Last Friday, NYU Local posted about a course that was taught at Yale this past semester on Dance Music and Nightlife in New York City. Like most other coverage of the controversial class, Local’s coverage was snarky and dismissive. And with, at first glance, good reason. Who were they to stick their theory all up in our field of non-study, what is essentially the backyard of many of us at NYU?
The course was led by Madison Moore, a doctoral candidate in American Studies at Yale. When NYU Local sat down with him this week, he told us he took the class from a chapter in his dissertation, “Ritual in Vanity: Performance and the Necessity of Glamour.” Other chapters discuss Tina Turner and “Fierceness,” Andy Warhol, luxury boutiques and, of course, nightlife.
Moore created a course (his first time doing so on his own) in which he synthesized questions surrounding performance studies, urban studies, and gender & sexuality studies to explore the question, “Why do we party?” While intellectualizing glamour and bringing a bouncer to class made the course anything but orthodox, there is a lot more to the course and its professor than the title betrays.
Moore’s dissertation advisor Joseph Roach gave NYU Local the theory-heavy explanation: “[He] updates Thorstein Veblen’s theory of conspicuous consumption by demonstrating the advent of what he calls ‘stealth consumption.’ He also explores strategies of making glamour liberating to all people rather than oppressive to some.”
The class reading included work ranging from Honore de Balzac (who was the inspiration for Moore’s first tattoo) to George Chauncey to NYU’s own Richard Schechner. The class did indeed have certain unorthodox experiences: they held dance parties in class, they came to class “dressed for the club,” and Moore set up a bouncer at the entrance to class one day and instructed him that only three students were “on the guest list.”
But it never strayed too far from the rigorously academic mode of thought that Moore himself is so deeply mired in. As has been reported, the class did take a field trip to Le Bain and the Boom Boom Room and held class at a local New Haven bar, but what no coverage mentioned is that these ventures happened in the middle of the day and nobody drank anything. The students received lectures on the architecture and business model surrounding nightlife, and did whatever other hoyty-toyty shit you do when you explore “all the things that go into making something glamorous.”
Something is to be said for the access provided to students by taking this peek into an ultra-exclusive space. “[The students] probably would never have otherwise had the chance to see this fabulous view of Manhattan,” he said. The Standard, as Moore reminds us multiple times, is a $400 million building. Glamour and excess at its source. Privileged Ivy-Leaguers they may well be, but that’s not quite enough to get past the velvet rope in many of the spaces Moore explored.
While the poetry of such a venture might not be every academic’s cup of tea, to say that examining the capitalist ramifications of nearly inaccessible urban spaces is not a worthy pursuit is unfair, and to write the whole thing off as silly or irresponsible is just inaccurate. Moore, in fact, doesn’t even drink. “It just doesn’t interest me. I think it’s because I’m a little bit of a control freak– not having complete control over my body scares me,” he said.
Moore appears, indeed, a highly self-controlled person. When we met, he was dressed in almost all black and a leather jacket, offset by his asymetrical dreads which are intermittently dyed purple. He gives off a kind of punky/grungy vibe at first, but he’s groomed meticulously and speaks with an almost jarring preciseness.
That precision is perhaps explained by his days as a child proidgy violinist. He continued to pursue the instrument through his undergraduate career at the University of Michigan while he majored in French. He wrote his honors thesis on a subset of gay french pornography that attempted to emulate black hip-hop culture, and with it landed in Yale’s prestigeous French department as a graduate student. “I went to Yale for 3 reasons: 1. I wanted to be close to New York City, 2. I knew it was a top French department, and the third reason was really for my grandmother, so she would be able to say ‘my grandson went to Yale,'” Moore said.
Not long after arriving in New Haven, he encountered Joseph Roach, who had published a study on celebrity called It. Roach was responsible for introducing Madison to the field of American Studies, and encouraging him to pursue work on the concepts of glamour that deeply fascinated him, making him the highbrow/lowbrow scholar that he is today.
It’s easy to write Moore off as a walking, on-going performance who feeds off of his own anomaly– he is a diehard Williamsburg resident with a love of Brahams, a boy who used to want to write for Saturday Night Live and who now fantasizes about commentating alongside Joan Rivers on Fashion Police, but who still deeply seeks acceptance within the scholarly auspices of “The Academy.”
What was really surprising about getting to actually, rather casually, talk to Madison Moore (which, as he was quick to tell us, no other journalists did when reporting on his class) is just how genuine and non-performative he is. He can easily name drop the names of a club promoter and an obscure lesbian screamo musician and an Urban Studies theorist in one sentence, but none of those (not even his insistence on properly pronouncing Le Bain “le bawn” rather than the customary “luh bayne”) comes across as pretense– he’s just really interested in things, he’s serious about the non-serious, and his mind is the kind that can’t help but academicize, hence his unique approach to a field of study that’s not actually all that new or novel.
“This is a class about social processes,” Moore said. “There are many ways to study American History, I just chose nightlife.”