Behind the Screen

Online Stripping Takes Off

#Even after the Depression closed Broadway shows, striptease remained popular as a bawdy, anarchic spirit. When the rhapsodic poet Hart Crane wrote in his mystical epic The Bridge that a Second Avenue strip joint ''wakened salads in the brain,'' he meant that it overturned oppressive Victorian mores. In the '60s, the same rebellious impulse resurfaced as a political strategy that tried to be more than one person's erotic experience. Julian Beck, founder of the Living Theater, disrobed in front of an audience and asked them to do the same. Striptease was now radical, a countercultural act, an attempt to moon uptight '50s conventions. Nudity could set you free.

#After that, feminism, with good reason, told us it couldn't. And still later, political correctness agreed. Today, though, companies like Danni's Hard Drive are riding the wave of so-called sex-positive feminism, arguing that ''adult videoconferencing'' is an empowering act. ''We give dancers a chance to take advantage of their own careers and provide them with role models,'' Ashe maintains, explaining that some adult videoconferencing services provide employees with a good salary and even benefits. (Virtual Dreams has paid $50,000 a year.) But others are skeptical, pointing out that some online services actually pay less to cyberstrippers than live ones. (Low-end estimates range from $7 to $10 an hour.) And, says Jane No, a member of the Exotic Dancers Union, Local 790 in San Francisco--which earlier this year successfully ratified a union contract at the Lusty Lady Peep Show--the Internet allows people to record, reuse, and even sell images without compensating the performers. ''It plagues the industry,'' she says.

Then too, the Internet has made certain decisions about whom striptease's audience will be. Once democratic, striptease on the Web is pitched to a different audience. After all, $5.99 a minute adds up. And whereas the concave screen has merits, safe sex--wise, the Web has failed to solve a great need of our times. To paraphrase a great female entertainer in a different line of work, we want to be alone, but not by ourselves.

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