Tina K. Russell

February 1, 2009

Of G-men and G-strings

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:22 pm

News: Local | “Morrisette plans to try new anti-strip club legislation” | The Register-Guard
SALEM — Sick of seeing Oregon cities stuck with no way to keep strip clubs out of their downtowns, state Sen. Bill Morrisette is asking lawmakers to consider allowing cities to decide where sexually oriented businesses can open up shop.

Morrisette, a Democrat from Springfield, said his hometown’s fight to keep strip club Shakers Bar and Grill out of its core inspired him to create the resolution.

Oregon’s Constitution protects sex shops as a form of free speech, meaning they may open in any commercial zone. Morrisette said he wants lawmakers to put before voters a constitutional amendment to give cities more control.

This idea has been bouncing around Oregon for-freaking-ever and I’m absolutely sick of it. If such a law were in place, segregating sex shops into specialized “seedy zones,” at what point would an establishment become a “sex shop”? What if a bookstore started selling too much erotica? What if a bar hired a belly dancer? And, as the article notes, what would become of strip clubs already outside of legislated no-strip zones? Would they be forced to move, or would they be grandfathered in? It looks like an overreach to me.

I think this campaign amounts to putting a delicate pasty on the exposed nipple of Oregon’s problems. Sex shops don’t exist in a vacuum; if men are lonely and want to pay for an extended cocktease, legislation isn’t really going to change that. What it will do is make the factors everyone complains about worse. Restricted to their own, sealed, self-reinforcing neighborhoods, sex clubs will hardly be able to overcome their own stereotypes of being single-minded, exploitative, and appealing only to men. It’s not going to matter that there are men and women who strip artfully and on their own terms, that exotic dancing is an art form that goes back over a hundred years, that erotica can be written gracefully and tastefully and read by perfectly intelligent people. If all “sex shops” are penned into erotic ghettos, it’s only going to magnify their worst aspects, as only the stereotypical clientèle will be unafraid to go there.

If anything is going to reform the Oregon sex industry, it’s, well, exposure. How will strippers bargain for better working conditions if the state has pushed their business out of sight and out of mind? If it’s true that sex clubs only attract thugs, how will it help to place them where only thugs would go? (How would someone intending to run a club well get the opportunity to do so?) And what of the soccer mom who wants a subtle book of erotica to pleasure herself with after she’s put the kids to bed? What of the college student who wants a vibrator to help her get through the stress of midterms? Why mandate that they would have to go to unsafe red-light districts instead of someplace downtown that might take them seriously? How could the culture of erotica be changed to serve everyone—to address its legitimate criticisms—if it’s mandated by government that it wallow in its own filth?

I should note that I don’t patronize sex shops, I’ve never been to a strip club, and I don’t read or watch pornography. I’m simply angry when any culture is attacked over legitimate concerns, and then forced to be unable to address them. For all I know, all of Oregon’s strip clubs are as bad as they say. What if somebody wanted to start a better one, though, with wider appeal, with different kinds of bodies, with more innate reverence for sexuality? Why limit them to an area where gathering a clientèle for such a place would be impossible?

Perhaps the best comeback to this sort of idea was on Michael Moore’s late-nineties TV show, The Awful Truth. One episode covered a New York City ordinance, under Rudy Giuliani, saying that all sex-related stores had to contain 60% non-sex-related items. (I’m not sure how well that ever did, or if it’s still around.) As a stunt, Moore and his crew set up a shop of their own, containing 60% Rudy Giuliani memorabilia and 40% sex toys. It was brilliant.

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