Alcohol, Strippers, and Fried Chicken: Thoughts on Exploitation (Part 1 of 3)

Strippers and Fried Chicken

The fall semester at Felician started up again this past Wednesday, and as usual, I’m teaching a lot of ethics and critical thinking. Once again, my Phil 250 ethics class (now called “Making Moral Decisions”) starts out with a unit on sex, and moves from there to units on drugs, money, criminal justice, and a final hard-to-characterize unit on virtue ethics (centered on the virtue of honesty). Since we start the semester with (a unit on) sex, I once again have sex on the mind. (I don’t mean to imply that I only think about sex at the start of every semester, though it increasingly seems that way.)

I’m sitting here in my office on a hot, hazy Sunday afternoon. I’d forgotten to bring something to eat, so around lunchtime, I decided to amble off campus to get something. I hate driving, but everything on campus is closed, so I was gratified to discover that someone had bought the run-down deli a few blocks from campus and turned it into a fried chicken joint. Fried chicken makes for an enormously unhealthy meal, but hey, it’s convenient, and if “justice is the first virtue of social institutions” (as Rawls says), surely buying locally is one of the first requirements of justice (says the zeitgeist). Who can resist a tasty, $5, fifteen-minute combination of convenience and do-gooding–with a brisk walk both ways to walk off the calories?

I can’t, even on the basis of reasoning as weak as that, so I headed straightaway to the chicken place, placed my order, gave the guy my Visa, and was waiting for the receipt, when I decided to strike up one of those inadvertently philosophical conversations that don’t quite go the way you expect them to.

Irfan: So how’s business?

Chicken Guy: Oh, pretty good, pretty good.

Irfan: So are you getting business from the College at all?

A bit of background is in order here. Felician College’s main campus sits on South Main Street in Lodi, New Jersey. It’s the very opposite of a college neighborhood, or, truth to be told, any kind of neighborhood. Basically, it looks like this:

And this:

And this:

Not exactly Hyde Park, Ann Arbor, or Providence.

It’s not just that it’s ugly as hell (though it’s that), but that it’s a mini food desert. Setting aside the chicken place I just mentioned, in order to find a place to eat, you either have to eat in the College’s cafeteria, or when it’s closed (which it often is), you have to drive north or south of campus for the purpose. There’s nothing that’s quite walking distance.

Part of the motivation behind my second question was my expectation of a “yes” answer from Chicken Guy, which I then intended to parlay into optimistic thoughts about the transformation of the neighborhood. In other words, I thought he’d say, “Yes, business is booming, and it’s all because of the College, just as my market research foretold!” That would imply that the chicken place was an oasis in the food desert, and might also suggest the prospect of more neighborhood-revitalizing businesses to come. But that wasn’t what I got.

Chicken Guy: Yeah, we sent some flyers out to the College, and we got some business, but the real business comes from the strip club.

Irfan: Mmm-hmm (Socratic irony at work).

Chicken Guy: Yeah, they pay in cash, in singles [laughs]–but it’s all good.

Irfan (weak smile, followed by weaker chuckle): Yeah…. (deep Socratic irony at work).

Chicken Guy: I’d say most of our business comes from the strip club. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

Irfan (weak smile now starting to crumple a bit): Wow, yeah.

Chicken Guy: They sure eat a lot of chicken over there!

Not sure whether “they” referred to the strippers or their clientele (or both), and didn’t ask. Socrates would have asked.

The “strip club” is Twins Go-Go bar down the street, just past the College. They actually advertise as being “Right Next to Felician College,” though in fairness they also advertise as being next to the DMV. Feel free to visit the site, but be informed that its iconography is not exactly safe for work, though I suppose that depends on the kind of work you do. You might also want to turn down your speakers, as the site opens to what sounds to me like a high decibel cross between Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio” and a Middle Eastern cut from “The Rough Guide to World Music.” (I actually kind of like it.)

Some useful information:

Club Type: Bikini Bar
Dancer Ethnicity: Mixed
Dance Prices: 20
Drink Prices:
Daytime Cover: 0
Nighttime Cover: 0

Hours:
Mon -Thurs: 12:00pm – 2:00am
Fri-Sun: 12:00pm – 3:00am

Who could argue with those hours, those prices, or that commitment to racial integration?

More:

Features: Beer and Wine, Full Bar, Lunch / Sandwiches, Dinner / Full Menu, Non-Smoking, DJ, Bikini Dancers Only, Bikini Lap Dances, Private Lap Dance Rooms

I like the “non-smoking” touch. Question: does the menu includes non-GMO options?

Here’s a comment on Twins from a patron who’s been a member of The Ultimate Strip Club List discussion board since 2003. He’s reviewed 37 clubs and written 67 reviews, so I’m guessing we can rely on his testimony*:

April 14, 2015 • I’ve been an on-again/off-again customer here since before the restoration. Girls this last trip out were better looking, but still a bit stand-offish. Was there for half an hour, no one stopped by to chat other than the usual dollar parade.

I think we can all empathize with the writer’s disappointment, but the hard fact is that one can hardly expect a bunch of working girls to interrupt work to chat with clients for free: there is, after all, no pro bono publico requirement in the sex industry. Incidentally, I’m guessing that “the restoration” has nothing to do with Oliver Cromwell or the Stuart kings. I’m also guessing that the name “Twins” has nothing to do with the Minnesota baseball team of that name.

My favorite passage from the website comes from the “Employment” page, which says forthrightly:

Photos Required for All Positions Except Bouncers.

I get the rationale, but it still seems ad hoc.

Anyway, I now feel very ambivalent about the chicken place–not quite ambivalent enough to stop buying there altogether, but ambivalent enough to wonder how I myself would feel if I opened a fast food joint and discovered that it was being kept in business by servicing a strip club. And ambivalent enough to have a certain presumptive aversion to going back, without quite having a principled reason not to.

I don’t know about you–and I’m interested in others’ impressions here–but if I learned that my business was surviving because it was servicing a place like Twins, I think I’d want to pack it in right there and close the shop. I don’t mean I necessarily would pack it in, all things considered, but I’d be strongly tempted to. As a general proposition, what’s depressing is the thought that the survival of one’s business might, through the vagaries of supply and demand, depend in an essential way on exploitation–and, though I know this is controversial, Twins seems to me a near-paradigm example of exploitation.

The fundamental issue, of course, is the ethical status of exploitation (and its facilitation). A secondary issue is whether sex work counts, or characteristically counts, as exploitative. Anyway, that’s the set of thoughts I’d like to explore in the next few posts. Is my reaction to Chicken Guy merely an idiosyncrasy of my prudish and mildly feminist temperament, or is there some universalizable ethical issue here rooted in the wrongness of exploitation? I’m sure Chicken Guy would have said “the former.” And I have a feeling that many PoT readers will, too. But I say the latter. More soon.

—————————

*The Default Rule for Testimony, from the SEP entry on “Epistemological Problems of Testimony“:

If the speaker S asserts that p to the hearer H, then, under normal conditions, it is correct for to accept (believe) S‘s assertion, unless H has special reason to object.

It seems to me a non-trivial question in applied epistemology to figure out how this rule applies in the present context.

4 thoughts on “Alcohol, Strippers, and Fried Chicken: Thoughts on Exploitation (Part 1 of 3)

  1. Is your concern with the *way* Twins-Go-Go is set up (i.e. location, exclusively gender-driven) or is it something generally applicable to strip joints on the whole? I can’t see what’s wrong (assuming wrongness is being tracked here) with the former. From a mild feminist and (modest) deontological perspective I can see what’s wrong with the latter.

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    • The latter, I think, but I’m not sure I fully understand your first option.

      I think there’s something wrong with strip clubs generally; Twins is just a typical, representative example of a generally exploitative phenomenon. So that sounds like option 2. But it’s not an accidental feature of the exploitative character of strip clubs (or pornography, etc.) that they’re exploitative of women. So my objection is somewhat gender-driven (I guess), which sounds like option 1.

      I don’t mean, of course, that there are no male strippers or pornography, etc. Nor do I mean that different normative standards apply to men versus women in moral judgment. I mean that if you take the phenomenon of strip clubs as a whole, it’s so overwhelmingly focused on the satisfaction of male heterosexual desire that exploitation of women becomes its (contingently) salient feature, and the rest fades into relative non-salience by comparison with that.

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  2. I think a great deal of the trouble I have with strip clubs is that their clientele’s orientation toward the women who work there is not sufficiently different from the orientation that the chicken place’s clientele have toward the chicken they eat there. I’m not sure I should condone the objectifying reduction of chickens to mere instruments for the gratification of appetites; I’m sure not cool with the reduction of people to that status. So I’d share your inclinations in this case, though I don’t think I’d avoid patronizing the chicken place solely because it profits from the strip club; I think I’d avoid it because I’m not a huge fan of fried chicken.

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  3. Pingback: New Blogger: Hendrik Van den Berg | Policy of Truth

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