In polite company, if spoken about at all, they are called "regional adult entertainment magazines." In more abrupt terms, they're known as "those free magazines found at strip clubs and dildo shops." A hybrid between porno and straight-laced trade publications, these magazines are filled with a mix of winsome escort ads, news items of interest to sex workers, and pictures of cooing strippers. Since Portland reportedly has the highest number of strip joints per capita in North America, it should come as no surprise our city also hosts one of the most bustling adult entertainment magazine industries in the country, on par with major metropolitan areas like Las Vegas, Atlanta, and New York.
But in spite of the recent growth, Portland's sex mag industry is anything but stable. With a national magazine muscling into town and another start-up possibly on the way, it's unclear what will be standing when the dust clears. Moreover, in the past few months, with an internal editorial shake-up at the city's leading stripper magazine, Exotic, the industry is in a state of acute uncertainty.
About the same time Xcitement made its debut in Portland, Exotic published an article slamming strippers--the very women these magazines fawn over. Like Seventeen suddenly publishing articles about how teenagers are dumb, gangly, and acne-prone, over the past year, comments mocking the stripper lifestyle have slipped into Exotic.
Unlike dozens of other similar magazines around the country, it's safe to say Exotic has a unique editorial approach. They've published 114 continuous issues--an impressive run for any magazine--and print about 30,000 copies per month. It may sound like a classic porn- hoarding excuse, but at times, Exotic is truly worth picking up for the articles. In addition to the stripper profiles and pages of escort ads, they've run well-honed interviews with local bands and barbed editorials about free speech rights.
That editorial content had become increasingly edgy and surprising over the past year, ever since a notorious local writer, Jim Goad, took on the editor's position. The former editor of the extremely controversial Answer Me!, Goad was an odd choice for the position. In 1998, Goad was charged with and convicted of domestic violence, and spent two-and-a-half years in prison for assaulting a woman, coincidentally a stripper. (Goad has claimed he was acting in self-defense.)
Ironically, upon being released from prison two years ago, Goad was hired as the editor of Exotic. A friend of the publication's owner, Frank Faillace, Goad was offered the job to help satisfy his probation terms. (Faillace also owns the downtown club Dante's.) Goad confessed he was like the proverbial bull in a china shop.
"I'll be the first to admit I was inappropriate for the job," Goad wrote in a recent edition of the New York Press. "The magazine became a Trojan horse inside which I crouched, ready to pillage the industry."
It was this sentiment that wormed through his stories in Exotic. During his tenure as the editor, he slipped comments into articles that slammed and ridiculed the sex work industry. Goad called his editorial mission "a weird hybrid of Hustler and The Onion." At times it was very funny; other times, the tone seemed to spring from a deep well of spite. There were articles titled, "The Herbal Date-Rape Drug," as well as, "Virgin Mary's Face Appears in Wet Spot."
In recent months, this Machiavellian playfulness took on an increasingly acidic tone. The final straw came last month when one of his writers, Officer Partridge, penned a column that outright slammed strippers. ("Officer Partridge" is the street name for Morgan Tisdale, the son of local feminist writer Sallie Tisdale; two years ago, Morgan faced charges of assaulting a woman outside Satyricon.)
The article was written as if addressing a stripper. Tisdale sets up a mock dialogue in which he informed the stripper that she is nothing but a sex toy for him to objectify.
"Uh, excuse me, ma'am? Could you get your fucking life out of my way?" Tisdale wrote in his column. "I'm trying to look up your asshole. Thanks. I can look at the place on your body that shit comes out of. Anytime I want. For a dollar. And you have feelings? I can see your pooper! Is this a joke?"
That was too much for readers, local strippers, and the publisher. In the days after the article hit the streets, the publisher and his minions tried to diffuse and limit damage to the magazine's reputation--and, most importantly, stop advertisers from yanking their ads. After the magazine hit the street, Faillace allegedly sent three workers around town with box cutters to slice the article out of the magazine. In the current issue, Faillace publishes a letter that apologizes profusely.
"We value and respect dancers as the lifeblood of our industry," Faillace says in the letter.
Faillace also makes the point that the offending article was submitted at the last minute, with no time for editorial review, and claims Tisdale will never write for the magazine again.
But Goad has rejected those claims, claiming Tisdale's article was in long before deadline, that he knew exactly what he doing and what impact it would have. He also noted he was never consulted about firing Tisdale.
Upset with what he saw as a magazine pandering to its advertisers--mostly strip clubs and local escorts--Goad split from Exotic. (Via email, he told the Mercury that after a month hiatus he plans to continue publishing his cartoon strip, "Trucker Fags in Denial," in upcoming issues of Exotic.)
But even since Goad's departure, Exotic is allegedly still scrambling to find its feet. Industry insiders have claimed that Exotic is hard-up for cash and that last week, Faillace went calling to collect past-due accounts from advertisers like Wild Orchid, a local strip club. According to sources inside the industry, Christopher Nardin, the owner of Wild Orchid, owed more than $2000 for ads that have run in Exotic. Perhaps not coincidentally, Nardin's brother works at Exotic's rival, SFX.
From here, accounts of what happened when Faillace arrived at Wild Orchid differ. One story has it that Faillace and several accomplices loitered menacingly around the club until Nardin emerged from a back room, allegedly drawing guns on the owner.
Nardin did not return calls from the Mercury and Faillace has brushed off these stories as rumors and attempts by his competitors to undermine Exotic. "The Wild Orchid incident has been wildly blown out of proportion by desperate competitors," explained Faillace. In fact, he says, the controversy has benefited Exotic, and ad sales have climbed.
"I think after the initial negative perception, a lot of business owners realized how many people actually read Exotic compared to the generic, amateur 'ad brochure' format of the competition."
Faillace is also certain that Exotic will still be standing after everything calms down. "I would say at least one will be gone within a month or two," he says referring to other stripper magazines in town. He adds, "The other two will fight it out for a while before they get too tired of barely making a profit." Faillace says that stripper magazines are not as profitable as most people expect.
"We're not going anywhere," he adds confidently. "The others? It will be survival of the fittest."