Feb 142014
 

Brown, Carolyn E. “Erotic Religious Flagellation and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure”, English Literary Renaissance, Vol.16, Iss. 1, Dec 1986

Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure (first performed in 1604) links religious asceticism and flagellation with deviant sexuality and political tyranny. The Duke of Vienna, the judge Angelo and the novice nun Isabella claim to be pious and chaste, while their sexuality is repressed in such a way that it emerges as indifferent voyeurism, aggressive sadism or masochism, respectively. “…by drawing parallels to historical or topical events, Shakespeare suggests that the protagonists’ very asceticism, ironically, causes this deviant desire and that they associate their austere religious practices with pleasurable feelings.”

Woman in nun's habit kneels facing away from man in suit, sitting on couh

Isabella and Angelo

The plot revolves around a couple, Claudio and Juliet, who have not properly observed all the rules of engagement and marriage. While the Duke travels through Vienna in disguise as a friar, he hands power over to the judge Angelo, who decides to make an example of Claudio and condemn him to death for fornication. Claudio’s friend Lucia asks Isabella, the novice nun and Claudio’s sister, for help. Angelo offers to free Claudio in exchange for sex with Isabella.
The trio of the Duke, Angelo and Isabella are all ascetics (though none are actually clergy), and are hostile to sexual desires, believing that “pain kills the libido and thus subjecting themselves and others to physical abuse.”

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Oct 162012
 

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.

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Jun 042012
 

Salon.com has a post on what the role of Fetlife should be in preventing or controlling abuse in the Scene.

Earlier this year, I reported on recent attempts to raise awareness about what some say is widespread abuse within the BDSM community and a tendency to either ignore it or cover it up. As I said at the time, “We’re talking about real abuse here, not the ‘consensual non-consent’ that the scene is built around.” That means safe words being maligned or ignored, and boundaries being crossed. In the months since, the conversation has only gotten louder; and following the social networking site’s removal of posts that identify alleged abusers — most often by their Fetlife moniker only — a petition was started to remove a clause from the site’s Terms of Use requiring users to pledge to not “make criminal accusations against another member in a public forum.” Currently, the proposal has 864 “spanks” (the site’s equivalent of “yes” votes).

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Apr 092012
 

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.

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Dec 212011
 

Halttunen, Karen. Murder most foul: the killer and the American Gothic imagination Harvard University Press, 1998 Google Books

Halttunen’s book is about the transformation of how American society handles social deviance (violent crime, particularly) from the pre-industrial to the post-industrial.

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Jul 252011
 

In a previous post I touched on the difference between fantasizing about a person being in peril of violence and a person actually suffering violence.

This clip above is the 1954 BBC television adaptation of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-four.

In the book, Winston is shown the rat cage device, strapped down and then the device is placed on his face. Only then does he crack.

In this production, they don’t even put the device on Winston’s head. O’Brien merely shows the device to Winston and describes how it operates, and this is enough to make Winston crack and say, “Do it to Julia!”

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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.

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Mar 192010
 

Via Clarisse Thorn’s blog, the murder (manslaughter, according to the courts) of Steven Morris by his submissive’s estranged husband, John R. Moore III.

Thorn’s analysis of this case suggests that this is a variation of the gay panic defense, which would explain why Moore got manslaughter instead of homicide. Thus, when the media and the general public look at this tragic affair, they look for a person with whom to identify. Morris? Nope, he’s an adulterer and a BDSM dominant; doesn’t make a good victim, and he’s dead besides. Laurie, Moore’s wife and Morris’ lover? Nope, she’s an adulterer and a BDSM who met Morris via collarme.com; must be either crazy or a slut, and therefore not a good victim either. That leaves Moore, even though he shot a guy, violating his wife’s protection order in the process. He’ll have to do for the audience’s sympathy. There’s a marked failure of empathy in the coverage, without any quotes from Laurie Morris, who’s been through a horrible experience even before the shooting. (Presumably there’s a reason she had protection order against her husband.)

As a side note, I notice that Moore is a Blackwater defense contractor who had spent time in Afghanistan. This dovetails with the news item that David Grisham, the leader of the Texan Christian organization Repent Amarillo, is an armed security guard at Pantex, a company that works with nuclear material disposals and high explosives. Grisham’s organization drove the Route 66 swinger club (with some BDSM elements) out of business, by noting down license plates in an adjacent parking lot to the club and notifying family members and employers.

These are the men we should fear: not the Islamic terrorist, not the big black guy on the street. Fear the middle class white guy with the military-industrial complex job who keeps his gun and his Bible in the same bedside drawer, who loses it when his control over the world begins to crumble, when anything disrupts his view of how the family should be. Both Moore and Grisham reacted violently to perceived threats against the family and sexual normality. There’s only going to be more of that in the future: more visible gays, poly people, kinky people, trans people. How will men like Moore and Grisham react?

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May 132009
 

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.

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Apr 232009
 

The US policy on torture is much in the air today. Some of the defenders of the policy liken the kinds of “stress positions” and the like allowed to be used to fraternity hazings.

One interesting angle is comparing torture to SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) training, used by the US military to prepare soldiers for being tortured. Slate compares SERE and real torture, making explicit comparisons between the former and BDSM.

Third, SERE offers interventions that relieve stress and reinforce the unreality of the exercise. Instructors and psychologists are available “to watch the students for indications that they are not coping well with training tasks, provide corrective interventions with them long before they become overwhelmed, and if need be, remotivate students who have become overwhelmed to enable them to succeed,” Ogrisseg noted.

Fourth, SERE has “defined starting and ending points. … [T]rainees arrive on a certain date and know that they will depart on a specified date.”

Fifth and most important, SERE is voluntary. “Students can withdraw from training,” Ogrisseg noted. In a report issued four months ago, the Armed Services Committee added that in SERE, “students are even given a special phrase they can use to immediately stop” any ordeal.

The difference between SERE and the Bush interrogation program is the difference between S&M and rape. There is no consent. There are no mutually understood boundaries. There are no magic words. People who can’t tell the difference between rape and S&M go to jail. What happens to people who can’t tell the difference between torture and training?

In this argument, the social context matters.

Over on Susie Bright’s blog, she talks about the impact SERE training had on her Airforce Academy boyfriend in the early 1970s:

In addition to the group beatings, waterboarding, electric shock, sleep deprivation, sound/noise torture, starvation, dehydration, he was also forced to eat human feces and vomit, in accompaniment with the beatings. They had replicas of “tiger cages’ they kept him in. He wrote me that after awhile of knowing it was all a training, he couldn’t hold the frame anymore and it became nothing but his reality. His sense of time and self evaporated.

His father was Air Force— and I think even he was taken aback by the SERE training. Afterward, as far as I could tell, Robbie had a psychological breakdown. He wasn’t the same guy. I was afraid of him.

They’d given him some very peculiar advice about women— it creeped me out. I was, like, ‘HEY, it’s me, remember?” But he didn’t. He hurt me when we made love, my back bled. He acted like we were supposed to play this out until I got “tougher” and could take it. It didn’t have anything to do with “kink” or fun.

The Slate article says that the “frame” is very important, the subject’s awareness that there are rules and limits to this, that there is a safeword. However, Bright’s account suggests that it is not always possible to maintain that frame.

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