" Then, noticing I was wearing heels, she snorted, "What, are you five-three now?" I didn't stay long, but before I left about six other people had approached me and whispered, wide-eyed, "Are you gonna put this in your column?"
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Liz Armstrong, Andrea Beno.