I will not attempt to zoologically classify the so-called party animal, but will note that puzzled Linnaeus would have scratched his head. For the foreigner who has never encountered a party animal, this singular species might be described as an inhibited hedonist trying to “let it out.” In French, a translation might be animal de soiree, although obviously it defies translation; in German, Beteiligttier or a straightforward Parteitier; in Spanish, animal del partido.
The party animal is best found among high school and college students, and, while a female may declare herself to be one, and even act a little like one, nevertheless the critter reaches its highest expression among males. It loves good food, plentiful drink, a safe habitat in which to get tanked, and rock ‘n’ roll. In short, this creature loves to “party.” He also might like to get “high” on some sort of street drug, such as marijuana, cocaine or LSD.
I have not researched the etymology of “party animal,” but almost certainly it is a very recent expression, having been coined and popularized after World War ll. If the phrase was being kicked around by youth in the 1940s or earlier, it probably flourished only among a rock ‘n’ roll avant-garde. At any rate, in the 60s the critter came into its own, its population increased, with the hippies, flower children and student rebels. Hand-in-hand with the population increase was the use of party as a verb (for example, “we partied all night long.”)
Naturally, the love of food and drink and good times is universal; even a superficial survey of the world’s literature shows this. After all, it was Martin Luther who penned the rhyme “Who loves not wine, women and song, Remains a fool his whole life long.” The long list of holidays and feast days in Christianity shows this also. Yet the party animal is unique to the culture of competitive consumer capitalism, and will live and die with the fate of that culture. Its virtues and vices, traits, peculiarities and the criticism it generates are bound up in that culture; its history is part of the history of that culture, its hopefulness or despair is derived from that culture.
As Shakespeare proclaimed, “music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.” This is true of the party animal, too. He loves “rock,” with its varieties like heavy metal, punk rock, and soft rock. So his partying consists of this music, perhaps dancing, beer, pizza, television, some sort of sport or game like swimming or charades, and of course no party would be complete without an admixture of the sexes. Indeed, the pressure to have fun spills over into sexuality as the male’s desire to “get laid.” However much right-wingers criticize nominal hedonism and “serial monogamy,” still the party animal may be said to be wedded to the status quo. Party animal status--far from being revolutionary in any way--is “normal,” is approved behavior, is part of society’s expectation of regulated deviance (the kind of lax social pressure to be found at certain times, such as Saturday evening, holidays, “homecoming,” and so on.)
However, the party animal enters a party loaded with peer pressure; he is overly anxious to please other’s image of himself--an image that is all too much his own image. Handicapped by parental malaise, and by anxiety, insecurity and fear of commitment, the party animal is inevitably disappointed, unfulfilled by the Saturday night of revelry. His “hangover”--if not from the oblivion that alcohol and street drugs promise--is made of the inability to discharge such a freight of pent-up emotion. He proves inadequate to the task because he never got a proper start. But what should be criticized is not his matter-of-fact hedonism, but the permissive child rearing that dooms hedonism and the culture from the outset, and that makes parenting “the world’s toughest job.” The party animal, for reasons that he may one day himself identify with, is headed for extinction.
John Fleming is the author of "The War of All Against All: An Analysis of Conflict in Society."
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