Jul 012011

I twigged something when I read Cecilia Tan’s blog notes about the IASPR romance conference.

Which leads me to wonder if I did an analysis of BDSM-based and queer-focused romance if I would find a greater emphasis on the value of the sex (and its place in validating personal identity) than on the more “traditional” romance ideals of true love tied to a diamond ring and landed estate/portfolio? Of course, there are the same-sex romances, for example, which take place in an alternate universe where there is no homophobia, and where everything is entirely the same as possible to a traditional romance except for the one key point that the two main characters are man and man or woman and woman. These would have to be counted separately, I suppose… or I’d have to posit a separate axis on which to divide the genres. Hmmm.

Validation of personal identity for those who are marginalized is perhaps a bigger prize than financial security or the attention and love of a powerful/high status mate. Does that change the rules of romance for queer-identified authors/protagonists/readers? Or does it merely establish the rules more firmly, it’s merely that the prize is different?

So, the old gay and lesbian pulps had the additional function of validating personal desires and types of relationships that mainstream society didn’t recognize. Even if the story isn’t a variation of the marriage plot, i.e. ending in Happily Ever After, just saying it is okay to desire a person of the same sex or something other than heterosexual coitus is important. That undermines the erotica/romance distinction, and/or gives erotica a higher purpose of exploring and experimenting with desire, rather than endlessly renegotiating monogamous domesticity.

May 282010

Perhaps I was too hasty in my previous post. Recon.com, a hookup site for gay men into fetish wear, somehow got sex-and-queer-unfriendly Apple to approve their iPhone app.

From Queerty:

So how did Recon get on there? By “invest[ing] a lot of effort in designing an application that ensures that [they] walk the right side of the line as far as content and imagery is concerned,” says the company.

Or maybe it’s because Recon’s iPhone app is really just a geo-locating chat app, like Grindr. There’s no obvious sex going on in user profiles, but it sure is suggestive.

This doesn’t change my opinion of Apple. It just shows that their authority is arbitrary and has no transparency in their decision making process.

May 282010

Prism Comics, about LBGT issues in comics, has a great post on the impact of Apple’s content policies on comics in general and specifically LBGT themed comics. Even fairly mild stuff

“My problem with Apple banning [Jesus Hates Zombies] is simply this,” says Lindsay. “They allow the Marvel book Kick-Ass. How in God’s name is my book worse than Kick-Ass when it comes to content? The simple answer, it’s not. But because Kick-Ass is a Marvel book, it gets a pass.”

The experience of smaller publishers producing books with LGBT characters and situations also seems hard to reconcile with Murphey’s assessment of Apple’s guidelines.

Tom Bouden’s adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest was rejected as an iPad app for the App Store, again due to “materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.” A handful of sexually suggestive images depicting men, some extremely mild, were specifically flagged as problematic in the 80-page graphic novel.

A few lessons from this situation:

1. Media and standards and platform, and especially who controls them, matter to content. Censorship (public- or private-sector) is often not so much about controlling content but about controlling the medium itself. When new forms of media appear, which put words and images in new places, censorship kicks into high gear. Walled-garden content systems like the iPhone/iPod/iPad or the Amazon Kindle are a reaction to the wide-open Internet, reassuring big media companies that they will retain control.

2. If you’re a big, established company, like Playboy or Sports Illustrated or Mavel comics, the standards for judging your content is different if you’re somebody publishing an indie comic off your laptop. Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition will net more revenue to Apple than some little swimsuit company’s illustrated catalog app. Money talks, “community standards” walks.

3. People will find a way. Even if your LBGT indie comic doesn’t get into the iVerse, it can still get into the iPhone via the Amazon Kindle app. The question, however, is how level will the playing field be. Amazon takes a 70% cut, while Apple takes a comparatively mild 30%.

4. It’s still censorship when non-government parties do it, and even worse in a way because there is no system of appeal or open standards. Apple and Amazon, being corporate entities, can do it purely by fiat.

5. That the violence of eroticized-yet-plausibly-deniable violence of Kick-Ass gets a pass and two men making out doesn’t speaks volumes about our culture’s twisted view of sex and violence.

6. Watch out for chilling effects and pre-emptive self-censorship.

I’ve often imagined an alternate history of American comics in which the Comics Code Authority of 1954 never happened, and the medium matured, gaining respect and credibility until it equaled film or television. It surely isn’t coincidence that the most heavily censored medium is also the one that struggled longest for critical respect.

Feb 192008

Sometimes I wonder if devoting so much of my time and energy to the culture and history and practice of BDSM is worthwhile. Maybe in the grand scheme of things, does BDSM matter any more than, say, lacross or beekeeping?

Actually, I think it does. The reason why comes from a surprising source.

I’ve been following the career of Peter LaBarbera for some time now. LaBarbera has made a career out of investigating the homosexual and kinky world and exposing The Thruth about these public depravities to the Christian right wing in the US, through venues like Fox News, the Illinois Family Institute and Concerned Women for America. His current gig is the Americans for Truth about Homosexuality blog, which appears to be a one-man operation.

LaBarbera is a part of the anti-gay media, who spread misinformation or disinformation about homosexuality, STDs and so on. He’s developed an interesting sideline in the BDSM culture, particularly public events such as the Folsom Street Fair, and posting about the shocking – shocking – things that go on there.

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