Thursday, May 1, 2008

Chicago: Prostitution Looks Chic, But Truth is Ugly

Pretty Woman presented a glammed up version of prostitution, not the reality

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - The problem with much of the coverage of the Eliot Spitzer scandal was not just the pulp fiction-worthy headlines ("Bad Gal!" "The Love Gov!") or the endless loop of commentary about why married men cheat. It was that the media delivered a basic untruth.

This was not a love (or even a lust) story: The now-former New York governor wasn't stepping out on his wife with a consenting "other woman." His was an illegal and dehumanizing business transaction, one in which a man of great privilege purchased the sexual services of a woman of far more limited means.

But instead of treating Ashley Alexandra Dupre—who has said she was abused and once homeless—as a victim, the media have turned her into a vixen. Why address the oppression that is prostitution when we can serve it up as a form of sexual self-expression (or as a savvy career move) instead?

It's tempting to blame it all on "Pretty Woman," the wildly successful 1990 film that launched Julia Roberts' career, and the myth of prostitution as a way to get the guy (and the designer wardrobe).

But that film's wrongheaded celebration of the redeeming possibilities of sexual servitude seems almost quaint in comparison with the "Prostitution Chic" of today.

"Pimp and Ho" nights have become a staple at downtown clubs and uptown benefit parties. "Turning Tricks" pole-dancing classes are offered at Crunch Gyms.

Hit shows such as HBO's "Entourage" and "Cathouse"—where a Nevada pimp and his "girls" are portrayed as one big, happy, sexually uninhibited family—are an ode to the joys of being sexually serviced by women. The Top 40 success of the Pussycat Dolls—part predictable pop music, all bump and grind—has brought the burlesque back to the mainstream.

And here in the Windy City, the Discovery Center's Sex Tour brochure promises to take tourists to the "freaky and little-known locations of Chicago's sex industry."

The new vogue of voyeurism substitutes prostitution for the carnival freak shows of old. The trend is not unprecedented; respectable Victorians also took prostitution tours. But it reinforces the modern-day, market-driven perception that those working in prostitution are merely indulging their own bent for entrepreneurialism and sexual self-expression.

Make no mistake: Our cultural fascination with and glamorization of pimping and prostitution do not make for a kinder and gentler sex trade...


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