As the Dissident, J.J. Colagrande turns his critical eye on Miami culture. This week: how the annual mega-rave that is Ultra and WMC makes Miami a second-class city.
Miami is in the middle of a cultural and intellectual renaissance. We're finally evolving from a stale reputation leftover from the '80s. You know the rep -- that Scarface, Miami Vice, Cocaine Cowboys, sun-and-fun, Dave Barry look-at-how-weird-we-are cultural wasteland.
Well, that's not who we are anymore. Miami is growing up, and events such as Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival hold us back.
Do we still want to be known as the home of the world's biggest rave? Do we need party people parachuting in with crates full of records and pockets full of powder? Doesn't this lifestyle reinforce everything locals are evolving away from?
Granted, WMC (started in 1985) and Ultra (started in 1999) have played a role in the development of Miami; they should get some respect for their part in our history. The events do contribute to our local economy, an estimated $100 million this year. But what if we tried to attract other business ventures to our downtown area, like technology or film sectors? Maybe there are conventions that stay away from Miami because of our reputation for being a fun-in-the-sun lost weekend filled with music, porn, and drugs.
We are, after all, in the middle of our peak tourist season. Take away WMC and Ultra and we'll be fine -- and our reputation will continue to solidify itself across the country and world.
Miami is not Ibiza. We are not Las Vegas. And if we continue to sell this city as such, we undermine the cultural strides we've made in recent years. How can Miami earn nationwide respectability from a cultural and intellectual standpoint with events like these, with the people they attract and the news they produce?
The Dissident says grow up. Not that a party isn't fun or healthy, but to constantly be defined as a place of decadence is stale, counterproductive, and knuckleheaded.
We're better than that.
Celebrated free spirit Jack Kerouac once wrote, "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."
Sounds like an accurate description of WMC partygoers. Go, go, go -- it could be the mantra of the crowds of people stumbling around 11th street at 7:30 in the morning, from Mekka to Space or back to the Beach, while many of us are driving into work.
You know, Jack Kerouac died from alcohol abuse at the age of 47.
Renowned music journalist Lester Bangs once wrote, "The Party, though its flame may flicker low and all but gutter in these juiceless times, goes on forever." Now that's a perfect quote to describe the 27th year of WMC/Ultra, an eternal week -- now lasting two weekends -- celebrating decadence and dance in Miami.
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Have you heard of Lester Bangs? Probably not. He died at the cursed age of 33.
Listen: Miami is trying to grow, but events like Ultra are keeping the city in a state of arrested development -- and that is stagnancy pretty close to death and even closer to irrelevance. The only thing worse than an aging rock star is an aging DJ.
J.J. Colagrande is an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College-Wolfson and Barry University. He is the author of the novels Headz and Deco. Follow him on Twitter.