Atlanta: Strip City
Until last year, twerking was the reserved for strip clubs and the dark corners of YouTube. Now, it’s a word in your grandma’s vocabulary, thanks to Miley Cyrus dry-humping that old man’s leg at the VMAs and op-ed writers all over the world losing their collective shit.
In Atlanta: Strip City, we travel to Atlanta—the city whose strip clubs pioneered the booty clap back when Miley was still learning to walk. Host Jo Fuertes-Knight talks to the superstar strippers of ATL about how they feel about the music industry’s appropriation of their world. She also sits down for a consultation with a buttock implant doctor, tries out a “twerk-cercise” class, and investigates “stripping licenses,” which allow the state of Georgia to profit from the enduring popularity of watching women take their clothes off onstage.
With unique access to three of the city’s most notorious strip clubs, their best-known dancers, management, and loyal customers, Atlanta: Strip City explores what it’s really like to get naked and dance for money in the strip club capital of the world.
Watch the trailer for VICE’s upcoming documentary Every Woman: Life as a Truck-Stop Stripper
How to Work Hard and Not Pay Taxes
An undocumented Mexican immigrant who came to America when he was two, Wuilber has been in and out of both trouble and jail, but never convicted. After splitting a disc in his back working out five years ago, he could no longer continue working at the warehouse where he was on payroll with phony papers. Then, after slipping into a meth addiction, he lost his job as an oil lube technician. Now he’s out pushing an ice cream cart up to nine hours straight. He makes $50 on a good day.
"I just need money, and this is the way I earn it. Money goes, money comes," he says. "Transportation, food, sunblock… I wear a lot of sunblock. Shoes… This job, the bad thing about it is people get warts under their feet, so I spend every two weeks at least $20 worth of wart killers. Dr. Scholl’s for the cushions under the feet, they wear out. Hopefully I’ll just stick to this and not do drugs and alcohol. I’ll be sober. I’ll live sober. Because I do really want a house, a wife, and kids and stuff."
Steven, 23, costumed Batman, $10-$30/day
A couple months ago, Steven moved to Los Angeles from the Bay Area looking to break into film. He lives in Lake View Terrace with his aunt, who works at Warner Brothers. He’s got hopes to start acting, writing, directing, and producing. He says he can “do it all.”
Having spent just a couple of weeks on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, Steven says “Between me and the other Batmans out here, it’s like mine is a Halloween store costume versus their Comic Con-quality costumes. There’s no competition… It’s really all in the way you approach people.”
Ana, 50, Tita, 44, bottle collectors, $20/day
A couple of days a week Ana and Tita collect bottles from the recycling bins that are brought out to the curbs around their neighborhood for city pickup. Respectively Mexican and El Salvadorian immigrants, they say it only takes about an hour and brings in a little extra income.
It’s not easy or glamorous though. Says Ana, “There’s bacteria and broken bottles that will cut you.”
Alabama’s Strip Clubs of Death
A strip club regular in Rialto, California, was so obsessed with a dancer he went to the club for several months specifically to see her. But when she refused to go home with him one night a few weeks ago, he shot her in the face—and then he shot himself in the head.
The stripper survived and is now in stable condition. The man is dead. And this kind of violence isn’t particularly rare. According to various local news reports I’ve been combing through, strip clubs in the US have already seen at least 11 shootings this year, which resulted in nine deaths. And that number doesn’t even include the bouncer at a Tennessee strip club who was shot with an arrow.
Reasons for the shootings vary. Most of the time, it’s the result of a fight between patrons that gets out of hand, or a drunk who’s thrown out of the club and comes back with a gun for revenge. In a few cases, they were robberies gone wrong.
But what causes the violence? Your regular armchair psychologist might say the combination of booze and boobs causes men to revert to a primal state and try to kill each other. Richard McCleary, one of the few criminologists who have studied this subject, claims that violence happens because strip clubs with lax security attract unsavory people who carry weapons and end up causing violent situations.
The truth is probably a combination of the two theories, with a dash of America’s gun-obsessed culture thrown in. At least, that’s how it is in Alabama.
My Very Gay Night at Very Straight Strip Clubs
I’m about as gay as Cristiano Ronaldo’s underwear drawer, so the sultry photos plastered outside of New York’s mega strip club, FlashDancers, have never really interested me. I live around the corner from the place, and I used to joke that the guys wearing maroon FlashDancers bibs and handing out titty-filled flyers were the only people in all of Manhattan who thought I had any interest in paying to see boobs. But recently I got to thinking, and as a man who loves sex, sex workers, the Platonic company of other men, and absolute camp insanity, I decided I should just sack up and go inside some straight strip clubs. I did, and that is how all my illusions about strippers were shattered.
I wasn’t alone. Serving as my Virgil to this implant-filled underworld were my friends John and Hassan, both strip club veterans if not exactly aficionados. After paying $20 to get into the place we walked up to the bar. The first tits I saw belonged to a woman gyrating behind the bartender with all the energy of a children’s toy whose batteries were about to die. As soon as we ordered our drinks a tall blonde who looked like Janice from The Muppets after some plastic surgery came up and talked to John. She wasn’t whispering sweet nothings in his ear for nothing—it was obvious that this interaction was about business. Then another stripper named Maya came up to talk with Hassan and me. She was American, about 5’8”, and hot in a very expected way. She most definitely had a tramp stamp. Her dress was electric blue and one of those situations where the top is connected to the floor-length skirt by a big metal ring that frames the belly button. I said I loved her dress and asked where she got it. She said they keep all the dresses there and the strippers get to choose from a big pile of them. I looked around and saw the same dress in different colors on several of the other dancers.
Seeing an opportunity, a third stripper came up to join us. Her name was Eva, and I was her reluctant mark. She was Swedish, so she said, but had dark hair, small tits, and was about six feet tall in her stripper heels. I peppered her with questions about the club. She told me it was busy earlier, with business travelers and the happy hour crowd, but it was starting to die down. She told me that the weekends were the busiest but also full of young guys, who are the worst customers. “Why? They don’t spend a lot of money?” I asked. “No,” she replied, “They just cum in their pants too quickly.”