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One evening a streetwalker dresses herself in an alluring fashion in order to attract clients. Unfortunately, this is an evening that a police team has been assigned to round up streetwalkers, and she is arrested. Several days later she has to appear before the court. Again she dresses herself, but this time not in an alluring fashion. She wants to look respectable and quite alien to the hard life of the streets, little rooms, hungry strangers.
In a sense this is what all of us, some of us better than others, do many a day, trying to dress ourselves “for success” (or sometimes it’s for failure or to be ignored, etc.). And the dressing or self-presentation that we do does not only involve clothes, but also, for example, how we speak and what we offer to do or refuse to do and for whom. We would not wish to be called prostitutes, and we might wish to make a distinction between those who are exploited and those—be they trophy wives, bank vice-presidents, neurosurgeons, mathematicians or essay writers—who exploit themselves, or their physical, intellectual or emotional assets, in order to make money or gain social status.
Or—well, of course we can see that a salesperson or politician may at times have to engage in a kind of prostitution, or selling of the soul, so as to make a sale, get votes, raise money. So maybe the distinction we would like to make has to do not so much with the selling of a self as with sex? The streetwalker exploits or is forced by her pimp to exploit her sexual assets and her bedroom charms and talents in order to make money. A President may allow representatives of his major backers to frame regulations that his staff will put into effect, and when his term is up he may find himself owning a television station or a herd of cattle or being offered some very high speaking fees, but . . . Sex has not been involved. (Or, we might say, it is the country that has been screwed, not the President.)
I must thank Catherine Vigier and her essay, “The Meaning of Laura Del Ray,” for getting me thinking about this subject, and Dianne Stone, a former Zeteo colleague, for giving me the prostitute example one afternoon when we, as Catherine’s editors, were discussing a draft of the Del Rey piece.
The sketch or “visual comment” appeared in Vanity Fair’s VF Daily sketchbook on July 29, 2008. The artist, Drew Friedman, is, inter alia, the author of The Fun Never Stops, Old Jewish Comedians, and More Old Jewish Comedians.