Jun 012011

Blassingame, John W. The Slave Community Oxford University Press 1979

Blassingame’s psychological study of Atlantic society has a tangential relationship to the evolution of BDSM. What it does give is insight into slavery as it was seen by whites, and particularly the distortions whites lived with in order to make the peculiar institution work.

The three archetypes, derived from white literature and folklore, are Jack, Nat and Sambo.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

Mar 282011

io9.com has published a rare (and lengthy) email interview with John Norman (aka philosophy professor John Lange), creator of the Gor series.

Norman comes across largely as you would expect from his prose: long-winded, a bit pompous, and preferring monologue to dialogue. This is a guy who would interrupt one of the innumerable scenes of a woman being enslaved to spend a half-page discussing the etymology of her name and how to pronounce it.

Continue reading »

Nov 232010

Mahdavi, Pardis. Passionate Uprisings: Iran’s Sexual Revolution Standford University Press, 2009 Google books

Iranian woman - Tehran

This fascinating book is based on a series of Mahdavi’s visits from America to Iran between 2000 and 2007, which gave her an interesting longitudinal perspective of social change in Iran.

Mahdavi’s book explores a particular “thin slice” of Iranian society: young, urban, secular-minded, middle-class (or wishing to appear so), over-educated, under-employed, mobile (via cars and mobile phones), and exposed to the developed world via Internet and satellite TV. The men go clean-shaven and hair-gelled. The women wear tight-fighting mantos (coats) and headscarves that show their streaked hair, plus multiple layers of makeup. It’s a particular style of dress that has developed by dancing on the edge of Iran’s sartorial laws, under which a bare ankle, a three-quarter sleeve or a few centimetres of exposed hair could result in harassment, arrest or being whipped. Its also a statement against identifying with the ascetic look of morality police. They drive to house parties (no night clubs or other public venues), drink imported liquor, dance (completely forbidden) to Iranian-American hip-hop, and screw around, all the while looking over their shoulders.

Continue reading »

Nov 202010

Pleasure Dome, by Megumu Minami, is a collection of 5 yaoi manga stories. There is a lot of non-consent, bondage and “ravishment” in these stories, plus an absinthe enema. There’s also a strong theme of role reversal, switching back and forth between who is on top and who is one the bottom.

Of the five stories in this collection, two use real-world historical conflicts as settings.

“Desire on Fire” is set during the British colonization of India. A British officer attempts conquer an Indian prince, but ends up captured instead. Ultimately, the prince, torn between his duty to his people and his love for the officer, exiles himself and chains himself to a rock, waiting to die, where the officer finds him, out for vengeance.

In the afterward, the author says this is very loosely based on the Buddhist story of Angulimala, a bandit who reformed under the influence of Buddha.

The Japanese are not strict and devout Buddhists, but there is something very dramatic and attractive about various characters that appear in Buddhism. I’m sure Christians feel something similar when they hear about the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, the Crucifixion, and other biblical stories.

To other people around me, I may have looked like a very devout Buddhist that was touched by the religious significance of the location. However, I must confess. When I closed my eyes, I was thinking more of the bare feet of Angulimala dashing about.

I wonder if I’ll ever be punished for my blasphemy.

The second story, “Hell for a Fallen Angel”, refers to the persecution of Catholics in feudal Japan. The male owner of a brothel is tasked to torment a male Christian and get him to give up his faith.

Christianity has a definite foreign feeling. Some of the words uttered by Japanese Christians back in the day like “Biruzen Santa Maria”, “Rusanchiman” and others end me into a dreamy state.

Of the remaining three stories, one is set in Medieval Europe and loosely adapts “The Song of Roland”, while the other two are set in Europe in some Edwardian or late Victorian period. The settings seem to be mainly there for variation in costume and character design.

So, we have various historical settings and religious myth used as backdrops for male-male erotica. From a Japanese perspective, none of these are set in the here and now, and arguably their settings are fair game for use as background.

I’m not sure an Indian person or a devout Buddhist would be too pleased with “Desire on Fire,” but I think this is an example of using real world settings, even controversial ones, as inspirations for sexual fantasy. It is not only the West using the East for its own imaginative purposes; Japanese may indulge their own “Occidentalism” by reading these stories. The author herself (?) seems only slightly concerned about the shift between the reality of atrocity and the fantasy of sadomasochistic, homoerotic romance.

At a certain remove in time and space, atrocity and injustice become fantasy material.

Nov 202010

Sociological Images has a post on Race and Gender themes of “Sheikh Romances”, a popular subgenre of mass market romance.

Sheikh romances are generally set in fictional countries in the Middle East, with a male character described as a “sheikh,” “sultan,” or something along the lines of “king of the desert.” He is, of course, invariably rich and powerful. The female protagonist, on the other hand, is a White woman, usually from the U.S.

For more examples, go to Amazon and search “sheikh romance.” Seriously, there are tons of them — Traded to the Sheikh, Stolen by the Sheikh, The Desert Prince’s Mistress, The Sheikh’s Virgin, Love-Slave to the Sheikh, The Sheikh’s Ransomed Bride (notice the recurring economic transaction theme?), and my new personal favorite book title ever, Hired: The Sheikh’s Secretary Mistress

This subgenre is, of course, a descendant of Edith Maude Hull’s 1919 novel The Sheik (filmed in 1921 with Rudolph Valentino in the lead), and also the harem pornographic novel typified by The Lustful Turk (1828).

I’d be interested to know if there’s been an upsurge in this particular subgenre over the past ten years, with the West’s increased involvement in the Middle East and the Islamic world since 9/11.

The comments are pretty interesting, suggesting that romance novels follow the same basic pattern of resolving gender conflicts while varying the setting.

Jun 132010

From My Delineated Life, a remarkable animatronic bed.

This rosewood bed, encrusted with silver and the figures made of bronze, was created for Nawab Muhammad Bahawal Khan Abbasi V of Bahawalpur in 1883. The four figures at the corners represent women of France, Spain, Italy and Greece. With clever mechanisms, the statues were able to wink and wave fans and fly whisks. No flys on this Khan.

What’s interesting is that this artifact represents a kind of reverse Orientalism, an “Oriental” man’s fantasy of different varieties of European women.

May 262010

I don’t know if harem pants are still in in the spring of 2010, but a year ago Threadbared had an interesting post on the history and meaning of the harem pant, and by extension other pieces of “ethnic” attire.

In 1911, the same year that Morocco was named a protectorate of France, famed Parisian fashion designer Paul Poiret “introduced” the harem pant to avant-garde aesthetes alongside caftans, headdresses, turbans and tunics in an Orientalist collection. Those items deemed “traditional” and “backward” when worn on a native body were thus transformed as “fashion forward” when worn on a Western one, in what amounted to the blatantly uneven, and undeniably geopolitical, distribution of aesthetic value and modern personhood.

The harem, as an Orientalist fantasy of sexual excess and perversity (bearing no relation to actual practices of seclusion), depended upon imperial tropes of Muslim women’s sexuality as alternately available and licentious, or naive and repressed. In either instance, the Muslim woman was understood as a patriarchal property and an “undeveloped” personality. But as numerous feminist scholars note, Orientalist fantasies about the sexual proclivities –and possibilities– assigned to the “loose” clothing of the harem’s imagined denizens were often received as liberating for the corseted Western woman. For her, donning the harem pant (or the beaded veil or the fringed “Chinese” shawl) powerfully enacted a series of resonant fantasies about the ostensible transgression of bourgeois domestic life for a more spectacular and sensuous one, defined by shocking indulgence and theatrical intensity.

But in her essay “On Vision, Veiling, and Voyage,” about “cross-cultural dressing” by different groups of women (in this instance, European and Turkish women) at the turn of the century, Reina Lewis argues that the “thrill” of such cross-dressing for Western women was “predicated on an implicit reinvestment in the very boundaries they cross. Clothes operate as visible gatekeepers of those divisions and, even when worn against the grain, serve always to re-emphasize the existence of the dividing line.” About the European woman who indulges in sartorial tourism, “she can enjoy the pleasures of cultural transgression without having to give up the racial privilege that underpins her authority to represent her version of Oriental reality.”

Paul Poiret and model, showing his "Oriental" influenced fashion

Paul Poiret and model, showing his "Oriental" influenced fashion

It also quotes a 2005 PopMatters post on Orientalism and Bohemianism in fashion:

In 1911, Paul Poiret, the famed French fashion designer, introduced a bold new line that marked one of the earliest and most famous appearances of “Oriental” fashion in the 20th century. Poiret’s cutting-edge “Oriental” designs included harem pants, caftans, tiered skirts, headdresses, turbans and tunics. In Raiding the Icebox, UCLA film professor Peter Wollen argues that Poiret’s designs embodied the rampant Orientalism dominating French culture at the time. Wollen describes the lavish “Thousand and Second Night” party Poiret threw to celebrate his new line. He says, “The whole party revolved around this pantomime of slavery and liberation set in a phantasmagoric fabled East.” According to Wollen, Parisian culture was in awe of the Orient, seduced by the Russian ballet’s performance of Shéhérazade and ecstatic over the publication of the new translation of The Thousand and One Nights; and Poiret’s fashions further whetted the public’s appetite for Orientalism. In addition, Poiret’s designs greatly impacted haute couture, and set the precedent for Orientalism in avant-garde fashion.

Lately, the term “harem pant” has come to mean any pant that is loose around the crotch, and in an ironic twist, the garment that was transgressively sexy in the early 20th century is now primarily seen as defiantly unsexy garment. It’s apparently popular with Muslim women who practice hijab.

Both article cited above speculate that it isn’t coincidental that the harem pant is back in fashion a century after its introduction, when the Western world is again engaged in wars in the Middle East and the status of Muslim women is much discussed. Perhaps the de-fetishization of the harem pants has to do with the deflation of the Orientalist fantasy of sexual adventure.

I don’t know if there was a specific fetish for harem pants, though likely as an aspect of a general Orientalist harem mise en scene in porn. I think there’s a difference between garments that are fetishized in and of themselves versus those that are part of a recognizable sexual trope or fantasy.

Perhaps some other garment is being appropriated for sexual fantasies in the developed world even as we speak.

Feb 262010

Kabbani, Rana. Imperial Fictions: Europe’s Myths of Orient Saqi, 2008 Link

Indeed, Orientalist images of the future will not be stylised depictions of milky-white odalisques, held captive by brown, turbaned villains. Rather, they will be grainy photographs of Iraqi men, stripped of clothes and dignity, at the mercy of army dogs and bestial United States soldiers – reduced to being the playthings of the ‘few bad apples’ of the damned, rotting cartload. Anonymous snapshots of torture-porn at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad must stand as the twenty-first century’s depraved answer to ‘Le Bain Turc’ of Ingres.


Continue reading »

Feb 202010

DelPlato, Joan. Multiple Wives, Multiple Pleasures: Representing the Harem, 1800-1875 Rosemount, 2002

John Frederick Lewis, The Harem 1850

As shown in the painting above (John Frederick Lewis, Hhareem 1850), there’s a lot invested in the view of the harem as fantasy. The “truth” of life in a polygynous harem in the Arab world is almost irrelevant to the way the harem, and particularly the harem woman, figured in Western discourse. Feminists saw polygyny in the worst light, while apologists depicted it in utopian terms, a model of gender relationships in which men did not have to compete for women.

Continue reading »