torsdag 27 juni 2013

Chester Brown: Paying for It. A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John

Chester Brown caused a bit of a (positive) stir with his rather anarchistic Ed the Happy Clown, which was, well, weird and disorganized and seemed to me a lot like Brown was letting out a lot of steam and pent-up emotions and frustrations. Whether that is correct or not, I of course don't know. Anyway, it certainly made him a household name in the alternative comics biz.

Paying for It is Brown's account of how his girlfriend drifted away from him, and he drifted into getting sex from prostitutes instead. The storytelling is not flashy, it's an eight-panels-per-page grid, separated in chapters where he tells the readers about his encounters with a particular prostitute, his musings about her and the whole prostitution thing, and his conversations with his friends about it. He does make the impression of being almost obsessively upfront about the whole thing, not just to his readers but to his friends as well.

And that makes it an interesting read, actually. Brown's initial fears about being robbed, his masturbation before encounters in order not to ejaculate too quickly, his debates with his friends on whether he's exploiting these women, his musings about the women he's with and his conversations with them... It sort of drags you in, partly because it concerns a subject that's a bit forbidden, secret and shameful to most of us – no, not sex; prostitution – partly because it's also sort of a dissection of Brown's own thinking and rationalizations. (Those rationalizations aren't always high-quality, I have to say.) He also finishes the book with an afterword with a more formal discussion of his pro-prostitution thoughts, which have a pretty strong libertarian slant.

Brown doesn't want to make unreasonable demands on the girls, and always tips.

Myself, I have a somewhat conflicted view of prostitution; we as a society have pretty much established that a woman's sexuality is her own, to do with as she pleases... except if she chooses to rent it out to a man for money. That is a bit of a double standard, in my opinion. On the other hand, I have no doubt that there's also a whole lot of exploitation going on in that business – like in a whole lot of other businesses, that's true, but somehow a business involving people's sexuality seems to get a lot closer to our cores as human beings, which makes it more problematic that just your employer screwing you out of your overtime money, as unacceptable as that is. And then comes that whole "forced into sex" angle, which includes selling your body not just because somebody's threatening and/or manipulating you, but also if you're doing it for the money you (and/or, perhaps, your family) need to get by, and trafficking, and… So I'm still not going to join Chester Brown in his defense of prostitution and the right to rent a person's body. Mind you, Brown's own account doesn't always help his case – like when he keeps on having sex with a girl even though she does seem to be in pain... Still, it's an interesting sneak peek into the mindset of a not entirely unlikable – but not exactly likable, either – john, and strangely compelling.

Rationalizations. Turns out the girl doesn't even speak English.

It's worth reading. It's also worth thinking about, and I would be interested in reading some non-slanted-either-way actual research on the issue – but not interested enough to actually go out of my way to look for that research, unfortunately, as my slate is currently pretty much sufficiently full as it is without adding that to it, thank you very much.

Anyway, recommended, for its honesty about Brown's own behavior and thoughts – but perhaps not for his own conclusions.

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