A couple weeks ago I was wandering through Times Square with a friend when I got an eyeful of voluptuous, spar-spangled breasts. Apparently this is a thing now, women painting themselves red, white, and blue and clad in essentially nothing else. Of course, people are taking notice (how could they not?). New York City is thinking about curtailing the exhibitionism, and predictably some women are howling about their freedom of self-expression. They ask, if the Naked Cowboy is OK, why can’t topless women do their thing and make money off of photos? The cry for unfettered bosoms in one of the most visited places on earth takes earlier anti-bra (boob jail) feminism one leap further. The irony is that these women, so spiteful to older sensibilities, choose Old Glory as their visage. And yet they are also paragons of America’s sexualized, capitalistic culture as they wrap themselves in the flag and make money off of it. God bless America and her holy sacraments of sex and capitalism.
Yet why is New York City’s bleeding-heart liberal mayor, Bill de Blasio, even considering to interfere? City-Journal’s Matthew Hennesey may be a self-admitted prude but he does a good job of putting his finger on a very practical issue at stake that in many ways make the shrill cries for liberation irrelevant. Here we find one of the social liberals’ source of dissonances: they want to advance sexual liberation and help the poor, but in this case, those respective goals are at loggerheads.
Let’s face it: the 2009 decision by then-mayor Michael Bloomberg to turn the southern half of Times Square into a pedestrian plaza had some unintended consequences. The new space has attracted a slightly shady element—aggressive panhandlers, selfie Elmos, and now the desnudas. Libertarians on the left and right get exercised about issues like female toplessness and panhandling. They say these things are legal—which they are—and that any attempt to crack down on them must be motivated by priggishness, poverty-shaming, or both. But the question, ultimately, is what type of city do we want—one that strives to be family- and business-friendly or one that orients itself around the needs of street hustlers?
I’m one who believes women walking around topless in public is inappropriate, but no one really thinks that Bill de Blasio is a prude like me. Jamieson and politicians like City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are only saying so because they think it will spur de Blasio to change his tune. He’s a progressive guy, and he wouldn’t want to be lumped in with us moralists. But even if de Blasio flip-flops on the desnudas, it won’t solve the underlying problem: the quality of New York City’s public spaces is declining. As goes Times Square, so goes the city.
One of the Progressives greatest conceits is that the sexually liberated individual is the pinnacle of progress. And yet, having not understood Freud properly, they’ve missed the fundamental tension that exists between individual happiness and the good of society. They assume that any tension between the two is derived from meanies and oppressive social forces. If everyone would just relax and let women strut about Time Square naked, everything would be fine.
But a good portion of New York City’s order and prosperity is dictated by the money brought into the city by the average Joe tourist with his family, and Times Square is the central hub for that revenue. Back in the early 1990s when Times Square was a free-for-all and dominated by prostitution, “gentlemen’s” clubs, and pornographic stores and theaters, revenue was significantly lower than today. One can’t be mistaken: Family-friendly is the way to go.
Still one may argue that the freedom of women to walk about exposed should not be offered on the altar of capital. I agree with the sentiment in-so-far as the mad dash for money that characterizes capitalism leads to cultural debasement. But there is another side to this issue: despite cries for liberation, tourism plays a big roll in making New York hum, and without those tax dollars from tourist revenues many of New York City’s social programs would get squeezed. NYC can’t have this type of women’s liberation without harming the golden goose and when the goose suffers those at the bottom of the food chain suffer. So these nude women must acknowledge the choice they want to force upon their city: unhindered breasts or social services for the needy. Seems like a very first world problem.
All of this said, it’s unlikely Times Square is going to go to the dogs because a couple bare-breasted women are traipsing about. And it’s true that revenue won’t take a huge dip at first. You might even get an uptick of drunk frat boys to make up for revenue lost from families. But then your clientele begins to change; your vendors begin to change; and in the end you’re either getting better or worse and this is a step in the wrong direction. Freud was right: there will always be a tension between individual freedom and the good of society.
How it’s a form of women’s liberation to make money off of being in photos with ogling jackasses is beyond me.
Oh, and now the pimps arrive.
And now these chicks are becoming oppressed servants of the pimps and have been compelled to become conduits of prostitution and drugs. Arrest made yesterday. That or these liberated women are just compliant. Neither option seems a good one for Amber Jamieson who wrote the original apologia for free boobs.
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