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Gentlemen, We Are The Problem

Don Rose 7 October 2014 2 Comments

For endless years every time our government gets into a serious discussion with Mexico or a Central or South American country about shutting down the drug trade, the typical–and accurate–response goes something like this: “You Americans are the biggest part of the problem. You have such an overwhelming appetite for (fill in your favorite drug here) that you are the biggest and best customer of the cartel. They would not produce or export so much without your insatiable desire and the wealth you have to satiate it.” fjhooker It’s undeniable. There would be no supply without demand–a simple rule of economics. But it’s a problem that goes well beyond the drug trade, all the way back to the so-called world’s oldest profession: prostitution. And, as we well know now, prostitution, due to another insatiable appetite,  is both a local and an international problem involving everything from kidnapping to virtual enslavement of children and women, almost always involving levels of violence and brutality against them. Prostitution, like drugs, is often considered a victimless crime, but we really know better these days. It’s  a crime involving a partnership–one between the prostitute and her john, like the junkie and his connection.  But as we also know, unlike the drug bust where both seller and buyer are arrested, when there’s a sex-trade bust, it’s the hooker who gets booked while the john drives back to his wife in the suburbs with perhaps a mild lecture from the officer. Every so often a community decides to crack down on the johns–maybe fining and even publishing their names.  Such efforts are short lived–much too embarrassing–though it’s obvious that if there were no johns, there would be no pimps plying the trade. Some months ago I saw and praised a play called “Shadow Town,” written and directed by Mary Bonnett, taking us deep into the nether-world of young women getting turned into prostitutes by their slimy pimps–a play that skillfully exposed the sex trade but remained a compelling, non-didactic drama in itself, unlike so many well-intended but stilted “problem” plays. Bonnett now takes up the demand side of the issue, the voracious customers who pay for sex not just from women but children as well–often involving violence with physical and emotional pain. “Shadow Town II: The Johns”  differs substantially from the first play. It’s set in the North Shore home of a wealthy family and centers on a sex-trafficked girl in a state of mental breakdown.  She conjures up an imaginary friend named Betty Sappho who sings songs telling the story of her life. (The original lyrics and music are  by Brooke Bartlett, who sings them as well.) I had the chance to read a draft of the play, which opens Oct. 16 and runs through Nov.23 at the Mayer Kaplan Theater in Skokie, so I can’t comment on the performances but I can attest to the importance, quality and urgency of the work. Bonnett has exceeded herself. To my fellow males I paraphrase the immortal Pogo: We have met the problem and it is us. ** Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer image General Jospeh Hooker, “Fighting Joe”


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