May 202013
 

In researching the history of consensual sadomasochism, there isn’t a comprehensive body of knowledge to draw upon, no established canon of reference works, no Journal of Sadomasochistic Studies.

Instead, I have data points: case studies, books (often anonymous), anecdotes, images, etc. I’ll admit that sometimes what is and isn’t a data point is decided on the “I know it when I see it” principle. Connecting those points requires a certain amount of guesswork and judgment calls.

For example: Dr. Samuel Johnson, English man of letters of the Enlightenment, and his relationship with his close friend Hester Thrale.  The latter’s posthumous effects, sold at auction in 1823, included a padlock and fetters. Thrale identified it as “Johnson’s padlock, committed to my care in the year 1768.” In 1767 or 1768, Thrale wrote that “our stern philosopher Johnson trusted me… with a secret far dearer to him than his life”. On other occasions , she wrote that “this great, this formidable Doctor Johnson kissed my hand, ay & my foot too upon his knees!” and quoted him saying, “a woman has such power between the ages of twenty five and forty five, that she may tie a man to a post and whip him if she will.” Finally, there is a reference in  Thrale’s journal to “the fetters & padlocks [that] will tell posterity the truth”, and Johnson’s own journal entry, dated 24 March 1771, about “Insane thoughts on fetters and hand-cuffs.” (in Latin) (Pg.387-388)

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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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Mar 032013
 

Here’s a blog post on the work of artist Allen Jones, best known in kink circles for his sculptures of women as furniture (aka “forniphilia”), but also a designer of fetish attire.

The sculptures appeared in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and Jones also designed some costumes for the film that weren’t used.

Jul 042012
 

Christian pays an OB/GYN to make a house call to examine and counsel Ana on contraception. This fits the Pygmalion subtext of this story, that Christian is giving her everything that an adult woman should have: computer, car, email, contraception, job, wardrobe, awakened sexuality. It’s a materialist form of initiation: I’m a “sex-having person” because I have the consumer goods a sex-having person has.  Of course, this also means Christian is increasingly in control of every aspect of Ana’s life. It’s Christian Grey’s world; Ana Steele just lives in it.

It’s tempting to attribute Fifty Shades‘ phenomenal commercial success to the recession, as a version of “shopping and fucking” novels: the emphasis on brand names, the incredible disparity in wealth and status between the two leads. Ana doesn’t even have to shop for herself, much less develop her own taste and preferences; Christian’s minions do it for her. Apart from smouldering grey eyes and huge schlong, Christian’s main appeal may be old fashioned financial security. Of course, Ana would be a lousy gold-digger; she’d sign his pre-nup without reading it.

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May 292012
 

Chapter 2 goes into some exposition on Anastasia’s background, such as her field of study, English Lit. She’s doing a paper on Tess of the D’Urbervilles (I guess Wuthering Heights would have been too on-point). It also introduces Jose, Ana’s platonic friend, and I believe he’s supposed to be the Jacob analog in this parallel universe.

The sibling-like relationship between Ana and Jose is another reiteration of the theme of Ana’s (figurative and perhaps literal) virginity. Again, it’s so strongly emphasized that it becomes a little suspect.
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Sep 222010
 

Graphic Sexual Horror (2009), dir. Barbara Bell, Anna Lorentzon IMDB

“I’m looking for something that’ll… break through, you know?” Videodrome, 1982, dir. David Cronenberg

In the mid-90s, bondage photography was still stuck in the glamor-based, damsel-in-distress style mode that Harmony Concepts had been putting out since the 1970s.

Then came the notorious website Insex.com, hardcore bondage shoots that owed more to crime scene photos than Helmut Newton. Insex was also new in that it was designed for the web: downloadable clips instead of mail-order DVDs, and live chats. It was created, almost on a whim, by PD, also known as Brent, who cited his experiences during a tour in Vietnam, when he saw a bondage show in a Japanese nightclub. He also cited his bondage-influenced performance pieces.

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May 232010
 

I finally got through the 1400-or-so pages of the Taschen reprint of John Willie’s Bizarre.

Bizarre is definitely in the tradition of Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, London Life, Photo Bits, but unlike them it made almost no pretense of being a general interest magazine. It never completely gives up the pretense. Most issues include a photo or illustration of a woman tied up with the captions “Don’t let this happen to you!” and “Learn Jiu-Jitsu and the art of self-defense.” I believe it was sold through adult stores instead of general interest newsstands.

A brief rundown of the fetishes: bondage, corsetry, high heeled shoes and boots, gagging, cross-dressing, amputees, masks, spanking and humiliation.

The second volume is less interesting, as there’s little of Willie’s art, replaced by photo reprints from movies, and the letters get repetitive. There are also fewer editorials in Willie’s voice, a man-of-the-world who writes on fashion and style, in a kind of faux aristocrat tone.

As with all fetish correspondence magazines, there’s the question of how much, if any, of these letters were real, and how much, if any, were mailed in from readers instead of being written in house. My take is that the letters came from readers, for the most part, though probably edited a bit.

Some of them are more plausible than others. One guy wrote in with tips on how to smuggle cameras into movie theaters and take pictures of the film, and included a list of movies with bondage scenes in them. This is a distant ancestor of the video captures traded on the internet today.

At least one of them was for real. “Ibitoe”, later known as Fakir Musafar, wrote in Volume 21 in about his self-driven body modification efforts. It’s likely that this was the early form of the modern body modification/modern primitive culture, just isolated individuals pursuing their own muses, and no means of connection other than these obscure magazines.

The editorial material has a backwards-looking tendency common in fetish publications. Some of the stories refer to Victorian-era clothing and social relations, with “Memoirs of Paula Sanchez” purporting to be a 19th century memoir. Other features wax Orientalist. Volume 19 had “Saudi Arabian Nights”, supposedly based on “Flesh for Sale”, an article published in the New York Post in 1956, which claims that the slave trade continues in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Accurate or not, the author of the article instead switches to “the report of a British agent who was through the area in the early 30’s,” privileging this anonymous “agent’s” account over the more recent news article. The “agents” account goes into pornographic detail about the alleged slave markets, describing the slaves and how they were dressed and bound, and speculating about Russian female aristocrat ending up as slaves.

A letter in Volume 26, “Eastern Diplomacy”, is another classic Orientalist fantasy set in Turkey circa 1917, full of harems and flagellation.

Another letter by “Darlene” (Vol. 24) had a man forced, by blackmail, to dress as black woman and to pick cotton.

I had hoped that there would be some suggestion of what the hetero BDSM culture, if any, was like the USA in the 1940s and 1950s. Once you remove the letters that are just implausible, there doesn’t seem to be a culture, just isolated individuals writing letters to magazines and newspapers, and gleaning bits of fetish art and photography from mainstream culture.

Nonetheless, this is an ancestor of the modern BDSM/fetish culture.

Nov 272009
 

Graydancer’s Ropecast has another interview with Master K (starting about 24 minutes in), with some recently uncovered skinny on Nikkatsu, a Japanese film studio that, faced with financial difficulties in the 1970s, turned to big budget, high production value, softcore porn features. These “roman porn” movies were a contrast to the small budget, independently-made “pinku eiga” movies.

Naomi Tani, portraying tattooed Asian woman in bondage

 

Many of these films were BDSM-themed, and Nikkatsu recruited pinku eiga star Naomi Tani, bringing her to a much bigger audience.