Oct. 9, 1972: "Everyone seems afraid of meeting a pervert. Or perhaps of being thought of as one..." Times Square in New York City at its seediest. A symbol of the Apple: "what happens there is symptomatic of the whole".
What is happening there, I gather, is nothing particularly anomalous these days of total surveillance and discipline. Hardly anything weird worth reporting – for better or worse. To a measure of anarchistic regret, the square is no longer the "sleaziest block in America". The "bottomless sexual sewer" of spontaneous sociality – crude bacchanalian as it might be, yet deserving a room – has been sanitized through and through into a safe and sleek shopping destination. It's been the case since around the noughties, the zero decade. The seediness as depicted was still there in the early 90s. Some of it anyway and I remember it well. Though my memories are those of an occasional pedestrian – of the kind, most certainly, not absolutely aloof from its grotesque thick and sticky reality when passing by.
The photo appeared in the New York Times, featured in an article titled "A Look Through a Solemn Sodom
". Despite the header, which manifests a value judgment with some uneasy religious overtones (most likely that of an editor), the piece is, in fact, a prime exemplar of impartial journalism, executed in the exact same dry neutral manner as the day's front-page lead story on the progress of Kissinger's Vietnam negotiations in Paris – although commanding four times as much space in the issue.
This is about how much more interesting this article is, too – for one thing, content-wise, given the topic; for another, with regards to its style as noted. Intentional or otherwise, the withdrawal of personal rhetorical expressivity from the sultry "human-interest" story – steamy as it gets on the pages of "The News Fit to Print" in 1972 – somehow returns this expressivity into the narrative multiplied. The stylistic limitations of objective reporting, abstention from speculation in favor of raw facticity, the staccato pace of paratactic sentences… all these constraints shape it into a powerfully evocative literary masterpiece. Almost.
And it is not entirely bereft of valuable didactic insights – with some illegitimate reshuffling and juxtapositioning, yet justifiable:
"Tickets to most dirty movies cost $3. There are also peep shows, flickering reels of one minute, which costs only 25 cents. They are both soft and hardcore. The king of the peep show business in New York is Martin Hodas, who has a beard and a deep voice. The voice is made for shouting: 'A pogrom! A pogrom, this pogrom for $4,000, $5,000 gross a week, a net of $1,000 ... This year I don't think I'll make $40,000* … The aim is not to make money. The aim is to not dilute the service."
On this "no dilution" high-pitch note, genuine or not... It blows my mind pondering how in so distant 1972 this ostensibly sleazy king of peep show biz in New York could hack into and read our innocent minds in 2019, if not verbatim. It is when, far away across the world, we were busy nurturing our Noble Savage, feeding the newborn with all the right nutrients necessary for its growth, but not the kind of growth that would "cannibalize" the concept in the process, as buddy Till Harter would figuratively put it.
* $40,000 is equivalent to $278,000 in purchasing power these days.