Saturday, 3 October 2015


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Au Moulin Rouge (1892-95)
Until mid-January, the Musée d'Orsay is hosting an exhibition entitled Splendeurs et misères. Images de la prostitution, 1850-1910 which delves into the lives of prostitutes as represented in art in the early 20th century. The museum's employees were striking, so on the day that I went the museum was overrun with people. The prostitution exhibit was overcrowded and hard to enjoy as everyone bumped past one another. What I got from it was a) to return another day because what I did see was excellently curated, b) that black and white porn films from 1909 are awkward when viewed with about 40 other people with a median age of 60 and c) that in the past 100 years, things have changed as much as they haven't.

By coincidence I live in the area that the exhibition centres around. Montmartre housed most of the brothels and bars where the girls could work, as well as offering cheap housing for artists like Manet, Degas and Picasso. The exhibition also details the world of higher class escorts who catered to the extremely wealthy and mostly managed to marry someone with a title, thus ensuring their livelihood. But for most women, prostitution was what they had to do to survive: in addition to being washerwomen, maids or bar ladies, they had to supplement their income by selling their bodies in order to survive in the city.

Now, a century later, the street between the Moulin Rouge and Anvers consists of sex shops and tourist stores. To the left of my door is the what seems to be the gay leather sex-wrestling outfits store, and to the right the dildo one. Then there is the Sexodrom with various floors (and their are urgently looking for a sales person, judging by the sign that I have walked past daily in the last weeks). All of them somehow have signs that just read 'Sex', so I am not sure about the specific customers that they cater to. It can't just be tourists that get lost on their way from the Sacre Coeur to the Moulin Rouge. These shops must survive because there are actually enough people buying 50-Shades-of-Gray branded handcuffs and pleather suits and porn on DVDs.

There is a certain seediness to it all. As with the red-light districts of other cities, it seems like something to poke fun at, something where tourists can enter and as a joke buy a little somethin-somethin. But just as in the 1900s there must be a social and cultural undercurrent now that accepts the need for prostitution. What is that need though? Is sex really a need, something that should be pencilled into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or added to the Ten Commandments or whatever system of belief it is that humanity adheres to? What are the implications when ever increasingly the body comes at a price? And here, I am not just talking about literally paying for the sexual services of a person, of money exchanging hands. No, what are the consequences of when social media become sexual media? As much as apps such as Grinder, Tinder and here, adopte un mec (jip, "adopt a guy") are used to simply connect with other (mutually interested and interesting) people, one cannot deny that most of them are also used as hook-up apps.

I find it all disingenuous. Everyone searching for easy accompaniment, for no-strings-attached, for emotional uninvolvement and not knowing anothers names, and yet everyone somehow seeming so damn lonely all the time.

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