Book Review: Naked Truth, by Judith Hanna

Book review: Naked Truth: Strip Clubs, Democracy, And A Christian Right, by Judith Lynne Hanna (2012, University of Texas Press)

Let me tell you why you should care about strip clubs.

Or rather, let me tell you about Judy Hanna’s new book about why should care about strip clubs.

Anthropologist Dr. Judith Hanna is the country’s expert on strip clubs and exotic dance. A tremendous researcher, observer, and writer, she has served as an expert witness in over one hundred cases across the U.S.

Naked Truth is a riveting combination of news stories, fascinating anecdote, articulate analysis, and lessons in our living Constitution. It’s also a chilling expose of exactly how Christian Right activists are using the issue of sexual regulation to undermine democracy and the separation of church and state.

This parallels the very point of my 2006 book America’s War On Sex (2nd edition now available). My book does have a few pages on exotic dance, along with swing clubs and adult bookstores. Indeed, I consulted Hanna while writing the book’s first edition in 2006. She was a gracious, expert source.

Naked Truth focuses entirely on strip clubs. And with good reason: with few exceptions, just about every American lives within 100 miles of a club. Millions of men spend millions of hours and tens of millions of dollars at such clubs. Some spend the rent money there.

Cities and counties also spend tens of millions of dollars attempting to shut such clubs. Sometimes they’re successful; sometimes they aren’t. But win or lose, these cases are never cheap, in effect spending taxpayer money on attorneys instead of schools and hospitals.

And these cases are rarely wholesome. As Hanna documents, attempts to constrain, close, or prevent strip clubs are typically part of a religiously-based campaign to minimize sexual expression in a community. And that campaign, in turn, is typically part of a broader national movement—supposedly about enhancing morality, or protecting women, or preventing crime, but really about increasing the political power of the Christian Right and imposing religious doctrines on the entire country.

Hanna exposes common myths the Christian Right (and local law enforcement) uses to limit adults’ access to strip clubs: clubs cause crime, they lead to sexual violence, they coerce women into dancing, and they often involve underage dancers and audience members. None of these four common assertions is true. In fact, to rid themselves of strip clubs communities often write emergency ordinances that declare these beliefs to be facts, and therefore not requiring proof. That’s because for the most part there is none.

Whether you’re interested in stripping as an art form (with a long and complex history), as the focus of a long series of Constitutional cases (which Hanna describes in entertaining fashion), or as a case study in the rise of organized religious activism (Roe v Wade, anyone?), you’ll find this book an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.

It’s a great companion to G-Strings and Sympathy, Katherine Frank’s 2002 book about customers’ experiences as strip club regulars. Frank analyzes the psychological dynamics of the patrons, while Hanna analyzes the political dynamics that restrict or prevent patrons’ access to clubs.

Together, they make fascinating reading about an enormous subculture that mainstream society disdains—and, as Hanna documents, ferociously attacks when it can.

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