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 It includes some unpublished photos from the same shoot.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.

Apr 062012
 

Nude woman in nun's habit with her breasts being poked by two monkeys

My article on the strange case of Maria Monk and her connections to anti-Catholic propaganda and the nun as a fetish archetype has been published in Maisonneuve magazines 10th anniversary issue. (Print only, for the moment. And no, I don’t know what the monkeys are doing in the illustration.)

This was my first article in a national, glossy magazine for a while, and I hope this carries with it some prestige. It took several rewrites to get it done, but overall it looks pretty good. There’s only so much you can do in 1,500 words.

I had wanted to include a comparison between Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk and Story of O, since both are narratives of initiation. I wonder if there’s a more direct connection, if as a girl Anne Desclos (aka Pauline Reage) read some bit of Gothic pulp or anti-Catholic tract and it gestated in her mind the way Anna Freud remembered a snippet from a book about book on medieval knights and wove that into her fantasies.

An excerpt from an early draft:

While the content of Awful Disclosures and related works survive to this day mainly in anti-Catholic crank conspiracy literature, the format has been stripped of any overt political or religious message and used in a variety of pornographic works. The classic Story of O (1954), written by Anne Desclos (who once flirted with the idea of being a nun), follows a similar structure to Awful Disclosures. Like Maria Monk, O is initiated into a secret society where she is to serve her new masters sexually. The orders O receives echo the Mother Superior’s commandments to Maria Monk: “You are here to serve your masters… Your hands are not your own, nor are your breasts, nor, most especially, any of your bodily orifices, which we may explore or penetrate at will… both this flogging and the chain… are intended less to make you suffer, scream, or shed tears than to feel through this suffering, that you are not free but fettered, and to teach you that you are totally dedicated to something outside yourself.”

If Disclosures uses transgressive sexuality to deliver a warning of the dangers of transgressive religion, O is a sexual fantasy built on nun-like selfless devotion. Maria Monk returns to the Protestant world to bear witness, but O throws herself deeper and deeper into the underworld, attaining a kind of martyrdom.

I also wanted to include PETA’s campaign of images of people (usually attractive women) as animals in cages or even as packed meat products, images that require only the slightest shift in optic to become pornographic.

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.

Mar 172012
 

From the Old Erotic Art Tumblr:

Half-naked women being threatened with head-shaving

This image, presumably the cover of an old men’s adventure magazine from the ’50s or ’60s, is puzzling initially. Why the shaving brush and scissors? Guerilla barbers? This is almost certainly a reference to les femmes tondues. In post-liberation France, women who allegedly collaborated with occupying fascists (especially “horizontal collaboration”) were publicly shaved bald. Like the “Nazi dominatrix” trope, this is the conflation of deviant politics (collaboration) with deviant female sexuality (“slut shaming”). Women are used as ritual scapegoats for a community’s problems (in this case, the legacy of occupation and collaboration in France) and symbolically “killed.” See Frost’s book Sex Drives

Interesting to see women-in-danger in the context of anti-fascist, “good guy” forces like the French resistance. This can be applied to just about any conflict, or to put it another way, any conflict or social anxiety can provide a framing narrative for the scene of woman-in-distress.

Men’s adventure magazines gallery

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Dec 122011
 

Retrospace has a selection of scans, and not just the covers but the interiors, of old mens adventure magazines, variously known as pulps or sweats.

You can see earlier pornographic genres embedded in here: the same combination of xenophobia mixed with wish-fulfillment in The Lustful Turk, Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk and so forth.

Mar 212011
 

The promotional website for the book Permanent Obscurity has a brief history of fetish and bondage artist Eric Stanton and his business relationship with Irvine Klaw.

Biographical facts about his life are often contradictory and murky; and sometimes he would contribute to this misinformation personally. There’s even some question of his real name: was he born “Ernest Stanzoni” as claimed in the huge Eric Kroll coffee table book? Or is his birth name “Ernest Stanten,” as claimed by Belier publisher and personal friend and associate, J.B. Rund?

Most of what I know about the sexploitation era and the subgenre of what was then labeled “bizarre,” which today would be assigned fetish culture or kink, I’ve learned through tracking Stanton. He remains, in some strange way, a central figure for me (my own personal Dante) whose life intersected with other curious characters of the day, artists and business people, gangsters and hacks … shadowy and mythologized figures I’ve come to admire and who I never grow tired of hearing about: Irving Klaw, Bettie Page, Gene Bilbrew, Lenny Burtman, Eddie Mishkin, Stanley Malkin…. And then, of course, there’s Steve Ditko, Spider-Man co-creator and Stanton’s friend-as well as his studio mate of 10 years.

(ellipsis in original)

According to this, Stanton would self-publish and self-print his own works with his own photocopier. I’ve always been interesting in the means of production and distribution for works that had such a huge influence on the history of kink, and it seems fitting that so much of it was produced on a shoestring, in a confluence between people who were seeking a market niche and people who were seeking their kink.

PS: I’d be interested to know what Ditko, known for espousing a harsh Objectivist philosophy in his work, would have made of Stanton’s fetish art. Then again, there’s something a bit kinky in Ditko’s Objectivist characters. The Question wore a rubber mask that made him look like he had no facial features at all, just smooth skin. Mr. A, an even harsher character, wore a steel helmet that gave him unmoving, impassive features, as well as steel gloves that locked on. It struck me as fitting that a character so committed to an ideology would go to such extremes in concealing his own humanity and in not having to touch the messy, complicated human world. (Both characters were the inspiration for Rorshach in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen.)

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.