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The Kiss of Death: Being Morbid on the Party Strip

The Kiss of Death: Being Morbid on the Party Strip

by Binoy Kampmark
January 28, 2012

Death for dinner and death for afters. Nightclubs and venues of evening entertainment with poor safety policies, aided by authorities indifferent to the welfare of pleasure seekers are the weeds of entertainment. The body count from such negligence keeps rising, but so do the number of body counters. The regulations preventing deaths occasioned by negligence, poor exits, and safety precautions on a global level, remain poor.

The deaths at the Kiss Club in Santa Maria, Brazil, the aftermath of an all too fiery pyrotechnics display, is coming to a chilling 232 and set to rise. These victims have become part of the necropolis that night life feeds. Partying is encumbered with exhilarating promise and danger. The individuals who also facilitated this, members of the band in question and the nightclub owner by the name of Elissandro Spohr (“Kiki”), have been arrested by police concerned with civil matters. They have been at pains to point out that the detentions are “provisional” at this point. Also in question are security guards who held patrons back even as the fire started to engulf the premises.

Globally speaking, frequenting night clubs, whatever their pedigree, is an occupational hazard. You enter places at your peril. A global excursus into the deadly records of clubs is worth considering, given the latest and spectacular death toll in Santa Maria. The more you peer into the body count, the more one wonders why more people don’t stay at home. But that, at the end of the day, is precisely the point. Movement is an assurance of life, a song of existence.

The fascination with such mortality has, however, gone one step further. The news reports are drawing the corpse counts out of the morgue with fitful relish. “Deadly blazes: Nightclub tragedies in recent history,” CNN seems to shout out over the others. Not to be outdone, Canadian news discusses “6 deadly nightclub fires around the world” wishing to give the partying departed a more worldly focus. The CNN piece is characteristically inaccurate in its accounting – “A look back at U.S. nightclub fires” only to mention an international smorgasbord that avoids the U.S., in the main. To take a few examples: Caracas, December 1, 2002, where 47 perished; and an unnamed dance hall in Luoyang, China, where 309 people lost their lives on Christmas Day in 2000.

The CNN report makes mention of the death of 100 people occasioned by a similar pyrotechnics fiasco in West Warwick, Rhode Island on February 21, 2003. This is America’s proud donation to the numbers of dead. Even in death, there is a pulsating ego waiting to be promoted. We were the first at the scene of slaying.

These places should be mausoleums to the carefree – Quito in Ecuador; the Santika nightclub in Bangkok, Perm in Russia. Instead, they reveal an increasingly morbid fascination with the casualties of entertainment. The young will die, and this is the price of curiosity.

The business of night entertainment, and to be specific, nightclub entertainment, is precarious. Everyone has the potential to be bloodied when the sun goes down and the party animal emerges for fun. Yes, the patron is at risk, but so is the bar tender who earns the poor wage. The half-wit bouncer, hired for his misdirected brawn, is also at risk, not merely from poor judgment but patrons who should know better. The management are also under the microscope for squeezing their patrons into intolerable spaces in the name of entertainment and profit.

Dangerous conditions need not come in the form of a fire display that goes terribly wrong. They can occur in every day interaction on the ground between guests and management. Let’s take a more recent example of English common law in action. Everett v Comojo (UK) Ltd (2011) involved a discussion whether a duty is owed by a nightclub to their visitors for the criminal actions of third parties. A waitress at the club was allegedly assaulted by two guests. A patron, on witnessing this, sent for his driver while asking the men to apologise. The driver subsequently attacked the alleged assailants, causing them injury. They sued.

The English Court of Appeal found that the management of nightclubs regulates entry and removal of individuals to and from their premises. Those present are entitled to expect no occasion of violence, a safe environment and for those reasons, there was sufficient proximity between management and the guests for a duty of care to exist.

For those familiar with the nightclub scene, such expectations are often the stuff of fantasy. True, many managers do abide by statutes and bylaws, some painstakingly so. But a party nullified of danger is often devoid of flavour. It is morbid, but humans need their flirt with Thanatos, their insensible moment of fun. And that is what keeps the likes of Kiki and the pyrotechnic deviants in business.


Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

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