Jun 012020
 

“Stocks & Bondage” First aired November 29, 1999 IMDB

“Stocks & Bondage” opens with a familiar scene: a woman found dead in bondage gear. However, as the detectives investigate, the case turns out to be more about shady financial dealings on Wall Street than sexual deviance. 

“Stocks & Bondage” includes some of the same tropes as the earlier Law & Order episode “Prisoner of Love”, particularly the discussion over whether the death that started the story is an accident, a suicide, or a murder. Unlike the dual focus on detectives and prosecutors of its parent series, Special Victims Unit is mostly about the investigation, not the legal complexities.

Detective Benson views the body. Notice the handcuff visible in the background.
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Apr 272020
 

Law & Order: Criminal Intent’s episode “Lost Children of the Blood” aired July 25, 2010

A college student found drained of blood in her dorm room leads Detectives Nichols (Jeff Goldblum) and Stevens (Saffron Burrows) to the underground culture of blood fetishists. 

The victim, Sarah Price, has quotes from Carl Jung and Michel Foucault all over her dorm room. Nichols finds a deluxe copy of Jung’s Red Book. “He [Jung] thought everybody should have a red book. All disturbing thoughts written down and filed away.”

Sarah’s boyfriend Kyle admits that they did go to a club together, and did blood play. 

Kyle: “It was just exploring boundaries. Sarah and I wanted something real and authentic.”

Sarah and Anton
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Jan 292020
 

Aired December 4, 1990 IMDB

Another episode bucks the cliche by not opening with the discovery of a dead sex worker. This time it’s a controversial artist named Victor Moore (loosely modeled on Robert Mapplethorpe, who died in 1989), found strangled to death with a noose around his neck, inside his workspace/dungeon. The investigation delves into the sexual fringe and its intersection with the city’s elite. 

Law & Order is usually more thoughtful and less sensational than other procedural shows, and this story does engage with the issues of sadomasochism. 

Greevey, one of the two detectives on the case, is the most prejudiced against Moore and his art. “Some work. If I did stuff like this, I wouldn’t advertise either.”

The detectives question a man who knew the victim casually, but wouldn’t date him. 

Logan: “Let me get this straight. You’re asked out on a date by a guy who published pictures of people hanging upside down in chains. And you’re tempted, but there’s something about him you don’t trust?”

While it’s entirely possible that Moore was coming on creepy to the guy, the Implication is that a person who makes sexually violent art must be dangerous. 

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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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Jun 162019
 

Peter Samuel Cook was a serial rapist who attacked women in their homes in Cambridge, England, between October 1974 and April 1975. He was known in the press as the “Cambridge Rapist”.

There was a peculiarly theatrical quality to Cook’s crimes. Today, we are still grappling with the idea that most rapes are committed by people the victim knew. Cook fit the stereotypical view of a rapist at the time, a socially marginal figure who broke into homes and assaulted strangers. Reportedly, if he didn’t find a victim, he would write taunting messages on their bathroom mirrors.

What’s significant for this discussion is that he wore a black leather hood with the word “RAPIST” literally written across the forehead. What puzzled me was, why and how did Cook get a leather mask? An ordinary cloth or wool ski mask or balaclava would have sufficed to conceal his identity.

Black leather hood of the “Cambridge Rapist”
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Apr 182019
 

Lasting Marks is a short documentary on the infamous Operation Spanner case, in which gay men in 1980s Britain were arrested and tried for consensual sadomasochism. I should point out that the documentary is mostly scans of newspaper articles and legal documents, with a voiceover interview with one of the accused.

Jan 152016
 

Cover of the DSM5

The Atlantic has an article on how the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom successfully lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to remove BDSM from the Diagnostic and Sexual Manual. (Another for the “I should have written that” file.)

It’s an interesting development that actual kinky people have directly and successfully worked with medical authorities to depathologize kink. It took a long time before LGBT people could have the organization to do the same.

Oct 272015
 

Khan, Ummni. Vicarious Kinks: S/m in the Socio-Legal Imaginary. Toronto Univ. of Toronto Press, 2014.

Remember “Two Girls One Cup“? This video clip of two women appearing to eat feces out of a cup went viral a few years ago. I happened to be at a vanilla party where everybody wanted to take their turn seeing the clip, with the kind of horrified fascination usually seen in children poking a dead mouse. The clip went viral powered by that kind of attraction/repulsion experience, exposing it to an audience orders of magnitude larger than the probably tiny audience of corporophagia fetishists it was originally made for. Disgust is a powerful force in human experience, perhaps more powerful than desire.

Jamie Dornan, who played Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey film, was less than flattering in his view of the kink scene, as he told Elle UK:

He visits a sex-dungeon of course. “I went there, they offered me a beer, and they did…whatever they were into. I saw a dominant with one of his two submissives,” he says.

There was plenty of kink… and plenty laughter. “I was like: ‘Come on guys I know I’m not paying for this but I am expecting a show.’ It was an interesting evening. Then going back to my wife and newborn baby afterwards… I had a long shower before touching either of them.”

Not only did Dornan treat this as an exhibition for his pleasure, he evinced disgust afterwards, especially in the context of not touching his wife or child, as if he was contaminated. (Probably some of the people he observed had their own spouses and children. Did they take a long shower before touching them?)

Even people who are on the side of kinky people still need to express their disgust of BDSM. Law professor Alan Young, who defended Ontario pro-dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, wrote in his book:

Despite my championing of the S/M cause, I always had a bit of sadness when I thought about some of the characters inhabiting this sub-terranean world. It’s somewhat pathetic that someone has to dress up as Louis XV or as an infant in a soiled diaper and yell “Vive la France” or whimper “Mommy, don’t hurt me too bad” in order to get a sexual buzz. I find this sad because I still believe that vanilla sex is one of the most magnificent and oceanic experiences available in life’s repertoire. Who needs the costumes and the humiliation? Well, I guess some people do. [Pg. 278-279, quoting Young’s 2003 book, pg. 97]

Young uses words like “sadness” or “pathetic” to describe BDSM, while his own sex life is “magnificent and oceanic”. It’s not enough to say that he feels no attraction to BDSM, he has to denigrate it and valorize his own vanilla sexuality.

Both Dornan and Young described their reaction to BDSM as one of visceral disgust, and in so doing re-state their attachment to the normative values of heterosexual family and vanilla sexuality.

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May 062013
 

Baatz, Simon. For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder that Shocked Chicago. HarperCollins, 2008 Amazon

I wish there were more case studies to examine in this field. It’s rare to find a documented sadomasochistic relationship in the pre-modern era; I shudder to think how easily the Munby-Cullwick papers could have been lost. Sometimes one must make do with what one can find. In this case, there’s the case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb who probably would have been remembered as eccentrics if they hadn’t kidnapped and murdered a teenage boy, basically just to prove they could.

After their capture for the murder, the two men were thoroughly examined by physicians, neurologists and psychiatrists, who couldn’t agree on a diagnosis. Eventually they were found competent to stand trial. Their examinations and testimonies revealed both had vivid fantasy lives.

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