Out in The City
Funny old word, decadence. There is a media obsession with the morality or the lacking therein. Loaded with Victorian values of debasement, degeneracy and degradation to some, but burning brightly with bingeing blowouts and candles lit at both ends to others who are more than happy to be regarded as Sybarites, reclining on a chaise longue of epicurean indulgence and sensual delight. Their lustful intemperance of la dolce vita is a license for lasciviousness rather than a perversion of all that is good and true. One man’s viande is another man’s poisson, you might say.
There are certainly cities in Thailand that are more easily identified as decadent than Chiang Mai, but just like the hidden suburban swingers of the sixties, it is here – if you want to find it. If you know the right people who will invite you to join all manner of exotic, excessive rakishness in private homes that appear to the entire world as upstanding edifices of respectability. And, just like any major city, dear old Changers has a fair number of businesses catering to a coterie appreciative of what some may consider, ‘dubious delights’. Tucked away sans neon pointers they are filled by a surprising number of indigenous revellers who defy the more conservative image that is promoted abroad but are indicative of a new spirit of freedom, especially found in the internet savvy young.
Freed from the burden of Christian guilt and taboo, orgies of overindulgence are a sinless sporting of self-expression for those who chant the Lady Gaga gay mantras (I was born this way!) and feel unfettered by what is seen as old-fashioned constraint. Fast living, fornication and gluttony, far from being deadly transgressions, are transformed into inalienable rights that are cited as symptoms of terminal decline by old school thinkers who have read all about ancient Rome. They could well be right. But regardless of whether we are distracted by debauchery or defined by decency, are we not all slaves to the multinationals and banks who are fiddling us as the world economy burns? It is time for those who look down on the sinners and those who look down on the ones who are missing out on the fun to check out the occupants on the higher rungs of life’s ladder.
Never being one who can resist the temptation of misquoting dear Oscar Wilde and therefore yield to it, ‘Depravity is in having one vice too many. Decorum is the same.’
James Barnes is editor-in-chief of OUT in Thailand Magazine.