Mar 272012

Ribbonfarm raises an interesting point about the status of subcultures in the mass surveillance age, and that got me thinking about the status of BDSM as a subculture.

Contrary to popular belief, subcultures are not vague constructs. They have a precise, if negative, definition: a subculture is a pattern of social order that is not worth codifying and institutionalizing for the purposes of governance or economic exploitation, under normal circumstances. So subcultures have historically relied on their obscurity, illegibility and unimportance to ensure autonomy and security.


The subcultural web is now being made legible and governable under the harsh light of Facebook Like actions. Just in time too, since the returns on coarser forms of political and economic exploitation are now rapidly diminishing.


The world of subcultures are about to be comprehensively explored, mapped, tamed and domesticated. The larger the subculture, the faster it will fall.

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Jun 072011

Shortbus 2006, written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell. IMDB

I grew up with have fond memories of Sook-Yin Lee as a VJ on Canada’s MuchMusic (she memorably mooned the camera on her last broadcast day) and I still listen to her now and again on CBC’s Definitely Not The Opera podcast, where she hosts an NPR-like show about personal anecdotes. That’s why it was a slightly odd experience to see her having un-faked, penetrative intercourse in the first few minutes of this movie. (According to the DVD commentary, she was wearing a female condom.) It felt a little like I was seeing somebody I knew in person having sex.

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May 172011

Bountiful BC is a community of about 1000 people near Creston BC, home to a Mormon splinter group that practices polygyny, one man with multiple wives. The shortage of women has driven the age of marriage and child birth down to the early teens, and there’s been reports of young women being moved across the border to similar communities in the US. There are also problems stemming from a lack of places for younger men in this community.

The BC Attorney General hasn’t been able to prosecute the community’s leaders, because of claims of religious freedom and the difficulty of getting people in a tight-knit community to come forward and testify. The AG has turned to an old, rarely used law, Section 293 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes any form of polygamy or any kind of conjugal union with more than one person. It hasn’t been used in decades, when it was used against First Nations.

Right now, the BC Supreme Court is conducing a reference to determine the constitutionality of S.293. Critics say that the law is overly broad and vague, and intrudes on people’s personal lives, and could apply to people who practise polyamory or even live together as roommates. Supporters say the law can be “read down” to apply only to cases where exploitation is clear.

Apart from the many kinky people who are also poly, this case is relevant to kinky people in general.

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Nov 232010

This political attack ad from the just-finished American election season deploys two class tropes: associating your enemy with financial malfeasance (“He’s a crook and will steal your money.”) and associating your enemy with “extreme values”, i.e. sexual deviance (“He’s a freak and will break up your family.”) It doesn’t actually show anything except shots of Newsom hand-picked to make him look sketchy and rich, but it does link him with bondage and leather festival (presumably the Folsom Street festival) and job training for transpeople (which sounds like a perfectly legitimate government activity to me).

Whether kinky people think so or not, BDSM is political, if only because non-kinky people make it so by using it in their own actions.

In related news, Christian right gadfly Peter LaBabera has posted his annual attack on the Folsom Street Fair, completely with his traditional snipe at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for letting this happen. This is a curiously half-hearted year for LaBarbera, with only a single image and a short text post. Maybe he’s devoting most of his energy to the gays-in-the-military issue.

May 032010

From a review of Michael Gruber’s novel The Good Son in

Details that at first seem merely quirky — Sonia’s Jungian practice, for example — prove themselves in the course of the novel to be tributaries emptying into Gruber’s theme: that enduring, atavistic longing for the meaning and passion to be found in the old ways of life. “Everyone loves feudalism in their hearts,” Theo tells himself, sounding like Greene’s Harry Lime, “which is why ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Sopranos’ were huge hits. There has yet to be a movie about legislative markup or the courageous agents of the Federal Election Commission.” Life in “Pashtunistan” may be brutal and irrational, but for what Sonia calls “us primitives,” it’s mighty hard to quit.

That applies to the pseudo-feudal terminology of D/S.

This also ties into a section of Benjamin Nugent’s non-fiction book American Nerd. Nugent sees the pseudo-medieval society of the Society of Creative Anachronism as nerds’ idea of a utopian society: hierarchical yet meritocratic, transparent (you can tell what a person’s social role is just by looking at them), orderly, earnest, yet allowing people to go off and pursue their own interests in peace. He compares that to a group home he lived in inhabited by an amorphous, ever-shifting group of hipsters, who constantly engage in a never-ending struggle for dominance. Map that comparison onto the orderly, transparent, checklists-and-safeword world of BDSM versus the ambiguity of vanilla dating. You can see the appeal of a social world in which you can always point to the person who’s in charge.

Feb 142007

I visited the Vault when I was in NYC back in the spring of ’97. I was lucky enough to be there for a Eulenspiegel Society femdom party with TammyJo Eckhart. It was great being in a part of New York BDSM history, seeing the famous sloping bar and the three levels of playspace. I also got to visit the Hellfire Club.

Sadly, both were gone when I returned in the fall of 2005. Blame it on a combination of rising rent, Giuliani, 9/11 and a recession. Now, the Vault’s former owner is about to tell all.

Anthony Marini, who owned the dungeon-like venue from 1992-2001, is shopping a tell-all book that he says will name names and blow the lid off scandals involving the rich and famous and the NYPD.

“Some of it is so controversial, there’s going to be heat,” Marini told Page Six. “It goes into police corruption. I have cops getting involved with transvestites – one who was a beat cop and is still on the force now as a lieutenant. And I’m going to name him.”

If you’re into celebrity name dropping, this might be a fun read, but I’m not terribly interested in a B-listers flirting with the edge of kink. That’s a mixed blessing. Like all transgressive subcultures, kink’s interface with vanilla culture is always hazy and constantly shifting, and the flow of social capital tends to go from the higher ground of kink to the lower ground of vanilla. When celebrities become mundane, what’s associated with them loses its magic too.

Fortunately, such things are cyclical, and kink will be back on the edge soon. Kink has outlasted several generations of celebrity.

Thanks to Gloria Brame for the link.