May 102020
 

Episode S01E08, “Denna”, aired January 10, 2009

Legend of the Seeker (IMDB) is a 2008 fantasy television series based on the Sword of Truth novel series by Terry Goodkind. It’s pretty boilerplate, hero’s journey, high fantasy. 

Legend of the Seeker shares some production staff with the TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, and the Spartacus TV series, which frequently hinted at or showed various forms of queer or kinky sexuality. In turn, those series are descendants of the sword-and-sorcery genre of fiction, which frequently referenced sadomasochistic sexuality. E.g. the covers of the 1930s pulp Weird Tales by Margaret Brundage. 

Unlike most of the media we’ve explored so far, Legend is set in a fantasy world of magic and strange creatures. Therefore, we should hold it to different standards of realism and consent. 

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Apr 182020
 

House is an American TV medical procedural drama. “Love Hurts”, aired May 10, 2005, is the twentieth episode of the first season.

The episode begins with a man in the Emergency Room with what appears to be a stroke. The patient, Harvey (John Cho), also has nominal aphasia (difficulty naming things), as his friend Annette (Christina Cox) explains. 

As Harvey has a metal plate in his jaw from an earlier injury, the doctors can’t do an MRI scan, and have to diagnose with other methods. They also notice oddities like how Harvey enjoys having needles inserted, and how Annette hovers around the patient. Finally, they find Annette in Harvey’s hospital room, apparently strangling him. 

One of the doctors, Chase, explains that she is a dominatrix. 

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Apr 162020
 

Back in 2004, The L Word was a groundbreaking nighttime soap/drama series focusing on a group of lesbians living in Los Angeles. It was actually shot in Vancouver in early seasons.

The producers put out a call through the Vancouver BDSM community for extras and performers for a BDSM party scene in the season 2 finale, “Lacuna“. I signed up, not really expecting to get anywhere, and received the following as a script sample, or “side”.

L-Word-Lacuna-script-fragment-2004

As we can see from the second page, the story reproduces the common belief that being into BDSM is a response to trauma.

I did my best in the audition, but it was my first attempt at acting since high school drama class. I didn’t get the part.

Others have told me that the scene was filmed, but not used. In the aired episode, IIRC, there’s a very brief insert of the party scene and a scene in which two characters tentatively go to a BDSM demo and immediately leave.

Apr 012020
 

Tomcats is a 2001 sex comedy. 

Tomcats is a catalog of white heterosexual male anxieties at the turn of the millennium: castration, marriage, children, public humiliation, romantic and sexual rejection, unruly female bodies, being outperformed by women professionally, women turning into lesbians, and women who are too sexual. For the purposes of this project, the relevant scene has the same comedic premise as in Euro Trip: that even the horniest man can be overwhelmed by the most voracious woman.

What lies beneath the meek exterior of librarian Jill (Heather Stephens)?

The premise is that a group of male friends made a bet that whoever is the last unmarried gets all the money in a large mutual fund. Our protagonist, Michael (Jerry O’Connell), tries to impress a woman at a Vegas casino, ends up owing $50,000, and has to get his womanizing single friend, Kyle (Jake Busey) married by the end of the month so he gets the money. 

Michael finds Natalie (Shannon Elizabeth), the one who got away for Kyle, who turns out to be a police detective. They set about seducing Kyle, while our protagonist starts falling for the woman. Natalie tells Michael that she’s falling for Kyle, prompting Michael to seduce the first woman he sees, which goes spectacularly awry.

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Mar 162020
 

Desperate Housewives was a mystery/dramedy TV series concerning a group of four housewives in a suburban neighborhood who attempt to solve the mystery of the death of one of their friends. They also deal with various other challenges to their families.

One of the four wives, Bree (played by Marcia Cross), learns that her husband Rex (played by Steven Culp) has been cheating on her with another married woman, Maisy Gibbons (played by Sharon Lawrence), who is a sex worker and dominatrix. Maisy took this up for money when her husband lost his job.

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Feb 122020
 

Queer as Folk (US) S01E15 “Ties that bind” Aired April 1, 2001 IMDB

In most of the TV episodes discussed in this project, BDSM is talked about, and we see the implements and the outfits, but we only rarely see actual play. The US version of Queer as Folk already pushed the envelope of cable television by showing plenty of gay sex, so it was willing to show play too, up to a point.  

It’s the Leather Ball weekend at the fictional Babylon club in Pittsburgh. Friends Ted and Emmett snipe at each other’s wardrobe choices. 

Ted: “I can’t believe you went out in public dressed like that.” 

Emmet: “My mother used to say, find your best feature and play it for all it’s worth. So that’s exactly what I do.” [turns around to reveal he is wearing pants with the butt cutout.] “Besides it’s called a leather ball. You could have at least dressed for the occasion.”

Ted: “I did. I wore a leather belt.” 

Emmet: “You are such a stick in the mud.” 

Ted: “Why, because I don’t want to look like a cross between a Nazi stormtrooper and Roy Rogers?” [eyes a guy in Western-leather gear with a bullwhip]

Emmet: “Stop it, you’re giving me a hard-on.”

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Jan 152020
 

Criminal Minds S03E13 “Limelight” Aired January 23, 2008 IMDB

Criminal Minds is a police procedural TV series focusing on a FBI unit of criminal profilers. Criminal profiling is a somewhat questionable methodology in reality. 

Unlike a lot of other episodes in this type of show, this episode doesn’t begin with the discovery of a dead sex worker. An abandoned storage locker is opened to reveal a collection of bondage magazines, arty porn shots, and detailed journals about capturing and torturing women, complete with diagrams.

The journals from the storage lockers
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Dec 072019
 

Secret Diary of a Call Girl (IMDB) is a British dramedy TV series focusing on Belle, also known as Hannah (played by Billie Piper), a young woman experiences in different kinds of sex work.

Belle (Billie Piper) in session with her accountant (Simon Kunz(

Episode 4 of series 1 (untitled, premiered 18 October 2007), directed by series creator Lucy Prebble, starts off with Belle having a session with her tax accountant, as he’s also a client. He says, “I don’t want you to be nice to me.” She doesn’t know anything about this, commenting later, “All that pain and paraphernalia, I don’t really get it.”

This request sends Belle to her manager.

Manager: “I was a domme for a while. I tell you, there’s no fucking money in it.”

Belle: “I’m not changing career. I just want to give it a go.”

Manager: “Good. I understand. You do this job long enough, you’ll want to kick the shit out of a man, eventually.”

The manager puts her in touch with “Mistress Sirona” (Sally Dexter).

Belle (Piper) gets advice from Sirona (Dexter)

While it is good that Belle seeks out advice from someone experienced in the field before her session with her accountant, this is where the episode goes over the top. First, “Mistress Sirona” drops by Belle’s flat in full dominatrix outfit. Second, she’s accompanied by her male slave, who strips naked as soon as he enters Belle’s place. Apparently, she’s combining her social call to Belle with a client session.

Sirona: “So why not send your client my way?

Belle: “I’m curious.

Sirona: “Curiosity is a first step to enlightenment.”

Belle: “I thought it killed the cat.”

Sirona: “Belle, I like you. I like anyone with an open mind and clean shoes. Just to be clear, though, I take this job seriously.

Belle: “Of course.

Sirona: “Some people meditate, some people pray.

Belle: “Sure.

Sirona: “And fetish is not something for working girls to retire to once their tits have started to sag.

Belle: “My tits are fine.” 

Mistress Sirona (Sally Dexter) demonstrates on her slave (Darren Clarke) for Belle

Sirona gives Belle her brief introduction to the practice and theory of kink, including impact play and bondage on her slave.

Belle: “What about the sex?”

Sarona: “There is no sex.”

Belle: “None at all? How do you know when you’re finished?”

Sarona: “My watch beeps. I’m a goddess to my slaves. That’s what they want. I wouldn’t stoop to sex with them. Plus I’m a married woman.”

Belle: “He knows?”

Sarona: “Of course. Our sitting room’s a dungeon.”

In her book Dominatrix, Danielle J Lindemann explores the particular role of professional dominatrixes and their relationships to other types of sex workers. She says that pro dommes, their clients, and the mainstream media have jointly cultivated a professional mystique around the female dominant sex worker. The idea is that they are an elite with specialized expertise, who are authentically interested in dominance; not that they’re women, performing a job with varying degrees of skill, dedication and enthusiasm, for clients with money.

Secret Diary buys into this mystique, and doesn’t critique any of it. It even copies the “healing” rationale of pro domme work, as Sirona tells Belle that what she provides is “a huge relief.”

In a montage in the middle of the episode, Belle shops for the clothing, the implements and the furnishings for this new role. She even redecorates her flat with a pair of giant Gothic candelabras. There are obligatory shots of the arrays of bondage and impact gear, and a full-body shot of Belle in her new latex dress, corset and heels. Presumably her accountant is paying for all of this, even though Belle might not keep any of it. This fits with the consumerist ethos of Secret Diary, which links upscale escort work with a luxurious lifestyle. As Barbara Ehrenreich et al. observed in Re-Making Love, sadomasochism is the perfect form of sexuality for a consumerist society.

Belle (Piper) gets into costume, if not character.

One of the problems of this episode is that Belle treats the role of dominatrix as something she can acquire in a package, rather than something she has grown into. When she’s in the full outfit, she’s not completely comfortable, which is emphasized by the squeaking of the rubber dress as she moves and her awkwardness on the high heels. This fits one of the series’ themes: Belle trying on different identities at the behest of her clients.

When the accountant shows up, Belle says in an aside to the camera:

“Everything’s worked out in advance. The script, the scenario, even the insults I’m going to use have been agreed with over email.”

While it’s good that this is made clear, wouldn’t showing the negotiation between Belle and the accountant have been interesting? Perhaps, but it would have detracted from the glamorous fantasy.

Belle and her client

As the scene progresses, Belle stumbles a few times. First, she doesn’t know how to read her sub’s responses. She has to ask for “Red, amber or green?” “Green,” he says.

Belle (to camera): “How do you know if you’re doing it right? In my job, if you make a man come, that’s success. With this I can’t even tell if he’s enjoying it.”

Her second problem is that she runs out of things to do to him. After a quick call to Sirona for advice, she puts him to work scrubbing her toilet. While this keeps him busy, she makes a few calls.

The B-plot is that Belle has just learned that Ben, the guy friend she has a crush on, is getting married. This puts a rift in their friendship, and Belle responds by pushing him away. Later, when she finally takes one of his calls during her session with the accountant, he points out that she’s always secretive and controlling, and she’s punishing him by avoiding her calls. In other words, sadomasochistic dynamics of control, punishment and suffering can occur in any relationship.

Belle gets angry and starts to take it out on her accountant, vigorously using all of the implements. He red-safewords but she keeps going for a few more strokes until he calls her “Belle.” “I don’t want scars.” (Note, however, that the accountant says he can’t have marks, not that Belle has gone over his physical limits.)

Belle is stunned, sits down, asks Accountant to help her undo her dress.
They apologize to each other. Belle recommends Sirona to him.

The episode ends with Belle telling her friend Ben about her sex work.

Belle (voice over): “Sirona was right. Hurting people is a very special talent. S&M has taught me one thing. Maybe absolute control isn’t always best. Maybe sometimes, you’ve got to give a bit away.”

While Secret Diary is fairly positive in its portrayal of BDSM, it’s also pretty shallow; there’s only so much one can cover in 22 minutes. Much like Personal Services, it’s focused on the emotional-commercial transaction between hetero male clients and female providers, and doesn’t explore adjacent areas like non-commercial BDSM or maledom/femsub interactions. Certainly no indication of why a woman would want to be a top/dominant for any reason other than money.

Belle/Hannah was played by Billie Piper, best known as companion Rose Tyler in the revival of Doctor Who. Mistress Sirona was played by Sally Dexter, who also played a dominatrix character in Adult Babies (2017).

Jul 142019
 

Not every film I study in this project has a lot to say about sadomasochism. In some cases, these may be single scenes or even brief moments.

Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000) is a semi-improvised drama about the exotic dancers at a club and their various struggles in life.

Jo (Jennifer Tilly) has a smoke break outside the Blue Iguana
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