Jun 132010

Inspired by Lady Gaga’s video for “Alejandro” (more on that later), Slate provides a run-down of nunsploitation books and films.

It includes a link to a Hermenaut article, “Convent Erotica“, that goes deeper into the nunsploitation genre, including its similarities to the “women in prison” genre.

The nun movie is the mirror of another disreputable genre, the women-in-prison movie. Both deal with women’s bodies in confined spaces, with innocence abused, with microsocieties, with the forms and channels of power. The women’s prison and the convent are sexual laboratories, the prisoners/nuns experimental subjects. Thus the emphasis on surveillance. If two people are having sex in one of these movies, chances are a third character is there to watch. Concealment and revelation, crucial issues in all pornography, take on special importance in nun movies because the convent, or more precisely the cloister, is designated as a space of invisibility. But it’s really the other way around: It’s this designation that makes the cloister so apt a set for eroticism. Just as it’s because the nun is supposed to deny her body and become invisible that she compels attention on the screen.

I wonder if nuns have fallen out of favor as fetish objects in the past few decades, as society becomes increasingly secular, and few women choose to renounce the world or are forced into convents.

I think the “torture porn” genre has stepped in to fill the gap of nunsploitation and women-in-prison films. This genre has a similarly ambivalent attitude towards women, unsteadily moving back and forth between victim, heroine and villain. There are similar elements of confinement, voyeurism, exploitation and the sense that this nastiness is happening in a hidden part of our own society.

From an interview with Thomas Fahy, editor of the essay collection The Philosophy of Horror:

I think we’ve been talking about torture in this culture a great deal recently and these films raise a very clear question: Is it ever permissible to torture someone? It’s a hell of a lot different thinking about that when you’re watching somebody torture somebody, in all of its ugliness, on-screen than when you’re watching the nightly news.

What I find interesting about them is that they’re not films about mutilating and torturing women — in the “Last House on the Left” remake, one of the torturers actually is a woman. And “Hostel” was raising a lot of really provocative questions. The protagonist who is able to escape the torture facility — in which rich people pay to torture European backpackers — had a different price charged for people from different countries and the most expensive people to torture are Americans. That speaks to anxieties that we have as a country.

However, with only a slight “shift in optic”, these stories are the basis for BDSM fantasies.

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