Seth and Evan have returned home from their first year of college. Despite high school hijinks, they’ve found the tertiary social scene difficult: weekly ragers never materialized. In the last year, they’ve only attended three parties between them.
Seth: I don’t understand it. There are parties everywhere in college but I can’t get invited to any of them.
Evan: I feel you. Nobody seems to want me at their party, either. I thought I got invited to a party at an engineering frat once but it turned out to be a review session for a final.
Seth: Remember how simple it was in high school? All we had to do was bring the booze to be invited to the greatest party of our lives. I thought it would be the same at college. Parties need alcohol, and I need parties. I even bought a fake ID so I could be the go-to alc man.
Evan: So you offer to bring alc to get an invitation?
Seth: Pretty much, but it never works. I get talking to someone, they mention a party they’re throwing, and I say “cool - I can bring the alc.” They go on how that’s so cool and it would be a great collaboration. By the evening, I’ve texted them for the address and get ghosted.
Evan: That’s rough, man. I’ve tried something similar and got ghosted, too. I thought college was all about alcohol, but people care way less about it than I thought.
Enter McLovin. Since high school he’s grown six inches, bought contacts, and picked up a gym membership. Where he was once a toothpick, McLovin has developed into a handsome pestle.
McLovin: You two are losers.
Seth: Nice to see you, too, Fogell.
McLovin: I’m serious. You guys don’t understand a thing about parties. Only the sweatiest people really care about the alcohol. With tactics like those, you’ll probably only be invited to creepy kickbacks at best and final review sessions at worse.
Evan: Hey, I actually did well on that final.
Seth: Please, if you’re so wise, enlighten us, sensei Fogell.
McLovin: That’s sensei McLovin to you, grasshopper.
Evan: Fuck you
Seth: (Taking a middle line between asserting juvenile dominance and looking after his arid social life) I’m not your grasshopper, sensei McLovin.
McLovin: Question: what’s the most scarce resource at any party?
Evan, Seth, in unison: Alcohol.
McLovin: No. Any party worth attending is flush with alcohol. Ever since the Feds stopped going after fake ID producers, every nineteen year old now can bring white claws by the dozen into a party. If it’s a rager, the hosts have probably turned down dozens of offers for alc from walking insecurities like you.
Evan: Ok. I’ve taken econ 101. Just tell us the scarce resource and we’ll get it. There’s demand, and we’ll create the supply. We make an exchange, and then we rage.
McLovin: And there’s your second mistake. You’re thinking like economists when you need to be a sociologist. Yes, at some level, attending a party is an exchange of sorts, but you can’t think about it in those terms. Getting an invite by offering something material could work, but it makes the host feel weird and transactional. Hosts conceive of themselves (accurately or not) as assembling a group of people they genuinely like. To get invited, you need to feed that image. Nobody likes to send a party invite to fulfill their end of a bargain.
Seth: Noted, but what’s the most scarce resource?
McLovin: It’s legitimacy.
Evan: I thought you’d say good music, girls, or vibes.
Seth: “Vibes” is what people say when they think they’ve stumbled on something ineffable but are disguising their inarticulateness.
McLovin: Parties, like relationships, novels, and acting careers, must be believed into existence. In the beginning, like all new things, they lack legitimacy. How can people believe in something so inchoate? How can you believe in something that’s now only a musing of a speculation of a suggestion of a conjecture? Will I meet cool people at the party? Who else is going? Hosts need to cultivate an image of coolness before other people will believe and show up. If nobody has faith in a party, it will die an obscure death.
Evan: I don’t understand how you provide any ’legitimacy’ to the parties you attend. We went to the same high school! You’re uglier than us and don’t have the self-awareness to realize calling yourself ‘McLovin’ is a bad move.
McLovin: It’s not about where you went to school, how attractive you are, what you call yourself, or even what you say at these parties. I get invited because of my image.
Seth: What is this ‘image’ you speak of?
McLovin: It’s the image you cultivate of yourself, man! It’s when you post a shirtless photo of yourself on instagram, or broadcast fashionable political opinions. It’s when you publish an opinionated thread or appear on your friend’s podcast about mental health or whatever. That’s image-building.
Evan: Since when did you have an image?
McLovin: Since I discovered social media. I have 1m on instagram and 500k on twitter. Everybody on campus follows me and I make sure they get a daily dose of McLovin.
Evan: Why the fuck would people follow you online? You’re a boneheaded narcissus who is barely tolerable in real life. Why would anyone want more of that?
McLovin: I post shirtless photos of myself hanging out with models on instagram and witty ripostes on twitter. You call me a boneheaded narcissus, but I prefer the term opinionated self-promoter.
Seth: You definitely do not hang out with models.
Evan: Though you’re as witty as one.
McLovin: But here’s the genius of it - it’s an image! I’m reducing myself into two dimensions for public consumption, and it’s a lot easier to control those two than the n that make up real life. I do hang out with models, because I pay them to. I do post clever ripostes on twitter, because someone writes them for me. It’s all the same to my followers. Every good social media move I make adds to my lustre, and when I interact with someone, they get to share in my notoriety. People get to say “McLovin was at my party!” and their friends will say “no way! I follow that guy online. He’s so hot, smart, well-connected, funny, gorgeous, rich, well-endo…”
Seth: We get the point!
Evan: Aren’t people disappointed when you don’t live up to your image?
Seth: Disappointed? Do I look like some sort of role model? Pity the person who confuses a thing-as-it-is with a thing-as-it-appears. Anyone foolish enough to mix the two doesn’t understand the most valuable thing about me is my image. Am I actually a good party attendee? Hell if I know. But if I’m at your party, it’s a signal to my millions of followers you’ve thrown something the party scene notices. If McLovin goes to a party and nobody hears about it, that’s a disaster for the hosts.
Evan: How many partygoers are like you, invited for their image?
McLovin: Probably most. Some people attend because the hosts genuinely like them, but I’d guess they’re the minority. I don’t talk to people at these parties so I’m not sure.
Seth: If this is what parties are like, I don’t think I want to attend one.
Evan: McLovin, why do you do this? I’d think it’s financially and morally exhausting to keep models and content creators on retainer. Doesn’t it feel duplicitious to present a false image? Why can’t you be a genuine, pleasant person and get invited that way?
McLovin: It’s because I’m ambitious, losers. When I left high school, I resolved to have a 99th percentile social life. It’s possible to do that via your authentic self alone, but that’s rare. Getting invited to the best parties requires cultivating an image, and I’m willing to do it.
Look at me. Everyone loves McLovin. At parties they’re happy to see me and post a picture together. I don’t need to lie about my instagram or twitter because nobody asks. It’s “great to see you!” and “how’s [insert what they’re working on]” and then onto the next person. In high school, we were nobodies. I’m a somebody now and you two party in obscurity only because I care what people think of me.
Evan: That was a surprisingly candid self-assessment.
Seth: I didn’t expect that from someone as emotionally underdeveloped as you.
McLovin: Thanks guys. I’ve been working on it. Hey, I have a couple of invites for a party tonight. Want to come?
Evan: No thanks, man. Seth and I are going to play chess tonight.