Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Naked women gots brains!

Strippers. Effing strippers. Why are they always in the news? Wait, no. That's not true – only some of them are always in the news. The white ones. The ones from upper- to upper-middle-class backgrounds. The well-spoken and well-educated ones. We NPR listeners prefer it if any stripper stories can include the tagline, "educated at a prestigious Northeastern university and author of the recently published book…"

Newsies love writing clich├ęd copy because it’s easy, recycling over and over again such tabloid-headline phrases as:

"Yes, she peels off her clothes for money, but no one forced her to do it!"
"She comes from a respectable family/background/university but she loves her job as a stripper!"

Examples? Diablo Cody, educated author and screenwriter. Viva Las Vegas, Ivy-Leaguer, author, Portland resident. Others I'm sure.

The problems with this kind of reporting are multifarious. First, spoiled, rich, hot young women shaking it for cash is not news. The only reason stories like this one get aired at all is because "stripper" is code for "hot twenty something." It gives usually staid news organizations, like NPR or the Washington Post, an excuse to run an attention-grabbing headline with the word "stripper" in it, and a full color photograph of the sexy authoress herself. They tell themselves it's legitimate news because she has published a book or written a mainstream screenplay. Their listeners or readers don't feel guilty for their fascination with said stripper’s tits because she comes from a background like theirs - white, educated and upper-middle. They're relieved of the class guilt they normally feel when they actually visit strip clubs. They can allay their shame by telling themselves that they are only jerking it to her because she is smart, dammit. The fact that she looks like a Barbie doll and would put her bare ass in your face for $5 has nothing to do with it.

Yeah fucking right. Viva Las Vegas has an Ivy-League education in anthropology. But she wrote a book about being a stripper. Great. Nothing new there - there's been a disturbing spate of popular stripper memoirs lately, with the Belle Du Jour series, Cody’s “Candy Girl,” and Lily Burana’s “Strip City.” I have no idea how good her book is, and I won’t because I’m not going to read it. But I do know this: Had she written a fascinating, well-written, entertaining yet informative book about anthropology, no one would be interviewing her on national radio, no matter how smokin’ she is.

It’s oh-so-avant-garde to feign surprise at strippers being intelligent or capable in some realm other than fellatio. How is it that the middle-school idea that being hot, or being naked, somehow negates any intellectual powers one might otherwise possess is such a widely-accepted idea that it needs no introduction? What the fuck kind of world do we live in? One run by pubescent boys? Oh, right. I forgot. Silly me.

What’s unfortunate is that there actually is an important news story that is being overlooked here. What could reporters possibly investigate about strippers that isn’t prurient, frivolous and insulting? They could start by interviewing the impoverished, oppressed women that make up the majority of sex workers. They are the ones who are forced into this degrading profession – not by their pimps or some oppressive, imagined overlord, (although that does happen, a lot,) but by their crushing lack of options.

The women featured in these light-hearted news stories are entertaining for a number of reasons, but partly because unlike most sex workers, they had some semblance of a choice – the choice to use their bodies to have a little ignorant fun, then use their pedigrees to launch their mainstream careers. Where are the stories of the women without choices – the poor, the drug-addicted, the ones who will never write books or talk merrily about how fucking empowering it is to take their clothes off for pasty, slavering perverts? The ones who are daily unreported rape victims, who will end up only as footnotes in police reports: “drug overdose,” “unidentified 40ish woman found beaten to death”?

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