Maybe it’s just me and I need to get out more, but there was something about the news that an international prostitution ring had brothels on Colorado Avenue right here in our blue-sky-kites-flying town that made me sad and surprised.
The sadness is default when you read that women were lured into coming to the United States from Eastern Europe to first pose for “provocative pictures” and then be guided into prostitution. But then when you learn that two apartments in our town were used as brothels for several years, you kind of wonder if you’ve been curious enough about what might be happening in your own neighborhood.
While out walking my dog, I have observed some comings and goings in my own corner of Santa Monica that led me to believe some of my neighbors were selling drugs. The people involved appeared to be lightweights; as “dealers” they made better candidates for the touring stage version of “Glee.” But it was still curious when at one point the cops appeared to be searching their SUV. I like to think that a modicum of my own journalistic instincts would have kicked-in and caused me to figure out if a brothel was operating nearby.
To the credit of the Santa Monica Police Department and special agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, arrests were made and as of now it appears several of the key organizers are in custody. Still… prostitution… brothels… here?
I suppose any naiveté I had about nefarious goings-on in Santa Monica should have been slapped off my face like a pair of cheap sunglasses when legendary homicidal Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger, the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” was discovered one year ago today to be living comfortably in an apartment in the 1000 block of 3rd Street after being on the run for almost a decade. Maybe I really should have gotten hip years ago when former Mirror editor and Santa Monica lore expert Peggy Clifford first regaled me with the material that crime novelist Raymond Chandler harvested from Santa Monica, or “Bay City” as he referred to it in his books. A little research indicates that nobody really knows why Chandler specifically referred to Los Angeles and its landmark locations in his hard-boiled stories, yet seemed to be protecting Santa Monica from taint with the “Bay City” alias.
Maybe, like me, he didn’t want to let himself believe that bad things happen every once and while in our quiet beach community.
The word “prostitution” has become something of a modern-day profanity. We encounter severe instances of people acting purely for financial gain and we allege they are “prostituting” themselves. But rather than clarify our reactions, that often just confuses the picture. See if this tracks for you: Hip hop performer Nicki Minaj wears highly exotic costumes and wigs that reference what we might call a “hooker aesthetic.” She attempts to shock middle America (and put some gas in the engine of a stalled CD) with a rambling and confused lip-synched performance on the Grammies that invokes a good deal of Catholic imagery, to which those who might be offended could at least shout “strumpet!” Then she appears in a highly produced TV commercial to sell Pepsi. My question: In which particular instance has she “prostituted” herself?
There used to be some definition found in the term “sex worker,” which came into vogue not that long ago. That nomenclature, and don’t hold me as an expert on these matters, seemed to equalize the vulgarity or banality of a person who was “an exotic dancer” with yet another who appeared in pornographic films. Yet as we note time and again here in free and fabulous Los Angeles, sex workers in porn aren’t hookers or prostitutes; they’re “stars.” Stars who write books and go on to appear in Hollywood feature films.
A while back this column took the Sears stores to task for their product line deal with the Kardashian women. I’m still not exactly certain what it is the Kardashians are selling but it certainly doesn’t align with, say, ice skater Dorothy Hamill or Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, to cite role models of another time. There have always been “pin-ups” for men, but there was some sort of fusion point at which overt sexual allure became an accepted trait in role models for women. By the way, Kim Kardashian appears in a self-marketed porn video conveniently available online. So we can reasonably add “sex worker” to her resume, if not the resume you might get from the PR department at Sears.
I’m definitely not pining for a world where all role models are cut from Disney cloth, or even being hopeful that we’ll never again see something as predatory and reprehensible in our city as this recent prostitution ring. What I’m closing with is this brilliant insight: Some things are much worse than others. We may throw around words like “whore” or “prostitute” to express our disappointment in a world where it often seems everyone is breathlessly competing for attention any way they can get it. We need to remember that prostitution, the old-school ugly and cold hard business of women servicing men for money, not only continues to operate in our 3-D cyber video clip synthesized “hot” experience world… it’s just been right here in our town.