LOS ANGELES – They call it a documentary. Fred Wiseman it isn’t. Ken Burns it isn’t.
There, on HBO, between the animated "Happy Feet" (PG rated) about the penguin who can’t sing, and Inside the NFL, which I assume is about sports, is an advertisement for prostitution. Work for two years on your back, see a doctor once a week, retire forever.
Right. And I can sell you a bridge in Brooklyn.
I am in St. Louis with my friend Elizabeth, helping her strategize with her brilliant physician client, Dr. Padda, about his new process to help women and men look their best, using minimally invasive procedures. Which is a long way of saying that we’re no prudes, we’re all for sex appeal, but we also have five kids ages 12-17 between us (not to mention six dogs and three cats), and we’re doing something neither of us ever has time to do at home.
We’re watching television, just for fun, in our hotel suite. Maybe a trashy movie, she suggests. Our turkey club has just arrived.
We don’t have a clue.
I’m in charge of the clicker when we happen on it. It’s midnight eastern time, but we’re on central time, where it’s a few minutes past 10 p.m., and the penguins have just stopped singing. If you don’t move your kids away from the TV fast enough, they’ll be front and center for 30 minutes at what his website describes as Dennis Hof’s "world famous" Bunny Ranch.
Famous for what? For prostitution, of course, for the objectification of women, the glorification of sex for money, the celebration of turning sex into a financial transaction, and parading women for one disgusting man after another to make his choice.
But here’s HBO’s description of what a quick click, or the lack of a quick enough one, will bring you: "If you've got a credit card, it's all there for the asking at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch! This eye-opening documentary visits this legal Nevada brothel where 'It's not just sex--it's an adventure.'"
"Interviews with the Ranch's employees and management are spiced up with sizzling footage from hidden cameras that capture intimate moments as red-blooded, law-abiding Americans live out their fantasies with beautiful working girls. Some segments that are featured include a mother who brings her 22-year-old son to be deflowered; a couple who yearns for a little extramarital action; and two brothers who hope to live out their porn-star fantasies."
"Men" and "girls." A son’s "deflowering." A "little extramarital action" (he wants to have anal sex with her while she’s having oral sex with his wife; if this is "a little," spare me what "a lot" would look like). Brothers in action. We can’t believe we’re watching TV.
Of course this is cable, not broadcast. The lawyer in me knows that means a different set of rules apply. The mother in me knows it makes no difference at all, that in many neighborhoods and houses, cable and satellite are the only way you have television at all. The lawyer in me knows it’s 10 p.m., when kids aren’t supposed to be watching, at least unsupervised. The mother in me knows that at home, I go to bed before my kids; they’re still doing homework at this hour while I’m out for the count.
And this is what they could be watching? "Sizzling footage?" I’d call it disgusting. "Red-blooded Americans?" I’d call them cold-blooded jerks.
There is no criticism in this documentary. None of the girls’ parents are interviewed. Is this what we want for our daughters? There are no husbands or boyfriends, no children or loved ones. Free sex, except it isn’t. No one gets sick, the doctor tells us. Maybe not physically, but what about their minds and their spirits? What about their souls? Where will these girls be in a few years? How will they live with themselves? What will they tell their children?
In July 2003, Vince Neil, a singer with Motley Crue and a Ranch regular, was charged with battery after a sex worker there (they don’t like the word "prostitute") reported that he grabbed her by the throat and threw her against a wall. That’s from Wikipedia, not from the documentary.
Mr. Hof, it turns out (again from Wikipedia, not the documentary), was himself a regular customer at the ranch when he purchased it in 1993 for $1 million, and invested an additional $500,000 to spruce it up. It looks more spruced up on television than in the photos taken from the outside that show a bunch of trailers, which is what this ranch really is.
On television, Hof says the girls get rich. Somehow, my guess is that he does, off their backs. What does he do to deserve the fruits of their labor, as it were? No one asks. He sends them out to whore for him, literally and figuratively.
Last spring, two of the girls were even on Hannity and Colmes to promote the new season. Reverend Al Sharpton, rarely at a loss for words, was reportedly speechless after he ran into them backstage and, in answer to his question about what the Bunny Ranch was, was told: "It's a 52-year-old social experiment that works. It's legal prostitution."
Works for whom, would seem to be the critical question, but it’s not one HBO really asks. After all, would they get this kind of access if they did?
The producers brag about all the hidden cameras, but I know better. The people we see must have signed releases. They aren’t ashamed. But the rest of us, who stare at the screen in disbelief, should be. Not to mention HBO.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.