It was last Thursday when I spotted the “for rent” sign in the window of the porn store around the corner from my house. It was a shock, I’ll admit, to see this venerable neighbourhood institution empty and abandoned. But I knew the day would come sooner or later. In this 24/7 500-channel, broadband-serviced world we live in, it seems there’s just no room for old-fashioned mom-and-pop bricks-and-mortar smut merchants.
Our local porn shop did more than sell DVDs of people having sex. Its mere presence kept the neighbourhood comfortably rooted in the middle-class realm. That’s why part of me is going to miss it. Like just about everywhere else in Toronto, gentrification in my little area is assuming obscene proportions. The local retail strip on Danforth Avenue, once dominated by fading Greek diners and variety stores, now boasts women’s clothing shops with names like envelöp and Boutique la di da. There’s a gluten-free organic pizza restaurant, a store stokced with nothing but hot sauces, and a place called The Water Shoppe, which sells, yes, bottled water plucked from exotic streams around the world. The porn store — lodged in a stereotypically decrepit building — struck a singularly authentic note of gritty urban realism amongst all this hyper-consumerist foppery.
Indeed, I found myself stressing its presence when I gave directions to visitors. My neighbourhood is saddled with the decidedly pretentious-sounding name of “Playter Estates,” and mentioning this particular local business was a good way to disabuse friends of the idea that they were going to wheel up to some sort of Edwardian country house. “Go up Broadview, then right at the Porn store — the pornography shop, you understand … yes, yes, that’s it, a place to buy filthy smut. You can’t miss it. I’m just around the corner …”
As with all things, my attitude is a product of age. I am a member of that slim human cohort that grew up after the sexual revolution, but before the Internet revolution. For Gen-Xers like myself, porn was neither forbidden nor downloadable. You could buy it, but you had to do it at a seedy store. Growing up in Montreal during the 1970s, I thought it completely unremarkable that Westmount, the city’s wealthiest Anglo neighbourhood, should have its own adult movie theatre lodged in an otherwise respectable section of its main Sherbrooke Street commercial strip. (“The Piccadilly” was housed in the same building where my dentist worked. So I’d get a tantalizing side-long glimpse of the coming hard-core attractions every time I’d go see Dr. Weinstein for a fluoride treatment.)
Then, in the 1980s, everyone got a VCR. The Piccadilly and its ilk became obsolete. No longer did men have to endure the frustration and indignity of watching porn in the company of other like-minded fellows — they could simply buy the tapes and bring them home. A decade later, the Internet took the storefront out of the equation completely. In 2007, the only men who still get their porn at the local XXX shop are in that vanishing demographic that’s too old for the Internet and too young to call it quits altogether.
Moral attitudes have changed a lot, too. When I was a kid, some Westmount dads formed a group called “Parents Against Aggressive Pornography,” which campaigned to shut the Piccadilly down on values grounds. (They succeeded in 1985.) But these days, porn doesn’t raise an eyebrow. Little girls are wearing “porn star” T-shirts. HBO and other black-turtleneck channels are full of explicit porn-industry documentaries, and you are apt to get the most nasty stuff delivered straight to your computer monitor merely by misspelling the name of your favorite Web site. Gone are the days of the prude patrol.
Not that my neighbours weren’t happy when I broadcast the news of the porn shop’s closure in a mass email. But being Torontonians, it was all about the real estate. “Property values just jumped a point!” one replied. “Let’s hope a cute café moves in,” said another. (“Wonder what they did with all my home movies?” a third added racily. “They couldn’t rent them — which is why it went broke,” chimed in a fourth.)
And I’ll admit that I too began thinking about the bottom line. In terms of the money I could get from my house, it’s like someone just put $5,000 in my pocket — double that if we could score a Starbucks. Oh yeah, Starbucks … Mmm, hmmm ….
As my pretensions of raw inner-city living dissipated amid sensuous yuppie day-dreams of plump, overstuffed chairs, hardwood floors, shamelessly exposed beams and arousing double-shot vanilla lattes, I reflected on the sad state of my generation. Our libidos may not have disappeared. But they’ve certainly gentrified.
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