Jun 122012
 

Shorter, Edward. Written in the Flesh: A History of Desire University of Toronto Press, 2005

Caveat: due to time restrictions, I’ve only read the “SM and Fetish” chapter of Shorter’s book.

This chapter presents a lot of fodder for further research, and I’m intrigued by Shorter’s idea of Western society moving towards an idea of “total body sex”, from an origin narrowly focused on heterosexual missionary coitus. Sexual behaviour in the early 21st century seems so varied that it’s hard to draw boundaries around “the sexual.”

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May 102012
 

Gloria Brame posted scans from “Legs and Attitudes“, a leg fetish magazine published in July 1930, Paris.

1930s images of woman sitting and showing her stockings

In 1930, women’s legs and lower bodies were a relatively recent discovery, having been hidden away in Western fashion for centuries. The photos posted seem based on the idea of glimpsing a stocking top or bare thigh in an unguarded moment (in a boudoir, after tripping on the street, a woman carelessly sitting to let her skirt slip), not a brazen display.

Apr 112012
 

Two women in fetish clothing, one bound

The Seduction of Venus blog has a more detailed discussion of Penthouse magazine’s first BDSM pictorial in the February 1976 issue. It includes some unpublished photos from the same shoot.

Taking a very different approach to the likes of Jeff Dunas’ and Earl Miller’s location-based, soft-focus romanticism he [photographer Stan Malinowski] posed his unnamed models in a studio with just a standard studio backdrop and bright, even harsh, lighting.

[…]

The text, as it is, consists of a number of four line verses of poetry (you can see some examples further down) which are very much themed on the idea of one woman inflicting pain on the other. No lovey-dovey “friends who became lovers mush” or, indeed, any suggestion that really the ladies, of course, prefer men, as most of the other girl/girl sets suggested. So the text is as radical for Penthouse, as the pictures.

While it may be a bit of a stretch to associate Penthouse with progressive views of female sexuality, this pictorial and its accompanying text at least breaks with the idea of female-female sex as an adjunct to heterosexuality or associated with pastoralism and coy “friends become lovers” narratives. Despite apparent reader approval, Penthouse did not take a turn to the hardcore after this.

This is obviously a much more professional piece of work than was probably common in BDSM porn of the time, and also in a publication that had a much wider distribution and larger readership than your typical under-the-counter bondage magazine. It may have been the first-encounter for a lot of people.

Mar 312012
 

The Venus Observations blog focuses on the history of American newstand porn magazines, particularly the competition between Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler and their various spin-offs and competitors. In the mid 1970s, the major magazines were in a one-step-forward, one-step-back dance between the softcore, soft-focus, lots of pubic hair, arty aesthetic and the harder, sharp-focus, exposed labia aesthetic of later decades. Fear of alienating advertisers and censors kept editors nervous, but fear of losing market share made them experiment. E.g. a nude pictorial with a 22-year-old, very young looking model wearing a tank top with “12” on it.

Two women in fetish gear, one sitting astride the other on all fours

In February 1976, Penthouse ran its first fetish-themed pictorial.

The real barrier breaking pictorial for February, however, was one called My Funny Valentine. Penthouse had had a (comparatively) few girl/girl pictorials before but this month they published their first fetish photographs. Dressed up in leather and vinyl the girls were depicted by photographer Stan Malinowski indulging in light bondage and whipping each other.

[…]

This pictorial, in the days when this sort of fetish was very underground and not displayed as a matter of course by female pop stars, caused some controversy in the press. Letters to the magazine, however, were universally appreciative (and Penthouse did, as we have seen, publish critical letters at this point) and asked for more.

At the time, mainstream magazines were nervous about showing a woman’s anus or labia in interior pictorials or their nipples on the cover, so this must have been a bold experiment for the publishers to show this kind of underground sexuality. Perhaps they discovered, as Irving Klaw and others had discovered in earlier decades, that fetish pictorials could tap a niche market without being sexually explicit.

Punish Me. A film by Angelina Maccarone

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Nov 082011
 

Ranai’s blog has an interesting discussion of the German BDSM film Verfolgt (meaning “Hounded” in German), released as Punish Me in English. (IMDB) Briefly, a young male criminal and his older female probation officer begin a sadomasochistic relationship, with her on top. (I haven’t seen it so I can’t discuss the film itself in detail.)

There’s a lot of food for thought here, about the nature of male submission and female submission, its depiction in media (both mainstream and pornographic), and the influence of the commercial BDSM scene on the non-commercial. Fashion choices are only the most obvious form of this influence.

Elsa doesn’t need a costume. Inside subcultures, dictates of commercialisation and sexism still cause a good deal of female hetero beginners to ask ‘I want to dominate my man for the first time. What should I wear?’. This does not refer to people who actually have clothing fetishes themselves, but to people being collectively or individually pressured into costumes. It is immensely pleasant to see a female character simply going right ahead. Costume? What costume?

Jan and Elsa don’t buy and sell their interaction. They are in a personal relationship. Most people don’t get told by pervasive cultural narratives that the default of their sexuality is sex work. Heterosexual dominant women and submissive men get told just that. Our culture still overwhelmingly frames a man submitting to a woman as a commercial service which a man buys from a woman he is not otherwise in a relationship with. To the point of casting dominant and sadistic women as sex workers by default, and submissive and masochistic men as clients by default. To the point of pressuring many women into imitating prodoms and porn performers in their personal lives, and to the point of causing many men to act as if they were clients even in non-commercial, personal contexts (client mentality). To the point of, in the wider culture and in many sadomasochistic subcultures, effectively erasing and repelling women who happen to be sadistic and/or dominant in their personal lives. It is gloriously refreshing to see a story of a submissive man and a dominant woman doing their own sadomasochistic stuff inside a personal relationship.

A malesub-femdom love story would be so against the grain of culture’s rules about love, sexuality and gender that it might be illegible as a love story. People would look at it and scratch their heads, unable to understand it.

Nazi fashion in East Asia

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Sep 112011
 

For a while, I’ve been aware that Nazi imagery pops up in Japanese and Chinese culture every now and then, such as this set of pictures in the Daily Dot. I attribute this not to fascistic tendencies or even ignorance, but a historical and geographical distance so great that swastika armbands and black SS uniforms carry no real semiotic meaning, and signify nothing in particular. They’re just another fashion note, like the Chobits-style ear horns the “bride” wears in the above picture.

Contrary to what you might thing, people in Asia don’t just shrug this off. From the comments to the Chinasmack blog post:

To say you are mentally retarded doesn’t seem appropriate for your age . . . So, in the end I won’t be describing you both but instead wish for you: That the guy will forever remain a virgin, that the girl also forever remain a virgin, that you will be hit by a car when leaving your house, that you will be electrocuted when you bathe, and that for all of your offspring, the boys will from generation to generation forever be slaves, and the girls will from generation to generation forever be whores.

What’s the difference between this and someone wearing a [Imperialist] Japanese military uniform to take photos?

Asshole, your ancestors just rolled over in their graves.

I also wonder if there is some kind of “beautiful loser” thing going on here. We view these signifiers in the context of the defeat of fascism decades ago, so we can see them as signifying tragedy, of good people in bad situations. For example, here’s the Wikipedia plot summary of the “Slipstream” segment of The Cockpit anime:

A disgraced German fighter pilot is assigned to escort a captured American B-17 bomber carrying his childhood sweetheart, her scientist father and a fearsome secret cargo – a Nazi atom bomb. The night before the mission the pilot’s sweetheart begs him to let enemy planes destroy the bomber before the cargo can be used, even though she and her father will die with it. On the next day, After shooting down two of three RAF attackers by using the brand new Ta 152, the pilot allows the third Spitfire to destroy the bomber.

Here’s an inherently dramatic situation, a character torn between duty and humanitarian concerns, opening up the possibility of masochistic sacrifice and redemption in annihilation.

You could also see this as a way of Japanese people thinking about their nation’s legacy as a defeated, surrendered power by displacing the narrative onto another defeated military power, Nazi Germany.

May 172011
 

Bountiful BC is a community of about 1000 people near Creston BC, home to a Mormon splinter group that practices polygyny, one man with multiple wives. The shortage of women has driven the age of marriage and child birth down to the early teens, and there’s been reports of young women being moved across the border to similar communities in the US. There are also problems stemming from a lack of places for younger men in this community.

The BC Attorney General hasn’t been able to prosecute the community’s leaders, because of claims of religious freedom and the difficulty of getting people in a tight-knit community to come forward and testify. The AG has turned to an old, rarely used law, Section 293 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes any form of polygamy or any kind of conjugal union with more than one person. It hasn’t been used in decades, when it was used against First Nations.

Right now, the BC Supreme Court is conducing a reference to determine the constitutionality of S.293. Critics say that the law is overly broad and vague, and intrudes on people’s personal lives, and could apply to people who practise polyamory or even live together as roommates. Supporters say the law can be “read down” to apply only to cases where exploitation is clear.

Apart from the many kinky people who are also poly, this case is relevant to kinky people in general.

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May 112011
 

Steele, Valerie and Jennifer Park. Gothic: Dark Glamour Yale University Press, 2008

Trunk, Jonny. Dressing for Pleasure: The Best of AtomAge 1972-1980 Murray & Sorrell FUEL, 2010.

S/M as fashion is not exactly the same thing as S/M as a sexual practice. There’s considerable overlap, but they have followed different paths into the mainstream.

As of 2010, we’re so used to seeing BDSM/fetish fashion in Hot Topic, in music videos, on fashion runways and in big budget movies that it is hard to believe that the look was ever countercultural.

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