Humanizing the Pimp
Our culture’s obsession with the world of pimps and prostitutes shows up in odd places, from HBO specials that glorify the lifestyle to NPR interviews that try to psychoanalyze it away. The recent coffee table book Pimpnosis, written by Rob Marriott with artsy, black and white photographs by Tracy Funches, is a recent addition to the avalanche of information on the subject. But this book promises more: its preface describes it as “a testament to the reality of a world that has been greatly misunderstood and grossly maligned, but never truly entered by those who stood outside it—until now.”
Unfortunately, Pimpnosis suffers from the same short-sightedness that plagues most mainstream exploitations of pimp culture: in its attempts to humanize the pimp, it participates in the objectification of the prostitute, while largely ignoring the integral role of the john.
Pimpnosis follows a character called Twlight, who is a composite of many pimps that Marriott and Funches encountered during the six years they spent researching their book. The narrative begins with Twilight introspective, questioning the meaning of his life after the death of his mentor and father-figure, the infamous pimp King Sugar Charmaine. In order to figure things out, Twilight recounts his life as a pimp, and this comprises the bulk of the book’s text. Twilight’s life is a series of chance encounters, dangerous situations, desperate women, and fancy cars and clothes. In the end, it doesn’t amount to much; and, by the closing chapter, Twilight is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He is only saved when he remembers Charmaine’s sagacious advice to, “Quit while you’re still on top, player.”
Presumably, the reader is supposed to feel sympathetic toward Twilight, a lost soul in the cruel world of pimps and hos, but it’s difficult to pity a man whose life has been driven by the exploitation of women and the accumulation of material goods. If Twilight is a portrait of a typical pimp, then the reader can only assume that the pimp isn’t much more than a soulless creature, draped in gold and driving a Mercedes.
In fact, the slick monochromatic photos that fill Pimpnosis only further this interpretation. A large majority of them feature pimps’ cars, rings, and clothes; a few portray pimps’ contented faces; and only a handful of them showcase the prostitutes who generate all this income. According to the pimps in the book, the pimp and the ho are partners, in the game together, “the pimp and the ho function as a symbiote.” But any reader of this book might come away with an alternate interpretation: that the pimp and his fur coat, his diamond rings, function as a symbiote, while the prostitute is relegated to a secondary role, integral to the whole operation, yet ignored.
Only one section of this 155-page book is dedicated to probing the truly mysterious world of the ho’s mind. The main character in this chapter is a prostitute named Remy. Unfortunately, Marriott spends more time describing Remy’s appearance than relaying her thoughts. For example, in recounting Remy’s meeting with her first pimp, Vogue, back when she was just a stripper, Marriott writes, “Vogue came in one night and tipped her fifty dollars in ones and suggested that they talk once she got off. She stepped her pretty little ass off the stage and went over.” When Marriott does try to relay her thoughts, they don’t make much sense. Remy at first declines to be Vogue’s ho. He responds, “You could have been making three times what you making now, and I don’t like dealing with no idle stupid ho.” After this insult, Remy feels like her “choice has been taken away from her,” and she agrees to be Vogue’s ho. She thinks that, “it was a relief not to have to make it (the decision) herself.” From these statements, the reader can only assume that Remy is either lying about her experience with Vogue, or she was intimidated into acquiescence by his remark.
Remy’s thoughts may be confusing, but at least they are relayed. The remainder of the book is strictly dedicated to exploring the “game” from the pimp’s point of view. Prostitutes are little more than animals: groups of them are called stables, and especially good ones are described as “Thoroughbreds.” The book’s photos of prostitutes often obscure or excise their faces. One particularly disturbing photo features a woman’s chest, decorated with a tattoo that reads “Kenny’s Bitch,” and other photos, taken at the players ball, portray naked, faceless women surrounded by leering men in expensive suits. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that prostitutes’ experiences are largely absent from a book dedicated to exploring the lives of pimps. After all, they are a pimp’s property, and no self-respecting pimp would let his property speak her mind; but it is still disappointing.
What the creators of Pimpnosis fail to realize is that the supposedly mysterious motivations of pimps are fairly transparent. Morality aside, who wouldn’t want to make tons of money off of someone else’s hard work? Aside from the occasional run-in with the law or a fellow pimp, pimping is a nice life. It’s not as dangerous as robbery; it’s not as difficult as legal employment. And the pimp’s only work is convincing a slew of women to adore him, or at least obey him.
Prostitutes’ motivations are not quite so transparent. Admittedly, many sociological studies have been conducted on the subject, citing childhood sexual abuse, low self-esteem, or drug addiction as reasons for partaking in the “game.” But the creators of Pimpnosis don’t cite any of these sources. If they did, it would only serve to tarnish their sterling portrait of pimping.
As it stands, Pimpnosis is little more than a single-minded glorification of pimps’ glamorous and empty lives. The book only succeeds in its attempt to portray pimps’ humanity if the reader assumes the absolute worst about human nature. Pimpnosis—like the pimp’s life—may be filled with fancy cars and fabulous parties, but anyone who looks beneath the surface will find it severely lacking.