The oldest profession* has been getting a lot of press lately. Perhaps as a way to cleanse some of the recent negativity, I’d like to turn to one of the more sincere expressions of love for the women of the night — or, to pull up short with the second-oldest profession**, the women of the evening. Video after the pole dance.
* Though I still say that there’s no reason to assume the first professional was a prostitute. We don’t know which Cro-Magnon first drew a regular salary. The title probably belongs to some random field that will never want it, like interior decorator, inventory flow manager or osteopath.
** Definitely osteopath.
First of all, it’s really nice that Wyclef Jean still calls his mom to keep her in the loop on his love life.
WYCLEF: “Hey ma, it’s Wyclef. I just wanted to tell you I’m seeing a new girl; and I think I’m in love.”
MAMA: “Oh, Wyclef! That’s so good to hear! See, there was no reason to doubt yourself; I knew you’d find somebody soon! Who’s the lucky girl?”
WYCLEF: “She’s a dancer.”
MAMA: “Ballet? You know, I read an article in Parade about this place called Alvin Ailey–”
WYCLEF: “Actually . . . I met her at the go-go. She’s very nice, you’d love her—”
MAMA: “Oh, no Wyclef! Don’t tell me! Oh, bless my heart, Wyclef, not one of those horrible women. Oh, don’t you know all those women just want you for your money, Wyclef! Oh, Whyclef, you’re sending me to an early grave! They don’t love you Wyclef! She’s probably . . . oh, she’s probably . . . “
WYCLEF: “Mom! Just ‘cause she dances go-go, that don’t maker a ho! No!
<aside> Maxine! Put your red shoes on! We’re going to the disco!</aside>
We’re going to eeeelope. To Meeeeehico. Mama, I’m in love with a stripper, yo.”
MAMA: “Why did he ever let that Lauryn Hill girl get away? I liked her. She always had interesting hats. Lost art in a lady if you ask me.”
The Perfect Gentleman
The more commonly heard mix of the song is just so sweet and nice and sincere. But is it the sincerity of a man professing a love society cannot understand, or the sincerity of a man who really sincerely loves strip clubs? Wyclef says he wants his fantasy fulfilled — Wyclef betrays a certain self-awareness, noting how Chris Rock has cautioned against excessive emotional attachment to strippers. Is it all smoke and mirrors? And if it is smoke and mirrors, does it matter?
I prefer to think that Wyclef and this stripper are having a nice ‘Fugee-Refugee/gal-dancin’-her-way-through-college relationship, and that the stripping is mostly novel framing for a basic love story (sort of like when you watch a formulaic romantic comedy, but they figure skate!). But, of course, the manufactured affection of the strip club is in there — the adoration you pay for, which I kind of really hate, not so much because of the impropriety of it as because of how freaking patronizing it all is.
<aside>excerpt from Fenzel at strip club:
Stripper: Ooh, you look like you work hard. Want a dance?
Fenzel: What do you know about where I work? And why are you trying to be my friend? You don’t really like me; you just want my money! Don’t pretend to like me when you don’t; it’s insulting. I will not be patronized!
Yeah, I know, I totally miss the point.</aside>
Back to the song — part of why it is so beloved (and it is beloved — there are people you totally don’t expect to who just love this song) is that it completes that essential artistic task of capturing ambiguities. That both stories exist at the same time, and that the song lets you hold them in your mind at the same time, which is pleasant and artistically fulfilling.
Hey, I make one poor New Critic by appealing so much to author’s intention — and that’s about to get worse.
The Gentleman Behind the Curtain
But there’s also a slightly different mix of the song that is a little less pretty (With random Wyclef fan still-shot montage goodness – I confess I partially post this just because I love YouTube fan montages of random stuff — so much commitment for so obscure a purpose):
Wyclef jumps back and forth between this rather sweet, if stressful, reality to a more knowing tone, breaking the artifice and, I think, willfully introducing the theme that the stripper’s romance is itself just an artifice that is easily broken.
Personally, I like the song better without the interjections, and I like it more as a sweet love song to an unconventional subject than as a sales pitch for Scores! But, then again, I never really liked strip clubs, so it might just be my personal prejudice.
The Mystery Endures!!!
Which do you think it is? Is Wyclef really in love with a stripper, yo? Is the song about renewing your innocence through the power of love — of not judging a book by its cover? A rejection of empty moralism that drives us apart rather than pull us together? Or is it about the artifice that sex workers use to deceive their customers and demean themselves?
Sound off in the comments!