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Archive for October, 2011

Boys and girls of every age,
Wouldn’t you like to see something strange?
Come with us and you will see,
This our town of Halloween.
  –  Danny Elfman, “This is Halloween

Technically, the Celtic festival of Samhain (SOW-en) is tomorrow, November 1st, but its most important festivities began on the previous evening and, like so many pagan holidays, it was later transformed into a Christian holiday.  Many cultures traditionally honored their dead in autumn, but once the Church established All Hallows Day those other festivals (such as the Aztec festival for the goddess Mictecacihuatl, Queen of the Dead, which was originally held in August) shifted to the time of the official celebration.  Indeed, Pope Gregory III (731-741) even suppressed the earlier “Holy Martyr’s Day”, which until then was celebrated on May 13th – the old Roman festival of Lemuria, at which the restless or malevolent dead (lemures) were propitiated and exorcised from houses.  And though the Catholic Church later split All Hallows Day into two observances – All Saints Day on November 1st (dedicated to those in Heaven) and All Souls Day on November 2nd (dedicated to those in Purgatory) – October 31st retained its name of All Hallows Even…or as it is usually abbreviated, Hallowe’en.

This holiday has always held a special significance for me, and not merely because I was born 45 years ago tonight, nor because I lost my virginity 15 years later on this same night.  As I said in my column of one year ago today:

…I was always a strange and moody child…[and] Halloween…was a special, magical night not only because of the treats and the opportunity to get up in costume, but also because it was the one time I was allowed to run wild like the little witch I was, my tangled hair streaming behind in the chilly October breeze as I crept from house to house in the dark, always alone, making sure no other children were nearby to interrupt my solo appearance at each door.

Though we don’t see Trick-or-Treaters out here in the country, I always carve a Jack o’ Lantern and bake a Halloween cake, and we celebrate by watching a horror movie and reading a scary story.  But while you’re out and about today and you see all the commercialized, tamed and neutered symbols of this once-dark holiday, spare a thought for your ancestors and all Those Who Have Gone Before, and remember that since you and everyone else around you will follow them in the merest of moments (on the cosmic scale), death is nothing to be afraid of; what’s important is not when we die, but how we live.

Happy Halloween, Dear Readers, and Blessed Be!

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Ladies and gentlemen, I have a grave announcement to make.  Incredible as it may seem, both the observations of science and the evidence of our eyes lead to the inescapable assumption that those strange beings who landed in the Jersey farmlands tonight are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars.  –  Orson Welles

On this day in 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air broadcast “The War of the Worlds”, a radio play adapted from H.G. Wells’ then-40-year-old novel of the same name.  As you can hear for yourself, the play was cleverly structured so as to seem like news flashes were interrupting a music program; since the Mercury Theater had no sponsor (an atypical but not rare situation in 1938) it ran without commercials, thus lending a further air of verisimilitude.  I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone of the result of this realistic approach:  many believed the story of a Martian invasion and, predictably, panicked.  It’s become sort of a joke in the intervening 73 years; oh-so-clever modern Americans read about the events of that night and laugh at those “credulous fools”, those innocent yokels of a simpler time, believing in stories of invaders from Mars…even though many of these cosmopolitan sophisticates believe in tales of the government hiding alien bodies and devices in New Mexico and fantastic yarns of large fractions of the teen girl population spirited off into “child sex slavery” without anyone noticing.

There were a number of factors contributing to the panic, the most prominent of which was anxiety over the possibility of war in Europe; Germany had annexed the Sudetenland only three weeks earlier, and many were skeptical of Chamberlain’s claim that his policy of appeasement would produce “peace for our time”.  Not every listener caught the part about the invaders being Martian; some assumed they were Germans using some new scientific weapon (the heat ray) and the familiar scourge of poison gas.  One of the actors playing a government official “advising the nation” imitated president Franklin Roosevelt’s voice, and the lack of commercials and scant reminders that the show was a fiction (after the initial announcement, the next one wasn’t until the 40-minute mark) combined to make it all seem more real.  In one small town in Washington State, a power-station fault during the broadcast blacked out both electricity and telephones, thus coincidentally simulating the effect of a Martian attack.

Furthermore, media historians believe that newspapers anxious to make their increasingly-popular competitor medium look bad may have exaggerated both the extent and the seriousness of the panic; though it is estimated that about 1.8 million listeners believed the story was true and 1.2 million of them were genuinely frightened by the broadcast, most of them did nothing more than jam the telephone lines of police departments and CBS affiliates and/or later file lawsuits against the network for “mental anguish” (in those saner days, judges dismissed all of the claims).  There were a few incidents (such as the New Jersey farmer who blasted a water tower with his shotgun after mistaking it for a Martian tripod machine), but they were the exception rather than the rule.

Still, the fact remains that the first impulse of about 20% of the people who heard the broadcast was to overreact and to demand that authorities “do something” rather than simply verifying the reports by the simple expedient of changing the channel or calling newspaper offices when they couldn’t get through to the police.  When faced with horrifying claims announced by perceived authorities, almost a third of listeners credulously accepted those claims as true without even trying to check them independently.  And that, I’m afraid, hasn’t changed; when faced with patently ridiculous assertions from “authorities” that large percentages of the female population are raped or beaten by men every year, or that the entire country is infested with human-sacrificing cultists, or that nomadic hordes of tens of thousands of prostitutes follow major sporting events, or that almost one in 80 American girls is a “child sex slave”, or that the average sex worker is 13 years old, the reaction of many Americans is to believe without question and to repeat the outlandish tales without the slightest attempt at verification.

As in 1938, many people are anxious about an economic depression and fearful of violent invaders; they are distrustful of technology, worried about foreign influences and have blind faith in the statements of “authorities”.  But unlike the Americans of 1938, modern people are not limited to a small number of limited, unidirectional sources of information; we have literally tens of thousands of sources at our command, and we can ourselves initiate requests for specific information from those sources rather than being forced to wait for those on the other end to make announcements.  The audience panicked by Mr. Welles’ hoax had at least some excuse; the much-larger audience panicked by the neofeminist/governmental/rescue industry hoax does not.  And though the fantasy they have accepted is perhaps not quite as implausible as that of a Martian invasion, it has swept the country for a decade rather than vanishing with the morning light.

One Year Ago Today

Deadbeats” are those men who make appointments with no intention of keeping them, and so deserve to be choked by the Black Smoke or incinerated by heat rays.

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Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.  –  John Kenneth Galbraith

This column’s title is that of an H.G. Wells short story about a man who stumbles into a remote Andean valley cut off from the world for centuries; he finds that the inhabitants suffer from a congenital disease which destroys their eyes, so that after fifteen generations they lack even the concept of sight.  At first he believes the proverb which states, “In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king,” but quickly discovers that the inhabitants simply refuse to accept what he describes to them and instead conclude that he is an imbecile.  Dealing with trafficking fanatics is a lot like stumbling into the Country of the Blind; they have their own narrow and ignorant concept of sex work, and anyone who tells them the truth is treated as a fool, an idiot or a liar.  But the metaphor breaks down on one important point; while Wells’ blind tribe cannot see and have absolutely no knowledge of the sense, those who believe in the dogma that all prostitution is degrading and that no woman would do it willingly are perfectly capable of opening their eyes.  Wells’ villagers are hemmed in by cliffs on all sides, but prohibitionists have the whole world of information at their fingertips via the internet, yet choose to remain in darkness and viciously attack anyone who so much as describes the light.

On the evening of October 15th, a person calling himself “Kwontity” made the following comment on “Marching Up Their Own Arses”:

so, from what I gather from the article and from the comments (excluding the giggling posts about rectal maneuvers), you don’t believe in such things as “trafficking” or that women/girls required by their families to enter into prostitution are coerced into the field.  How about when parents sell their daughters?  Still perfectly ok?

I let the comment through, but since its biased viewpoint was obvious I altered the email address associated with it so as to subject any future comments to moderation.  The tone of the post (especially the snarky question at the end) led me to the conclusion that nothing I said would change this person’s mind, but I recognized years ago that responses to this sort of internet comment are not for the benefit of the person to whom one replies, but rather for others who are genuinely looking for answers.  Kwontity’s mind was clearly already made up, and it’s impossible to reason anyone out of a position he didn’t reason himself into.  But there may be other, silent readers out there who may genuinely not understand why I and others oppose the trafficking hysteria, and who may sincerely want an answer.  So for those people, I wrote the following response:

Like many people, you are pretending that sex magically makes everything different.  Women whose families pressure them into prostitution are NO DIFFERENT from those who pressure them into any other kind of work, especially in countries like Switzerland and Hungary where prostitution is legal.  If it’s “wrong” for a family to push a woman to do sex work, then it’s also “wrong” when she’s pushed to get an office job.  So is the average American man a “human trafficker” in your mind?  Because most men expect their wives to work nowadays.

Laura Agustín  has pointed out that while men who cross borders to work are usually labeled “illegal immigrants”, women who do so are called “trafficked”; that’s why there is the dual fallacy that most illegal migrant workers are men and most “trafficking victims” are women.  The truth is, they both cross the borders for the same reasons, but the paternalistic view of woman as helpless victim encourages women’s migration to be viewed as a separate phenomenon; this is exactly the same delusion which gave rise to the “white slavery” hysteria of 100 years ago.  I suggest you read my columns of June 22nd, 25th and 29th and also Dr. Agustín’s blog, starting with this reprint of an article from the beginning of the current trafficking hysteria in 2001.

Does actual, bona fide slavery exist?  Certainly, and it always has.  But the numbers are not “growing”, as alarmists would have it; it is now a very small phenomenon.  It’s just that sheltered middle-class white Westerners with silly beliefs about sex work and pie-in-the-sky notions of “fairness” refuse to understand that just because they can’t imagine themselves ever doing a certain job doesn’t mean it’s unthinkable for everyone, and in fact may be the best alternative.  Do I consider slavery morally defensible?  No, and I’ve spoken out against it in this blog many times.  But it’s ludicrous for you to define all animals as “human” in your own mind and then call me a cannibal for eating a hamburger.  I’m against real slavery (such as parents selling minor children), not against freely-chosen (if difficult) jobs that fanatics wrongfully define as slavery when in fact they’re nothing of the kind.

As I expected, Kwontity soon tried to post another comment, which I did not let through because, as I’ve said before, I reserve the right to exclude pugnacious individuals.  Here it is, exactly as submitted:

It’s eerie the way you read my mind without my making a single opinion known!  How do you know what i think?  Are you able to read all peoples’ minds as you have mine?  Let me test you:  What am I, a man or a woman?  What colour is/are my skin/hair/eyes?  Where am I from?  What is my age?  My race?  What Languages do I speak?

I asked a simple question and you used the opportunity to deliver some canned hash, a cut and pasted diatribe to thrill your vast readership, all but one dismissive half-sentence completely unrelated to what I asked.  But Ad hominem attacks like what you and your tiny tribe seem to relish just reveal the attacker as a disingenuous charlatan.  In fact, I doubt you even believe what you write since you certainly haven’t done any actual work to prove what you believe.  The truth no doubt is that you’ve always felt you were outcast from society for your lifestyle and now you just want attention so you flail your arms and honk ferociously and pretend a counter-culture outrage that you merely are pulling out your arse.  Since you obviously have no use for thought I’ll just wish you good day and you and your incestuous little group can masturbate each other in solitude, celebrating your moral victory over everyone who you feel has done you wrong.

This response makes it abundantly clear that he not only refused to consider anything I wrote, but apparently skimmed it rather than reading it.  He refers to a direct response as “canned hash”, and to links to full columns as “cut and paste”; surely he cannot have imagined that I would totally rewrite information contained in four of my columns on demand in a comment for the benefit of an obviously-hostile stranger?  And had I synopsized Dr. Agustín’s column rather than linking it, that would have been cut and paste.  I’m not sure where he sees ad hominem in my attack (perhaps the first line, since it seems to have incensed him), nor how he can claim that only “half a sentence” was devoted to answering him, nor how the research which has gone into almost five hundred essays constitutes no “actual work to prove what [I] believe”.  The only thing I can assume is that he thought to draw me into a grueling and unprofitable flame war, and was angry that I refused; that assumption is supported by this further attempt to bait me the next morning.  For full effect, reread the first paragraph of his reply above (starting with “It’s eerie”) and then the comment below:

You cherry pick comments and allowed yourself the last word on my previous post, so this message is just for you, “Maggie”.  I believe you were never a prostitute, that you are just a punter yourself.  Your understanding on the psychology of coercion and manipulation is so minimal as to be laughable.  Never heard of the Stockholm Syndrome, I suppose.  Or is that, too, bollocks and a hostage can get to know and love his or her captor?  Yours is the same reasoning self-serving, willfull ignorance of NAMBLA..

My magical Umbrella of Disguise.

Projection really is an amazing psychological defense against cognitive dissonance.  But I guess it’s easier to indulge in sleazy, sexist personal insults than to actually think or research (hints:  several other bloggers have met me in person, I’ve appeared on internet radio shows and there’s a subject index on this blog which includes the term “Stockholm Syndrome”) before making an ass of oneself.  Wise people exposed to proof that their preconceptions are wrong adjust their thinking, but fools expend that effort on rationalizing why their opponents cannot be right.

Since the “last word” seems important to you, Kwontity, please feel free to make one reply to this column (readers, I already informed him via email that this would appear today) and I promise I will not respond to it.  I can’t and won’t stop my readers from replying to you, though, nor will you get more than one comment for reasons I’ve previously stated.  I’ll stay completely out of the comment thread once you appear, except to answer direct factual questions from other posters.  But consider this a warning:  most members of my “incestuous little group” are both intelligent and well-informed, and if they aren’t afraid to contradict me (which I can assure you they aren’t), you may not like what they have to say about you.

One Year Ago Today

Whores in the News” reports on labioplasty, Spanish streetwalkers, Charlie Sheen’s meltdown, the FBI raid on Escorts.com and two very different articles on “sex trafficking”, the second of which Kwontity really needs to read.

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Where there is no imagination there is no horror.  –  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Scary Movies” is the name of my one year ago today column, but it’s about the interaction between porn and escorting; I did do a short piece on vampire sex workers as part of October Miscellanea, but since I really love horror movies, I think we’re long overdue for a discussion of them.  Before we start I should mention that slasher flicks aren’t horror; yes, I know that video stores stock them with horror and movie companies often stamp “horror” on the boxes, but that’s about as valid an argument as “the sex offender registry is not a criminal penalty because it is housed in an administrative agency, not in a court office or in an agency charged with carrying out punishment.”  Slashers are actually more closely related to porn than horror; both genres grew out of the exploitation films of the 1950s, which featured both gratuitous sex and gratuitous violence.  Those in turn were essentially cinematic Grand Guignol, whereas true horror began as filmed “ghost stories”; the former are theatrical, while the latter are literary.  Expressed another way, slasher films are designed to shock the body via intense imagery, whereas horror intends to shock the mind via terrifying ideas.  Of course some movies encompass elements of both; Alien (1979) and the original A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) come to mind, as does Prince of Darkness (discussed below).  But for me, that’s always an uneasy mix which only a masterful director can pull off.

The four “scary movies” I remember most strongly from early childhood are The Birds (1963), The Blob (1958), Gargoyles (1972) and It Came from Outer Space   (1953); considering that three of these are considered classics and I can still recognize the horror in them (though it’s outweighed by silliness in The Blob), I think it’s fair to say that I had pretty discerning tastes from at least the age of six.  After discovering the Hammer, Amicus and American International libraries I realized I would enjoy almost anything with Vincent Price, Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, then about age 12 I inherited my great-grandmother’s ancient Motorola cabinet set, just in time for the debut of a local Friday-night series playing all the old Universal horror classics I had read about but never seen; soon Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Claude Rains joined their successors in my estimation.

When I was 17, a new local TV station signed on the air; it played the syndicated Movie Macabre series (hosted by Elvira) at 8 PM Saturday and followed it with FOUR other horror movies for an all-night fright-fest I watched religiously every week; if a boy wanted to spend Saturday night with me, he had to understand there would be no hanky-panky unless one of the movies was crap.  And some certainly were, but a lot of others weren’t, and by the time their programming changed a few years later I had probably seen as many horror movies as it was possible for anyone my age to have seen in those pre-home-video days.  By then I noticed a common thread in everything that really affected me; though I might enjoy a film or story for other reasons, the ones that actually succeeded in scaring me (and there weren’t many) were always those in which the phenomena were unexplained.  The more a movie or tale explains the scary goings-on, the more of a handle is provided for my rational mind and the farther the pre-rational monkey-brain recedes into the darkness.  But if the events are sufficiently mysterious, unpredictable, bizarre and inexplicable, my reason is confounded and the naked savage within is stripped of her defense against terror, helpless in the face of the primeval Unknown.  If I find myself jumping at shadows after a movie, I consider it a good one.  And if it actually disturbed my sleep, it’s on the list below (arranged in reverse chronological order).  Some of these aren’t as scary the second time, but all feature images, concepts or implications which burned themselves into my brain and will never, ever go away.

1)  The Ring (2002)  Some say the Japanese-language original, Ringu, is better, but I think the subtitles would distract me from those horrible, incomprehensible images on the cursed videotape.  The most horrifying aspect is the absolutely motiveless malignancy of the villain.

2)  The Woman in Black (1989)  An extremely atmospheric, spine-tingling story of a malevolent ghost who haunts a small English seaside town. This British TV movie is extremely difficult for Americans or Australians to get ahold of, but well worth the trouble; some scenes are literally terrifying.

3)  Prince of Darkness (1987)  Would have been a better film without the gratuitous gore and a few silly moments which ruin the atmosphere for some, but the ideas strongly affected me and what seemed a throwaway bit of mood-building eventually gave birth to a revelation that poisoned my sleep for days.

4)  The Shining (1980)  Stanley Kubrick’s masterful manipulation of the spinal nerves yields some of the scariest scenes ever committed to celluloid, but the most terrifying moments of this intensely claustrophobic film are not the most obvious ones.

5)  Phantasm (1979) is a very strange, disconcerting look at a young teenage boy’s psyche using fairly conventional horror-movie elements in an original and bizarre fashion. The existence of inane sequels does nothing to rob the original of any of its power to frighten.

6)  Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)  A made-for-TV creepfest directed by John Newland (of One Step Beyond fame) which expertly plays with childhood fears of nasty, dark little places and nasty, dark little creatures that get people.

7)  The Exorcist (1973)  Floating beds and floating images, scenes that couldn’t be filmed today and moments of pure chaos utterly horrified audiences in 1973; try to forget about the satires and see it as though for the first time.  Often imitated but never equaled.

8 )  Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) This film dares to begin with the last scene, and it doesn’t remove one iota of the suspense.  A creepy old town, a maybe-crazy woman and a maybe-vampire keep the viewer’s skin crawling.

9)  The Haunting (1963)  Robert Wise directed this classic and still-terrifying adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, in which psychic researchers investigate a house that was “born bad”.

10)  Curse of the Demon (1957)  Very subdued, very atmospheric and very, very scary. Even the eventual on-screen appearance of the demon does not ruin this film’s understated creepiness.

As I said, though, I can enjoy a horror film even if I’m not really frightened by it; here are my ten favorite horror movies (excluding those on the list above), also listed reverse-chronologically:

1)  The Thing (1982) As faithful an adaptation of John W. Campbell’s masterful “Who Goes There?” as one could wish for; the Antarctic setting, the Lovecraftian monster, the escalating paranoia, and the knowledge that even one fragment of the invader could doom the whole world…brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

2)  Theater of Blood (1973) This isn’t scary at all; in fact it’s more black humor than horror.  Vincent Price and Diana Rigg ham it up in a lesser-known companion piece to The Abominable Dr. Phibes.  I also dearly love Roger Corman’s The Raven (1963), but that doesn’t even pretend to be horror despite the presence of Price, Karloff, Peter Lorre, Hazel Court and a very young Jack Nicholson.

3)  The Wicker Man (1973) See “New Film Reviews”.

4)  Horror Express (1972) Christopher Lee (in a rare heroic role) and Peter Cushing battle a horrible monster (which is much more than it seems) on the Trans-Siberian Express in 1906.  Deserves to be much better known.

5)  Quatermass and the Pit (AKA Five Million Years To Earth) (1967) The third and finest of the Quatermass series; British science fiction often has undertones of horror, but in this little gem it isn’t content to stay an undertone.  Has a similar flavor to the best Dr. Who episodes, but without the humor.

6)  Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) The best of the Amicus anthology titles, with five stories connected by a frame.  Lee and Cushing lead an excellent cast for good creepy British horror fun.

7) The Night Walker  (1964)   Barbara Stanwyck is a woman whose dreams become so real she can’t tell them from reality…and then they turn into nightmaresWilliam Castle’s magnum opus, written by Robert Bloch and featuring a fantastic harpsichord-based score by Vic Mizzy (who composed the Addams Family theme just afterward).

8)  The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) One of the rare sequels which surpasses the original, and that one is an all-time classic.  If you haven’t seen this movie since childhood, watch it again.  Trust me.

9)  The Black Cat (1934) Lugosi is the tragic hero and Karloff the devil-worshipping villain in one of my favorite movies of any genre; this is the greatest of the Karloff/Lugosi collaborations and arguably the best of the Universal horror classics.  It’s spooky, creepy, pre-code sexy and extremely memorable.

10)  The Mummy (1932)  Unlike the title character in later mummy movies, Karloff’s character is not just a robot; he’s an evil sorcerer who returns from the dead to find his lost love.  There are some genuinely frightening moments and an ending which could never have been filmed once the Hays code took effect in the summer of ’34.

Pleasant dreams, dear readers.

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Fantasy consists in a morbid fascination with unrealities, which secretly transforms itself into a desire to make them real.  –  Roger Scruton

One year ago today I published “Good Fantasy, Bad Reality”, about a Missouri case in which Ed and Marilyn Bagley were accused of torturing a young woman in extreme BDSM activities; the Bagleys say the activities were consensual, a view supported by several witnesses.  Were these people twisted monsters, inexperienced dominants who overstepped their bounds, foolish kinksters who failed to recognize that their sub was mentally disturbed enough to betray them under the influence of her family, or some combination of the three?  No matter what happens in court, the truth may never be known because it’s a sure bet every single person involved – defendants, alleged victim, witnesses, cops, prosecutors and even “expert witnesses” – is going to lie in an attempt to sell the jury his own version.

From the viewpoint of the American media, the truth isn’t even important; lurid fantasies of “trafficked sex slaves” are much more interesting to the hoi-polloi than Rashomon realities, so you can bet that any story involving prostitution or BDSM (or both, as this one does) is going to do its level best to make the “criminal” look malevolent and the “victim” look helpless.  Nowadays this is generally accomplished by claiming she was either a “child” or “mentally handicapped”; it was both in this case, and the cops in the Maurice and Toni Johnson case invoked both by claiming the alleged victim “functions on the level of a 10-year-old”.  But when neither claim is remotely credible, the yellow journalist can always fall back on “economically disadvantaged”, and if the so-called “victims” have brown skins and cross an international border to work, our reporter has hit the racist, paternalistic jackpot.  Women from developing countries can be portrayed as childlike, unsophisticated and economically disadvantaged, thus denying them agency and setting the stage for benevolent Americans to “rescue” them.  The truth, of course, is that most of them neither need nor want to be “saved”, and patronizing American demands that they be robbed of a livelihood “for their own good” show exactly how out of touch with reality politicians, moralists and neofeminists actually are.  And that’s what makes this two part-article by USC sociology professor Rhacel Salazar Parrenas (which appeared in Business Week on October 12th and 13th) so very satisfying:

A decade ago, the U.S. government determined that apart from terrorism, the gravest threat to democracy in the world was human trafficking…congressional hearings focused attention on what was said to be the forced labor, debt bondage and coerced migration of 800,000 individuals, 80 percent of whom supposedly were women and children, throughout the world…[and especially] in the sex industry.  The hearings culminated in…the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000…[which] requires the U.S. Department of State to submit to Congress an annual…Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report — describing the efforts of foreign governments to eliminate human trafficking.  A country that fails to take significant actions receives a “Tier 3” assessment, which can trigger the withholding of…assistance from the U.S.

According to the 2004 report, Filipinas who work as hostesses in clubs in Japan constituted the world’s largest group of sex-trafficked persons, making up more than 10 percent of those 800,000 victims.  They were identified as trafficked under the assumption of their “sexual exploitation”…After being placed on the Tier 2 Watch List, a deeply embarrassed Japan imposed new visa requirements and a more rigorous screening process for migrant entertainers from the Philippines…the number of Filipina hostesses…fell 90 percent, from 82,741 in 2004 to 8,607 in 2006.  This…poses a setback to the emancipation of women.  It has stripped thousands of migrant women of their livelihood, forcing them to stay at home, often in impoverished conditions…In a nine-month study in Tokyo in 2005 and 2006, I interviewed 56 Filipina hostesses and worked as a hostess myself.  None of the hostesses I encountered wanted to be rescued from their employment.  Most found that migration had made them breadwinners in their families, a position that granted them decision-making power and earned them the respect of their kin.  In some instances, participating in commercial flirtation allowed them to challenge conservative norms that limited the acceptable sexual activities of women.

…Filipina hostesses…perform sex work in that they titillate customers via commercial flirtation, [but not all] “sex work” is…“prostitution.”  It encompasses a wide array of services including flirtation and stripping — in addition to prostitution…For the most part, no one coerced my fellow hostesses to work in Japan.  They were not drugged, taken on planes and trapped in clubs.  No one lied to them or explicitly told them they would only be singing and dancing onstage.  This is not to say that migrant Filipina hostesses do not face serious problems.  First, middleman brokers who arrange for visas, transit and job placement charge high rates upfront, subjecting hostesses to what amounts to indentured servitude.  Once in Japan, hostesses cannot legally change clubs.  Because being undocumented is a crime, those who are fired and remain in Japan become dependent on their next employer and on other Filipinos who may exploit their vulnerability by withholding wages or overcharging them for housing.  Still, migrant Filipina entertainers see servitude abroad as a much better option than their other choice of immobility in the Philippines…

Regular readers will recognize not only Laura Agustín’s point that migration for work is nearly always freely chosen even when the conditions of employment are less than ideal, but also my mantra (and that of other vocal whores) that being paid for sex is empowering and being denied the right to be paid is harmful.  The second part of Parrenas’ article is longer and goes into detail about the clubs, so you may be interested in reading it in full.  But I want to call attention to this part:

…[At] first…I…struggled to meet hostesses willing to participate in my study of their conditions.  My visits to clubs as a customer had not provided any solid leads…Even hostesses whom I befriended had always declined my request for an interview.  I had assumed that they had experienced emotional distress from the stigma associated with their occupation.  I had come to Japan believing claims by other academics that “hostess work” was a euphemism for “prostitution”…[but] after I began working as a hostess, every person I approached agreed to talk to me…I had entered an unfamiliar sexual world…[which] has been condemned…for “crimes against humanity.”  Japanese hostess clubs…have been labeled by the U.S. Department of State as hotbeds of sexual trafficking…women are not just endlessly harassed, but supposedly also held against their will, forced into prostitution and made victims of sexual violence by lecherous Japanese men.  What I discovered, in fact, was that these women come to Japan voluntarily and gratefully, knowing what their jobs will be.  Very few engage in prostitution, and if they do, they do so willingly…hostesses view themselves as modern-day geisha…

This is a very important passage because it demonstrates the critical problem with the “rescue industry”; as long as “rescuers” remain outsiders, forcing their own ignorant and patronizing judgments on sex workers, they remain dangerous nuisances to those they claim they want to “help”.  Only by entering their world and sharing their experiences can feminists hope to understand sex workers…and once they do, the scales fall from their eyes.

…the “dohan” [paid date]…requires that a hostess spend some time with a customer outside the club…[and] guarantees at least one hour with the hostess inside the establishment…Most hostesses do not think a “dohan” harms them; they told me it was unlikely to mean coercive sex, though it might involve voluntary prostitution…hostesses on a “dohan” are sometimes envied, because they are often taken to a Filipino restaurant.  Yet the U.S. State Department cites the “dohan” as an indication that Filipina hostesses are sexually trafficked in Japan…[which] prompted Japan…to reduce the number of visas for Filipina hostesses by 90 percent.  Anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution crusaders counted this a triumph.  But no trafficking and very little prostitution was stopped, and 81,000 Filipinas lost their livelihoods.

Unsubstantiated claims of the forced prostitution of Filipina hostesses are morally charged, and divert attention from the need for regulation and protection of sex workers.  For Filipina hostesses, the goal should be job improvement, not job elimination.  What’s needed are laws to prevent abusive behavior by middleman brokers…Hostesses don’t need to be rescued.  They need the empowerment that comes from being independent labor migrants.  Only then can they remain gainfully employed…and have full control of their own lives.

Parrenas arrived in Japan believing prohibitionist dogma, and left a wiser woman who is now in a position to do sex workers some real good by speaking out.  She found that more than 10% of all women labeled as “trafficked” by prohibitionists are nothing of the kind; does anyone doubt the same can be said of most of the other 90%?

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Why waste your life working for a few shillings a week in a scullery, eighteen hours a day, when a woman could earn a decent wage by selling her body instead?   –  Emma Goldman

When I first wrote the column entitled “Welcome To Our World” back in January, I had no idea I would find so many examples of spurious, paternalistic arguments against people doing as they like with their own bodies; since then, however, I find them all the time.  The latest is this October 11th article from Reason which addresses claims that paying women for their eggs is somehow “exploitation”:

…Researchers announced that they had created stem cell lines  using human eggs for the first time.  The goal of this research, funded by the private non-profit New York Stem Cell Foundation  (NYSCF), is to create stem cells that could be transformed into tissues and organs for use in transplants and other procedures where a perfect genetic match greatly increases the chances of success.  In this case, the researchers added the nuclei taken from donors’ adult skin cells to unfertilized human eggs.  The stem cells they produced this way contain three sets of chromosomes rather than the standard two…while these triploid cells are therapeutically useless, the researchers believe that studying them will lead to breakthroughs that will enable them to produce transplantable cells some day.

Heretofore, researchers have been able to produce cloned stem cells for lots of different animals but not for humans.  One reason for this difference is that animal eggs for use in stem cell research are much more plentiful than human eggs.  Why is there a shortage of human eggs for research?  In part, because bioethicists endorse…guidelines that forbid paying women more than their expenses for donating eggs for research.  (In contrast, women are free to sell their eggs for thousands of dollars for use in assisted reproduction.)  Fortunately for the NYSCF researchers, New York changed its regulations in 2009, allowing researchers…to obtain 270 eggs from 16 women [by paying them] $8,000 each…a Columbia University fertility clinic…paid the women…in advance and…only asked [them] after harvesting to choose between directing them to either reproductive or research purposes.

Nevertheless, many bioethicists agree with the NAS prohibition and still oppose paying women for their eggs…Marcy Darnovsky…of the Center for Genetics and Society…[said] “We should not put the health of young women at risk, especially to get raw materials for such exploratory investigations”…[and] University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Jonathan Moreno worries that the new stem cell research gets into “paying-for-organs controversy”…Judy Norsigian [of women’s health group, Our Bodies, Ourselves] agreed, “I do have some very serious concerns about such wholesale solicitation of young women for their eggs at such very attractive prices.”  The main risk that women run is…[that] the ovaries become swollen and fluid can leak into the [abdomen]…one woman actually produced 26 eggs.  [But] a [current] review of the medical literature…finds that the risk…is very low…[and] when proper precautions are taken into account the risk…is “diminished even further to almost zero.”

Stony Brook University bioethicist Brooke Ellison and preventive medicine professor Jaymie Meliker note that many opponents of egg buying argue that poor women would disproportionately subject themselves to this risk.  After reviewing the…data, they conclude the risk…“does not appear to be so great as to warrant policies preventing women from donating eggs.”  They also point out lots of activities that society encourages people to undertake including participation in clinical trials and some forms of manual labor are far more risky than egg harvesting.  Note also that another recent study estimated that the risk of death from ovarian hyperstimulation is between 1 in 45,000 and 1 in 500,000, comparable to your lifetime risk of dying of a lightning strike (1 in 80,000).  These mortality estimates are based on an earlier version of the treatment.  Newer protocols cut the risk even more.

So if risks of selling eggs for research are not all that great, why is there so much opposition to it?  Ellison and Brooke mention in passing the possibility of “the existence of paternalism in denying women the right to donate their eggs if they so choose”…“The only difference between providing oocytes (eggs) for reproduction and providing oocytes for research is that only the former can be compensated,” observe [bioethicists Kathryin Hinsch and Robin Fiore].  They add, “Since fears of commoditization and exploitation apply equally to both, the ban on compensation for research oocytes can only be explained by the politics of stem cell research.”  There is a whiff of paternalism wafting off the statements of Darnovsky, Moreno, and Norsigian against allowing women to sell their eggs for research.  If the risks of producing eggs for research are, as recent data suggest, minimal, then surely Hinsch and Fiore are right when they assert:  “It is actually prohibiting payment that is exploitative of women:  not paying them fairly for their time, inconvenience and risk, and their contribution to financially rewarding science.”

Regular readers will recognize the insultingly patronizing notion that poor women are too stupid to make reasoned decisions of risk vs. gain, the crypto-moralistic insistence that anything involving sex is different from anything not involving sex (nobody seems to have any ethical problems with paying for donated blood), and the neofeminist dogma that paying a woman for any service which only women can perform constitutes “exploitation”.  But Hinsch and Fiore are correct, and their final statement is as applicable to prostitution as it is to egg donation; it is indeed the prohibition of payment to women for their time, inconvenience and risk which is inherently exploitative.

One Year Ago Today

October Miscellanea” reports on several topics appropriate for the season:  a death, an exhumation, 1950s horror comics and vampire whores.

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Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers,
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue.
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there.
  –  Paul Simon, “The Boxer”

One year ago today I published my second column featuring songs about whores, and after it and my other columns on the subject (September 4th, 2010 and 2011 and September 5th, 2010) a number of readers named their own favorite songs on the subject.  So today I’d like to feature those songs, picked by you; interestingly, each song is about a different type of prostitute.  We’ll start out with what has to be the most famous song about a Creole streetwalker ever, suggested by Sailor Barsoom:

Lady Marmalade (Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan)

Hey Sister, Go Sister, Soul Sister, Go Sister
Hey Sister, Go Sister, Soul Sister, Go Sister

He met Marmalade down in Old New Orleans
Struttin’ her stuff on the street
She said “Hello, hey Joe,
You wanna give it a go?”

(refrain)Mmm Gitchi Gitchi Ya Ya Da Da
Gitchi Gitchi Ya Ya Here
Mocha chocolata Ya Ya
Creole Lady Marmalade
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

He savored her cool while she freshened up
That boy drank all that Magnolia wine
On the black satin sheets where
He started to freak

(refrain)

Seeing her skin feeling silky smooth
Color of cafe au lait
Made the savage beast inside
Roaring till it cried, “More, More, More!”

Now he’s at home doing 9 to 5
Living his brave life of lies
But when he turns off to sleep
All memories creep more, more, more

(refrain x 2)

The best and best-known version was the second one, a hit for Patti Labelle’s self-named girl group in 1974.  It was produced by the legendary Allan Toussaint and the backing band is The Meters, whom regular readers may remember from my column “They All Axed for You”.

Our next selection describes an underage prostitute in London, and was suggested by Comixchik:

Cross-Eyed Mary (Ian Anderson)

Who would be a poor man, a beggarman, a thief —
If he had a rich man in his hand?
And who would steal the candy from a laughing baby’s mouth
If he could take it from the money man?

Cross-eyed Mary goes jumping in again.
She signs no contract but she always plays the game.
Dines in Hampstead village on expense accounted gruel,
And the jack-knife barber drops her off at school.

Laughing in the playground — gets no kicks from little boys:
Would rather make it with a letching grey.
Or maybe her attention is drawn by Aqualung,
Who watches through the railings as they play.

Cross-eyed Mary finds it hard to get along.
She’s a poor man’s rich girl and she’ll do it for a song.
She’s a rich man stealer but her favour’s good and strong:
She’s the Robin Hood of Highgate — helps the poor man get along.

(repeat third verse)

(repeat second verse)

The lyrics are a bit vague, but we can tell a few things for certain about Mary:  she’s no runaway because she goes to school, and she’s clearly independent (despite internet commenters who imagine they see a pimp somewhere in there).  She doesn’t charge very much, doesn’t use protection (“jack-knife barber” = back-alley abortionist) and seems to be in “the game” more for the kicks rather than for the money.  It has been suggested that the name “Mary” is specifically meant to be a reference to the Madonna because several of the songs on the Aqualung album are critical of organized religion, but Anderson insists that it is not a concept album despite being widely regarded as one.

A different type of urban hooker appears in our next song, suggested by Dean Clark:

Hey, Big Spender (Dorothy Fields)

The minute you walked in the joint,
I could see you were a man of distinction,
A real big spender,
Good looking, so refined.
Say, wouldn’t you like to know
What’s going on in my mind?
So, let me get right to the point,
I don’t pop my cork for ev’ry guy I see.
Hey, big spender, spend…
A little time with me!

Do you wanna have fun…?
How’s about a few laughs…?
I can show you a…good time…
Do you wanna have fun…fun…fun?
How’s about a few laughs…laughs?
I can show you a…good time…
Let me show you a…good time
Hey, big spender…
Hey, big spender…

The minute you walked in the joint,
I could see you were a man of distinction,
A real big spender.
Good looking, so refined.
Say, wouldn’t you like to know
What’s going on in my mind?
So, let me get right to the point,
I don’t pop my cork for every guy I see.
Hey, big spender,
Hey, big spender!
Hey, big spender!
Spend…a little time with me…!
Fun…Laughs…Good Time!
Fun…Laughs…Good Time!
Fun…Laughs…Good Time!
[spoken] Hows about it, Palsy?…Yeah!

As in “Private Dancer” (discussed in my last song column), this song and the musical in which it appears (Sweet Charity) use taxi dancing as a metaphor for prostitution and the dance hall as a metaphor for the brothel; indeed, the musical is based on Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957), in which the heroine is openly portrayed as a prostitute.

The ladies in our first three songs, and indeed in most songs about whores, are urban.  But the subject of our next selection, suggested by Rapid and Dr. Sarah on two different columns, lived in a small rural town:

The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp (Dallas Frazier)

(refrain)  Oh, the path was deep and wide
From footsteps leading to our cabin
Above the door there burned a scarlet lamp
And late at night a hand would knock
And there would stand a stranger
Yes, I’m the son of Hickory Holler’s tramp

Yeah, the weeds were high, the corn was dry
When Daddy took to drinking
Him and Sally Walker, they up and ran away
Then Momma shed a silent tear
And promised fourteen children
I swear you’ll never see a hungry day

When Momma sacrificed her pride
The neighbors started talking
But we were much too young
To understand the things they said
All we really cared about
Was Momma’s chicken dumplings
And a goodnight kiss
Before we went to bed

(refrain)

When Daddy left and destitution
Came upon our family
Not one neighbor volunteered
To lend a helping hand
So just let ‘em gossip all they want
She loved us, and she raised us
The proof is standing here
A full grown man

Last summer Momma passed away
And left the ones who loved her
Each and every one is
More than grateful for their birth
And each Sunday she receives
A big bouquet of fourteen roses
With a card that reads
The Greatest Mom on Earth

(refrain)

The song was a hit for O.C. Smith in 1968, and was covered by Kenny Rogers in 1977; it’s one of a small group of whore songs which are not only positive, but defiantly so, asserting that the harlot is morally superior to those who would judge her.  Our last selection, suggested by Ornithorhynchus, falls into that category as well; it is not about any specific type of prostitute but rather about all of us as a group:

Sweet Cream Ladies (Jon Stroll and Bobby Weinstein)

Sweet cream ladies, forward march
The world owes you a living
Sweet cream ladies, do your part
Think of what you’re giving

To the lost and lonely people of the night
Out of need, they seek direction for their life
They will love you in the darkness
Take advantage of your starkness
And refuse to recognize you in the light

Sweet cream ladies, forward march
Think what you’re providing
Sweet cream ladies, show your starch
What’s the use of hiding?

Tell the socialites to look the other way
It’s instinctive stimulation you convey
It’s a necessary function
Meant for those without compunction
Who get tired of vanilla everyday

Sweet cream ladies, forward march
Puritans ignore them
Sweet cream ladies do their part
Sweet cream men adore them

Let them satisfy the ego of the male
Let them fabricate success to those who fail
And should penalties pursue them
When there’s really credit due them
They might keep a simple fellow out of jail

Sweet cream ladies forward march
Sweet cream ladies forward march
Sweet cream ladies forward march…

I had never heard of this 1968 Box Tops hit before, so I’m really glad it was called to my attention; I think it may be the only song which goes beyond a positive portrayal of one prostitute or a sort of accepting tolerance of our whole profession to declare that we serve a vital social function and should be proud of ourselves.

Thanks to everyone for the great suggestions!

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