The Long View: The Ecstasy Club

Anyone who studies millennial movements also ends up studying cults, which figure heavily in any study of how the end of the world intrudes upon normal life. In this review for Culture Wars, John ties in Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test as well as Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger. As disreputable as many millennial cults are, it isn't surprising their influence is subsequently swept under the rug.

Ecstasy Club (A Novel)
by Douglas Rushkoff
HarperEdge, 1997
Approximate Length: 283 Pages
Probable Price: $17.50
[This review is based on uncorrected proofs.]

The Persistence of the Future

Douglas Rushkoff probably needs no introduction, if you follow Generation X literature at all. If you don't, then perhaps you are nevertheless aware of him as a man in his mid-30s who makes a remarkable amount of money advising media corporations on how to tailor their products for twenty-somethings with short attention spans. Certainly this novel is full of the sort of stuff that young adults are supposed to interested in. You get raves [an appalling sort of party], smart drugs [most of them not controlled substances], 90s psychedelia [much it electronic], one or more universal conspiracies, and enough paranormal incident (in the words of one character) for three seasons of the "X-Files" [an old television series]. Turning the story into a screenplay will be a no-brainer in every sense of the term.

Still, it will not do to dismiss this novel as the work of an O2-cool airhead. One suspects that Mr. Rushkoff is trying to do on purpose what Charles Reich did inadvertently in "The Greening of America" (1970), that is, to articulate and to close a whole countercultural era simultaneously. (As Hegel used to say, you can only bag the owls of Minerva when the fat lady sings.) Maybe his sense of timing is right. In any event, "Ecstasy Club" is yet more evidence for the proposition that the 90s are simply the 60s with all of the toxins and none of the sentiment.

One way to look at the book is as the story of how the protagonist outgrows his youthful enthusiasms to settle down with a wife and kid in the suburbs. Another way to look at the book is as an apocalyptic novel. The principal characters are, after all, quite consciously trying to end the world. Unlike the Aum Shinri Kyo, they are not manufacturing poison gas or building earthquake machines. Rather, they intend to accomplish their goal by organizing a series of raves in an abandoned piano factory in Oakland, California. These parties are supposed to provide a catalyst that will break down the conditioning that certain malevolent forces have injected into late 20th century popular culture. The dark archons of this age have deep historical roots, of course, but their modern incarnations are neo-Malthusians who are preparing the population to accept a massive human die-off. Their agents, at least in the opinion of the people in the piano factory, include the Grateful Dead and a brainwashing cult called "Cosmotology" that resembles the Church of Scientology in only the most superficial and non-actionable way. When the dampening effects of these forces have been weakened in a sufficient number of people, the pace of cultural novelty will accelerate to infinity and history as we know it will be over.