Today the Pleasure Chest of Los Angeles is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Hosted and produced by LA's "real life Jessica Rabbit," Lenora Claire, the party and the place expresses the essence of what this town is all about. Take just one of the many activities that Claire is organizing: "We've hired an outrageous 50-person limo bus complete with black leather couches and stripper poles. Guests are invited to jump on the bus and "dance" with their favorite porn stars such as Belladonna and the legendary Nina Hartley." This is more than just a party gimmick, it's the popular twist that defines high-concept Hollywood movies. "It's a homage," Claire explains, "to the absurdly popular TV series Dancing with Stars -- only now it's Dancing with the Porn Stars." She's producing a Filini-esque picture, a "sexual circus" complete with monkeys and clowns on stilts.
The approach is fitting given that it's become the chosen store Hollywood has publicly embraced as one of its own. Halle Berry to Gwyneth Paltrow to Jennifer Love Hewitt talk openly about shopping there. It's the location choice of many a TV show from Entourage to So NoTORIus to Penn & Teller: Bullshit. Even Jackass tried to prank the store, but they didn't take the bait and the scene was never aired. It's where Billy Idol guitarist Steven Stevens met his wife Josie. It's where Joan Jett bought the leather ring belt that become synonymous with Sid Vicious's vicious image.
Their decades-old connection to Hollywood is really just a function of their connection to the cultural undercurrents of the Left Coast. As I've written about before, some institutions represent innovations, new and often peculiar additions to the cultural landscape. These are the never-been-seen-before places, whether it's the Rhodesian theme diner such as the Safari Room or the postmodern installation art piece in the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Change happens when society embraces these oddities and makes them their own. But there's another kind of change-making institution. This is where we find the Pleasure Chest. More than just an outlet for suppressed cultural currents, these institutions are public platforms for them, and change them as a result.
They began by selling waterbeds and quickly came to serve a diverse clientele: from the housewives of Nixon's moral majority to the gay men of the neighboring West Hollywood. By refusing to block out their windows, they refused to be a secret space for secret desires. They instead embraced "sex positive" movement. Today, that means educational classes on how to be a better lover with teachers flown in from all across the world as well as their highly-trained team of professional staff. They even sell "water pipes" and sell medical marijuana.
They are, in other words, on the forefront of every true taboo. They bring what is hidden but widespread and turn it into something safe, friendly, transparent and even educational. And in doing so they push the current into directions. Their 40th anniversary is a celebration catalogs the arc of this current and, no doubt, will provide some insight to its future.
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