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Strip Club Ennui

The first and perhaps most immutable truth about strip clubs is that they are utterly full of sexuality and completely devoid of love.

Some time ago I went to Las Vegas for my brother’s bachelor party, and while there we attended a strip club, my first visit to such an establishment.

It was my first visit to a strip club because, theretofore, I had never seen any need to patronize such a place; furthermore, I saw no need to patronize it while I was within it, and after leaving I saw no need to patronize it further. It was an astoundingly miserable experience, a fact conceded by all of the members of our party, my bachelor brother included. None of us is built for strip clubs, and I am unconvinced that anyone can be truly “built” for such a place; in any event, we did not derive from the visit the type of enjoyment one is “supposed” to derive from it, which I think is supposed to be a low-grade sexual frustration counteracted by a low-grade erotic satisfaction. I am not sure. Strip clubs seem to me to defy most logical categorizations, as least as far as I am given to know logic and categorization.

To be fair, there appears to be a distinct logic to strip clubs, which on its face leads to them being easily-categorized—namely, that they are places where one pays to see naked women or half-naked women dance. There is nothing surprising about such a business model, at least in the sense that it is one that makes money, and quite a bit of money, selling cheap entertainment. In that it is best equated with a fast-food restaurant: a place selling relatively-inexpensive, unhealthy pleasure for a large profit. It is quite an overt scheme. But like a fast food joint, a strip club is ultimately unfulfilling and unsavory. There is, to my knowledge, nothing redeeming about it. That was my feeling before going to the strip club, and I left the strip club feeling the same way.

Stripper Truths

As I said, none of the men in our small bachelor party were predisposed to truly enjoy the strip club experience, if it could be appropriately called an experience. We all knew what we were doing, and we knew why what we were doing was so odious. But my brother believed that one should go to a strip club during one’s bachelor party, out of tradition or perhaps something closer to ritual. And so we went. “You are not,” he told me beforehand, “going to have fun at this place, even though people say you will. It will be an uncomfortable experience, and it will be awkward.”

It was. On the outset, we had to pay a fairly exorbitant fee to enter, and in addition to the fee, we had to stamp our fingerprints upon our sales receipts—a process that felt as if we were visiting a prison instead of an adult entertainment establishment (perhaps there is an equivalence therein). Upon entering we were treated to the sight of numerous half-dressed and fully-naked women dancing around stages and upon poles. The place was full of patrons, most of them men, staring hungrily at the dancers and languidly tossing dollar bills upon the stage when the dancers performed as the patrons liked. Women in lingerie walked around the club floor, frequently stopping and asking patrons if they would like to have “some fun,” which meant, I think, a private dance or perhaps sex in a private room. There was no alcohol on the premises, but there was lots of soda and other caffeinated drinks, and there was lots of tobacco. The music was very loud, and it was unpleasant to listen to, chiefly because it was so loud. The building smelled like stale perfume and the little air fresheners that people hang from their car’s rear-view mirror. I was at once unnerved upon entering; I was immediately struck by an indistinct feeling of hopelessness, an emotion capable of stopping anyone in his tracks.

We reserved a “private” table, by which was meant a table in the middle of the club and private to nobody. We all sat at it, and I began to grow both bored and hopelessly miserable, two feelings that have rarely coincided in my experience. We were there for just under two hours, and in that time I observed several truths of strip clubs that, so far as I know, hold fast across the spectrum of all strip clubs.

Loveless and Joyless

The first and perhaps most immutable truth about strip clubs is that they are utterly full of sexuality and completely devoid of love. I say they are full of “sexuality” in the sense that the strippers of these places are doing sexual things, or they are doing things that are nominally sexual, such as undressing and dancing seductively. In practice the dancers are less sexual and more funereal; they do not perform their bestowals with the verve and the joy that imbues true sexuality and makes it good. Their dances are gloomy and without much conviction. And the reason, I think, is because they do it without love.

When I speak of “love,” I mean romantic love, and I speak of it in the way of which I have come to understand it, which is a deep and abiding connection between two people which is largely unaffected by exterior pressures or external affairs. Good and true love does not seem to sustain itself by being concerned with anything other than itself, and with the basic tenets of love by which it is governed—fidelity, trust, sweetness, good humor, and a pure and unaffected desire to do what is best for the other. Of course none of these things are present in a strip club, because the strippers are concerned with none of these things; they are concerned with a business model that rests upon an exchange of money for an exchange of services, a relationship antithetical to any working framework of love. One does not buy one’s meat from the butcher out of romance.

They would begin by making small talk, asking where I was from, what I did for a living, what my hobbies were. They would also put their hands on my knees, caress my feet with their own, lean their faces close to mine and smile seductively.

Then, too, you cannot readily or easily separate love from sexuality, at least not without reducing both of these things to mere abstractions instead of concrete entities. Sex or sexuality without love is a paltry satire of the real thing, for sex is, or is supposed to be, the incorporeal sentiment of love embodied in the indisputable authenticity of the flesh. You can separate the two, but the results will be uncomfortable and unpleasant—akin, in fact, to the gimcrack mockery of sexuality that was on display as the strippers danced around piles of dollar bills, a mockery so potent that one could feel it.

One could feel it, I say, and quite literally–for in addition to the “entertainment” upon the dance stages, there were strippers that, as a rule, came around to the various tables and propositioned patrons for private dances. They would begin by making small talk, asking where I was from, what I did for a living, what my hobbies were. They would also put their hands on my knees, caress my feet with their own, lean their faces close to mine and smile seductively. They would also, most jarringly, grab my crotch and squeeze it—every stripper did this while propositioning me, and every stripper did it in exactly the same way. It was an aberration of any kind of sexuality that I had experienced up to that point. It was devoid of any of the feeling, the ardor and the pureness that I had come to expect from such a gesture; it was not merely devoid of it, but an active and relentless contravention of it. From the lovers I have taken, I have known such a signal to mean real passion, and sweet affection, and a kind of promise that is replicated nowhere else in my life at any time—an assurance of a desire that no two other people have exactly shared in the same way. My lovers, in short, have shown me a desire in totality unique to me, in the same way that my desire for them has been in totality unique to them. When the strippers laid their hands upon me in such a fashion, it smacked of, and was unquestionably, unremarkable. It had been done dozens of times hours before me, and would be done dozen of times hours after me. Their only concern was how much money they could draw from me in the course of their job; and their job was faking a sexual desire in order to draw money from me. It was a puppet show of the worst sort, for it corrupted a thing that should be, in practice, not corruptible, or at least not corrupted.

That was my first impression of the strip club—after the baffling and dismaying entrance, that is—and it cemented in my head some ironclad certainties about strip clubs in general, namely: that they are unhealthy places, that their business model is built and based upon an unhealthy framework of values, and that nobody, so far as I can tell, really enjoys the experience of going to a strip club.

The term “nobody” includes everybody in the strip club at any one time. Most of the dancers cannot possibly enjoy it, for they are performing a gross caricature of sexual desire for greedy patrons who listlessly throw money at them as they dance. There is nothing apparently gratifying in it; any pretense one holds of art, of seductiveness, or of coquettish flirtation is quickly dispelled when one enters a strip club. A strip club concerns itself not with fantastical burlesque; its activities are not even comparable to Salome dancing for illicit favors. For the most part a stripper’s dance is a sad, tired caricature of sensuality, and afterwards the dancers get down upon their knees and hurriedly scoop up the paper money that has been thrown at them. The patrons continue to look at their naked bodies as they do this.

The bouncers, too, are almost certainly disgusted with their jobs, or at least hopelessly bored and frustrated with them. The bouncer at such a place is charged with making sure that the licentious patrons do not grab, or touch, or sexually assault, the strippers that the patrons have come to see. He works in an impossibly loud, smoky, unpleasant environment, he must be universally regarded as the wet blankets to the fun of those who come to watch, and his job offers no mental or emotional stimulation whatsoever, unless he derives any joy from hustling an overeager spectator from the joint.

It could be argued that what they desire is, in fact, merely to watch the dancers take their clothes off and gyrate seductively, but this is eminently unlikely.

Finally, the “customers” or “clients” or “patrons” or however one wishes to style them—they must be the most unhappy of all, for they can never be truly satisfied when they leave, and they must leave as discouraged and as keyed up as they came. Save for the types of clubs that offer prostitution services, it is a universal fact that the one thing that the spectators of a strip club desire, they cannot have. It could be argued that what they desire is, in fact, merely to watch the dancers take their clothes off and gyrate seductively, but this is eminently unlikely. Nobody wishes to watch a person get provocatively naked only to leave without pursuing the matter further. But this is what the attendee at a strip club must do, because it is against the rules to touch a stripper. They are never satisfied. Like Dante’s inhabitants of the Second Circle, they are blown to and fro by the products of their own libidinous desires, forever unfulfilled.

At one point we were sitting at our table and making small talk with the strippers that had draped themselves about us. One of them, a beautiful black woman, was telling me about her burgeoning educational career in nursing—every stripper there was a nurse-in-training—when she asked if I would like to go somewhere more private. No, I said, I have a girlfriend and it wouldn’t be proper. “I don’t give a fuck about her,” the stripper said, smiling sweetly. I then allowed that I had brought no cash with me, which was true. So shocked by this admission was my stripper friend that she pushed me over, snatched my wallet out of my back pocket and frantically searched through every fold and flap for the money she knew must be hidden somewhere. I have never been witness to such desperation and such frantic avarice. For one of the few times in my life I was rendered utterly speechless, watching this woman paw through my wallet looking for dollar bills. Then again, there seemed to be nothing left to say.

The Strip Club Experience

The overwhelming experience of going to a strip club, so far as I can tell, is one of an all-encompassing tedium. Nothing seems to happen except the same few things over and over again, and they are fake things, and they are not fun. A strip club is made up of boring lies: women come around, make dull small talk with customers, and then take them back to a room somewhere and dance for them without any end result—for an exceptionally expensive price. So strip clubs are made of boring, costly lies, as well.

The truths regarding strip clubs are likely felt by the majority of men and women—mostly men—who patronize such places. It is true that we went to the club merely as a kind of dutiful gesture towards my brother’s bachelor party, and it is also true that I am hopelessly in love with, and devoted to, my girlfriend, and so felt even less excitement and captivation at going to such a place.

Still, the experience likely remains largely the same for even the most unattached bachelor who attends every weekend. He must know that he is being sold falsehoods by the strippers, and he is certainly aware that he is paying an exorbitant fee for such falsehoods, and he is definitely aware that he is unable to act upon even the merest natural whim related to these lies, unless he wishes to incur the wrath of the burly security guards, or if he wishes to pay an even-more-prohibitive amount of money in order to gratify his sexual desires if the place will allow it. These attendees are between a rock and a hard place, a conundrum made all the more confusing by the fact that it is self-imposed. They must derive some pleasure from the experience, else they would not go; but the pleasure is, as I wrote above, similar to scarfing a greasy burger at a cheap fast-food restaurant: merely a shadowy gesture of real pleasure, or of real nourishment.

Yet still, they return—as so many customers of fast-food restaurants return to those places. I am not sure what to make of it. We left the club at around 4:00 AM, to me an unfathomable hour to be up and about, much less at a loud nightclub with sad-looking naked women dancing around us. There were still plenty of people there, and they did not look as if they were going anywhere anytime soon. I was glad to go, and yet I was puzzled as to why we were there to begin with, and I remain puzzled as to why we went, or why anyone ever goes to such a place.

Daniel Payne blogs at Trial of the Century. You can follow him on Twitter.

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