December 18, 2008

Book review: "Ibiza Virgin," by Jennifer Eric

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Ibiza Virgin, by Jennifer Eric
Ibiza Virgin: A Study of the Island and Its Clubbing Culture
By Jennifer Eric
Can-Did Publishing / ISBN: 978-2-95280-140-9

(UPDATE, DECEMBER 2008: I heard back today from Ms. Eric about this review, and although she says she enjoyed it quite a bit, she did have a major clarification to make: she is actually a European in her mid-thirties who merely spent some time in southern California as a late teen, not an American in her early twenties who grew up in southern California, like I assume in this essay below. I don't know whether to be appalled that I interpreted the book so horribly wrong, or amused that a European woman in her mid-thirties would come across so similarly to a spoiled middle-class American sorority girl; so for the sake of international diplomacy I am assuming the former, and formally apologizing for my analysis of this book being so comically inept. I'm very sorry, Jennifer!)

Although it doesn't happen often, sometimes a book will come out (usually by a beginning writer) that will actually be more entertaining not for its official story but for what it accidentally says about the author writing it, many times without that author realizing they've done so. Take for example today's title under review, Jennifer Eric's Ibiza Virgin: A Study of the Island and Its Clubbing Culture, which believe it or not started life as a master's thesis during grad school, a purported objective account of a bizarre academic experience she once went through while getting her degree; but by the end becomes much more a story about a young woman biting off a little more than she can chew, about facing the harsh realities of a world that God forbid sometimes doesn't revolve around the plans of pretty entitled American girls with marketing degrees and platinum credit cards. As a result, then, the book turns out rather mesmerizing in its pure audacity, although often in ways I don't think the author meant.

So how apropos, then, that the subject being dissected here is the uniquely hedonistic tourist and youth destination of Ibiza, a Mediterranean island off the Spanish coast that has become known over the decades for its discotheque culture, for its dozens of "superclubs" and rampant drug abuse, for its invention of such now international staples as "foam parties" and the entire concept of clubbing as a legitimate lifestyle. Because if Branson, Missouri is supposedly the clean Christian cousin of Las Vegas, then Ibiza would be its sluttier, always partying cousin from the opposite side of the family tree, an autonomous community whose entire gross domestic product consists of the creation of illusion, a place millions flock to each year precisely so they can "be someone else" for awhile, to let loose their uncontrolled id for a spin before heading back to the humdrum world of their real lives again. That's what took Eric there herself in 2005, to be one of the people who help create that illusion; she was already a street-taught veteran of rotating club events in southern California by then, even in her early twenties, was now finishing up graduate school in Paris on the same subject, and had been sent off to sweaty southern Europe for her final summer internship, there ostensibly to take over the VIP rooms of a venerated yet aging club, to spark some new life into the place now that the oldest venues on the island were starting to reach thirty years in age.

And that right there in a nutshell is the recipe for the disaster that followed; a young academe full of theoretical ideas about how a danceclub should be run, a head filled with marketing buzzwords and viral word-of-mouth project plans, who had never had to deal before with the day-to-day realities of a stationary staff at a single club, who was not only utterly unprepared for what she found but then exacerbated it all by reacting exactly how you would expect a young spoiled middle-class American white-collar college student to react. Because as anyone who's worked in this industry knows, the bigger and flashier the club environment, the more it's held together by the various vices and dysfunctions of the mentally imbalanced junkies and egomaniacs running it all, pulled off with the same elaborate smoke and mirrors that convinces people to pay $100 cover charges to begin with, just to be let into a concrete warehouse full of wasted schoolchildren. Eric simply wasn't ready for this, nor for the entire series of stereotypical problems quickly confronting her -- catty gay party hosts who were immediately threatened by her mere existence, drug-addict bartenders who didn't want her meddling with their in-club dealer kickbacks, a lecherous money-grubbing owner who couldn't care less about who did what as long as the euros kept rolling in.

And this is all entertaining enough, and would've been interesting on its own; but what makes it even more fascinating, like I said, is the way Eric reacted to it all, painting a portrait by the end of a typical hubristic, clueless, late-capitalist Bush-era American citizen that I don't think she even realizes how poignantly she's gotten across. For example, writing two years after the events took place (this book originally came out in 2007, with the internship happening in 2005), she still seems legitimately flummoxed over why a group of Spanish customers in a Spanish club might get angry over the person in charge of everything not being able to speak a word of Spanish; she seems legitimately confused over why a local staff might feel threatened by a pushy uptight American woman in her early twenties suddenly showing up one day, and bringing a whole gaggle of fellow pushy uptight American women in their early twenties along to fill every single supervisory role there, because she "doesn't trust the natives." It's obvious that Eric grew up in an environment with a blind obedience to the authority of office bureaucracy, and the fact that she can't understand not having this blind obedience is truly the most entertaining part of Ibiza Virgin; the fact, for example, that lots of people on this planet don't automatically just hand over all their reins of power to some random stranger, just because some anonymous pencil-pusher in a cubicle a thousand miles away sent them an email telling them to do so.

Now be warned, this book has a very odd layout: part 1 is almost like a practical travel guide to Ibiza itself, laying out in very helpful terms the region's history, a mid-2000s guide to its clubs, tips on how to get into the more exclusive VIP rooms, etc; while part 3 belies much more the book's origins as an academic thesis, offering up chapters on experiential marketing and effective staff management. The much larger part 2 in the middle, then, is the actual "memoir" part of this memoir, which itself is uneven in tone too; sometimes it reads like a straight-ahead raconteurial look at the events, sometimes like a deposition for an upcoming small-claims lawsuit, while other times like a sorority girl complaining to all her sisters over a round of wine coolers about the "dirty junkie savages" she was once forced to live and work with, during That Summer In Her Youth When She Briefly Lived Somewhere Exotic And Thus Proved That She Too Has A Wild Side. There's a real pity-party taking place in the middle of this book, which of course is part of what makes it so unintentionally fascinating, is from all the times you want to shake the author by the shoulders and yell, "J-sus C-rist, you stupid rich white girl, what the f-ck did you think was going to happen when you decided to start bossing around a bunch of jaded Eurotrash cokeheads a decade older than yourself?"

Ultimately Ibiza Virgin is what I consider an illuminating book, not the best-written thing out there but with an inherently intriguing story at its core, one that almost says more about what not to do as a young executive on their first field assignment than about what they should. It's an uneven book, one sure to frustrate you at least a couple of times by the end, but a gripping read nonetheless.

Out of 10: 7.4

Read even more about Ibiza Virgin: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 3:54 PM, December 18, 2008. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |