A quick story (with news) about The Prostitutes of Lake Wobegon to lead into this blog: One of the reasons I set up a Facebook page for the novel this early in the game was because I figured that after the announcement that I’d been shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize I figured that I needed to grab up domain names and usernames and such before anyone else grabbed them and “held them hostage” as it were. I finally got enough Likes to get a Facebook username for the page (apologies to those of you I pestered personally for Likes) and hoped that I could get theprostitutesoflakewobegon for a username. To my surprise I found out that apparently Facebook won’t let you use “prostitute” in a username. I’d expect that for cruder words, but “prostitute” is one of those words that has enough “legitimate” use — say, for politically-themed pages for and against the legalization of prostitution in America — that Facebook having the word in its word filter came as kind of a shock to me.
Anyway, I had to settle for the acronym of the book’s title for its username, so now you can read all about my novel at http://facebook.com/TPOLW. Tell your friends.
In working on promotional efforts for The Prostitutes of Lake Wobegon it has been challenging to find material to support the potential market for the book. Although I don’t consider the novel a “Big Idea” novel, there’s no question that it does address the issue of the legalization of prostitution. Given that polls are showing broader support than ever for legalizing marijuana and same-sex marriage, I should think that there is a similar rise in popular support for legalizing prostitution. The problem is that I’ve looked through Gallup’s archives, I’ve looked at the sites of other major polling firms, I’ve done Google searches, and I can’t find a single major poll, recent or otherwise, examining American popular opinion on legalizing prostitution.
At least I can be assured that prostitution itself will always be in the news because of Washington DC (and I’m not talking about how politicians sell themselves out to corporations this time). Shortly after the Secret Service prostitution broke out a few weeks ago, there was an op-ed (and I’m kicking myself for not bookmarking it because I can’t find it now) that talked about how so many Americans were expressing outrage that American officials would attend a function in a country where prostitution is legal, and how that showed the cultural myopia of these Americans because of the large number of countries where prostitution is legalized. The author of the article pointed out how recent polls show support for legalizing marijuana in America has now reached 50%, and yet this nation is still not having a serious, adult conversation about legalizing marijuana.
This made me recall one of the first events President Obama did after he was sworn in, when a young man (I think it was a student at the college Obama was speaking at) who asked Obama why, in the midst of the economic meltdown we were experiencing at the time, the government wasn’t exploring things like legalizing and taxing drugs and prostitution. After a polite chuckle, Obama said words to the effect of, “This is why we have young people, so they can ask questions like that,” and then didn’t really give an answer to the question except to reiterate the same old line that “of course” we can’t have legalized prostitution and drugs because … well, because.
Arguing the legalization of other drugs is a dicey prospect just because of the damage things like cocaine and meth can do, but the laws against marijuana in this country would be laughable if it weren’t for the damage they’re causing so many families in this country. For crying out loud, even Pat Robertson’s said that we need to stop putting young people in prison just for taking a few tokes. Despite this, though, and despite the potential revenues that could be gained from regulating and taxing marijuana like we do tobacco, at a time when cities, states, and the federal government are all in desperate need of increased revenues, and despite all the damage being done by throwing people in prison just for smoking a couple of joints, there seems to be an unspoken consensus in this country that we can’t really talk about legalizing marijuana.
Today is an ironic day for me to be writing about this, because Toledo’s first casino, Hollywood Casino, opened its doors for the first time this morning. I wish I could link to a good, critical news article about the opening, but all the coverage has been so fawning it almost makes me nauseous. They even broke into morning television shows to cover the ribbon-cutting ceremony live. There were a few short “polite” stories about the protest Occupy Toledo mobilized for tonight, but for the most part the press not only seems to be buying into the hype about how the casino will “revitalize” Toledo once and for all (just like they bought into the hype about the Erie Street Market, and before that Portside), but it almost feels like they’re working as mouthpieces for the casino and its government backers, lauding the casino instead of engaging in any kind of critical thought about it.
Although I’m personally opposed to gambling, I do think it should be legal because, just like prostitution and marijuana, it’s going to happen no matter what the government does to try to stop it, so the best thing the government can do is regulate it to try to minimize the hurt it can cause to others, and tax the daylights out of it to help pay for things we all need. Given the deep-rooted problems with Toledo and its economy,though, the argument that Hollywood Casino is going to “save” Toledo is patently absurd. Imagine if a man were to come into an emergency room after a bad car crash, with two broken legs, cracked ribs, and severe internal bleeding, and during the course of examining him the doctors found he also had a pre-cancerous lesion in his brain. Now imagine that the doctors decide that the best operation to perform on him is to surgically attach a third arm to the middle of his chest. That is the “fix” that Hollywood Casino is to what ails Toledo; it solves none of the underlying problems and the patient may be dying, but hey, it sure looks neat, doesn’t it?
There is a serious effort underway in Toledo to mobilize the city for a potential boom in equipment for harnessing solar power; glass is a key component for a lot of this equipment, and Toledo is nicknamed “The Glass City” because the sand in this part of the country is especially well-suited for glass production. This is a good, forward-thinking effort that makes sense not only financially but ecologically, and I sincerely hope it proves successful because the benefits would reach far, far beyond my neck of the woods. Still, just like the rest of the nation, we’re told that “now isn’t the time” to convert from fossil fuels to more sustainable power supplies, and the casino is held up to our faces like the big Shiny Thing it is to distract us from the real problems around us that aren’t getting solved.
I can appreciate the desire to turn Toledo into a “destination,” but even if this were the right time to work on tourism and such, it’s been tried before and failed countless times. When Kevin Nealon came to do stand-up here a while back, he joked about how much there is to do in Toledo: You can drive to Chicago, or you can drive to Detroit, or you can drive to Cleveland, or you can drive to Cincinnati. We’re simply not in a good spot geographically to be a “destination” with so many major cities within a daytrip’s drive. Unless you’ve got something on the level of a major national monument, you can’t base a city around tourism, so in order to be a “destination” you have to first have a strong core of residents around which to develop, people who will buy season tickets to the city’s baseball or hockey team, people who have good enough jobs to be able to afford admission tickets to keep the attractions going when times get tough and people don’t have the disposable income to travel to the “destination.” Promoting Hollywood Casino to the moon is pretty much the definition of putting the cart before the horse, and no one seems to notice that the horse in this case is deathly ill and needs medicine before it’s capable of even carrying itself down the road.
Like so many other things, it all comes down to money. No matter your opinion of the morality of gambling or drugs or prostitution, there’s no denying that there’s a lot of money to be made in all of them. People knew they stood to make a lot of money by building casinos in Ohio, so they kept taking the issue to the polls until we finally amended our state constitution to legalize casino gambling. There would be lots of money to be made if marijuana and prostitution were legalized, but right now private prison companies are making a mint through government contracts, so it’s in their (and thus their government supporters’) interest to keep as many things illegal as possible so they have more “customers” for their prisons.
There would be a lot of money to be made, not just here in Toledo but across the country as well, by converting to solar power, but the oil and other fossil fuel companies are throwing money left and right at politicians to get them to forestall the move to renewable energy, despite the tremendous harm fossil fuels continue to do to our environment, and despite the growing realization that we need to make this transition as quickly as possible. The jokes about politicians being the real prostitutes pretty much write themselves, so insert your own here.
It’s frustrating enough when you can’t convince the public of your argument because of all the misinformation the radical right throws out that doesn’t get challenged like it should. When you can’t even start to have a reasonable national debate about a topic like legalizing prostitution because it’s considered undebatable, that gets downright infuriating. For all the rhetoric that gets thrown around about this being the land of “opportunity,” if you continuously insist that a topic can’t be debated, then is there real opportunity?