Apr 162010

From Io9.com:

…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?

Jul 192009

EMPOWERED 5 duct tapery japery by *AdamWarren on deviantART

Comics artist and writer Adam Warren on “Empowered“, his “sexy, superhero comedy” (except when it isn’t). Empowered is a chronically unlucky rookie superheroine who loses all her powers whenever her skin-tight, black suit is ripped even slightly. Because of the “unwritten rules” nearly all superheroes and villains subscribe to, she won’t be killed or seriously hurt, but she does end up tied up, or strapped down, or gagged, or chloroformed, or glued to something, etc. Often a little spanking too.

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Oct 222008

While reading about the Paul “Max Hardcore” Little and Extreme Associates trials, I came across other evidence of just how out of control American prosecution of obscenity is these days.

Strategically, going after Little is a brilliant way to rack up a victory. He’s male, he’s scary, he works in a visual medium (more arresting than print), he specializes in humiliation and other edgy issues, he performs in his own films, and even free speech and sex-positive advocates have a hard time defending him. He’s the stereotypical pornographer, a pre-packaged bogeyman ready to be ritually scapegoated in a purification drama.

Compare Little to Karen Fletcher. She is a 58-year-old agoraphobic woman who lives alone on disability. She was indicted on six charges of distributing obscene materials over the Internet. These were prose stories (no video or images) of children under 10 being molested and killed on a members-only web site. Fletcher plea bargained and got five years of probation and forfeiture of her computer.

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Sep 132008

While this is hardly a scientific survey, Slate magazine’s compilation of alleged dreams about Alaska governor and Republic vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin reveals some interesting themes.

The most common representations of Palin have her associated with death, destruction and deprivation, as when she orders the dreamer to stop nursing her baby and go to jail. Not surprisingly, she appears as a “bad mother,” punishing and killing and violating family bonds and bodily integrity, to both men and women. She appears in a classic castration fantasy, with the male dreamer reduced to a helpless, submissive animal by a huntress/dominatrix:

“Sarah Palin’s standing over me (I’m naked, she’s not) and shouting, podium style, through a pair of great, floating glasses, ‘And you know what? I’m going to cut it off. I’m gonna CUT IT OFF.’ I hear cheers. Are we onstage? I don’t see it, but I feel the presence of TV camera everywhere. She continues, ‘And you know why? Because, well why shouldn’t I? If you’re good, I know God will put it back.’ I look down and realize I have the biggest pot plant ever growing up between my legs. I mean, the thing is beautiful. I think something happens next, but I can’t remember what. All I know is we are in a field, and Sarah Palin is kneeling over me decked out in hunter gear. She cradles her rifle pragmatically and smiles pathetically as if to say, ‘You silly bear,’ and ruffles my stomach. The plant is gone, but I am now covered in fur. And blood. And bits of grass. And as much as I want to bite her face off, I can’t be angry at her. Or rather, I can’t argue it. I’ve got nothing. And she knows it too. Her triumphalism is effortless.”—Joshua Mensch

Yet, there are also dreams of reconciliation and compromise. One dreamer uses the animals killed by Palin to feed the homeless. Another dreams of marrying Palin:

“I dreamt her hubby was killed in an strange accident, and we somehow met in Germany. My wife was also gone, not sure how. McCain became ill, and Sarah and I were married. My son and I moved into the White House, and I gave a speech about Americans not using common sense, etc. Of course there are some romantic portions of the dream I will not go into detail about. She is very attractive—as you know. My speech was powerful, as Sarah and I both scolded the media for not holding the right folks accountable for certain accounting scandals, etc. I also tried very hard to give America a wakeup call on issues like common sense parenting, buying more house and car than we need, being very wasteful, etc. The dream was a bit foggy, but in the end, I wrote several books, and Mrs. Palin-Kaiser ran the country for a year, doing a very good job. I also see her shaking her finger at the media over and over in the dream. But she always gave me a kiss afterward, so I only got on her case a little about the finger-wagging. Much of the dream is foggy, as I did not even know she existed until six weeks ago. Now I think about her a lot.”—Michael A. Kaiser

Marriage (after her husband conveniently dies) makes Palin into at a centrist instead of a religious conservative.

This immediately reminded me of a passage in Laura Frost’s Sex Drives about the relationship of fascism and sexual fantasy. A woman fantasizes about being Adolf Hitler’s lover and gently talking him out of the Holocaust, as if they were having a lover’s quarrel. It’s a strange relationship between sex and politics, the idea that love really could affect the state.

Feb 192008

Sometimes I wonder if devoting so much of my time and energy to the culture and history and practice of BDSM is worthwhile. Maybe in the grand scheme of things, does BDSM matter any more than, say, lacross or beekeeping?

Actually, I think it does. The reason why comes from a surprising source.

I’ve been following the career of Peter LaBarbera for some time now. LaBarbera has made a career out of investigating the homosexual and kinky world and exposing The Thruth about these public depravities to the Christian right wing in the US, through venues like Fox News, the Illinois Family Institute and Concerned Women for America. His current gig is the Americans for Truth about Homosexuality blog, which appears to be a one-man operation.

LaBarbera is a part of the anti-gay media, who spread misinformation or disinformation about homosexuality, STDs and so on. He’s developed an interesting sideline in the BDSM culture, particularly public events such as the Folsom Street Fair, and posting about the shocking – shocking – things that go on there.

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Nov 022007

After waiting way too long, I finally rented Bret Wood’s film Psychopathia Sexualis. It’s definitely an odd film, but worth seeing in studying our history of sexuality. Psychopathia Sexualis was a very important book in the evolution of sexuality in general and kink in particular, the first book to put the words “sadism” and “masochism” together.

Wood’s film is a set of interconnected vignettes, dramatizing the case studies Krafft-Ebing collected as well as inferred scenes. They’re shot in a style intended to suggest the early days of silent film, as if some German expressionist had tried to make a film version in the 1920s.

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Aug 112006

I’ve been rethinking some of my ideas about Arthur Munby since I got a copy of Barry Reay’s Watching Hannah. For one thing, I found out that Munby did in fact write about switching in his scenes with Hannah Cullwick in his journals.

I have an urge to defend Munby against the criticisms of writers like Reay and Anne McClintock. He wasn’t that bad a guy, I think, and compared to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch or “Walter” from My Secret Life, he was a mensch.

On the other hand, reading this disturbing profile on Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis made me think about Munby. As Susie Bright put it:

Many parent-types have asked, “Why are we at a place where the only way a young woman thinks she can be important or meaningful is to take her top off for a creep’s camcorder?”

Good point.

But many feminist daughter-types have countered, “It’s not the topless part that’s the problem, it’s the exploitation by this prick. If the women took their tops off for their own movie, their own orgasm, and their own point of view, it would be a completely other story.”

I identify with both sentiments. I made a lot of DIY “feminist porn” with my friends when we were young, and never had a single regret, nor would I ever say that “it was all a blur.” On the contrary, we had wildly ambitious goals about what we wanted to say about our bodies and desires. I still do.

Francis’ dirtiest secret is that he traffics in porno-puritanism, in sexual shame. His profit lies in young women snookered into doing something “shameful” that they will want to hide the rest of their lives— once they sober up. They have been ruined— the ultimate GGW turn-on. It’s the frisson of humiliation that makes him, and his audience, hard.

And why, pray tell, is ruination the hottest American Fantasy du Jour?

Francis manhandles the female reporter, then turns on a dime into a sweet talker. Francis’ involvement goes well beyond getting twentysomething girls to flash their boobs on camera. His fantasy narrative seems to be something like: Good girl goes to party, has a little too much to drink, starts acting like a bad girl, gets captured on camera flashing her tits or making out with the girlfriend, and (this is the important part) regrets it later. Without the regret, without the idea that the girl has fallen/jumped/been pushed out of her comfort zome, there’s no appeal for him. Professional models and career party girls who approach Francis leave him cold; there’s no potential for shame or guilt. He’s reminiscent of Sade, writing that there could be no volunteers at the castle in 120 Days of Sodom.

Francis still believes in good girls and bad girls, but he wants to see good girls acting like bad girls, and tearfully lamenting it the next day. That’s his fantasy script, and I don’t think it could be reconciled with consensuality. If she knows what she’s doing, it’s no good.

Munby was fascinated by the idea that no matter how rough and dirty and masculinized a working woman was on the outside, she retained ideal feminine characteristics on the inside. He convinced himself that Cullwick, because of her facial features, had noble ancestry, but was forced by circumstances to do the lowest forms of physical labor. That’s Munby’s fantasy script. Women who were too sexually knowing or aggressive turned him off, as did women who were ladies in appearance and attitude.

I don’t think either of these guys could conceivably settle into the negotiation and consent culture of BDSM. They need the real world power differential, which Munby has by dint of social class and Francis by dint of wealth and fame, and both have because of gender.

I like Munby enough to say that he might be able to step back a little, but I realize that’s wishful thinking. His desires were so specific in their object, and their social/historical context, that it’s unlikely he could be brought into the fold of modern BDSM.