Feb 282012

Before the proto-punk/goth band the Velvet Underground formed, there was the book, The Velvet Underground by Micheal Leigh, published 1963.

According to Wikipedia:

The Velvet Underground by Michael Leigh was a contemporary pulp paperback about the secret sexual subculture of the early ’60s that [John] Cale’s friend Tony Conrad showed the group. [Angus] MacLise made a suggestion to adopt the title as the band’s name, and according to Reed and Morrison the group liked the name, considering it evocative of “underground cinema,” and fitting, as Reed had already written “Venus in Furs,” a song inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s book of the same name, dealing with masochism. The band immediately and unanimously adopted the Velvet Underground as its new name in November 1965.

If that was all, this book would have a spot in the history of BDSM, but there’s also the content of the book itself.

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Jul 282011

The Secret History of Rock has a post and clips on the influence of the sword-and-sorcery (known as peplum) films, both European and American, and their aesthetic, contrasted with the stodginess of the 50s and 60s.

The formula was simple- an American muscleman playing a mythic hero (usually Hercules or one of his equivalents), an evil king or queen, a scheming priesthood bent on human sacrifice, a virtuous maiden in need of rescue and lots and lots of exposed Mediterranean flesh for every possible taste. To an America stuck in the corporate monotony of the Cold War, these films were like an explosion of pure id, an atavistic knife to the heart of a denatured West.

I would add a lot of slavery-type imagery: women imprisoned and auctioned, virtue in distress. This of course went into the Frank Frazetta-Boris Vallejo school of paperback cover art and heavy metal album covers, etc, etc.

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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Aug 212010

From A Sound Awareness, a 1965 album called Tortura: The Sounds of Pain and Pleasure, released by Bondage Records, nothing but people screaming, moaning, crying, groaning and laughing while being whipped. Note the sub-Willie/Stanton/Bilbrew art. (Mediafire download, streaming audio at WFMU.org)

This blog has some other images of historical kinky ephemera, including a collection of pro domme advertising cards, and some Atomage rubber fetish fashion images.

Jun 162010

“Alejandro” is the second time Lady Gaga has visually referenced The Night Porter (dir. Liliana Cavani, 1974) in her videos.

The first time was in the “Love Game” video, in which she wore the dark pants, suspenders and officer’s cap look Lucia wore in that iconic scene. This seemed to be gesturing towards the early 70s, post-Stonewall/pre-AIDS downtown New York City scene as an image of sexual freedom and adventure. However, the video doesn’t engage with the implications of the source image. It’s just a bit of early 70s nostalgia, bereft of any particular meaning for Gaga’s primary audience who wasn’t even born when The Night Porter came out.

The video for “Alejandro” does address the themes of the source material: the militarism, the eroticism, etc. There’s a problematic connection drawn between fascism/militarism and homoeroticism. The nun imagery at the end seems to suggest that the only way Gaga’s character can be acceptable to a fascist man is to become an asexual image of virtue, nun-like.

There’s something a bit paint-by-numbers in this, particularly considering the similarities to Madonna’s videos. Homoeroticism? Check. Fascism? Check. Bra with gun barrels? Check. Swallowing rosary? Check. Latex nun uniform? Check. It’s pretty easy to generate 15-minutes of controversy with this kind of material, without sparking any particular debate or getting people to change their minds about anything. There’s certainly a long (if not always noble) history of anti-clerical agitprop, but whether that has actually made any difference is another question.

It put me in mind of MIA’s notorious “Born free” video. (Not currently on Youtube.com) Mia’s video employs the simple strategy of depicting pogroms and ethnic cleansing, but targeting red haired men. It’s a simple inversion strategy, one that generates shock, but doesn’t necessarily spark any deeper understanding or change attitudes. This is what the philosophers and poets in the late 1700s/early 1800s did when they tried to imagine themselves into slave bodies. I don’t know if this had any direct impact on the debate over slavery, but it did eventually contribute to the evolving form of BDSM porn.

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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Jul 162009

From Boing Boing Video (fast forward to the 2:00 mark):

This film was a 1944 “Soundie”, kind of the prototype of the music video, played on a film projector jukebox in dance halls.

Nerdcore pioneers DEVO more-or-less recreated this clip for the video for “Whip It“. Here, the whip-stripped woman doesn’t object.

That’s what I miss about the 1980s. You could be a complete dweeb and still get a record deal.

Aug 222008

Whether you consider Stanley Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut to be a flawed, misunderstood masterpiece or a pretentious, leaden exploration of… something, it does reveal a lot of sexual history.

The centrepiece of the film is a sequence in which the lead disguises himself and crashes an exclusive orgy for the ultra-wealthy. He wanders around the mansion, witnessing what is probably the most boring and unerotic orgy ever committed to film.

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May 182007

LP Cover Lover‘s site pointed me at the Museum of Bad Album Covers, which includes more black leather, chrome studs, big hair and scantily clad women than you can shake a glove at.

Man O War


Not that the above band are supposed to be Christian metalheads.

Scorpions, Animal Magnetism

The above came out years before anybody straight had heard of vaginal fisting.

Village People

The Village People should have stuck with their schtick.

There’s a whole essay I could do about the connection between BDSM (or rather the BDSM look) and rock and metal, starting with Gene Vincent and going through the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs”, but I’m too tired right now.