Friday, 2 November 2012

Strange Taboo

This article originally appeared in Radar magazine, Issue 12, July 2011

Not long ago I happened to be standing around at Moor Street Station, waiting for a train out to Tysley. From the back of the platform it's possible to look down across some of the old side streets leading off from Digbeth. Most of this side of the city centre has been heavily redeveloped over recent years and even now the skyline bristles with cranes. Just ahead, at the end of Park Street, is the Hive, a new block of cream and brown apartments, now complete enough to be touting for occupants. Then there is Millennium Point with its gleaming glass and strange, orange slats, while behind me are the silver saucers of Selfridges.

However, one of the first things I can see, almost immediately below me, is the Taboo adult cinema club – a windowless brick building, painted in brown and black, from which emanates an aura of dismal seediness.

Taboo stands hemmed in by modernity and yet unchanged and overlooked, seemingly a throwback to grubbier times when pornography was seen to be the preserve of lonely men. Today there is pornography being made by and for women, although people will obviously have differing opinions on whether this represents progress or not.

Just a few hundred yards away, in the heart of the Bull Ring shopping centre, there is another indisputable sign of changing times - an Ann Summers store, which is generally busy with women, men and couples browsing through the merchandise as unselfconsciously as if they were shopping for breakfast cereals.

So who in the world still feels the need to go to an adult cinema in 2011?

Later, sitting on the train, I google the place on my iPhone and find the address of a website for the cinema, although it seems to be down at the moment. There is also a rumour on a forum, from last year, that Taboo is about to close. There were no For Sale or To Let signs on it, but otherwise it's hard to see how the exterior would look noticeably different even if it had long since gone out of business.

Other than that the cinema is mainly mentioned in various forums as a place where gay men, transsexuals and cross-dressers can go to indulge in some anonymous intimacy, which at least provides a plausible explanation for why the place could still be open.

The search also turns up a phone number for the cinema. It sits on my iPhone screen, as oddly tempting as a button saying 'Don't Press.'

It rings just once before a male voice with a softy Brummie twang answers –

'Hello, Taboo cinema Birmingham.'

'Erm.. what time are you still open today 'til?' I ask rather incomprehensibly.

'We're open 'til eleven today.'

'Ok. Thanks.'

'Thank you.'

He hangs up. Not the greatest piece of investigative journalism, but at least I've established that the place hasn't closed down.

Maybe the seediness and secrecy is all part of the appeal for today's clientele, regardless of how it might appear to passers by.

But if you agree that consenting adults ought to be able to do what they like to and with each other, then it follows that people have to be free to pretend they are not free, to pretend that there really is something forbidden, 'dirty' or wrong about what they are doing. Maybe it is this strange part of our psyche that explains why Taboo is still in business, just as it explains why Ann Summers sells handcuffs.

Radar Issue 12, July 2011

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