The Article That Mainstreamed (And Whitened) Disco Was Made Up
It's known now as the background noise that provided vapid clubgoers the excuse to do drugs and rub their glittery bodies together between roughly 1977 and 1979, but disco is a complicated art form that's been played since the '60s in underground dance clubs frequented by gay and/or non-white audiences. That all changed with the release of Saturday Night Fever in '77, based on the New Yorker article "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," which purportedly documented a group of Italian-American men who were the kings of disco at the hottest club in Brooklyn.
Overnight, straight white America flocked to the clubs to get their fill of synthesizers and cocaine.
But it was all based on a lie. The New Yorker reporter who wrote the story, Nik Cohn, invented Tony Manero after one aborted night out at Brooklyn's 2001 Odyssey, where he was greeted by a bar fight and a stomach's worth of vomit on his pants and turned right back around and went home. He came back to find a man he'd seen watching the action from afar who intrigued him, but the dude wasn't there, and the other patrons weren't giving him much. "I made a lousy interviewer," he later admitted. "I knew nothing about this world, and it showed."
He'd already convinced the magazine to let him cover the disco scene, though, so he just made up a story about the character that existed mostly in his head based on some guys he'd known in the '60s back home in the U.K. It didn't seem like a big deal at the time, just a quickie he'd dashed off to pay the bills while he worked on a novel that he was "convinced was the most important thing," but then the story went the '70s version of viral and got turned into the movie that brought disco to the masses.
It should be noted that, at the time, the standards of journalism were such that it wasn't uncommon to fictionalize a story somewhat, so as far as Cohn was concerned, he was just Hunter S. Thompson-ing it up. But the damage was done: As disco became popular with cheesy uncles across the country, it also earned a swift backlash that put an end to some of the most popular clubs and even resulted in violent rampages like Disco Demolition Night in Chicago, where hordes of young men destroyed disco records and also Comiskey Park to prove their genital endowment.
Marginalized groups just never get to have fun.