Monday, July 21, 2008

Miss Nude Michigan

I've been writing like mad on the porn project lately -- a look at neighborhood and feminist organizing to move adult businesses out of neighborhoods in South Minneapolis. They wanted to free up the corners of the commercial strips abutting their neighborhoods so that when local folk -- particularly women -- walked by they would not be harassed, grabbed, or mistaken for prostitutes.

I was thinking about this a bit in terms of my own city when I took the kids to the Crossroads Summer Festival on Friday. O and I rounded the corner onto Washington Street from Pearl Street and there on Deja Vu's marquee was "Congratulations Miss Nude Michigan!" Firstly, I was amused. Go ahead. Think of how to explain to a 6 or 9 year old why someone would crown a Miss Nude Michigan and why a theater would celebrate it. Silly humans, we are.

Anyway, this juxtaposition of the city's free on-going summer music festival and a strip club has got me to wondering. Why doesn't anyone make a fuss (especially considering how hard some people -- like those in S. Minneapolis in the 1980s -- worked to get rid of just these types of businesses)? Is this the part of the city that downtown business owners (who fund the festival) want to show off?

There are several things going on here, no doubt. The street is in the center of downtown, but just off the main drag, so it can be closed every Friday without creating traffic issues. The drug and prostitution trade of the city are not located there (go around the corner and up the block to the bus station for that). The owners work very hard to promote their club in conjunction with a piano bar and sports bar, all of which make up, according to their radio commercials, the city's "entertainment district." Also, from what my scouts tell me (rather than link to them, I'll let them chime in in the comments section, if so inclined), this club is pretty mild, friendly, and clean compared to what we might have. Finally, some local residents take pride in our seedier side as something that sets us apart from the "snooty" college town to our west.

For all of that, what is sticking my mind as I compare my city today to South Minneapolis "back then" is the trajectory of the larger area. Even though my city's downtown has plenty of open storefronts, a hodge-podge of old (hair salons, liquor stores) and new (coffee shop, art gallery) businesses, and a healthy drug and prostitution trade going on nearby, the attitude of the business owners and the city's powerbase is that we are headed in the right direction. That kind of boosterish optimism allows us to "embrace" the "diversity" of (legal) offerings downtown.

South Minneapolis, in the 1970s and 1980s, did not have much optimism. There had begun a marked downward slide at the tail end of the 1960s and the perception a decade later was that the neighborhoods were on the verge of being overrun with poverty, pimps, and drug dealers. In that kind of atmosphere, the adult bookstores and theaters served as useful targets of their frustration. They had a permanent location, they were subject to building codes, zoning laws, and licensing requirements, and the staff was far more likely to call the police on you if you protested than pull a gun.

Somewhere in all this are connections between perceptions of women's safety in public space, tolerance for controversial pursuits in public places, and economic trends. Okay, time to pull that article out and get back to work.