Hookers, happy, golden-hearted, or otherwise
I have been failing to follow the whole Belle du Jour/Brooke Magnanti story, out of disinterest — which, given the subject of my novel, might be surprising, but really isn’t. At some point, you realize that following the unreliable and probably self-serving stories of former prostitutes, strippers, and porn actresses isn’t likely to lead you to any kind of understanding, so you stop reading them.
And at some other point, you read this stuff anyway. So I found myself today considering the statement that the former Belle du Jour “misses being a prostitute,” because apparently this empowering experience was good for her self-esteem; her alter ego “had a confidence she has never enjoyed.”
That might lead you to believe that prostitution, for today’s empowered call girl, really isn’t so bad. Or it might lead you to believe that slipping into a phone booth to become Supercallgirl actually would be hard for Clara Kent to leave behind — if only she was sufficiently messed up.
Or it might lead you to believe neither of the above; you might instead wonder how big the advance will be for her inevitable memoir.
You might well wonder at our fascination with these stories. But Elizabeth Renzetti in the Globe has the answer to that: “the call girl with a brain of pure titanium” is simply the latest iteration of the good old hooker with a heart of gold.
It’s what we want to believe — which is why Steinbeck’s treatment of prostitution in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday is ultimately sentimental, where the same in East of Eden is not. But what we want to believe most, we can trust least.
Which is my problem with the notion that any of this is “empowering”: it’s too convenient, too self-serving — and too well aligned with everyone’s interest. I suspect the producers of Girls Gone Wild enjoy the notion that removing your clothes for money is empowering. But there’s a reason strip joints have to import dancers from overseas when the economy is booming: people don’t do these jobs when they feel they have a choice.