Jun 272016
 
Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

I’ve only been to New York City once in my life, on a family vacation when I was in my early teens during the notorious reign of Mayor David Dinkins. We stayed in a hotel on Times Square rising high above the debauchery below.

After we arrived, I ventured off briefly on my own to see a smattering of strip clubs, peep shows, purveyors of adult materials and the like. There was virtually nothing I could legally enter. I finally caught sight of a video arcade, which seemed wholesome enough. It was wallpapered floor to ceiling in pornography.

“Yup,” I mused. “This is the Times Square I’d heard about.”

Since my visit, I understand that Times Square has been changed. As Slate puts it, “[i]n recent decades Times Square has famously turned from a den of sex perversions and pornography into a mecca of family musicals and buying stuff for your kids.”

Put another way, Times Square went all the way from an “R” to a “PG” rating.

There are prudish elements in New Orleans who see Times Square as a model to be emulated. Earlier this month, erstwhile French Quarter Councilwoman Kristin Palmer began circulating an online petition aimed at reducing the number of strip clubs in the city by a whopping 65 percent.

“We believe that the existing number of strip clubs leads to an increase in overall French Quarter crime including violence, prostitution, lewd/improper acts, petty crime and drug dealing – and therefore does not promote the public health, welfare and safety of the City,” Palmer wrote in a Facebook post.

Palmer’s petition was preceded by a number of recent restrictions on strip clubs, ranging from a state law raising the minimum age for exotic dancers to 21, to a one-year moratorium imposed on new strip clubs in New Orleans earlier this year. The regulators seem to be cracking down.

Just this past Thursday, the hammer dropped. The City Planning Commission endorsed Palmer’s position, advocating a reduction in the number of strip clubs in the Quarter from 19 to 14. Rather than amortization, the number would be gradually reduced by attrition, with the city using code enforcement and other measures to force clubs to shut their doors.

The same treatment is intended for the four strip clubs operating outside of the city. Basically, except for one club per block face for seven blocks of Bourbon Street, strip clubs will be verboten in the City of New Orleans.

Predictably, this modern-day Puritanism has draped itself in the mantle of feminism. For her part, Palmer claims that strip clubs promote a “culture of abuse against young women.”

However, some of those same “young women” disagree and find Palmer’s patter to be patronizing. One comment to Palmer’s Facebook post from a self-described adult entertainer argued that “shutting down clubs will push women into the arms of sex trafficking when there’s an over saturation of the market and they have no place to go but to the streets or private parties.”

“We are capable adult women making our own choices, and I am against being treated like a subhuman incapable of making rational informed decisions for myself.”

This makes sense. Working in a regulated, brick-and-mortar establishment is better for the exotic dancers themselves than the unregulated alternatives. Unless Palmer would prefer the vices of an underground economy with a far greater capacity for abusive exploitation, it stands to reason that there are other forces at work here.

Let’s turn back to Times Square. With the closure of adult venues, a major new avenue for adult entertainers has been street performance. Topless woman called “desnudas” paint over their nipples and charge for photos with tourists. Predictably, nudity went out of the defunct strip clubs and into the streets.

This state of affairs was counter to New York’s vision for a family-friendly Times Square. Accordingly, the city passed new rules in April that just went into effect this month, rules that restrict all expressive activity in pedestrian plazas to certain very limited zones. Basically, the First Amendment is dead in Times Square outside of a few tiny spots of 400 square feet a piece. Outside of that, the NYPD will haul your keister to prison for doing or saying the wrong thing.

This is comically unconstitutional, of course, but New York doesn’t care. After all, they’re prudes fighting the scourge of smut. They’re not going to let people’s fundamental rights get in the way of that.

And here we come to the true motivations behind limiting strip clubs in New Orleans, and it isn’t civic-mindedness. It’s not because the city has too many of strip clubs – on a per capita basis, we don’t rank highly. It’s not for the sake of protecting women – forcing adult entertainers to go underground isn’t going to improve their situation.

No, the reason is control. The city wants to segue New Orleans from a freewheeling adult entertainment capital to the newest attraction at Disneyland, abetted in the meantime by a handful of well-established rent-seekers who see personal gain in shutting down their competitors. It’s a Faustian bargain between the repressed and the corrupt, and it’s happened before.

If you want to see the future of the French Quarter, go to Times Square. Just don’t make the mistake of stepping outside of your designated zone.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  • Bruce Crutcher

    Regulation of strip clubs:

    Are we talking about venues where men or women are specifically meant to sexually titillate customers? That’s the culture of the strip clubs… which flows out onto the streets as an exotic aspect to the famous culture of the French Quarter and New Orleans. Pushing the boundaries of “normal” is exactly what makes Bourbon St. so popular.

    One aspect of this issue is the legalization and regulation of sex workers — recognition of sex workers as legitimate and worthy of regulation, free health care and taxation.

    The other issue is simply the culture of the French Quarter. One lure that keeps visitors pouring into New Orleans are the strip clubs and other liquor-serving establishments that promote a sense of freedom to get inebriated and naughty.

    The folks that choose to LIVE in the French Quarter know going in that the Quarter is an exotic part of New Orleans. Not for raising a family. So get over wanting to turn the Quarter into family-friendly. It is exactly the non-family-friendly atmosphere that makes it so damn attractive to visitors from all over the world.

    Meanwhile let’s increase our tax revenues by legalizing and regulating sex workers.

  • TraveLAr

    I think the question comes down to whatever the facts are about the clubs being a continuing source of crime and trafficking at serious levels. If they are, I’d vote to restrict them. If they aren’t, then let them be.

    • Owen Courrèges

      TraveLAr,

      I think we ought to clamp down on individual businesses associated with crime, but not necessarily limit the overall number. Again, that just tends to drive everything underground and makes the problems worse. Moreover, it the alleged crime consists of low-level, non-violent offenses, I don’t think it ought to be a priority.

      • TraveLAr

        Yes, that’s the question that I don’t know the answer to… what’s the real level of crime connected with the clubs? Quarter disputes are always packed with anecdotal fact claims. When you read about murdered strippers though, it leaves an impression that is hard to change.

        • Bruce Crutcher

          Travelar,
          Thanks for your reminder that we have to address the crimes associated with the strip clubs. Having a manageable number of naked people clubs that can be reasonably regulated is appropriate. This would probably cut down on the crimes associated with the clubs — crimes other than solicitation.

  • david

    Agree, now let’s do something about the beggars.

  • Steven Podd

    Sorry Owen, your arguments do not hold water. I grew up in new York and moved to New Orleans three years ago. While I used to avoid Times Square if I could, because of the crowds, it is so much cleaner, and safer since the 90’s. You make it sound as if there are nude entertainment acts all over the street. This is totally false. In fact, the problems have been with people dressing up as Elmo, and other characters and superheroes with no regulation at all, hitting up unsuspecting tourists for money after a picture.
    Aside from The Naked Cowboy, who’s been there for any years, (and he’s not naked), Times Square is a much safer today than the XXX movies, street lowlife, drug dealers, porn shops, and peep shows that were ubiquitous in NYC for decades. These porn stars, prostitutes, and pimps often spilled into the streets too, far more than today.
    So if New Orleans can clean up it’s act a bit, I’m all for it. It will never be dignified but it can be safer, cleaner, and more in line with today’s values, especially the sexual explioitation of young women.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Steven,

      The new regulations that the City of New York just passed ban all street performances outside of a handful of 400 square foot areas painted blue. From what I’ve been reading, it’s not what you remember. As the desnudas became more prevalent, the city decided to take action earlier this year.

      While I understand that Times Square is “safer,” it also seems to be insanely regulated and sanitized to a degree that’s undesirable for New Orleans (and, to some degree, for New York as well). We’re an adult entertainment capital, and beyond that, I don’t think we want to engage in a scheme to create an artificial, sanitized version of New Orleans, especially when helping women is more of a false hope or pretense than a reality.

    • Hudson

      S POND-3 years in NOLA? Love advice from newly settled scolds.

      • Steven Podd

        How many years does it take for you? Or… never?

        • Hudson

          50

    • The Goat

      Bring Storyville back as those were better values than any New York or today’s values. It made Jazz and put the “fun” in funeral.

  • Hudson

    This is sickening. My city is disappearing. Tourism is cannibal-centric…Let’s just eat up what folks and tourists love about NOLA. Replace the old with Chain Biz and new hotels and Jim Garrison Land. Maybe someday we could attain the status of Branson MO.

  • Lachesis Ryder

    For Christ’s sake–how would I have paid for college if I couldn’t have been a stripper? Get student loans? Oh yeah that’s clearly a good idea. I feel sorry for these new younger women who won’t even get an opportunity to be naked to pay for tuition. There needs to be a way for young women to earn money since you people make everything else so expensive and complicated.

  • Kimberlee

    I think it’s wonderful now that everyone who is “pro-strip club” considers themselves to also be true feminists! Fantastic! So I assume that y’all are now also pro-choice, and we will finally get sex Ed in the schools! This is great news! Because women should be able to decide what happens to their bodies in and out of a strip club.