Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cosmo Girls: Maid for Men

World Magazine's website today features a surprising interview with a female writer who used to work for iconic editor Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmopolitan.  That writer eventually became pro-life, after witnessing first-hand how Cosmopolitan was using sex to turn women into pawns for men.
Helen Gurley Brown in 1985
If you think about it, everything the saucy and libidinous Gurley Brown taught women was based on her presumption that female sexuality is worth more than brains and integrity when it comes to self-promotion and breaking corporate America's glass ceiling.  

When she died in 2012, feminists came out of the woodwork to praise the advances they claim she heralded for women.  But ironically, Gurley Brown actually built a new cage for her sisterhood that trapped them within a far more paternalistic web of unrealistic expectations that were based on the exploitation of male heterosexuality... An exploitation of male heterosexuality, of course, into which abortion fits quite obscenely.  

While feminists took great pains to market abortion as a women's-rights issue, a lot of men quietly cheered them on, fully aware that abortion actually gives men more irresponsibility than women when it comes to the main activity involved with procreation.

In other words, abortion allows men to exploit women even more.  Abortion turns women into sexual servants for men.

Unfortunately for Gurley Brown, and her legions of admirers, this irony was completely lost on them.  Instead, she has been considered a prototypical feminist who, oddly enough, thought her sexuality freed her from male bondage.  What she and her fans ignored was that, in order to function, her brand of feminism actually needed the very men they said they didn't need.

This is my "obituary" I wrote for Gurley Brown back in August of 2012 (entitled "Helen Gurley Brown's Cosmic Edit"), and here it is again, without any revisions, because nothing in it has changed:

Tell people what they want to hear, and make a lot of money.

How hard is that?

With the passing of Helen Gurley Brown earlier this week at the impressive age of 90, New York's media empire has been waxing poetic on the life and legacy of Cosmopolitan's legendary editor and unabashed crusader for sexual immorality.  And as the author of Sex and the Single Girl, published in the early 1960's when she was 40, Gurley Brown certainly deserves credit for helping to launch the sexual revolution.

Even if the book was originally her husband's idea.

Helen "Girlie" Brown

Indeed, contrary to much of the adulation being heaped on her memory, and some of her own curious claims of not needing men, very little of Gurley Brown's celebrated lifestyle came by "chance."  Not that she wasn't an honest, caring person, as many people have described her; it's just what she was honest and caring about.  Her husband, David, was an editor at Cosmopolitan long before she arrived, and he actually wrote most of the scandalous teasers on the magazine's covers.  He would go on to help produce such epic movies as Jaws, Cocoon, and Driving Miss Daisy, along with a few Broadway shows.  No one denies that her remarkable marriage, which began in the 1950's and lasted until his death two years ago, was marked as much by its longevity as its economic and professional privilege.

The fact that she - of all people - needed a man to help make her who she turned out to be seems as lost on her admirers as it was to her.

Does it matter that the happy couple had no children?

Their not having children certainly represents not only a major complication her signature book omits, but helps explain her prodigious career, working reputedly until midnight most days.  Gurley Brown reveled in modern sexuality's abandonment of childbearing and child rearing, although it's not clear whether the Browns didn't have children by choice or despite trying.  And to have heard Gurley Brown tell it, she loved the "trying" part, if you get my drift.  After all, before she was married, she was not unknown within the Hollywood scene.  She could never quite bring herself to admit sex was what she lived for, but her body of work doesn't leave many other options.  One of her most famous quotes was "if you're not a sex object, you're in trouble."

Another one was, "good girls go to Heaven, bad girls go everywhere."

Which brings us back to the article I wrote for about women and modest attire.  Perhaps we wouldn't be having the conversation today about what women wear in church if it wasn't for Helen Gurley Brown.  Or at least, without Gurley Brown, women - and men - who defend their questionable wardrobe choices and attitudes towards modesty wouldn't have as much ammunition to blast at people like me.  Through her books and her tenure at Cosmopolitan, Gurley Brown's famous contempt for virtue and morality helped to make licentiousness mainstream.  Can any woman in the church today deny the effect Gurley Brown plays on their worldview - whether that effect makes them more conscious of their modesty, or ambivalent towards it?

Granted, it's impolite at best and crass at worst to speak ill of the dearly departed.  But in this case, considering how she led her life, I'm not sure Gurley Brown would have much grounds to sue me for slander.  Her commitment to her doting husband notwithstanding, she participated in a generational shift away from modesty - however misappropriated it had become by double-standards and exaggerated puritanical oppression - that likely contributed to a more materialistic brand of femininity less concerned with propriety than property.  Ownership.  Rule.  Rule not through ethical integrity, but sexual allure.

One of the few things to come by "chance" to Gurley Brown was the timing of her ascendancy into the sexual revolution.  Launching her first book just twenty years before 1962, she'd have likely been branded a - well, I can't bring myself to type out the word, but it starts with "s" and rhymes with "nut."

Twenty years later than 1962, and she might have been irrelevant, since if it wasn't for Gurley Brown, considering the mood of the times, somebody else would have written what she did, and maybe even more pervertedly.  However, it's not as if some of the noted feminists of her day, such as Betty Friedan, liked what she wrote.  They considered her a traitor to the feminine cause, since all she was basically doing was re-packaging the old notion that women are only good for sex, and marketing it to the post-modern age. calls it "fishnet feminism," after the provocative style of women's hosiery popular during the 1960's and 1970's. 

Mystique Mistake

In 1982, at the top of her game, Gurley Brown penned Having it All, a book about how women can successfully use their physical prowess to attain love, sex, and money.  But where is the novelty in that?  As long as you base your worldview on the idea that men have all the power and are too stupid or vain to share it unless you can make them feel sexually desirable, how many civilizations throughout the history of the world have featured ambitious women who easily figured that out?  To the extent that more ardent feminists held Gurley Brown in disdain for focusing on sex and men, they were correct:  women have viable, and even intrinsic, roles to play in our society regardless of their sexuality.

Sadly, Gurley Brown got it "all" wrong:  women can't have it all, just as men can't have it all.  At least not the "all" many people think they want and need.  Only Christ, the Son of God, is our Sufficiency.  He is our Peace, our Purpose, and our Promise.  And all the other "P" words, including prosperity.  And provider.

How hard could it be for a fatherless little girl from backwater Arkansas to grow up with a misguided appreciation for men, sleep around Los Angeles, get put in charge of a failing magazine in New York, and turn it around by making promiscuity sound legitimate?

Over the years, as I've heard about her and read about her, I've always felt sorry for her, even as her peers in the national media were singing her praises.  In a way, I also feel sorry for all of the women who've read my article on fashionable modesty, and just don't get it.  I feel sorry for the men who love them, too.  I really feel sorry for Gurley Brown now that she's gone, since the way she's led so many people in our culture - and our churches - astray is between her and God, Whom she apparently edited out of her life.

Hey - she said it herself:  "good girls go to Heaven..."  Not a correct statement theologically, since we've all sinned, and fall short of God's glory.  But it's telling all the same.

Especially if it was the extent of her relationship with the one Man in our universe Who matters most.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Nostalgia From Old Fashioned Retailing

I originally wrote this back in 2011, but a former co-worker from this store is retiring from her teaching job this week, which brought these stories back to my mind...

"There's no such thing as a short-sleeved dress shirt."

Years ago, I worked my way through college at an upscale mens' clothier called Jas. K. Wilson.  As you can tell, even its name was old-fashioned: "Jas" with a period is the old-English abbreviation for James. And it's not pronounced, as some people think, "jazz;" but voiced as the complete word, "James."

Being a traditional full-service store, we had such features as custom gift-wrapping, on-site tailoring, and full-time cashiers - things hardly any retailer offers today.  Our store staffed a full compliment of sales people on the floor, so customers didn't have to hunt for assistance.  We sent out thank-you cards to customers, and were expected to follow the old retailing mantra that "the customer is always right."

Even when they're wrong.

Okay, I added that last bit myself.  Except actually, when it came to the subject of short-sleeved dress shirts, we could point out the error of the customer's ways.  For years, when anyone erroneously assumed we'd carry such a garment as a dress shirt with short sleeves, we were allowed to politely advise him or her that truthfully, a dress shirt only comes with long sleeves.

Anything that looks like a dress shirt but has short sleeves isn't officially a dress shirt. Not even here, in our Texas heat.

Shopping is a Sport in Dallas

Jas. K. Wilson was eponymously named for a Dallas entrepreneur who'd built up a small chain of gentlemans' clothing shops, before selling them to Hart Schaffner and Marx, the Chicago-based manufacturer of handcrafted business suits.  Wilson rode an early wave of Dallas' population boom after World War II, and even though their original flagship location on Dallas' Main Street had long since closed before I started working for the firm, their location at north Dallas' NorthPark Center, one of the world's pioneering enclosed shopping malls, ran neck-and-neck consistently with the corporation's top stores in New York and Chicago.

In fact, when one CEO of Hartmarx, the corporate entity for Hart Schaffner and Marx, left to head luxury toy retailer FAO Schwarz, he contrived to boot the Jas. K. Wilson store at NorthPark from one of the mall's most coveted spaces for FAO's new Dallas emporium.  At the time, it was a big scandal in our local retailing world.  I remember offering to help move the entire stock of our NorthPark store from its prized, sprawling location to a hidden hole in another part of the mall - the only storefront available on such short notice.  What a ludicrous mess that was - trying to cram so much merchandise into so much smaller a space.

And such a slap in the face to a retailer with the legacy it had enjoyed for years in the Dallas area.

I started working in their Arlington store when I was still a junior in high school.  Back then, even though everybody else already had computerized cash registers, we wrote up every bill of sale by hand.  It could take forever!  And then we would turn around and peck the sale into a cumbersome, monstrous cash register.

We had a dapper, elderly black man who worked as the porter, making sure merchandise from our daily deliveries arrived onto the selling floor so we didn't have to get ourselves dirty in the stockroom.  When the elderly gentleman retired, he was replaced by a part-time college student, just a few years older than myself.  But that didn't last very long - the college student, a gregarious, fun-loving guy whose only flair for traditionalism was his conventional collegiate binge drinking, didn't last too long.  And when he left, so did the position of porter in our store.  After that, we had to take turns wrestling with boxes and racks in the stockroom ourselves.

We all wore suits in those days - even the female employees.  These were the heady days of newly-empowered career women, when ladies of the office began wearing stern black suits to announce the cracks in corporate America's glass ceiling.  We even had a small department off to the side of the store called "Corporate Woman," which featured these dark suits, tailored with the same craftsmanship as the suits we sold to men.  But we men weren't allowed to sell in the Corporate Woman boutique, although several female customers wanted one of our particularly handsome young salesmen to.

Actually, that guy ended up dating country-western siren Tanya Tucker...

Mall Wars

Speaking of celebrities, I once got to utter those immortal words, "How may I help you?" to actor Charles Bronson when he wandered into our store one afternoon.  His wife had been undergoing treatment at the renowned Arlington Cancer Center here in town, and I guess he'd decided to see what our local mall looked like.  He didn't buy anything, but then again, when your wife is suffering from cancer, clothes shopping is not especially a priority for a man.

Our mall wasn't anything to wow an A-list Hollywood actor, anyway.  It was nice enough, for Arlington, as 1980's suburban malls went.  It was called "Six Flags Mall" after the six national governments Texas has had:  Spain, France, Mexico, the republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States.  It boasted all the national chain stores along one level, a subdued southwest design motif, and lots of palm trees and other plants that malls just don't spend the money on today.  We also had live plants throughout our store, professionally tended every week by a florist.  They added an appealing ambiance, nestled among racks of clothing, or decorating the opulent billiard table gracing the center of the store.

Unfortunately, as nice as Six Flags Mall was, it wasn't alluring.  So as Arlington continued to experience explosive growth, another mall was built several miles away.  And since new construction always draws a crowd, shoppers immediately flocked to the new mall from the day it opened.  Six Flags Mall's owners scrambled to construct a new wing and refurbish everything else, but it was too little too late.

Short-Sighted Selling

Our own store was caught in the fate that comes from failing to keep up with the new, too.  For all of the money Hartmarx spent on salaries for MBA-degreed buyers and executives, first at our divisional offices in Dallas, and then at our corporate headquarters in Chicago, they all failed to catch the increasingly popular business-casual phenomenon sweeping offices across America.

We salespeople heard about it from our customers, who were buying up our sportswear far faster than our suits, but our corporate bosses thought it was simply because suits cost more than khaki pants and golf shirts.  It was our fault for not selling more suits.

That's the way things typically went at Jas. K. Wilson.  If we had a good month, it was because corporate had done things right.  If we had a bad month, it was because the sales staff had gotten lazy.  Never mind the fact that nobody I ever met from corporate had ever worked on a retail sales floor in their life.  They all assumed that their college business classes provided better insight on how customers buy than actual, personal experience.

I vividly remember the Saturday one of our local executives, Mr. M., a short, brusque man who never smiled except in condescension, came to our store to show us how to sell.  We staffers all hovered around like cowed schoolboys after one of our spitwads had accidentally hit the teacher.  And Mr. M., with his gruff, no-nonsense voice and stiff mannerisms, aggressively pounced on each and every soul who had the misfortune of walking into our store that morning.

He spoke so fast that customers couldn't understand him.  And he was deaf in one ear, so when customers asked him to repeat what he'd just said, he'd scowl, cock his head, and shoot back, "What?"

Mr. Marcus may have sold a shirt or two that morning, but not nearly enough to prove that he knew more than we did about selling stuff.  He left quietly and quickly at lunchtime, and when we'd realized he'd gone, we staffers felt like running out into the mall to invite our scared customers back into the store so they could now shop in comfort!

Don't Worry, Be Happy

By the time corporate realized the tide in office apparel had turned, and that business-casual was here to stay, it was too late for Jas. K. Wilson.  Our once-mighty NorthPark store had died an ignominious death in yet another shell of a space.  Our new mall in Arlington had pretty much decimated customer traffic at Six Flags Mall, and several of our sister stores in the area were closing because of demographic shifts, as affluent customers continued to move further out into newer suburbs.

However, the last straw had nothing to do with completely botching the business-casual trend, or not moving to newer malls in newer areas, or us not knowing how to sell shirts, ties, shoes, suits, and womens' blouses.  It came, as we understood it, from two top executives at Hartmarx up in Chicago.

To avoid filing for bankruptcy protection, Hartmarx put all of its stores up for liquidation, so its legacy suit manufacturing division could be salvaged.  By then, none of us were surprised at that development, but we were stunned to hear some scuttlebutt a few days later that those two top executives had absconded to the Caribbean after allegedly looting the company's coffers.

How much of that is true we could never determine.  But it seemed to fit a pattern of irresponsibility that had been emanating from the exclusive Wacker Drive skyscraper Hartmarx leased in Chicago's Loop.  And it evaporated what morale was left after learning our stores were being dumped from underneath our feet.

In the end, I wound up being the store manager at Six Flags the day it officially shut forever, which was indeed a somber event.  What few staffers remained filed out of the back door, I followed behind them, and gave the keys to the representative of the liquidation firm handling the closing.  The liquidators would return later and finish removing whatever hadn't already been sold off.

The next day, I drove to another store nearby and helped do the same thing with their liquidation.

What an inauspicious way for the revered Jas. K. Wilson legacy to end.  Not that being a clothing salesperson would ever have been my dream job.  Looking back, however, it's been the longest single period of employment I've had in my life.

And it wasn't all a waste.  It got me through college.  It trained me in selling, and even in the intricacies of how a proper silk tie is constructed - and tied.  Regular readers of this blog probably don't believe me, but working at Jas. K. Wilson taught me the art of diplomacy, the respect one can earn from simple hard work (and that I shouldn't expect respect from folks at corporate), and how to think on my feet.

Some Things Don't Go Out of Fashion

One of the elderly gentlemen with whom I had the privilege of working, Coy Garrison, would repeat himself often, and was just as hard of hearing as the younger Mr. M.  He also didn't see very well, despite his extraordinarily thick glasses.  Even after a customer would make a decision on, say, a shirt and matching tie, Coy would linger beneath a nearby light bulb, straining to check and see if the two items really did go together.

Because of his age, Coy assumed the position of elder statesman on our sales floor, and when business was slow (and even when it wasn't), he'd often hold court along the dress shirt wall, with its white stucco arches, and rows and rows of glass display cubes, sharing bits of wisdom from years in the business.

Of all the bits of wisdom he'd share, he'd repeat his unwavering belief that if they didn't do military service, every person should spend at least a year in retail after they left school.

In retail, Coy argued, you meet all sorts of people, both as customers and co-workers.  And especially managers.  You have to learn how to make your own way, how to educate yourself on the merits of a product, and how to share what you've learned with a person who may have had, until that point, no interest at all in what you wanted to sell them.

And, perhaps most importantly, Coy taught that you weren't going to sell everybody what you wanted to sell them.  But selling or not selling wasn't as important as how you did it.  Whether you sold them or not, Coy would always preach that you should conduct yourself with enough integrity so that you could go home with a clear conscience, get a good night's sleep, and get up the next day to do it all over again.

Maybe not the most profound words anybody's ever said.

But no less true than there being no such thing as a short-sleeved dress shirt.

The bottom of an old advertisement I found online.
Merritt Schaefer & Brown and Frank Bros. were sister Hartmarx stores in our division here in Texas.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dallas' Attempt at Selective Subjugation

What is porn?

What constitutes smut?

Exactly how do we define those things that subjugate women?

Earlier today, by the thinnest of margins, the Dallas City Council voted to prohibit a large porn industry trade show from renting the city-owed convention center for their event.  According to D Magazine, the 8-7 vote came at Mayor Mike Rawlings' request that the council back him up as the city's main "brand manager."  And as a brand, he says Dallas shouldn't be known as a city that endorses the subjugation of women.

To illustrate his point, Rawlings - a wealthy, white Democrat - recounted to the council a description of an event scheduled for Exxotica,* an annual exposition booked this year for Chicago, Dallas (tentatively), and suburban New York City.

“I read online that there’s a place (in the Exxotica event) called the Dungeon, where women are tied up and whipped,” he said.  “There’s where it crossed the line for me.”

Now to be sure, in just about any definition of subjugation, whether of men or women, being tied up in a dungeon and being whipped rates as a pretty heinous example.  Except... nobody at Exxotica will be forced to undergo what otherwise would be a human rights atrocity.  In fact, for some people, what would otherwise constitute an egregious breach of civil protocol is titillating.

Not that I'm defending the flaunting of taboos - especially sexual ones.  Yet it's a fact that some people consider things like bondage and pain to be sexually arousing.  I don't excuse that, or endorse it.  But if two consenting adults want to do something, where do the legal lines prohibiting them from doing it get drawn?

What's the difference between watching two actors perform something like that on the stage, or the big screen... or at a sex industry convention?

What makes the taboo illegal?

It's kinda the same argument people used to use against homosexuality.  Social conservatives said that since they believed homosexuality to be vile behavior, it should be illegal.  But if the aim is to try and legislate morality, we all know how effective that is.

We can't simply say that something we believe to be immoral should also be illegal, and leave it at that.  Don't we also need to reinforce our beliefs with comprehensive behaviors on our part?  Rhetoric and half-measures only convince some of the people some of the time.

For example, one council member voted to deny Exxotica its convention permit by reasoning that she didn't want "to stay silent and let things happen behind closed doors in the city of Dallas that I don’t approve of.”

What kind of rational statement is that?  I'm sure there are all sorts of things taking place behind closed doors across Dallas of which she and plenty of other people don't approve.  Yet lots of those things are legal.  So, when it comes to the ways consenting adults choose to express their sexual desires, within legal parameters, who gets to bend those legal parameters?  Or deny them?

Besides, if we're talking about the subjugation of women, how many times have the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders appeared at the city's convention center?  Shucks, they flaunt on national television some of the same provocative clothing and body gyrations as what's available at Exxotica.  One of Dallas' richest families, the Hunts, members of which came out vehemently opposing Exxotica's presence in Dallas, owns the Kansas City Chiefs, an NFL team with a cheerleading squad which wears provocative clothing.  Is it merely because sexy cheerleaders have become mainstream that the way they subjugate women is accepted by acceptable society?

After all, it could be argued that cheerleaders subjugate women by presenting an unrealistic stereotype of femininity that looks a certain way, suggests certain sexual things, enhances certain body parts, and uses all of this sexuality to superficially support gridiron warriors on the field.  And guess what?  Just because you may not agree with that assessment doesn't mean cheerleaders don't subjugate women.

And just because you may think that certain types of sexual taboos don't subjugate women doesn't mean that they don't.

See what I mean?  Frankly, I agree with the mayor that sexual acts of bondage do actually serve to subjugate the people being held in bondage, and I presume that most of those people are women.  Yet as long as a double-standard exists in which other examples of activities depicting the subjugation of women are allowed to go on unpenalized, then where is the legal ability to use the subjugation of women in a narrow definition of pornography?  And the denial of public space for a legally-operating smut convention?

In my essay yesterday on the topic of Exxotica's presence in Dallas, I intentionally described the annual convention of cosmetics giant Mary Kay.  Now, here's a company that has built a business empire on the idea that women need to doll themselves up artificially in order to be considered attractive.  Yeah, sure, I have a friend who sells Mary Kay, and she keeps telling me they now have products for men.  But we have no idea what Mary Kay Ash, the company's founder, looked like without all of her company's products lathered on her face.  Why?  Because she believed that the face she presented to the world needed to be artificially enhanced.  And many women believe their face needs to be artificially enhanced to be acceptable in public.

Funny how men don't wear cosmetics.  And why is that?  Because American women apparently feel as though they'll be better accepted by men - and even other women - if they paint and powder their faces to look a certain way.

In more primitive countries, both men and women paint their faces - and their entire bodies - to look more beautiful, or more fierce.  They wear makeup to appease their deities, or indicate a rite of passage.  Indeed, Mary Kay Ash didn't invent the cosmetics industry, and wearing paints and other disguises isn't wrong in and of itself.  But why do American women wear so much of it, especially since we supposedly don't have the primitive mating rituals found in other parts of the world?

Or, maybe our mating rituals are more primitive than we want to admit?

At any rate, even though I don't approve of pornography and its various smutty accouterments, and believe that they serve to denigrate and damage the people who create and consume them - whether they want to believe it does or not - we have a problem here.  Because sexual promiscuity is so widespread and rampant in our culture, when it comes to trying to legally contain it, we invariable run up against free speech questions.  On the one hand, parallels between pornography as a genre and evils like human trafficking and the subjugation of women seem readily apparent.  Yet on the other hand, not everybody in the porn industry participates in human trafficking, nor do they believe that certain taboos, when performed consensually, constitute subjugation.

So how do moralists stand up for what they believe is healthy, when legislating morality can be so tricky?

One conservative councilman who voted in favor of barring Exxotica from using the city's convention center rationalized that "evil triumphs when good men do nothing."  Which brings us back to whether the provocative clothing and gyrations by NFL cheerleaders is an example of evil's triumph or not.  And do "good men" let their women disguise themselves behind layers of makeup in a pursuit of culturally-relative beauty?  Which evil is worse:  letting women play-act at sexual bondage, or spending public dollars on a First Amendment lawsuit the city will almost certainly lose?

If we're going to talk about exploitation here, I think some exploitation of last year's Exxotica that was held in Dallas bears some repeating:  three non-profit organizations that work to transition sex workers and porn addicts out of the industry actually paid for booths within the convention, establishing a sort of beach-head of moral redemption during an event which otherwise celebrated sexual decadence.  At a city-owned facility, such strange bedfellows can be allowed to exist.

Which actually opens up a whole new area of dialog that Dallas, a Bible Belt city awash in churches, should be primed to exploit.

If evil does indeed triumph when good people do nothing, should Dallas' conservatives simply let this thing play itself out in the courts, instead of outside (and inside) the convention center?

And imagine what could happen if all of this self-righteous concern over the subjugation of women could be unleashed against the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, and all of the women who believe they need cosmetics to be presentable in public?

After all, if you're not going to play the full "subjugation against women" card, why should you expect Exxotica's fans to take you seriously when it comes to shutting down their convention?

* The official name has three X's in it, but I'm afraid that putting all three online will trigger spam filters and prevent readers from accessing this essay.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

When a Sex Show Does the Bible Belt

America's largest sex convention is swinging through the Bible Belt.

That's right, folks:  Exxotica* Expo 2016 will be in Dallas this coming August, between stops in Chicago and suburban New York.

Big D has always yearned to play with the big boys, and now, at least when it comes to the taboo, it is.

Even if this isn't exactly what many civic leaders had in mind.

Exxotica's conventions purport to be a one-stop-shop for ideas and equipment to enhance a person's "love" life, but it's hard to hide the reality:  our planet's insatiable porn industry is running the show.  And just to be clear, pornography isn't about love - it's about lust.

Let's face it:  There's little altruism and selfless commitment in porn.  Whatever love might be found in the porn business is the love of self, or the love of money.

Ahh, yes!  The money.  Sponsors of the show estimate it will pump seven to eight million dollars into the local economy, not counting the profits sex-oriented businesses expect to generate thanks to their, um, exposure at the convention.

After all, isn't this what convention centers are for?  Dallas built and maintains its convention center to act as a business generator.  The city even recently commissioned a gaudy new high-rise hotel to service convention visitors attending everything from obscure trade shows to the splashy annual spectacle that is the Mary Kay cosmetics "seminar."

Truth be told, the Mary Kay convention is usually the only convention about which most of us ever hear, and that's because Mary Kay is a home-grown success story.  Plus, it attracts hordes of intricately-groomed attendees from around the world to its elaborate convocations.  It's all pure-D, rhinestone, pink Cadillac, over-the-top Dallas.  Mary Kay's conventions are ready-made for our local television stations, offering the type of glamor that makes newscasts easy on the eyes.

Meanwhile, Exxotica first came through Dallas last summer, much to the consternation of Dallas' buttoned-down mayor, Mike Rawlings.  Aside from some billboards advertising the event, strategically-placed near freeways that often double as parking lots here in Dallas, most of us wouldn't have realized they were in town.  Indeed, Exxotica's presence seemed to catch City Hall off-guard.  A last-minute scramble was launched to revoke Exxotica's permit.

Unfortunately for the City of Dallas, since the convention center hosting Exxotica is a public facility, and the sex group met all of the legal criteria for renting the public facility, the city couldn't have even denied Exxotica's application in the first place.  First Amendment free speech rights, you know.  Even though Rawlings asked the city's lawyers to scour their contract with Exxotica for just one loophole, so he could revoke their permit, the show went on as scheduled.

This year, civic leaders hope things can be different.  Tomorrow, Wednesday, at the mayor's request, the city council is expected to vote on a resolution to prevent Exxotica's return.  Rawlings and other civic leaders opposed to the convention hope they've found the loophole that last year proved elusive.

That loophole involves the definition of a "sexually oriented business," and whether an activity that meets such a classification can be allowed within 1,000 feet of public parks, churches, and other family-friendly venues.

Historic Dealey Plaza, the "grassy knoll" where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, is just down the street from Dallas' convention center, and has become an internationally famous tourist spot.  Three popular restaurant districts are within walking distance.  A couple of Pentecostal churches are a block or two away from the convention center.  There hasn't been a sexually oriented business downtown for years, because of the zoning and diversity of property use.

Sounds like classifying Exxotica as a sexually oriented business could keep it away, too.  Right?

Well, that depends on the legal definition of a sexually oriented business.  Traditionally, they've been defined as places where people pay in person for erotic products and services delivered to them on-site.  But a convention - even a convention of erotic products and services - defies that definition legally, because people can't directly pay for erotic products and services and obtain possession of them for their personal use on-site.

At any convention, customers can order the products on display, but not for their immediate, on-site procurement or use.  You can order a helicopter at the helicopter show, but don't expect to fly it home from the convention center's back parking lot.  You can purchase a home at the home builder's show, but you can't back your truck up to the convention center's loading dock and haul your 3-2-2 away.

Exxotica's managers know the law; the people who visit their show cannot purchase lap dances to be performed on-site, for example.  They can't even illegally arrange for a sexual tryst for later in the evening, because the tryst will have to be held off-site, and that would be the crime scene; not the place where it was arranged.  Exxotica knows all this, and they forbid anything illegal from taking place within their venue (although "immoral" is another issue).  Even Dallas' vice squad, which last year was dispatched to monitor Exxotica's event, said it was pretty boring by their standards, with no citations of any kind being written.  It was all business-by-the-book.  Even if a lot of that business was for products and services that are intended to be quite erotic.

Not to be dissuaded, one of the richest businessmen in Dallas went public this weekend with an impassioned defense of Mayor Rawlings' desire to pull the plug on Exxotica.  In what he calls "an open letter to the citizens of Dallas," billionaire oil tycoon Ray Hunt asks his fellow citizens about the type of city they want Dallas to be.  A moral city, unafraid of enforcing its own laws regarding sexually-oriented businesses, or a city without the "courage to do the right thing?"

Hunt might not like the answer his fellow Dallasites seem to be giving him.  D Magazine, a self-styled purveyor of the city's savviest cosmopolitan vibes, has polled its readers online in an unscientific poll, and 66% of respondents (so far, anyway) say that Exxotica should go ahead as planned.  Elsewhere, public feedback has been decidedly in Exxotica's favor, if for no other reason than it being a lot easier to joke about sexual taboos that are eroding by the day, than stand awkwardly on a moral high ground when First Amendment privilege gives Exxotica the legal edge.

Even Hunt, normally a pragmatic capitalist, doesn't deny that Exxotica has the legal right to hold its convention.  He simply doesn't want their convention held at the city-owned convention center, which happens to sit next-door to some property he owns.  Aren't there more sordid, less prominent venues in seedier parts of town for that sort of thing, he muses?

Perhaps it's more embarrassing than morally outrageous to people like Hunt that an expo like Exxotica can afford to rent out a facility the size of a major convention and exhibition space.  What does that say not only about Dallas, but about America in general, especially since Dallas's show is one of three across the country this year?  Has the sex industry really become mainstream?

No, I don't think so.  At least, not yet.  If sexual taboos had gone mainstream, necessitating a series of cross-country conventions to promote itself, wouldn't we already be seeing a lot of their products and services in other, everyday parts of our culture?  

Sure, Americans are more accepting now of things our society used to brand as taboo.  I'm not happy about it; I think many things that used to be considered wrong are still wrong.  But not all things sexual are wrong, are they?  For example, what's wrong with a married couple purchasing sex toys for their pleasure?  What's wrong with kinky underwear between husband and wife?  Besides, depending on your definition of "lewdness", some of this stuff is currently available on a tame scale at Walmart and Target.

But bondage, nipple decals, and other examples of Exxotica's wares are still deployed mostly behind closed doors.  Sure, there is a smutty curiosity that draws many people to a show like Exxotica, but the titillation most people are looking for remains relatively private, albeit a little less taboo than it used to be.

Granted, most of what's being exhibited at Exxotica barely seems sexually healthy for the most uninhibited of married couples, let alone the throngs of dirty old men who I suspect are already online, scoping out the convention's ticket prices.  But might Hunt, Rawlings, and other foes of Exxotica be missing the broader picture?

Since Exxotica will be held at a public event facility, won't there be plenty of space for churches and socially-conservative organizations to put up displays of their own outside of the convention center's buildings?  Free speech works two ways, right?  Several non-profits, such as Restored Hope Ministries, XXXChurch, and Eve’s Angels, paid for exhibitors' booths inside last year's Exxotica, and will probably be back this year.  They are organizations that reach out to people trying to leave the sex industry or give up the habit of pornography.  Where else could such an outreach take place at such a large gathering of smut enthusiasts?

Another of the arguments Hunt, Rawlings, and others have been using against Exxotica involves the scourge of sex trafficking.  And it seems like an easy jump to make, from a convention celebrating sexual inhibition to the sexual subjugation and imprisonment of women and children across the world.  Yet if that jump is so easy to make, why don't we make the same leap between the alcohol industry and drunk driving?  Or the fast-food industry and obesity?  Why don't we recoil in moral outrage over McDonald's like some are doing over Exxotica?

Yes, the tobacco industry was cowed, but not because smoking is bad for our health.  No, big tobacco lost because tobacco companies intentionally lied about how bad for out health it really is.

Semantics, don't you know.

Nobody in charge of Exxotica appears willing to deny that sex trafficking is evil.  And it's hard to believe that Exxotica's leadership, at least, is willing to ignore any links between their event and sex trafficking.

Now, I don't happen to believe that pornography is good for any culture, but are skimpy panties pornographic?  How do skimpy panties translate into sex trafficking?  Do you see how the link between pornography - which I would argue is sinful - is not direct to sex trafficking?  Nevertheless, if we draw misleading correlations, don't we risk denigrating the battle over sex trafficking by unnecessarily conflating it with pornography?

It's the same argument we use to indemnify beer companies from customers who abuse their products.  If a vendor at Exxotica is selling a taboo product while being unable to control how their customer uses it, where's the legal difference between Exxotica's vendor and Budweiser?

At this point, I could go on a rant about how our society has waged such a long battle against virtue that events like Exxotica are the price we pay for our broader culture's lasciviousness.  We tend to not realize how morally-relative our country has become until a debate like this one bumps into our local consciousness.

Speaking of consciousness, however:  If Exxotica's vocal opponents weren't as vocal as they're being, most of us here in North Texas wouldn't know a thing about it.  That itself speaks volumes about how far the sex industry still has to go before it can be considered mainstream.

If that's a silver lining in this cloud, it might be the closest thing to nourishing rain that North Texas usually gets when Exxotica is scheduled to be held - during our unbearably hot August.

* The official name has three X's in it, but I'm afraid that putting all three online will trigger spam filters and prevent readers from accessing this essay.

Update 2/10/16:  The Dallas City Council today voted to prohibit Exxotica from using the convention center this year.  A lawsuit is now pending.  Here's what I have to say about that.