Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Opinion

A horror for art patrons: Strippers forced to cover up

Let us discuss artistic expression.

Yes, this is a column about a South Florida strip club undergoing an existential crisis.

The strippers at Solid Gold in Broward County are being forced to dance while wearing clothing. That's like making Wynton Marsalis play the trumpet without using his mouth.

Like I said, an existential crisis. Not to mention tough for business.

"The competition for gentlemen's clubs is significant," said the club's lawyer, Luke Lirot, who is based in Clearwater. "And you can't compete with other clubs if your dancers aren't displaying anything more than you can see on the beach."

The "gentlemen" he speaks of are guys who come to leer at women as they remove all their clothing while dancing. But for the purposes of this legal dispute, let's just think of these guys as interpretive dance critics who are there to appreciate the deeper meaning of a nude woman with legs akimbo hanging upside down from a brass pole like a plucked chicken.

It's all about the metaphors.

These guys may look like run-of-the-mill lounge lizards, but they're art aficionados. And their cultural enrichment outings have been put in jeopardy by the Broward County city of Oakland Park, which has started requiring strippers to keep some clothes on while maintaining a 6-foot buffer zone between the dancers and patrons.

The dancers are not allowed to expose their entire buttocks or reveal the outer lower quadrant of each breast. "It hinders the ability to convey the erotic messages that the dancers are trying to convey," Lirot explained.

As a communication device, a thong-covered posterior is a faint, indecipherable instrument when compared to a fully exposed soliloquy of the cheeks. And when it comes to breast quadrants, an artist needs to have all four for full-range messaging.

It's also obvious that all sorts of communication opportunities can happen within that 6-foot no-go zone. After all, how can one fully interpret the grinding poverty of the working poor through a lapless lap dance?

The club's restrictive new rules went into effect this month when its 11-year contract with the city to operate an adult entertainment business expired, and the city refused to allow the club to continue under the existing rules. The club sued the city, but a federal judge failed to grant an emergency motion that would have kept it running as a strip club until its lawsuit is resolved.

So, for the time being, there's a limit on the full palette of interpretive dancing at the club.

And to get the strippers back to stripping again, the club's lawyer is claiming that the city's anti-stripping regulations are an unconstitutional infringement on the dancers' First Amendment rights to explore their full artistic expression. "If there were no difference between the artistic expression of nude entertainment and the artistic expression of semi-nude entertainment, then there would be no controversy between the parties," Lirot wrote in a court brief.

There's quite a body of case law on the subject.

In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court tackled the First Amendment rights of strippers performing at the Kitty Kat Lounge in South Bend, Ind. The lounge sued because the strippers had to at least wear pasties and g-strings during their performances. A divided court ruled in that case (Barnes vs. Glen Theatre) that the anti-nudity law wasn't unconstitutional, but that nude dancing was a form of expressive activity that could be considered protected speech.

Or as Justice Byron White put it: "The sight of a fully clothed, or even a partially clothed dancer, generally will have a far different impact on a spectator than that of a nude dancer, even if the same dance is performed. The nudity is itself an expressive component of the dance, not merely incidental conduct."

So for you guys who are still going to Solid Gold during these less expressive times, it may help the club's cause if you look and behave more artsy.

Try wearing a beret or an ascot. And after the show, congratulate the dancers on their interpretations.

You may have to shout, seeing as how you'll be 6 feet away.

Frank Cerabino is a columnist for the Palm Beach Post.

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