DO YOU remember that excruciating moment as a child when you saw your first movie sex scene - and you were sitting in between your mom and dad at the multiplex? You sank lower in your seat, your heart beating fast, just wishing the kissing would be over already.
Flash forward to 2008. You're a grown-up with children of your own. You're chomping popcorn at the TD Banknorth Garden during halftime, swapping sports-talk with your father in-law, when the Celtics Dancers take the floor. The lights dim, the music pounds, and suddenly you've all been transported to the Bada Bing. Booties shake. Pelvises grind. Cleavage heaves. All that's missing for the perfect pole dance is the pole.
I'm not out to ruin everyone's fun, but last time I checked, the purpose of attending a Celtics game was to watch basketball. These days, you can barely focus on the action on the court for all the action off of it - the images flashing across the Jumbotrons, the hip-hop blaring in your ears, the promotional gimmicks for Foxwoods. I always walk out of a game feeling slightly dazed from all the sounds and lights. It's like I've been to a rave.
Red Auerbach, the iconic coach and general manager who built 16 Celtics championship teams, was disdainful of cheerleaders, who he feared would distract from the game. The Celtics would have cheerleaders over his dead body, Red said. And so the suits waited. In February 2004, Auerbach told the Globe, "They're just waiting for me to die so they can get cheerleaders." He was right. Two and a half years later, Red was dead, and at the first available opportunity the girls took the court.
What would Red think now? I guess with courtside seats going for hundreds of dollars, the team feels it has to provide a spectacle for its customers. This isn't just a basketball game; it's a show. And that's where the dancers come in. Based on my unscientific personal survey, the average Celtics game attendee is a late-30s white guy in a button-down on his third beer after a long day in the office. He wants to relax. What better way to get mortgage payments off the mind than with Cherie, Chantal, Jaclyn, and Jennafa in 3-inch white patent go-go boots and green Celtics jerseys that dangle just below the derriere?
The problem is that about one-third of the audience is female. And while we ladies can't help but be impressed by the dancers' skill and flexibility - I didn't know that legs could actually splay in some of those directions - some of us are a little put-off when the porn takes over the paint.
And yes, it is porn, i.e. erotic behavior intended to arouse a quick, intense emotional reaction. Even the homepage of the dancers' website declares: "Dancers in Sports Illustrated: Who needs the swimsuit issue?" When I clicked on the link, I got a close-up of one particularly well-endowed dancer who happened to be caught full-frontal at the very highest point of her high kick. In stretch-tight pants, needless to say.
As a fairly recent transplant from New York, I'm a little puzzled by all this. I thought that I was moving to the land of stiff collars and self-restraint. No one thinks of Boston as "sexy." Boston is classic. It's distinguished. It's Brooks Brothers and Bloody Marys.
Maybe that's why the Celtics Dancers' erotic interruptions feel so incongruous. And when I glance around at the game, I see plenty of baffled faces. There are suburban dads in attendance with preteen daughters, shrugging helplessly. They seem to be saying, "These aren't your role models!" There are respectable older gentlemen, like my father-in-law, who sinks deeper into his popcorn. Our eyes don't meet. There are also legions of teenage boys, their eyes like saucers, holding up their cellphones to get the perfect soft-porn picture to show off around school. I guess those are the customers the Celtics are hoping to please.
Sometimes it seems like sex has crept into everything in American society, from deodorant commercials to presidential politics. That's because we're a consumer society and if there's one thing that marketers know for sure, it's that sex sells.
Still, porn has its place, and that's not on the parquet of the Garden. You would think that having the turnaround team with the best record in the NBA would be enough for the Celtics. Personally, I wish Kevin Garnett's dunks weren't competing with Courtney's curves for my attention.
Kate Darnton, a book editor, lives in Boston.