Flaming torches and pitchforks!

I am a member of my local Next Door, described as a “free private social network for your neighborhood.” Anyone can be invited to join, so “private” really means “once you’re invited to join by someone who knows you and lives in your neighborhood.” The primary purpose of this network is to allow people to connect with their neighbors, and the bulk of the posts are about lost cats (many lost to coyotes at night!), car break-ins, and random housewares for sale.

Recently, however, the board exploded — 98 posts as of this article — when someone announced that a franchised “Adult Shop” was going into the space where a beloved neighborhood deli had recently left. In the course of the “conversation,” it became apparent that the deli was being replaced because the new renters could pay higher rent.

People. Freaked. Out. Here’s a sampling:

It is always about the money isn’t it? A fabulous local business-a value to the families in the neighborhood, over thrown by a franchise that serves people most likely from other areas as they don’t want to be seen!!!

What started out as a somewhat reasonable concern — local business with neighborhood roots being supplanted by an evil chain — quickly devolved into a moralistic discussion. And then the shaming and blaming idea catches on:

we should hang out on the sidewalk photographing patrons/posting and picketing….

Yes, there were definitely some voices of reason:

I abhor the idea of an adult business there, but I want to show respect. Picketing, boycotting, and suing are unlikely to change minds.
This is horrible news. But photographing patrons is hopefully illegal. I don’t think we need to publicly humiliate our neighbors.
Even if you loved [the deli], please don’t be weird and invasive to the people going in to the store. Respect their privacy — the person you have an issue with is the landlord, not the people who want to buy sex stuff.

But then back to the flaming-torches-and-pitchfork people:

If the “neighbors” (or commuters?) don’t like being photographed they will hopefully stop doing business at that particular spot. No business, no way it can continue operation. As for legality, I don’t see an issue, but if there was one, it would only be illegal if pics were made public.
It is not illegal to photograph the patrons, their vehicles and/or their vehicle license plates.

At which point, the momentum really kicked in:

This sounds like a good news story, family owned business that brought so much good to the neighborhood gets kicked out for adult store. Anyone have a contact at one of the stations?
I think the news should do a follow-up human interest story on the demise of [the deli]…a nice family-run, neighborhood-invested, restaurant being kicked out for a porn shop.
I also like everyone’s ideas of picketing, photographing the patrons of the upcoming adult shop.
OK, so this is just how it COULD look

The assumption that anyone who would want to patronize such an establishment would go out of their way to avoid running into someone they know is taken as a fact rather than an opinion. The posters are saying that potential patrons must obviously not be from the neighborhood, because who in their right minds would ever admit to going to one of “those” places? (Me. I would. If its an appealing shop like She Bop or Babeland, that would be me.)

This attitude not only suggests a narrow scope of acceptance of human sexuality, but deeper than that is the disrespect for basic freedom and expression. That the best solution for a situation that makes some people uncomfortable is to shame others hints at the shame and fear the picketers may themselves harbor about sex and sexuality.

I would ask those who promote the humiliation approach to consider: how will this business directly and negatively impact your life? Or is it just about how it makes you feel? What filters and assumptions are you bringing to the conversation?

The argument may be made that such a business is likely to attract other unseemly behavior. But I would counter that I have seen unpleasant and disruptive behavior from the patrons of the 7–11 up the street, including underage drinking, vandalism, littering (SO many Slurpee cups), panhandling…but somehow there is traction to the idea that people who would go into an adult store would be bad? Frankly, knowing that their business would be “under the microscope” could impel the adult shop to be a good neighbor, as opposed to the convenience store that just wants to sell Big Gulps and allow the surrounding areas to be covered in snack detritus.

Clearly this “conversation” fell prey to many of the common pitfalls of conversations that even tangentially involve sex in our society. There were too many assumptions made, not enough facts, everyone brought their own filter (i.e. what IS an “Adult Shop” — I pictured clean and sex-positive, others pictured a front for prostitution), and many also contributed a hefty dose of sex-negative NIMBY-ism. I considered jumping in the fray, mentioning that an “adult shop” isn’t necessarily dangerous, and that shame, fear and stigma surrounding sexuality may really be what is at play here, but I didn’t want to get burned by the flaming torches.