Nov 192010

Julia… worked, as he had guessed, on the novel-writing machines in the Fiction Department [of the Ministry of Truth]. She enjoyed her work, which consisted chiefly in running and servicing a powerful but tricky electric motor. She was ‘not clever’, but was fond of using her hands and felt at home with machinery. She could describe the whole process of composing a novel, from the general directive issued by the Planning Committee down to the final touching-up by the Rewrite Squad. But she was not interested in the finished product. She ‘didn’t much care for reading’, she said. Books were just a commodity that had to be produced, like jam or bootlaces.


She had even (an infallible mark of good reputation) been picked out to work in Pornosec, the sub-section of the Fiction Department which turned out cheap pornography for distribution among the proles. It was nicknamed Muck House by the people who worked in it, she remarked. There she had remained for a year, helping to produce booklets in sealed packets with titles like Spanking Stories or One Night in a Girls’ School, to be bought furtively by proletarian youths who were under the impression that they were buying something illegal.

‘What are these books like?’ said Winston curiously.

‘Oh, ghastly rubbish. They’re boring, really. They only have six plots, but they swap them round a bit. Of course I was only on the kaleidoscopes [that composed the text]. I was never in the Rewrite Squad. I’m not literary, dear — not even enough for that.’

He learned with astonishment that all the workers in Pornosec, except the head of the department, were girls. The theory was that men, whose sex instincts were less controllable than those of women, were in greater danger of being corrupted by the filth they handled.

‘They don’t even like having married women there,’ she added. ‘Girls are always supposed to be so pure. Here’s one who isn’t, anyway.’

[George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Everyman’s Library edition, Page 136-137]

In Orwell’s dystopia, sex is strongly regulated.

For the Proles, the working class, sex seems to be completely uninhibited, or at least it is from Winston’s perspective. Likewise, Proles are given free reign to indulge in liquor and gambling, and pornography.

For the Outer Party, roughly the middle class, sex is extremely regulated and disregarded. The Party attempts to channel the libido into endless activity, hard work followed by play that is as organized, compulsory and endless as work. No individual attachments or contemplation. Sex itself is reduced to something akin to an unpleasant medical procedure, a “duty to the party,” as Winston’s sexually dysfunctional wife called it.

Whereas Julia is an apolitical hedonist, Winston rhapsodizes about the liberatory potential of his affair with her, describing the way she takes off her dress as “a single, splendid movement” that could bring down the corrupt society.

I saw a book on sexual history in Germany that showed an interesting poster from the early Nazi regime. One half of the poster showed a number of fair-haired nudes in natural settings (walking in meadows or wading in streams), while the other showed dark-haired (Jewish?) women, dressed like showgirls, in indoor, urban settings. The captions read something like, “Bad beauty vs. good beauty.” The problem wasn’t with porn, just right and wrong kinds of porn.

It seems axiomatic that repressive politics leads to repressive sexuality. After all, the Nazis burned the Magnus Hirschfeld archives and gassed homosexuals alongside Jews. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Orwell’s Oceania is not universally sexually repressive, but it appears that sexuality of the Outer Party (i.e. the middle class) is tightly repressed, so as not to interfere with work or encourage dissent, but encouraged the opposite way for the largely expendable Proles, as an opiate of the mostly non-productive masses.

The other side of this issue is violence in Oceania. There a lot of public violence, both the mass execution of internal and external enemies, and the display of propaganda films with graphic violence. There’s also a lot of “private violence,” in the Ministry of Love, with torture and executions. Note that there is a significant disconnect between the two realms of violence, that the public executions are purely for show while the real work of suppressing resistance is done in secret, its victims completely disappeared.

Foucault talked about how, over the past few centuries in the West, the process of correcting social deviance has been hidden away from public view in institutions like prisons, hospitals, asylums, etc. In Orwell’s book, the state’s real work of violence is done in private, while the public work of executions, confessions and so on are just for show. Yet, Winston seems to have an instinctive knowledge of the “technology” of the Thought Police and the Ministry of Love, their instruments and techniques. Presumably there are rumors floating around. The separation can’t be perfect.

So, is Julia busy turning out porn that draws on the imagery of eroticized power from their own society?

May 232010

I finally got through the 1400-or-so pages of the Taschen reprint of John Willie’s Bizarre.

Bizarre is definitely in the tradition of Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, London Life, Photo Bits, but unlike them it made almost no pretense of being a general interest magazine. It never completely gives up the pretense. Most issues include a photo or illustration of a woman tied up with the captions “Don’t let this happen to you!” and “Learn Jiu-Jitsu and the art of self-defense.” I believe it was sold through adult stores instead of general interest newsstands.

A brief rundown of the fetishes: bondage, corsetry, high heeled shoes and boots, gagging, cross-dressing, amputees, masks, spanking and humiliation.

The second volume is less interesting, as there’s little of Willie’s art, replaced by photo reprints from movies, and the letters get repetitive. There are also fewer editorials in Willie’s voice, a man-of-the-world who writes on fashion and style, in a kind of faux aristocrat tone.

As with all fetish correspondence magazines, there’s the question of how much, if any, of these letters were real, and how much, if any, were mailed in from readers instead of being written in house. My take is that the letters came from readers, for the most part, though probably edited a bit.

Some of them are more plausible than others. One guy wrote in with tips on how to smuggle cameras into movie theaters and take pictures of the film, and included a list of movies with bondage scenes in them. This is a distant ancestor of the video captures traded on the internet today.

At least one of them was for real. “Ibitoe”, later known as Fakir Musafar, wrote in Volume 21 in about his self-driven body modification efforts. It’s likely that this was the early form of the modern body modification/modern primitive culture, just isolated individuals pursuing their own muses, and no means of connection other than these obscure magazines.

The editorial material has a backwards-looking tendency common in fetish publications. Some of the stories refer to Victorian-era clothing and social relations, with “Memoirs of Paula Sanchez” purporting to be a 19th century memoir. Other features wax Orientalist. Volume 19 had “Saudi Arabian Nights”, supposedly based on “Flesh for Sale”, an article published in the New York Post in 1956, which claims that the slave trade continues in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Accurate or not, the author of the article instead switches to “the report of a British agent who was through the area in the early 30’s,” privileging this anonymous “agent’s” account over the more recent news article. The “agents” account goes into pornographic detail about the alleged slave markets, describing the slaves and how they were dressed and bound, and speculating about Russian female aristocrat ending up as slaves.

A letter in Volume 26, “Eastern Diplomacy”, is another classic Orientalist fantasy set in Turkey circa 1917, full of harems and flagellation.

Another letter by “Darlene” (Vol. 24) had a man forced, by blackmail, to dress as black woman and to pick cotton.

I had hoped that there would be some suggestion of what the hetero BDSM culture, if any, was like the USA in the 1940s and 1950s. Once you remove the letters that are just implausible, there doesn’t seem to be a culture, just isolated individuals writing letters to magazines and newspapers, and gleaning bits of fetish art and photography from mainstream culture.

Nonetheless, this is an ancestor of the modern BDSM/fetish culture.

Jul 162009

From Boing Boing Video (fast forward to the 2:00 mark):

This film was a 1944 “Soundie”, kind of the prototype of the music video, played on a film projector jukebox in dance halls.

Nerdcore pioneers DEVO more-or-less recreated this clip for the video for “Whip It“. Here, the whip-stripped woman doesn’t object.

That’s what I miss about the 1980s. You could be a complete dweeb and still get a record deal.

May 142008

Frost, Laura Sex Drives: Fantasies of Fascism in Literary Modernism, Cornel University Press, 2002

I once interviewed an elderly French woman who had been a courier for the Resistance in occupied France. In Paris, she was captured by the Milice, French fascist collaborators, tortured without divulging anything and held prisoner for months. A Milice officer named Cornet would visit her cell and point her out, saying, “That one didn’t talk. She has courage.”

One night, Cornet and she drove to a nightclub for Miliciens and German soldiers, the Green Parrot, which she soon realized was also a brothel.

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