Jun 072016
 

Lying somewhere on the boundary between affectionate fetishism and domestic violence, spankings between lovers or would-be lovers were a staple of Hollywood romance movies. Jezebel has a pictorial and essay on the subject, by Andrew Heisel. This was reflected in real-life practices of the time, when husbands were expected to treat their lives like children.

Continue reading »

Oct 072015
 

Berlatsky, Noah. 2015. Wonder Woman: bondage and feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948. New Brunswick, New Jersey : Rutgers University Press

Wonder Woman spanking a man in Roman soldier uniform

Wonder Woman spanking a man in Roman soldier uniform

Growing up, I had the notion that Wonder Woman had been created in the past as a perfect feminist icon, and only later was the character sexualized by other creators. In fact, Wonder Woman was “always, already” as much a figure of fetishistic fantasy as she was a feminist role model, patriotic symbol, or heroine for children. The original seven-year run of comics, written or co-written by William Moulton Marston and illustrated by William Peter displayed the kind of deep psychosexual weirdness usually only found in 19th century children’s books. (I say that as a fan of deep psychosexual weirdness.) Noah Berlatsky’s book explores just how queer and feminist those stories were; as the author puts it, “a flamboyantly gendered mess.”[Pg.169] Continue reading »

Dec 072013
 

After the war, a generation of men returned home to peacetime. Whether due to awakened homosexuality in the all-male society of the military, or just a distaste for the new American dream of job and family, many of these men created an alternative culture that continued the outdoor homosociality and initiatory experience of military life.

Samuel M Steward describes his early life in S/M before there was a Scene:

…in the 1930s, I had become interested in S/M [….] In those days there were no leather shops, no specialty stores; and leather jackets were unheard of and unavailable except in police equipment outlets that would generally not sell to civilians. I finally found my first one in Sears-Roebuck’s basement in Chicago. And I had unearthed– literally, for his saddlery shop was in a cellar on North Avenue– a little man who braided a few whips for me, and even found a “weveling” Danish cat-o’-nine-tails crocheted from heavy white twine, and located also a handsome crop of twisted willow wood.

My introduction to S/M had begun with my answering a personal ad in the columns of the Saturday Review of Literature, a weekly publication out of New York City. In those days some of the wordings and contents of the ads were mildly outrageous for the times, growing wilder until the publishing of them was entirely stopped by the guardians of our American purity. The one that caught my attention [in August 1947] ran something like:

Should flogging be allowed? Ex-sailor welcomes opinions and replies. Box…i

Answering that ad put Steward in touch with Hal Baron, a former sailor dedicated to connecting every S (sadist) with an M (masochist) he could, who connected Steward with other men who had answered the ad.ii

Steward, then a college teacher, was interviewed by the controversial Dr. Alfred Kinsey, and became an unofficial collaborator on Kinsey’s sexual research. The two men share an interest in sexuality and record keeping; Steward kept a comprehensive list of his many sexual encounters in his “Stud File”, often noted as “sadie-maisie” or “sad-mashy”.iiiKinsey invented the term “S/M” (pronounced “ess-em”) as part of his group’s elaborate alphanumeric code for discussing sexual topics discretely. In 1952, Kinsey arranged a meeting between Steward and Mike Miksche, a freelance illustrator and erotic artist under the alias “Steve Masters”, as M (masochist) and S (sadist) respectively. Kinsey filmed this two-day encounter, the first homosexual encounter so recorded for the archives, as if documenting the mating habits of a rare species of lemur.iv (The film was financed by funds earmarked for “mammalian studies.”v)

Later in his life, Steward pursued many other men whom he hoped would be the “S” of his fantasies, often to great disappointment. Having to instruct the young hustlers sent by Chuck Renslow, Chicago-based publisher of beefcake magazines and owner of the Gold Coast leather bar, in how he was to be (mis)treated, Steward typed up a numbered “handout” which he had each new arrival read before the session. Titled “WHAT THIS PARTICULAR M LIKES”, it included instructions like “Please remember: his is your absolute slave” and “Piss in his mouth (a little, not too much…)” and “Give him a few whacks on the ass with your belt. Or use whip if one present.”vi Like Sacher-Masoch, Steward’s desires were so insistent he wanted nothing left to chance.

When leatherman culture began formalizing in the late 1950s, the aging Steward couldn’t adapt. His ambivalence about other homosexuals made him solitary and antisocial, and he believed that his desire, for rough, working-class or criminal-class, heterosexual men and sex that was always on the brink of real violence, could not be domesticated. He wrote an essay called “Pussies in Boots”:

An artificial hierarchy, a ritual, and a practice have been superimposed over a very real need of the human spirit [to locate that which is authentically masculine]… [but] the entire affair has become a ritual, a Fun and Games sort of thing, and in essence there is no difference today between a female impersonator or drag-queen and a leather-boy in full leather-drag. Both are dressing up to represent something they are not…

It is difficult to say at what point in such a “movement” the degeneration sets in, and the elements of parody and caricature make their first appearance. Perhaps the decay began when the first M decided that he, too, could wear leather as well as the big butch S he so much admired. And so he bought himself a leather jacket…vii

In Steward’s day, the closest thing to gay literature were hand-written or typewritten stories circulated in the homosexual underground. In America, no publisher or printer would touch the stuff. When Steward managed to get access to a hectograph, a device that could make maybe fifteen or twenty copies from a single master sheet, to reproduce his own stories, it was a huge leap forward.

Steward’s life also shows that what later generations of kinksters lionize as the “Old Guard” were once the new radicals.

iSteward, Samuel M. “Dr. Kinsey takes a peek at S/M: A reminiscence” in Thompson, Mark, ed. Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice. Alyson Publications, Inc., 1991 Pg. 83

iiSpring, 2010, Pg.102-103

iiiSpring, 2010, Pg.189

ivSteward, Leatherfolk, Pg.85-89

vSpring, Justin. Secret Historian: The life and times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010 Pg.139

viSpring, 2010, Pg.288-289

viiSpring, 2010, Pg. 302

Nov 282013
 

Weighing in at 6,100 words, “The Velvet Underground” covers roughly 1945-1970, including the gay male leather culture; the fetish porn production business centered around NYC with artists like John Willie, Eric Stanton and Gene Bilbrew and models like Bettie Page and Tana Louise; and a little bit about the contact-service-based heterosexual kink scene. I would like to do more about the heterosexual scene as it existed then, but I just don’t have the references yet. Thus, the chapter is a little shorter and rougher than I would like.

I want to cover Story of O (1954), but it doesn’t fit in a chapter largely about American pulp porn. I may need to do a chapter about high literary kink porn, like O and The Image.

The other problem I have to face is I kind of skipped over the 1910-1945 period, apart from a few bits in the fascism chapter, and I don’t have enough material to make a strong theme for a chapter. It would be a grab bag/”and then…” chapter. Friends have counseled me that it is better to admit the limited availability of source material and cover what I can than just skip over it.

Next up is chapter 10, roughly 1970 to 1990, which covers the first aboveground kink organizations and the articulation of the kink ethos; the professionalization of the kink porn industry; the punk-kink dialectic; and the influence on the mainstream, such as fashion and movies like Nine and a Half Weeks.

I think that pushing forwards to a complete draft by the end of the year might be feasible, but it has other values in that it shows me areas I need to research, and just having something I could show to prospective publishers with the caveat “It needs some work.”

Jun 132012
 

The Vintage Sleaze blog has the story behind the Fads and Fancies fetish magazine, published in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and its signature artist known as Janine, actually a woman by the name of Reina Bull.

The astounding drawings by an anonymous artist known only as “Janine” who drew work for the sleazy Utopia magazine “Fads and Fancies” a British fetish magazine in the late 1940s and early 1950s.   The work is no longer anonymous. It was done by a woman all right, but Janine wasn’t her real name. Fads and Fancies was published by Utopia, who printed fetish material remarkably similar to Nutrix and Irving Klaw, and at roughly the same time.

[…]

Janine had an incredible, unique, eccentric and curious style likely developed to cater to the audience. Particular parts of the plump participants protrude depending on the proclivities she wished to portray. Which is an alliterated way of saying big boobs and big butts. Kinky and unreal, but then certainly enticing to the readers who must have been “big” fans (pun intended.) To the rest of us, they look hilarious…Dolly Parton on Steroids!   The work takes an “all-purpose” approach to fetishists.  The artist can not figure out if she is titillating a shoe fetish, a butt fetish, a fat fetish, a breast fetish, a stocking fetish…if the idea of a fetish is to focus on one particular object, there was something kinky for all in Janine’s curious drawings.  At the time, the fetish underground was not yet defined, but the publishers knew if they appealed to a handful of eccentricities, they would reach a market.

Fads belongs in a tradition of English fetish magazines that includes Photo Bits and London Life, and goes back at least to the 1870s when the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine took a turn for the pervy. The business model seems to be, “give the punters what they want”.

Nowadays, Rule 34 is in full effect and every fetish has its own Tumblr.

Mar 022012
 

Williams, Tennessee. “Desire and the Black Masseur” Tales of Desire New Directions, 2010. Originally published 1948

Dipping into the “literary figures who wrote kink” well, we find Tennessee Williams’ short story, “Desire and the Black Masseur.” A meek man wanders into a steambath, gets pounded and later killed and literally eaten by an African-American masseur. The end.

As a narrative of homoerotic interracial masochism, it works pretty well. The fact that the masseur is not named and only identified as “the Negro” means that is isn’t exactly racially progressive, but this is a story of fantasy, of a masochistic desire for regression and annihilation.

The narrative suggests that the drama of Burns’ masochism and the sadism of “the Negro” is a kind of cosmic drama of revenge and redemption for slavery and racism. I wonder if there’s a parallel between this story and, say, the race and gender subtext of Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs and other works: the white, Christian man submitting to the (possibly Jewish) woman.

You could say there’s two kinds of masochistic scenarios: one which goes against the dominant flow of power in society (e.g. this story, Venus in Furs) and the other which follows the dominant flow of power (e.g. Story of O), though the last case may subvert the dominant paradigm. E.M. Hull’s The Sheik does both: female submitting to male, white colonizer submitting to Oriental colonized (who turns out to be an Englishman anyway).

The subversive element may be secondary and optional to the experience of masochism, but it does render masochism more visible and legible.

Jack Fritscher’s commentary on the story, emphasizing the difference between Burns’ initial passivity and his later active surrender and submission.

Apr 072011
 

Gloria Brame has posted a startling image of a group of les femmes tondues, or shaved women. In post-WWII France, certain women, sometimes but not always prostitutes, were singled out for ritualized public humiliation for alleged “horizontal collaboration” with fascists. These women had their heads shaved, and this particular group seems to have been stripped naked and painted with a black substance (tar?), and are giving a fascist salute, more likely ironic than defiant.

I post this as an example of the kind of ritualized display of power that can evolve over time into sadomasochistic fantasy.

Nov 192010
 

Julia… worked, as he had guessed, on the novel-writing machines in the Fiction Department [of the Ministry of Truth]. She enjoyed her work, which consisted chiefly in running and servicing a powerful but tricky electric motor. She was ‘not clever’, but was fond of using her hands and felt at home with machinery. She could describe the whole process of composing a novel, from the general directive issued by the Planning Committee down to the final touching-up by the Rewrite Squad. But she was not interested in the finished product. She ‘didn’t much care for reading’, she said. Books were just a commodity that had to be produced, like jam or bootlaces.

[…]

She had even (an infallible mark of good reputation) been picked out to work in Pornosec, the sub-section of the Fiction Department which turned out cheap pornography for distribution among the proles. It was nicknamed Muck House by the people who worked in it, she remarked. There she had remained for a year, helping to produce booklets in sealed packets with titles like Spanking Stories or One Night in a Girls’ School, to be bought furtively by proletarian youths who were under the impression that they were buying something illegal.

‘What are these books like?’ said Winston curiously.

‘Oh, ghastly rubbish. They’re boring, really. They only have six plots, but they swap them round a bit. Of course I was only on the kaleidoscopes [that composed the text]. I was never in the Rewrite Squad. I’m not literary, dear — not even enough for that.’

He learned with astonishment that all the workers in Pornosec, except the head of the department, were girls. The theory was that men, whose sex instincts were less controllable than those of women, were in greater danger of being corrupted by the filth they handled.

‘They don’t even like having married women there,’ she added. ‘Girls are always supposed to be so pure. Here’s one who isn’t, anyway.’

[George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Everyman’s Library edition, Page 136-137]

In Orwell’s dystopia, sex is strongly regulated.

For the Proles, the working class, sex seems to be completely uninhibited, or at least it is from Winston’s perspective. Likewise, Proles are given free reign to indulge in liquor and gambling, and pornography.

For the Outer Party, roughly the middle class, sex is extremely regulated and disregarded. The Party attempts to channel the libido into endless activity, hard work followed by play that is as organized, compulsory and endless as work. No individual attachments or contemplation. Sex itself is reduced to something akin to an unpleasant medical procedure, a “duty to the party,” as Winston’s sexually dysfunctional wife called it.

Whereas Julia is an apolitical hedonist, Winston rhapsodizes about the liberatory potential of his affair with her, describing the way she takes off her dress as “a single, splendid movement” that could bring down the corrupt society.

I saw a book on sexual history in Germany that showed an interesting poster from the early Nazi regime. One half of the poster showed a number of fair-haired nudes in natural settings (walking in meadows or wading in streams), while the other showed dark-haired (Jewish?) women, dressed like showgirls, in indoor, urban settings. The captions read something like, “Bad beauty vs. good beauty.” The problem wasn’t with porn, just right and wrong kinds of porn.

It seems axiomatic that repressive politics leads to repressive sexuality. After all, the Nazis burned the Magnus Hirschfeld archives and gassed homosexuals alongside Jews. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Orwell’s Oceania is not universally sexually repressive, but it appears that sexuality of the Outer Party (i.e. the middle class) is tightly repressed, so as not to interfere with work or encourage dissent, but encouraged the opposite way for the largely expendable Proles, as an opiate of the mostly non-productive masses.

The other side of this issue is violence in Oceania. There a lot of public violence, both the mass execution of internal and external enemies, and the display of propaganda films with graphic violence. There’s also a lot of “private violence,” in the Ministry of Love, with torture and executions. Note that there is a significant disconnect between the two realms of violence, that the public executions are purely for show while the real work of suppressing resistance is done in secret, its victims completely disappeared.

Foucault talked about how, over the past few centuries in the West, the process of correcting social deviance has been hidden away from public view in institutions like prisons, hospitals, asylums, etc. In Orwell’s book, the state’s real work of violence is done in private, while the public work of executions, confessions and so on are just for show. Yet, Winston seems to have an instinctive knowledge of the “technology” of the Thought Police and the Ministry of Love, their instruments and techniques. Presumably there are rumors floating around. The separation can’t be perfect.

So, is Julia busy turning out porn that draws on the imagery of eroticized power from their own society?