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The Rant

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I have a "Support Strippers" ribbon magnet on my car. I bought it as a joke, my way of poking fun at those stiff-collared Republican types who place "Support Our Troops" stickers onto their gas-guzzling SUVs. But these days, with the city's raunchy reputation under attack, my little magnet has taken on a whole new meaning.

At a public meeting last week, Duncan Associates, a Texas-based consulting firm, presented a report detailing their findings from a six-month city and county-contracted investigation into Memphis strip clubs and adult-oriented bookstores.

Consultant Eric Kelly called Memphis' clubs "wild places" before detailing what exactly they found -- full nudity, physical contact between customers and dancers (some of which included insertion of tongues and fingers), private rooms, lax security, and (this one will really shock you) totally inebriated people.

Now can somebody please give me a "duh"? Anyone who's been in a Memphis strip club (and I've been in several) knows that dancers here take off their bottoms. These are strip clubs, for God's sake. People pay good money to see naked women, not topless women in G-strings.

The private rooms are indeed mysterious to me. I've had friends who've been in a few back rooms, and the most they've gotten is a two-song private lap dance. I'm sure more goes on, depending how much money you're willing to spend, but is it really our business what goes on behind closed doors? The security issue might be a real problem, but drunk people? Come on. It's a bar.

The city and county collectively paid Duncan Associates $38,000 for the study. That's $38,000 of taxpayer money being used to determine what any local strip-club patron could have told us for free. I wonder if Duncan Associates is hiring, because I know a ton of people who would sign up in a heartbeat.

According to Kelly, Memphis' strip clubs are the craziest he's seen, and he's done studies like this in six other cities, including Detroit. But rather than be ashamed, we ought to hold our heads up high. To quote Starship, "We built this city on rock-and-roll." Like it or not, sex and drugs are just part of the mix.

The study was actually commissioned because city and county officials wanted to know if local clubs were violating the adult-oriented business ordinances that have been in place for ages. It just so happens that full nudity, physical contact, and back rooms are against local law. But seeing as how we've been letting things slide for years, perhaps we could look at changing laws to accommodate the strip clubs.

The clubs make a ton of money from back-room dances, where customers must pay more for a private show. And dancers who bare it all get better tips. It takes a brave, brave woman to get up on stage and prance around in her birthday suit while men ogle and slobber on themselves. I couldn't do it, but I admire women who do, many of whom are simply trying to make money for college or to feed their babies.

Sure, there are a few who use the money to fuel their drug habits, but I'll bet there are cashiers at Wal-Mart using their paychecks for the same thing.

As for the argument that strip clubs are havens for prostitution, I say, so what? Prostitution is a victimless crime involving two consenting adults. Some men aren't lucky enough to score love, and some women are willing to endure a little discomfort for a few bucks. Leave them be.

Kelly did offer the idea of throwing out existing laws as an option, but he also drew up an 89-page report with detailed recommendations that include enforcing existing ordinances and establishing a special adult-oriented business licensing board.

Enforcement would mean devoting more police resources to the clubs. I'm sure the officers wouldn't mind the cushy job of watching naked women dance, but as a taxpayer, I'd rather our cops spend their time elsewhere. For the past 23 months, Memphis police officers and FBI agents have wasted time and resources investigating Platinum Plus, which was closed down two weeks ago in an early-morning raid. Though they netted 75 arrests for illegal drug sales and prostitution, that money and those man-hours would have been better spent working to solve the city's soaring homicide and violent-crime rates.

I haven't seen any other "Support Strippers" magnets out there, but I know I'm not alone. Strip clubs in Memphis stay in business because a large chunk of citizens support them. Some may speak out. Some may not. But I'll continue to drive my car proudly, knowing my little magnet shows my support for keeping the "dirty" in Dirty South.

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