Saturday, March 22, 2008

BEEP in America

If you're like me and your body reacts to even a few vacation days with the idea, aha, time for a cold!, then perhaps you also stayed in and caught Diane Sawyer's two-going-on-ten-hour exposé on Prostitution in America. If someone created drinking game tied to the number of times the phrase "girl-next-door" was uttered, even the most enthusiastic frat boy would end up with alcohol poisoning. That, and just about every other possible cliché, kept the show as revelatory as one might expect. After learning how prostitutes are generally impoverished and non-white, we spend a whole lot of time watching blonde, white, formerly middle-class girls-gone-bad. Still, the show had its highlights, which were:

1) The bleeping-out of every word relevant to prostitution: Every time oral sex came up (and did it ever!) one got to hear a loud BEEP meant as a stand-in for "blow-job." It boggles the mind to understand what parent is letting his kid watch this show, but is so worried about the dear child's innocence that he won't allow for such obscenity.

2) The "graphic" nature of the proceedings: There was one graphic scene, and it involved an abandoned house which did not have a proper bathroom, and that's all I'll say, because it's not something to dwell on. Anyone expecting non-blurred nudity, or non-blurred faces, for that matter, was presumably disappointed.

3) The sanctimonious, tragic nature of Diane Sawyer's intervention: Clad in proper, non-hooker-esque clothes, she pleads with these prostitutes, in a motherly tone, reminding them of how they have so many other options in terms of jobs, when let's just have a guess, they don't. She asks one especially strung-out young blonde about her dreams from her previous life, and it turns out she studied music (score one for the humanities!). So Sawyer asks the woman to sing, and she does, leading me to make the in-bad-taste suggestion that she not quit her night job. Unless after the show Sawyer in some practical way hooked these women up with career possibilities, the remarks about their other options rang false. The women shown were society's down-and-out, and prostitution was clearly just part of a larger problem including drug addiction and mental illness. At the end of the show (and again, I plead illness for having watched it to the end) Sawyer quotes the New Testament, about how he who has not sinned should cast the first stone. Between that and the Hasids among the crowd of men arrested for soliciting prostitutes in Brooklyn, whatever faith anyone watching had in organized religion should be just about gone.

4) "Pretty Woman": For one, forgettable, movie, the Julia Roberts feature is given credit for quite a bit of 21st-century decadence. It's clear enough from this show (or from just thinking about things for a second) that women charging $10 for sex from truckers would not be in law school but for the glamorization of prostitution in that movie.

5) Is a woman who receives expensive gifts and money from a few wealthy lovers a prostitute? A mistress? An opportunist? One woman--whose identity is hidden, and whose story, we learn midway through, is not corroborated, so really why even comment...--claims this is her situation. And the question is, well, so? Once we go down this path, who isn't trading sex for money? The classic NYT Weddings pairing of the former kindergarten teacher marrying the investment banker? A couple with any income disparity whatsoever? Is the issue whether payment is per act? I'm confused, but I guess the test is how concerned Diane Sawyer appears when she hears the scenario described.

6) Big surprises! The best-selling prostitute at a Nevada brothel is a dead-ringer for Pamela Anderson. Prostitutes come from broken homes. Pimps are abusive. Men like big breasts and bleached-blond hair. Prostitutes live fast and die young.

The only genuine surprise, which I'd already learned of amidst the Spitzer nonsense, was that men pay for something called a "girlfriend experience." There's something kind of amazing about on the one hand the many women desperate for male attention, buying books on how to subtly attract boyfriends, and the fact that there are men willing to pay out their salaries to bedraggled drug addicts who will, for as little as ten minutes (according to the show) pretend to be their girlfriends.

No comments: