Thursday, December 10, 2009

Times Square

1) A view of Times Square in the 1920s ( 2) 1970 saw Times Square as one of the centers of the gay and sex cultures in NYC surpassing its predecessor, Union Square. Sex shops, peep shows, sex theater houses, drug deals and gay and straight prostitution canvassed the landscape of Times Square make the area one of the most “dangerous” neighborhoods of NYC (The 3) Tourists seen taking a picture with the Naked Cowboy. Today, tourists can enjoy the sights, thriving street culture as well as the theater cultures of NYC (Grayson Maldonado and Dalue Song).

Times Square is one of the iconic sites of New York City, as it is home to the unforgettable theaters and upscale hotels. However, Times Square was not always the neon-flashing epicenter that it is known today – its sordid past lays in the underground yet mainstream culture of the commodification of sex, drugs, and prostitution. Urban renewal in this grandiose yet crucial space throughout the decades has been significant. “In order to bring about this redevelopment, the city has instituted not only a violent reconfiguration of its own landscape but also a legal and moral revamping of its own discursive structures, changing laws about sex, health and zoning, in the course of which it has been willing, and even anxious, to exploit everything from homophobia and AIDS to family values and fear of drugs.”[1]

At the turn of the century and during the Roaring 20s, Times Square was part of the “Tenderloin” districts of NYC – one of the most desirable lands of the city. Yet, during this time, corruption, gambling and prostitution were rampant and specific blocks became known for erotic and criminal activities.[2] During the 1920s, Times Square, already known as the market for female prostitution, became also known as the city’s center for male prostitution. This aspect of gay culture catered to customers in two ways – 1) transgendered-looking “fairy prostitutes” attracted tourists and members of the German and Italian communities and 2) more sophisticated prostitutes solicited middle-class gay businessmen.[3] Thus, city class elites secretly came into the promiscuous space to take part in the counternormative culture – a practice known as slumming. In this way, many elites were able to successfully live with double standards.

By the 1970s and 1980s,
gay culture was still thriving during this era. However, more “static” establishments, such as sex shops, porn stores, and massage parlors, proliferated during this period. However, this licentious space faced almost no legal opposition from the government. As a result, this environment of hypersexuality and rampant drug abuse significantly devalued the surrounding real estates.

Present: “Disneyland NYC”

The Forty-second Street Development Project, which included the Walt Disney Company, started an aggressive campaign to revamp the neighborhood’s image by getting rid of the city’s undesirables (gays, drug addicts, homeless).[4] Police were stationed everywhere to surveillance immoral, indecent and vagrant activities. Furthermore, an immediate crackdown of gay sexual outlets and drug users was initiated due to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

Today, the results of the Forty-second Street Development Project are evident as the entire district has been transformed: gone are the sex shops and drug parlors, in are the fancy restaurants and family-friendly entertainment arenas. The “city-culture” appeal has seemingly turned Times Square into a theme park. Meanwhile, the few adult stores and 25cent peep shows that still linger have been relegated to outside of the Times Square area and are thus away from modernity and decency.

- Grayson Maldonado and Dalue (Roy) Song

[1] Delany, Samuel. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York: NYU Press, 1999. xiv.

[2] Gilfoyle, Timothy J. City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution and the Commercialization of Sex. W.W. Norton & Co., 1994.

[3] Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. Basic Books, 1995.

[4] Gilfoyle, Timothy J. City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution and the Commercialization of Sex. W.W. Norton & Co., 1994.

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