Sunday, September 6, 2020

Very Important People

My memories of my trips to Vegas are bittersweet. On the one hand they have been a lot of fun, but on the other hand a number of incidents leave me feeling ripped off. None more so than going to a club and having to fork over obscene amounts of money at markups of thousands of percent. I don't find this to be good use of either money or time, but the friends I have gone with usually do, so I end up paying my share despite realizing what a racket this is. So it was with great interest that I read former model Ashley Mears' expose of this industry in her book, Very Important People: Status and Beauty in the Global Party Circuit

The industry is a fascinating one, with club owners counting on a number of different groups in order to squeeze out the most money from customers as possible. Among them are:

- Models/girls: These females are either professional models or young, attractive civilians. They get in and drink/eat for free and are sometimes even paid to be present, taking up upto one third of the "tables" available in order to give the club a positive image and encourage men to open their wallets and buy bottles of alcohol at absurd markups.

- Promoters: These are generally men who are skilled at picking up and befriending girls that they can convince to come out and party with them. They can be paid several hundred dollars or more to bring out anywhere from 5-15 model-types in a single night. They work during the day by maintaining these girls (taking them to modeling job castings, on errands etc.) and picking up new ones, sometimes hanging out outside modeling agencies to find fresh talent.

- Whales: Huge spenders are extremely lucrative for clubs, as one might expect. But they are rarities, and some of the famous ones are comped as their presence gives the club the kind of image it's willing to pay for.

- Mooks: This is the customer group where the bulk of the profits come from. The $1,500 to $3,000 sums paid by tourists and businessmen, described as "someone who doesn't know what's going on...It's the dentists that come in and buy the tables, thinking they're in the company of the cool people, and the beautiful people." This is squarely the group into which my friends and I would be placed.

- Fillers: Men that keep the place from looking empty. They look cool or have some cultural capital which gets them through the door, but then they are physically crowded and spend the night jostling and being jostled around an over-crowded bar.

I found a lot of this interesting, because I had no idea what was going on behind the scenes of this "show" (that's really what it is, in my opinion) that I've been a patron of until I read this book.

There is plenty of overt and systemic racism involved, as anyone familiar with this scene no-doubt already knows. Promoters don't actually seek out women who they find the most attractive, personally; they are looking for women with a certain look: tall, thin, white, very well-dressed girls to be exact. These are the girls the clubs will pay promoters the most for, as these are the girls that project the image of high-class models that give the club the ability to draw the customers they are looking for.

The promoters and the girls often have sexual relationships, but outside of that it was suprising to me how little actual sex is involved in these business relationships. The Mooks and Whales, with exceptions of course, are not generally trying to buy sex, and the girls are not trying to sell it. Interestingly, the clients are more interested in using the girls as props to signal status/wealth etc. to the world at large (others at the club, friends/acquiantances on Facebook/Instagram etc.), not as actual sex objects.

During the time this book was written, Jho Low was the biggest whale around, so he was referenced a few times, which was hilarious for me as a huge fan of the book Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World. I recall in that book the author's surprise at how little Jho Low was interested in sex with the models he used to covet/pay to party with. But that is entirely consistent with this world, as I discussed in the previous paragraph.

I found the author did a great job sticking to delivering the information rather than opining on the morals of various activities. There was one exception, however; it's clear that she feels the girls are exploited, not receiving enough compensation for the role that she attributes to sexism. I'm not sure I buy that; it seems like a well-functioning market from what I gathered. The girls do get compensation from the promoters who bring them to the clubs and are sometimes paid cash money. If a promoter doesn't compensate a girl enough, she can join another promoter. If a girl gets too "high maintenance" for what she is worth to the club, a promoter may drop her and pick up someone new instead. This suggests they are probably getting paid a market price, as they can price themselves out but also command a certain pricing power because of what they bring and because of competition among promoters. The author believes the clients are benefitting much more from the business relationship than the girls are, based on some anecdotes of business dealings with girls present that have been lucrative for the clients. I must be doing it wrong, because I always feel like a sucker after these events!

There is a weird aspect of this situation though that gives me pause. The culture of these events is such that the practice of girls receiving cash in exchange for their services is frowned upon. This is highly convenient for the promoters, because there's no taboo against their cash take from the club. As a result, the girls are paid in-kind: they get driven around on errands, taken out to bowling/movies, get free food/drinks etc. The top girls can even get first-class tickets for working vacations and the rent on their apartments paid for. Maybe this convention is a way to exploit the girls, or maybe their compensation is paid in full but it just happens to be in-kind rather than explicitly in cash. (There are exceptions, of course; some girls are paid in cash.)

There may also be a transparency issue. Some girls are very young (e.g. 16) and may not recognize that the promoter is being paid. Promoters may tug at the emotions of a girl, to make the transaction seem like a friendly one rather than a business one in order to convince the girl to help him out. The promoters are likely charismatic (i.e smooth/charming) and good at getting girls to do what they want.

But as stated, the promoters do have to compete with each other, so if one is not delivering there are others around who can. Also, there are no tears being shed for the girls who are not attractive enough, nor for the guys of that age, whether hot or not, who don't have this avenue open to them at all, some of whom would love to be "exploited" in this way.

Overall, this was a fascinating (though highly repetitive) book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who finds this topic interesting.

1 comment:

Senta said...

Great review. The club circuit is mostly a con. It is interesting to know the mechanics on the con.