Friday, March 25, 2016

One for the money


I really wanted to enjoy Pimp; from everything I'd seen about it before I cracked the cover I was intrigued. The book and its author have had a lot to do with certain aspects of African American artistic culture in the second half of the 20th century and I wanted to get wrapped up in that. Unfortunately I couldn't bring myself to enjoy the book on a deep level because holy shit is is misogynist.

I mean, obviously, yes, we're talking about a book that tells the story of a pimp before the 1950s, clearly this wasn't going to be a rallying cry for the equal treatment of sex workers. But neither should it have been a constant confirmation that sex workers are indeed thieves who are forced or coerced into sex work. Iceberg Slim may have been a stone-cold pimp but that ain't a patch on the modern Chicago Burlesque scene or the escorts on Tinder who have a great time running their own lives.

There was a lot to recommend about Pimp - Slim's frustration with the white supremacy that surrounds him and his attempts to subvert that supremacy by ignoring a system that will treat him as criminal regardless of his behavior is understandable and commendable. The utter exhaustion with the white man that Beck voices through his younger avatar is something that still rings unfortunately true.

But I just can't get behind how the book views women. I'm hoping that Beck's attitude about women in general and sex workers in particular had changed by the time he actually wrote Pimp, but I find it unlikely. There's such vitriolic contempt for sex workers in this story that it's hard to imagine the kind of people underneath the caricatures - something that isn't true of the pimps, police, and day-to-day folks you're introduced to. Only the sex workers, women terrorized and threatened into obeying the orders of a particular man above all others, are portrayed as conniving subhumans out to wrong the men who terrorize them.

And I can't get behind that. The story was compelling, the language felt natural and easy, and the author wrote in a way that was calculated to make sex workers seem subhuman and untrustworthy. And all that it made me do was want to get out of this story that thought so little of women in general and sex workers in particular.

     - Beck, Richard. Pimp. Holloway House Publishing. Los Angeles: California. 2006. (1969).

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