Nov 082015

Weiss, Margot. Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality. Duke University Press, 2011. Amazon

You can get an idea of how thought-provoking I found Weiss’ book was by the sheer density of post-its as bookmarks.

Side view of Weiss' Techniques of Pleasure, with many post-its

Side view of Weiss’ Techniques of Pleasure, with many post-its

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Apr 132013

Cole, Shaun. ‘Don We Now Our Gay Apparel’: Gay Men’s Dress in the Twentieth Century. Berg, 2000 Amazon

If there’s a predominant theme in Cole’s book on the history of gay fashion in the twentieth century, it’s that gay fashion is always imperfectly mimetic, a tangled mix of “passing, minstrelization and capitulation”, to quote sociologist Martin P. Levine (pg. 3)

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Mar 112013

Lynndie-England -Abu-Ghraib-FemdomWell, this had to happen sooner or later. I found this image on the Femdom Artists blog. This is the cover of a Mexican magazine, presumably published sometime in the late 2000s, based on the iconic images of Lynndie England and other American soldiers abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. “Arrogance and torture in Iraq!” shouts the headline.

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Aug 172011

Cinema Sewer 34, Danny Hellman, Cmm3C

Well, sooner or later, somebody had to make an image like the one above.

Danny Hellman created this for cover of the 24th issue of the Cinema Sewer zine, published out of Vancouver, BC by Robin Bougie.

It’s not the only Hellman that satirizes the Iraq and Afghanistan war, viewing those conflicts through the lenses of comic books and exploitation magazines (e.g. 1). This is an obvious take on the previously discussed Israeli stalag novels and the later men’s adventure magazines, referencing the notorious Abu Ghraib pictures. The brunette woman in the background represents Lynndie England, for instance.

The Abu Ghraib pictures put Americans in a quandary. The scenario was familiar, but the ones inflicting the suffering were “us”, not “them”. How could this be? This is what Other people do. It’s telling that England, a female soldier, became the most recognizable name and face associated with this scandal, linking political deviance with female sexual deviance.

I feel somewhat disappointed that this image is too knowing, too ironic to be a genuine expression of fantasy. Maybe we need to wait a few years before the psychosocial impact of the War on Terrorism percolates up from the collective subconscious. Or perhaps the torture porn film genre previously discussed is part of that response. Maybe in North America the feared Other is not the Muslim terrorist, but the out-of-control, paranoid police state. That at any second, for no apparent reason, we can find ourselves strapped to something in a windowless room where we are utterly helpless before an unknown person. Network television is already crawling with surveillance and confinement and competition. Somewhere out there, Room 101 is ready for you.

Jun 072011

After hearing about this 2006 incident on the Masocast, I dug up a transcript of Ann Coulter’s views on the Conversio Virium, the BDSM educational group at Columbia University:

Well, what’s sort of surprising about it, and which is why I really think you should get a picture of the members of these clubs and, you know, a picture of the young College Republicans and the Christians, because someone who needs to join a club at college to find a way to have sex, probably not your lookers.

I realize this was five years ago and documenting Coulter’s inanities at this point is akin to flogging a dead horse, but it bears repeating.

Coulter’s attack is based on unsupported assumption about the people in this club. Coulter doesn’t take the standard feminist tack of arguing that this legitimizes sexual coercion and violence against women. Instead, she makes social attacks on the people involved: they must be ugly or socially inept, coming from broken homes. Conversative Christians are implied to be the true sexual experts, and more physically attractive.

This is a different strain of outside criticism against BDSM, that kinky people are unattractive, damaged and deeply unhip.

Jun 072011

Shortbus 2006, written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell. IMDB

I grew up with have fond memories of Sook-Yin Lee as a VJ on Canada’s MuchMusic (she memorably mooned the camera on her last broadcast day) and I still listen to her now and again on CBC’s Definitely Not The Opera podcast, where she hosts an NPR-like show about personal anecdotes. That’s why it was a slightly odd experience to see her having un-faked, penetrative intercourse in the first few minutes of this movie. (According to the DVD commentary, she was wearing a female condom.) It felt a little like I was seeing somebody I knew in person having sex.

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Nov 232010

Mahdavi, Pardis. Passionate Uprisings: Iran’s Sexual Revolution Standford University Press, 2009 Google books

Iranian woman - Tehran

This fascinating book is based on a series of Mahdavi’s visits from America to Iran between 2000 and 2007, which gave her an interesting longitudinal perspective of social change in Iran.

Mahdavi’s book explores a particular “thin slice” of Iranian society: young, urban, secular-minded, middle-class (or wishing to appear so), over-educated, under-employed, mobile (via cars and mobile phones), and exposed to the developed world via Internet and satellite TV. The men go clean-shaven and hair-gelled. The women wear tight-fighting mantos (coats) and headscarves that show their streaked hair, plus multiple layers of makeup. It’s a particular style of dress that has developed by dancing on the edge of Iran’s sartorial laws, under which a bare ankle, a three-quarter sleeve or a few centimetres of exposed hair could result in harassment, arrest or being whipped. Its also a statement against identifying with the ascetic look of morality police. They drive to house parties (no night clubs or other public venues), drink imported liquor, dance (completely forbidden) to Iranian-American hip-hop, and screw around, all the while looking over their shoulders.

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May 262010

The video for Christina Aguilera’s single “Not myself tonight” is aptly titled. It’s full of blatant visual quotes from Madonna’s “Express Yourself” (1989) and “Human Nature” (1995) videos, plus George Michael’s “Freedom.” The pop singer is channelling Madonna from 20 years ago, when Aguilera herself was in the Mouseketeers.

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Apr 162010


…the love of violence is really the main emotion that Kick-Ass expresses. Both inflicting violence, and receiving it. When Big Daddy points out that Kick-Ass’ superpower is getting his ass kicked, you can’t help accepting that it’s true. But the movie winks at us, through an eye that’s already swollen almost shut, and says, you know, that’s not a bad superpower at all. The broken, battered young body of Dave Lizewski is the most pornographic thing in the movie, and his contusions are badges of honor.

Superheroes don’t give us much in the way of lessons about morality, or science, or whatever — they give us a context in which violence makes sense. Much like gangsters, who are the other type of non-regular people we meet in this film. You could just as easily beat people up without wearing a funny costume or being a gangster, but then it would just be senseless assault. The superhero genre legitimizes our love of brutality. And our masochism, as I may have mentioned.

You can’t really love superheroes without being a painslut, Kick-Ass says. You can’t embrace all of the illogic and pointlessness and nastiness of men and women and children thwacking each other in shiny outfits, unless you’re addicted to hurt.

I think BDSM, like superhero stories, does depend on stepping into a sort of “magic circle”, a realm in which normal rules of society don’t apply, and the action is driven by less rational impulses. The problems come when the boundaries of the magic circle gets blurry.

Kick-Ass, incidentally, does have a power of a sort. Nerve damage from previous injuries reduces his ability to feel pain. This sets up an interesting question: wouldn’t a masochist NOT want to reduce the ability to feel pain? Or is just an excuse/reason to seek out even more extreme experiences?