A more socially oriented phenomenon is what I call Trigger Events. Trigger Events are highly public events that happen at a party, and that serves as a precedent, establishing a certain mood for the rest of the evening.
In my university years, I repeatedly served as a mentor for the new students. One of the elements of the mentoring programme was a three-day excursion, where we would invade a house in the country with approximately 150 people, play games during the day, and party during the night.
The first time I went, it was fairly quiet on the romantic front. Sure, a few people ended up kissing, but it was all very discrete and proper, and there wasn’t a lot of it. Next year, however, was completely different. At the beginning of the first party, where people had barely started to get intoxicated, a couple suddenly started kissing each other passionately in the middle of the dance floor for all to see. They subsequently moved to the nearest wall, where they moved from kissing to prolonged groping – still in plain sight of everybody.
What happened next was fantastic. If was as if everybody looked around with a guarded look on their face, saw nobody reacting to it, and then thought to themselves, “Okay, what the hell, tonight is apparently that kind of party”. Needless to say, the rest of the night – and the rest of the trip – was a study in semi-promiscuous behaviour as people started acting as if they were on a Greek island, far from everybody they knew. By a quick tally in the bus ride home, the number of people making out was more than three times as high as the previous year.
This is what Trigger Events is all about: changing the nature of a social get-together by signaling that a certain behaviour, normally thought inappropriate, is now fully acceptable. Trigger Events create temporary social islands where the normal rules are nullified. It doesn’t have to be about sex. It can be something as simple as the host breaking a fine crystal glass at a fancy dinner party and laughing about it. A friend of mine told me about a company party where right after dinner, the normally austere CEO had gotten up on a stage in front of the entire company and danced like crazy, after which all hell broke loose on the dance floor. At the beginning of a pheasant hunt I was on, where you could only shoot the male birds, the host – standing in front of everybody – mistakenly shot and killed two female birds; after that, female birds went down in troves. And at a recent party I attended with my MBA class in an Andorran ski village, two of the girls from the class went up on a balcony and did a dance with some succinct lesbian undertones; for the rest of the night, my fellow students (normally a well-behaved crowd) would walk up to their co-students and lick them on the cheek, just for the heck of it. Magnificent party, really.
Trigger Events can make all the difference, creating the mood of the party. I imagine that when discoteque owners pay professional dancers to dance on stages and in cages, they are trying to do something similar. However, I suspect this works less well than it should. Trigger Events are most effective when it is performed by your peers (especially if you know them). A professional dancer just isn’t the same thing; she’s not breaking any social rules, she is just doing what she is paid for, and people know this. Instead of dressing up like something between a stripper and a Las Vegas showgirl, I think it would be far more effective if the paid dancers looked and dressed like everybody else, even to the extent of hiding the fact that they are actually employed. I envision a discoteque in which several of the ‘guests’ are in fact paid party starters, creating Trigger Events by overtly making out with their (similarly employed) boyfriends, in the bar, on the dance floor, and wherever else the party needs to get started.