Feb 182019
 

Not all of the works I plan on exploring in The Celluloid Dungeon will have BDSM as a primary or even secondary theme. Some will have BDSM in a single scene or even a single moment.

Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects, a 1989 crime thriller starring Charles Bronson, is not a good film, by most standards. It’s mainly about an older racist cop, Lt. Crowe (Bronson), harassing and brutalizing non-white people in Los Angeles in pursuit of an exploitative pimp, Duke. That story is awkwardly spliced with another story about a Japanese salaryman, Hada, who moves with his wife and two daughters to Los Angeles. Hada’s elder daughter, Fumiko, somewhere in her early teens, is kidnapped, raped multiple times (offscreen, thankfully) and pimped out, before Crowe rescues her.

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Feb 162019
 
  • I’m old enough to remember how different and exciting the Internet was in the 1990s. So does Violet Blue, who lays out just much has changed for the worse since then, especially with the censoring of Tumblr last year. “I can tell you for a fact that Tumblr helped a generation of frightened, isolated kids trying to figure out their sexual identity.” Her essay on Engadget.
  • David Wraith has an overview of how terrible the SESTA/FOSTA laws are, stifling freedom of expression on sexual matters while subjecting sex workers to greater danger.
  • On the brighter side, England has reviewed its obscenity laws and a number of kinks, including spanking, BDSM, and female ejaculation, are now okay in porn, as long as they are shown as consensual.
  • Kink Guidelines is a project “to explore what constitutes clinical best practices in working with those who are interested and/or involved in kink, BDSM, and/or fetish eroticism.
  • The city leaders of San Francisco have approved the construction of Eagle Plaza, a small park commemorating the Eagle bar’s contribution to the LGBTQ and leather/kink cultures.
  • Lupercalia, the ancient Roman festival that loosely corresponds to Valentine’s Day, was known for men playfully whipping women “believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy”, according to Plutarch. Today, whipping rituals are a part of fertility festivals in parts of Europe, Mexico and Asia. From Vice.
  • Even though Walmart, regular drugstores and other mainstream retailers now stock vibrators and other sex toys, sex products are still caught up in controversy. Producers risk rejection from retailers, payment processors, crowdsourcing platforms, and advertising venues. Sex toys have to toe the line of being for “health and wellness”, not for pleasure, which would be prurient. The Verge has more.
  • Puppyplay for gay kinksters seems to be on the rise lately, and Slate has a profile of a San Francisco polyamorous pack.
  • Kerrang has a list of BDSM-themed songs, including the classic “Venus in Furs” by Velvet Underground.
Feb 042019
 

Lindemann, Danielle J. 2012. Dominatrix: gender, eroticism, and control in the dungeon. Chicago ; London : The University of Chicago Press, 2012.

“Professional dominatrix” is an archetype that attracts attention out of proportion to the number of people who actually fit that description. For many, they are the symbol of BDSM in general, a representation of the perversity of men, simultaneously attractive and absurd. Are they trickster courtesans manipulating men via their weaknesses, or just another type of sex worker?

Lindemann’s book is a sociological study of professional dominatrixes, based on extensive interviews with pro dommes and their clients in New York City and San Francisco (probably the two largest concentrations of pro dommes in the USA). She spoke with both house of domination employees and independents. Her driving question is, what does professional domination, a small, highly stylized subculture, tell us about the rest of the world. She references Judith Butler’s studies of drag, an exaggeration that highlights an underlying truth. [Pg.10]

This book goes beyond some of the cliches about BDSM and pro domination, particularly the cliche that “the submissive has all the power”. Her interviews with pro dommes and client describe a delicate and nuanced struggle for control between the two parties. [Pg.33] Some pros say they are in control of the scenario, while others view it as more collaborative, even if their persona is the imperious queen. Lindemann describes several “cognitive strategies” pros use to manage this ambiguity, such as “the hustle” or the concept of “getting over” used by street vendors, the belief that despite all appearances, they are the ones who come out ahead of the transaction. [Pg.35] In the case of pros who work in houses of domination, there’s a third party with its own agenda in the equation.[Pg.38]

The “professional” part of professional dominatrix is how pro dommes construct their identity as an elite subset of sex workers, who might deny that they are sex workers at all, or at least exploit a legal loophole to work within the letter of the law. While apparent inexperience might enhance the appeal of a stripper or escort, a domme is supposed to be perfect, a mistress of her field.[Pg.72] Claims of training and experience create a mystique of authenticity. Ideally, a pro domme is supposed to do this as a calling, like an art form. To say “I’m just doing this to pay for dental school.” would spoil the experience[Pg.71, 85] One pro distinguished herself from other “hoochie dommes”: “They are contributing to the deterioration of the honor of what being a domme is.” (emphasis in original) [Pg.86] This is why, for instance, dommes who practice financial domination are viewed with suspicion and disdain by “purists”, who view findom as requiring no skill or artistry.

The other side of this equation is the client, who are trained by the BDSM culture of munches, Fetlife, online ads, etc.[Pg.60] Some clients willingly buy into the mystique of the all-powerful domme, which paradoxically desexualizes the women. By viewing these women as untouchable and asexual, the clients manage their emotional intimacy.[Pg. 113]

The space of the dungeon allows the exploration of alternate gender identities, but always in tension with the roles of the rest of the world. While pro dommes may cultivate the image of la belle dame sans merci, a taboo form of aggressive femininity, in interviews they often describe what they do as a kind of therapy, conforming to the role of woman-as-nurturer-of-men.[Pg.128, 144] This justification suggests that men’s masochistic and submissive desires are pathological, and pro dommes are doing the “work” of sustaining men in their normative sexuality and gender roles. [Pg. 147, 151] This folk belief gives the dommes a benefit too, allowing the expression of an uber-bitch role while being, underneath, a good, caring woman. They can move between different feminine archetypes. Certain subtypes of female domination strongly emphasize the quasi-maternal, nurturing roles of “mother”, “auntie”, “governess”, or “nurse”. (Lindemann suggest this is why the dynamic between dommes and their few female clients is very different; these client have no social power to reverse.[Pg.161]) BDSM may play with conventional gender roles, but it can’t completely escape them. [Pg.168]

The book ends with a woefully short, two-page historical background. Lindemann’s research says that “dominatrix”, in the BDSM sense, first appears in 1967, in The Bizarre Lovemakers, by Bruce Rogers. “Dungeon”, in the BDSM sense, goes back to 1974, in a classified ad in the Los Angeles Free Press. [Pg. 200] Though the terms “dominatrix” and “dungeon” are pretty new, there’s plenty of evidence that women provided professional domination services in the 18th and 19th centuries. Lindemann could have provided even a brief reference to Ian Gibson’s The English Vice. This is a personal quibble from a historian’s perspective on a fascinating and informative book.

The paradox of the “bitchy nurturer” put me in mind of Hannah Cullwick, and how Arthur Munby was fascinated by the strength and roughness of her body while emphasizing the sweetness and gentleness of her nature. We know that there were a lot of ageplay elements of their relationship, with him sitting on her lap or being carried. Anne McClintock’s Imperial Leather talked a lot about the “two mothers” of the Victorian bourgeois home, the “wife” and the “maid”. In our own time, there are still divides between good women and bad women, and the narrative of the “bitchy nurturer” allows us to accept this apparent paradox. The dominatrix may appear to be the polar opposite of the housewife, but they both do emotional labor for men. This rationale turns up in many narratives of fictional dommes, such as Lady Heather in CSI: Las Vegas.

Aug 262015
 

I’ll admit, financial domination was a kink I didn’t really get, even intellectually. I just assumed it was something thought up by pro dommes for guys who were too anxious to meet them in person.

The interview with Mistress Harley on the People of Kink podcast opened my mind and showed me that financial domination and blackmail play is a kink with its own subtleties and intricacies. Money has its own fetishistic value, denoting power and potency, and to be deprived of it can affect some people as strongly as being deprived of the freedom of movement. A prodomme I know once told me about a man who wanted her to demolish his expensive car with a sledgehammer while he watched; she refused, not wanting to risk getting involved in an insurance investigation.

Even more interesting was when Mistress Harley talked about using applications like Teamviewer to remotely take control of her clients’ computers and phones. As technology increasingly becomes an extension of our selves, it makes sense that systems of remote surveillance and control would be fetishized as well. I am once again surprised at just how ingenious people are at coming up with new forms of sexuality.

Feb 212012
 

One of my favourite podcasts, the Masocast, has an interview with Domina Irene Boss. Boss has been involved in both the pro Domme scene and the BDSM video scene for a long time, and has good historical insights on both fields. She was in both at the ground floor, and was able to vacation in Hawaii from the proceeds of her DVD sales. These days, particularly after the advent of Clips 4 Sale, the video market is so diversified that this isn’t possible anymore.

She also has some inside knowledge of the Other World Kingdom in the Czech Republic, which is about as close to “the Club” or “the Marketplace” or “the Network” as we’re ever going to get in real life.

Roman sex tokens

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Jan 082012
 

UK newspaper the Guardian has a piece on the recent discovery of a bronze token specifically made for spending in Roman brothels in Britain.

While the Putney token has been hailed as a rare discovery from Roman Britain, such artefacts showing similar scenes were actually well known in Renaissance Italy. Scholars in the 16th century didn’t know what they were – maybe something to do with the reputed excesses of the emperor Tiberius? – but they did leap on evidence of ancient Roman erotic art. Anything from antiquity was considered noble in the Renaissance, so these “coins” (as they were misnamed) licensed saucy 16th-century art, including Giulio Romano’s famous series of pornographic illustrations I Modi.

Again, this ties into Howard Bloom’s “strong misreading” idea I talked about earlier, that this misunderstanding of a given text (the token) fertilizes more creativity.

Aug 212009
 

The Grumpy Old Bookman explores the possibility that the classic of Victorian flagellant literature, The Mysteries of Verbena House, was at least in part written by George Augustus Sala, and that the name of the flagellation school in based on a real world flagellation brothel in London’s St. John’s Wood, patronized by Algernon Swinburne.

Sala was certainly known to perhaps the most famous poet of the late nineteenth century, Algernon Swinburne, and Swinburne is said to have admired him greatly. And Swinburne was yet another Victorian who, as a result of his experience at Eton, was totally obsessed by flagellation. Though in his case his interest was masochist rather than sadistic; his sole sexual interest was in being the slave of a beautiful, violent woman.

We know for certain that, in the late 1860s, Swinburne was a regular visitor to a flagellant brothel in St John’s Wood. Here he was able to act out his fantasies. According to Edmund Gosse, writing in 1919, ten years after Swinburne’s death, the brothel was staffed by ‘two golden-haired and rouge-cheeked ladies’; there was also an older woman, who welcomed the guests and took the money.

During the course of a discussion about whether to include such sordid details in an official biography, Gosse wrote to various interested parties and asked them what should be included and what left out. And it is in the course of this correspondence that the poet A.E. Housman is said to have ‘let slip’ that the name of the brothel was Verbena Lodge. The correspondence between Gosse and the others is stored in the British Museum, and one scholar says that few people have been privileged to see it.

I’d really like to see Verbena House, which must have lapsed into public domain long ago, but I can’t find a copy, so far.

The above quote comes from part three of his exploration of Victorian pornography. Parts one and two are also worth checking out.