Jul 272011
 

Book cover. Man wearing officer's cap embracing nude woman, in leather harness, from behind. Title is Captured by the SS

Sylvia Plath wrote that “Every woman loves a fascist” and the Nazi can function as the absolute extreme of the “bad boy”.

A book published by Ellora’s Cave under the Taboo line, Captured by the SS by Gail Starbright, goes deep into this fantasy. From the description:

By the twenty-first century, Germany has all but taken over the world. Only one nation remains untouched…America. Only spies slip in and out of enemy territory. Within this shadowy and dangerous world of cloak and dagger, Isabel Riley is an American spy deep in enemy territory.

Isabel is detained at a German checkpoint by a black-uniformed SS officer. She’s arrested, taken into custody and interrogated.

But she soon learns her enigmatic captor wants more than just her secrets. He enjoys tying her up or teasing her with the tails of his leather flogger. But floggers and video cameras are the least of her concerns. In the eyes of the Third Reich, ownership is real. And a lovely American spy is far too tempting of a war prize to pass up.

Although I haven’t read the book, my response to the description was “Um…”

According to the comments, this book is not strictly historically accurate, but an alternate history story:

If you are a fan of submissive fantasies then this is a great read. GS created an alternate universe where Germany won. This is not romancing the Nazi’s – this is a story about a woman [sic] path into submission. Suspend reality and enjoy. Not a plot spoiler, but to ease the squemish [sic], GS kills off Hitler giving the Reich a humane leader.

This reader, at least, says that this is enough to make it acceptable. (I would argue that even if Hitler had been killed off, anti-Semitism was too deeply ingrained in the society to go away.)

Another reviewer says:

We all know that Nazi Germany was responsible for the worst atrocities in history. But that’s not what’s driving this story. This is about understanding the roles of dominance and submission.

Another unconditionally objects and doesn’t make any excuses:

I don’t care if this is under ‘Taboo’. So now we’re romanticizing the Nazi’s? The SS? Do you even know WHAT THE SS HAVE DONE? You need to go and do some research. Does this story include the burning and torture of countless people? Did it include the scientific experiments on twins without anesthesia? Yes I know that there are ‘romantic’ stories of other cultures such as the Romans, etc… but that is completely different. The horrific killings of children, women, men, elders, handicapped, politicians, etc.. in OUR recent memory shouldn’t be written about so lightly. Just saying.

The point of contention is not Holocaust denial or other forms of Nazi apologism, but whether this fantasy is separate from historical reality and is therefore acceptable, or still entangled in real-life history and therefore unacceptable.

Yet another comment:

Bobbie you didn’t read so don’t rate. By the way, why do [sic] you go back to roman civilization and witness all the fun and games first hand. Based upon history many people have been slaughtered, raped and yes gasp genocided. Lets start with all the tribes wiped out by romans. You think they were nice- they gave you nice anesthetic when they tortured and gutted you. Think slavery was fun. Ask the blacks of north america how fun it was. This is not a political forum. Many stories here are politically incorrect and would horrify our ancestors who have actually experienced history. I’m going to buy the book simply because I don’t like people like bobbie censoring fantasy.

This argument seems to be that eroticizing Nazis is equivalent to eroticizing Romans or Vikings or any other historical aggressor and issues like historical proximity is irrelevant.

Theleweit’s Male Fantasies books analyzed pre-WWII German freikorps literature, and argued that these men created the ideal of the “steelhard” male body that was opposed to the feminine body that was described in terms of disease, contagion, fluidity and liquidity. (Makes me think of Edward Cullen’s cool, eternally youthful, superhumanly fast and strong, vampiric body in Twilight, so beautiful that he literally sparkles in sunlight, like glass or metal.)

If the point of the story/fantasy for the female reader/fantasizer is to start with the hard man and soften him up, to move him towards the other end of the male-female/hard-soft scale, why not start with a man who is at the extreme end of the male/hard scale? The greater the movement on the scale, the greater the drama and the erotic charge.

Another comment said:

I shuddered when her captor/master offered her a cup of “sedative” hot chocolate (brought the Goebbels to mind.) The story contains a powerful non-consensual feel, although this might be consistent with BDSM literature. I couldn’t reconcile many of Captor’s actions (drugging Isabel, videotaping her without permission, etc.) with being a “good” person. Since the entire story is told in Isabel’s (first person, present tense) viewpoint, and Isabel herself is unreliable (definitely out of touch with her feelings) I never felt I really knew who Captor was OR if I liked him or not. Captor came across more as an anonymous, slightly sinister authority figure than anything else. At the same time, Captor boasted an irresistible caregiver aspect. I would have liked knowing him better, but perhaps his mysterty [sic] made him sexier/scarier.

It sounds a little like the Captor is only humanized to a very slight degree (does he even get a name?). Maybe this is a balancing act required by this kind of story that can’t be satisfied perfectly: soften up the steelhard man too much and he loses his erotic appeal to the masochistic female, but soften him up not enough and he is unrelatable. It’s a conflict between the demands of romance and of masochistic fantasy. (The Story of O can be read as O working through a series of increasingly “steelhard” men, trying to get away from anything resembling romance to pure masochism.)

I read this as a single text that touches two different issues in romance/BDSM erotica: the use of real world violence and suffering as backdrops and inspirations for stories of pleasure, and the attachment to the steelhard man.

(Laura Frost’s book Sex Drives discusses the inverse of this fantasy in the Vichy France-era book in which a German officer billeted with a French family desperately wants to soften, to be accepted by them, but they practice passive resistance by refusing to speak to him, and therefore treat him as a steelhard body.)

The steelhard man with the squishy centre that just needs the right circumstance to come out is so pervasive, so deeply ingrained in our culture that when we are confronted with a tough guy who is tough all the way through, we are confused and even shocked.

Take Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen. The Comedian is a tough guy from a genre full of tough guys, but the most important aspect is that he doesn’t have a heart of gold. He’s not Wolverine, full of regrets and with a soft spot for quasi-paternal relationships with teenage girls. He’s a thug who likes hurting people and happened to figure out that if he only hurts criminals and makes a few wisecracks, people allow and even condone his actions. Later he works for the US government, toppling regimes in South America. (We actually do see him crack and show emotion later on in the story, but this is such a total collapse that it basically renders him impotent, unable to change his ways.) Even his moments of humanity are suspect, perhaps just better ways of manipulating people. This near total lack of redeeming features seriously messes with the reader’s expectations.

One of the best things about the Blade TV series, starring Kai Jones, was how it handled the steelhard main character. In the movies, Wesley Snipes humanizes his character by showing moments when he smirks under his sunglasses at what a badass he is. In the series, Blade has no sense of humor. When he drops his steelhard facade, Jones plays him as just exhausted and depressed, and saddened at the realization that his vampire ally is more humane than he (a half-vampire) is. He even slaps a pregnant woman in the face when she tries to get away from him, though he later redeems himself for this. (“Don’t hit the pregnant lady.”)

I have to wonder how many women, or people in general, develop the notion that the steelhard man in front of them will soften if she says or does the right things, and how many of them are disappointed. At least in BDSM, the male top is supposed to be hard only in certain circumstances.

Addendum:

From the excerpt of Captured by the SS:

Relief washes over me…I’m almost out of Berlin. And I’m not worried at all about my contact in Hannover. I’ve worked with him before. His alias is David.

He and his synagogue have been very generous to our agency in the past, literally betraying the empire to help us, even though the Third Reich no longer persecutes the Jewish community.

Officially, apologies as well as finically [sic] reparations were even issued decades ago to Holocaust survivors and Jewish families, but I don’t think it was enough for some. I know I’ll feel better once I meet up with David. His reasons for helping me are personal.

This is an interesting reference to the idea of softening, with the author positing an alternate history in which Nazi Germany was not defeated and went on to conquer the rest of the world, save the contiguous United States, but did make reparations for the Holocaust. Nazi Germany itself is softened, given at least partial redemption for its bad acts. This is a curious kind of “have your cake and eat it too” thinking, with Nazism in near total triumph but deprived of its worst crimes; the beast is at least partially a man, the steelhard man is a bit squishy.

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