Topless women in Times Square have their bodies painted to retain a bit of modesty and offer to let tourists take their photos with them for money. That can cause a lot of problems as the opportunity to see a topless woman for free is quite alluring (strip clubs are quite costly and a Dad can’t gracefully lead his family to have lunch in one).
But the idea that’s been circulated by the mayor is to actually demolish the Times Square pedestrian plaza, and this idea is lunacy.
As a rule, topless women should be encouraged. Sure, they attract a lot of idiots and earn the disapproval of prudes, but that can be managed. The Naked Cowboy became a Times Square attraction and was quickly copied by more than one Naked Cowgirl. The painted women are not much more revealing than those performers.
There’s definitely a need to regulate the crowds and keep a sane amount of these kinds of solicitation performers to a minimum. When every unemployed landscaper and his brother decided they could rake in cash by being Elmo, chaos ensued. Police put limits on costumed characters. If they have to do something similar with the topless women, so be it.
But don’t do away with the pedestrian plaza. That would be incredibly stupid. The solutions to the overabundance of performers is to put limits on them like has already been done with the people wearing large costumes. A permit-based system is used by the MTA in the subways to make sure there aren’t too many subway musicians making too much noise.
Closing the pedestrian plaza in Times Square would be an admission that the city is one of decay and hopelessness again. I remember when the city was like that and while we may want to romanticize and glorify the past, we don’t want to return to the pre-Giuliani New York, trust me.
New York prided itself on cleaning up and turning itself around. Times Square used to be a notorious place full of criminals, drug addicts and the homeless. Theaters that were once beautiful were run-down porno houses. When Disney announced they were going to be putting a store in Times Square in 1995, cartoons depicted Disney characters passed out drunk or dead with syringes sticking out of their arms. But no one would think that now. Times Square is probably one of the safest places in the city.
Doing away with the current Times Square isn’t a solution to any current problem. It’s what people who can’t or won’t do what needs to be done. When there was too much crime in Central Park, we didn’t pave over Central Park.
The pedestrian plaza in Times Square was created because of the success in cleaning it up. Walking through Times Square used to be an even worse nightmare than it is today because you were dodging crowds on sidewalks that were not built to accommodate that many people. Driving through was no picnic either as jaywalking pedestrians held everything up.
Now Times Square is still an overcrowded hellhole, but not to tourists. If you’re a New York resident trying to get somewhere, you generally already avoid Times Square like the plague anyway during regular waking hours.
Here in New York City, strip clubs have been regulated nearly to death, and the bell tolls for many of the survivors today. According to the New York Times community groups throughout the city have waged a war of attrition against strip clubs by petitioning the state liquor authority to take away the nudie bars’ liquor licenses and deny new strip club applicants the right to sell alcohol. That has been shuttering numerous strip clubs throughout the five boroughs.
It’s a sad commentary on society that strip clubs fail when they lose their liquor licenses. Topless women should trump alcohol. If you are a man who can’t enjoy the sight of a topless woman without a drink in your hand, you are either a deeply troubled closeted homosexual or a deeply troubled drunkard. But the lack of a liquor license is a revenue killer for the clubs, which makes a larger share of its money on alcohol than on the entertainment.
It also bestows an extra level of apprehension on the part of a customer considering going to a club. Strip clubs are sleazy places as it is, one that can’t get a liquor license will lose even non-drinking clientele.
The Giuliani administration started this foolishness with zoning restrictions on strip clubs that drove many to either move or go out of business. The new rules instituted by Giuliani limited the distance a strip club could be from a school or church. I’ll wager a lap dance at the Clermont Lounge that churches do more brain damage and aid in more sexual deviance than strip clubs.
I am not a frequent visitor to strip clubs. They are overpriced and your time and energies are better spent on trying to see a woman naked for free and privately. But there are some occasions where strip clubs are appropriate. A bachelor party without a stripper is like a wedding without a bride (Yes, I know that many gay weddings don’t have brides, but I guarantee you that plenty of gay bachelor parties have strippers).
There are certain times when the strip club is the logical place to go, when it is OK to live life at its most honest and primal and to do so without apology. It is nice to be in an environment where it is polite to stare at women’s breasts.
But even if you despise strip clubs and wish they would all fall into the sea, you must at least recognize their right to exist. I don’t like that there are Starbucks on every other street corner. I think that our neighborhoods would be better if we started putting the zoning crunch on the churches rather than the strip clubs. Churches don’t pay taxes like strip clubs do. But things I don’t like have the right to exist.
Banishing strip clubs is not only puritanically foolish and extremist, it is wantonly cruel towards people who earn their living there. Even ignoring the argument of what kind of mouth-breathing reactionary hates the idea of looking at naked women, what kind of heartless jackass wants to throw hundreds of people out of work out of some smug self-satisfied sense of righteousness?
End the war on strip clubs.
In June of 2000 I went to see Penn & Teller on stage at the Beacon Theater in New York. Being a big Penn & Teller fan, I bought tickets as soon as I could and got a really good seat for the show. When I was there, I was impressed that I was one row in front of Al Goldstein, editor of SCREW magazine and one of the people in my mind who embodied New York City better than anyone else.
Goldstein was dressed in cutoff jean shorts, hiking boots, and a red, white and blue sequined jacket. He had gorgeous woman on his arm that looked to be a 20-year-old porn star.
Years later I made a flier for the punk band I play in that featured Al with his middle finger extended, which was how he was often photographed. I emailed him a copy of the flier and he emailed me back saying it was wonderful. That made my day.
Goldstein was one of New York City’s great public personalities, one of the outspoken people who come to represent New York and its spirit. Much in the same way Ed Koch came to represent New York among the celebrated and in polite society, Al Goldstein represented the city’s gritty edge and its always sarcastic and sometimes obscene sense of humor. He was an overweight, cigar-chomping loudmouth who ranted against New York’s many annoyances as vehemently as he skewered the Philistines from both the left and the right. At the same time he never lost his sense of humor about himself.
We recently lost Al Goldstein. He died on Dec. 19 in a hospital and probably not under a pile of naked women like he would have preferred.
Growing up in New York, I would often see Goldstein on talk shows and news segments when he was often called upon to defend pornography. When I moved back to New York I was happy I could see his show Midnight Blue on cable access television. Al Goldstein was a ubiquitous advocate of enjoying sex for its own sake and being unashamed of it. He was overbearing and bombastic, but his case just made plain sense and went like this: Wanting to have sex is a very natural thing that has kept the human race going for millions of years, why be ashamed of it or think it is bad? I’m a man, why shouldn’t I enjoy looking at pictures of naked women? Pictures of vaginas in my magazine aren’t bad because vaginas aren’t bad. Fuck you if you don’t like it.
Do you enjoy looking at tits in magazines or on the Internet? Thank Al Goldstein. He had been fighting for the right to publish his magazine before it was cool. Those days are mostly behind us in America. Except for rare cases that continue to be egregious and terrifying for free speech, porn is everywhere now and the government can’t stop it. But our access to porn today is because of the efforts made by Goldstein decades ago, often at great personal risk. It’s hard to believe in these days of celebrated promiscuity that people could actually be threatened with jail for publishing naked pictures in magazines. Goldstein was one of the first to do battle for those freedoms and he did it years before more celebrated personalities like Larry Flynt.
Lawsuits and bad business decisions left him homeless and destitute. Penn Jillette, recognizing the debt Americans owe to Goldstein, often helped him financially. Later in life he did express regret for some of his excesses. He was estranged from some of his family. He admitted to his faults and realized his mistakes, but never wavered from the blunt personality that made him essential.
Al Goldstein embodied New York City not because he published pornography, but because he fought for his right to do it and lived a life that was bold and unapologetic.