Every major U.S. city has its Santa Monica Boulevard. In Chicago, it is called Wells Street. In Minneapolis, it is Hennepin Avenue. San Francisco has its Broadway, and New York City its Times Square. Santa Monica Boulevard is neither the busiest nor the worst. It is only typical.
As it knifes through Los Angeles' West Hollywood residential district, Santa Monica becomes a garish, grubby, milelong gauntlet of sex-book stalls, theaters and 8-mm. peep shows for voyeurs, and massage parlors and sexual encounter centers for those who want direct action. The Boulevard is a flexible ribbon of smut that expands or contracts according to the apathy or indignation of the surrounding stucco-house neighborhoods. It is, in a way, a bit of the Old West, a semilawless, laissez-faire street of chance, a zone of temptation and humiliation, harshly lit by neon signs that crackle their messages: ADULT, ENTER and OVER 18. Here only stereotypes live: carnival barkers with army-ant tenacity who pounce on passersby; cellulite-scarred ladies with bad teeth who strut, pose and eventually curse their embarrassed admirers; and bemused, disdainful deputy sheriffs who randomly cruise the area in black-and-white AMC Matadors.
The profit motive reigns unchecked along Santa Monica Boulevard. The markup on dildos is 600%, and the nudie magazines that retailers buy at $3 each sell for $6 to $8. Not everything, however, is what it seems. The Institute of Oral Love mainly dispenses talk, and Wild Mary's Massage provides local stimulation only if the customer pays extra. On the north side of the street is the "Beefcake Zone" where male hustlers loiter outside the homosexual theaters. The south side belongs to the straights, 70% of whom seem to be Japanese tourists. And from the open doors waft odors of cigarette smoke and Lysol.
But porn is scarcely confined to such strips. In Houston, the Bellaire News, which is a combination of a newsstand and a smut shop, is taking applications for the job of topless chauffeur who will whisk tourists in a black Cadillac from downtown hotels to its back room porno parlor. Ex-Prostitute Xaviera Hollander has sold 9 million copies of her paperbacks. Some 780 American theaters, including many elegant first-run houses, routinely show X-rated movies 52 weeks a year.
Playboy and a corps of far crasser imitators, all publicly exploring once private depths of sex and occasionally coming out with cover shots of women masturbating, are at supermarket chains on the racks and on view for millions of customers of all ages. Mason City, Iowa (pop. 32,000), has five bars featuring all-nude dancers to titillate customers (see box page 60). Boston lures the licentious—or the curious—to an anything-goes "combat zone," and other cities are rushing to find out how to emulate the zone, a device to quarantine the porno plague.
America is deep into its Age of Porn. The old narrow Puritanism is passing, and few mourn it. But the feeling of relief is mixed with growing unease and doubt: How will the current avalanche of porn change America? Many who oppose censorship now wonder if the mounting taste for porn is a symptom of decay, of corrosive boredom, of withdrawal from social concern for obsessive personal pleasures. Even those who argue that it is not harmful to the user, and that people ought to be free to do what