The Piano Teacher (2001) is a drama about the relationship between a sexually repressed middle-age woman and an aggressive younger man. This is what happens when an incautious masochist encounters a real sadist.
Brownmiller’s statement probably had a lot to do with the anti-SM strain of feminism in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In her view, masochism is merely a myth of patriarchy, an excuse for rape.
HBO’s Westworld TV series postulates a fantasy world where guests interact with non-human “hosts” in a simulated Wild West setting. The narrative, much like the previously discussed Dollhouse, explores the issue of what happens when people are removed from their usual social restrictions and are able to act on their fantasies and desires.
(Note: spoilers ahead)
Baatz, Simon. For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder that Shocked Chicago. HarperCollins, 2008 Amazon
I wish there were more case studies to examine in this field. It’s rare to find a documented sadomasochistic relationship in the pre-modern era; I shudder to think how easily the Munby-Cullwick papers could have been lost. Sometimes one must make do with what one can find. In this case, there’s the case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb who probably would have been remembered as eccentrics if they hadn’t kidnapped and murdered a teenage boy, basically just to prove they could.
After their capture for the murder, the two men were thoroughly examined by physicians, neurologists and psychiatrists, who couldn’t agree on a diagnosis. Eventually they were found competent to stand trial. Their examinations and testimonies revealed both had vivid fantasy lives.
- Brian: What are you playing?
- Tim: Tomb Raider 3.
- Brian: She’s drowning.
- Tim: Yeah.
- Brian: Is that the point of the game?
- Tim: Depends what mood you’re in really.
- Brian: What sort of mood are you in then?
- Tim: Well, I got a letter from my ex-girlfriend this morning, 3 months too late, explaining why she dumped me. It was full of ‘you’ll always be special’ and ‘I’ll always love you’ platitudes designed to make me feel better whilst simultaneously appeasing her deep seated sense of guilt for dumping me, running off with a slimy little city boy called Duane and destroying my faith in everything which is good and pure.
- Brian: So it didn’t really work then.
- Tim: No, it made me wanna drown things!
- Spaced, episode “Battles”, series 1, episode 4
Videogames are a relatively new art form, but they are as deserving of discussion as any other. Likewise, videogames do say things about sexuality and gender, and in extreme cases this revolves around rape. Recently, the owners of the Tomb Raider franchise set off controversy when they said they would include a sexual assault in heroine Lara Croft’s background.Things get even dicier when you factor in the interactive nature of videogames, and giving players the opportunity to put their characters in sexual relationships, sometimes non-consensual ones.
Clarisse Thorn and Julian Dibbell have edited and published an anthology (ebook and print) about this thorny area, titled Violation: Rape in Gaming.
The theme of violence against women is front and centre in the Mad Men episode “Mystery Date”, and what leads into that phenomenon is a tangled web of fear, anger and desire.
The episode is haunted by the Richard Speck rape-murders in 1966, an incident which its own Gothic details: sexualized violence, women in danger, etc. The lone survivor of Speck’s massacre of student nurses escaped by hiding under a bed.
At the SCDP office, Joyce, a journalist friend of Peggy, brings in a sheet of photos of the Speck crime scene not fit for publication. Joyce describes the crime in melodramatic detail, as if imagining herself as the sole survivor and de facto hero of the narrative (Cf. the Final Girl of slasher filmes). Peggy and the other creatives are gruesomely fascinated and study the pictures. It’s new copywriter Michael Ginsburg who looks at the pictures but then denounces the others as “sickoes”, and says he wishes he hadn’t looked at them.
Despite the poster’s disclaimers (“I made it a cartoon and not a photoshop and the “woman” is green. Deal, people.”), this image hits hard on one of the biggest hot buttons in the American unconscious: a black man raping a white woman. In this particular case, the scenario appears to be one of acquaintance rape. The setting appears to be the Statue of Liberty’s bedroom, and the Obama-caricature refers to “consent.” The implication seems to be seduction that became rape, that Obama is violating America by trickery and lies, but outright violence is the end result.
This goes into the tradition of war propaganda, harem fantasies based on the Greek-Turkish war, the Nazi-exploitation genre, les femmes tondues of post-WWII France, etc. : the analogy of political deviance with sexual deviance. In this case, Obama’s policies with interracial, black-male-on-white-female rape. Just because it happens a lot doesn’t mean it is a good part of political discourse.
Collective sexual fantasies accumulate around public figures, particularly political figures. Back in 2008, much was made of Obama’s youth, handsomeness and charisma, compared to McCain’s age and less telegenic personality. (Of course, even more was made about Sarah Palin’s body and sexuality, but that’s another post.)
Anyway, this cartoon goes right to the American hindbrain, the same tangled mass of race, gender and class that makes interracial porn so popular. I’d go so far to say that for every white person who gets his or her dander up about the thought of Obama symbolically raping the Statue of Liberty, there’s a white guy jacking off to the fantasy of some big black stud having rough sex with his wife. That’s the American collective anxiety, the same way that back in the 1820s Englishmen thought about Turks invading Greece.
As a side note, writing from Canada, I’m truly astonished at the vehemence of resistance to Obama’s policies, particularly universal healthcare, and to Obama as a person.
Ms. Muze’s guest post on Let them eat pro-SM feminist safe spaces has an intriguing theory about the idea that BDSM is a symptom of the lessening of the class division in society, and thus less sexual access to lower status people.
We have a solid literary record stretching back at least three hundred years of a culture where women were expected to maintain their virtue through chastity, young men were expected to engage in casual sex, and there was plenty of kinky porn. Probably those things have been true much longer; it’s my personal knowledge of literary history that goes back only that far, not the existence of kinky porn. If “women”, by which we mean middle- and upper-class women, were all going to their marriage beds virgins, who were these guys fucking?
The servants. Prostitutes. Poor girls. These are the people de Sade was routinely accused of abusing and molesting before he was imprisoned. The people who over and over again in literature and historical record are raped, knocked up, “ruined” and cast aside by men of a higher social class who would never dream of laying an improper hand on their social peers.
We now have a culture where young men are taught to view young women of their own class as sexual commodities, while a few generations ago they would have been brought up to view their female peers as the “angels in the house” whom they might love or marry and the lower class women in their lives as sex objects who they might fuck, with or without consent. A man growing up today learns to look to his girlfriend/wife to play out violent fantasies that he might once have satisfied with a prostitute or not at all.
This cultural shift gives us a lot of great things – sexual agency! safe, sane, consensual kink! birth control! – but with it we have all inherited some of the risk that used to belong more clearly to women on the fringes of respectable society. It’s not BDSM, or its watered-down aesthetic leaking into mainstream porn, that contributes to a culture of rape.
There is a complex relationship between real “rape culture” (e.g. pre Civil War South) and the theatrical performance of such.