Friday, March 4, 2011

What Happened to Mardi Gras?

Way back when, before the invention of America and Christianity, the Romans threw some really great parties. One was called Lupercalia, the “Wolf Festival”, which involved all the fine young men getting naked and running around spanking women with, in the words of Plutarch, “shaggy thongs,” and the women would purposefully get in their way to get spanked. Another was called Saturnalia, where everybody would go on a week-long bender, and slaves would get to order around their masters to give them foot massages and get them snacks. All this had a lot to do with Pan, the god of stinky uncontrollable animal urges, so there was plenty of hanky-panky in all shapes, sizes, positions, directions, and orientations. People would get drunk and play flutes and get really, really freaky. And, of course, there was music everywhere. All over Rome there were horns blowing, drums thumping, and strings twanging. In fact, music, along with some edgy comedies, helped loosen people up to do whatever they wanted.

Then, after the advent of Catholicism and the institutionalization of the crushingly-sober Lent period, a more cloak-and-dagger version of this became popular in Europe: the Carnival of Venice. People would put on weird, elegant masks and mingle in the Piazza San Marco, and, under the guise of these masks, people of different social classes would indulge in lascivious behavior. Noblewomen would get with peasants, dukes would get with bar wenches, that kind of thing. Again, the circus element was huge: jugglers, fire-blowers, sword-swallowers, blaring horn bands, sonorous string bands, along with the carefully-crafted masks, helped take people out of their normal mindset and make them want to boogie.

Modern-day Mardi Gras is a bit more watered down. Don't get me wrong, Fat Tuesday is great, but it isn't as mind-bending as the pagan clusterfucks it derives from. Or is it? Okay, so most of us don't have hundred-person orgies in bathhouses with live music playing, or have fortunes of jewels to spend on random magic potions for our newfound squeezes. But we do have some pretty nifty innovations of our own. We get to hear mind-blowing sounds on ridiculous sound systems, get to see crazy light displays and drink impossible cocktails, we get to hang out with fantastic individuals who dig what we dig. We get wackos like Charlie Sheen being super real and telling us to make magic, we get DJs like Chris Harnett and David Carvalho spinning exactly what we want to hear. So it isn't Saturnalia, Lupercalia, or the Carnival of Venice; but it has the potential to be better. That's a choice that we make when we decide where and with whom we're going to start the night – and resolve to let the night do the rest.

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