One way to view the Internet is as a vast sorting system, in which individuals can curate collections of material that might never be allowed to come together otherwise. I found the Fraulein Swastika Tumblr [removed as of 16 June 2021] recently, a collection of erotic images of women with fascist elements. What’s interesting is that the images seem to come from at least three different discourses.
Mileaf, Janine. Please Touch: Dada & Surrealist Objects After The Readymade. Dartmouth College Press, 2010
As I’ve observed before, there’s a relative lacuna in BDSM history, between the Victorians and the post-WWII era. The first half of the 20th century is relatively undocumented, though I have found a few exceptions.
Artist and photographermade several sadomasochistic photos in his career in the 1920s and 1930s. He was also a devotee of the works of the Marquis de Sade, and made portraits of the Marquis. Man Ray was one of many artists of the time interested in “the primitive”, taking inspiration from aboriginal people around the world, and seeking truth through extreme mental and physical states.
Vintage Sleaze has a post on Tana Louise, the premier fetish/bondage model before Bettie Page and girlfriend of bondage pioneer Lenny Burtman.
The post ends with stating that the 1940s/1950s porn/fetish/kink world is still largely unexplored:
There are thousands of untold stories from the golden days of sleaze, as this blog proves, and that there have been over 800 posts here already only indicates how many more are to be told. Yet, from this writer’s perch, Tana Louise is the MAJOR untold story of the 1950s. A story not even scratched.
The model in contemporary art nude photography: Postcard Orientalism has a short photo essay on Orientalism in early photography.
More interesting are the cards taken in North Africa. These tried to evoke the image of the harem, a fantasy of erotic mystery and subjugation. It is again believed that most of the models would have been prostitutes. Given the strictures of Arab society it is hard to imagine ordinary women posing nude; nor would photographers, who were European, have had ready access to real harems….
Of course, this very exclusion could become a source of fetishism.
A post on Vegan Times got me thinking about the use of the naked human body. “An Open Letter to PeTA” makes a feminist critique PETA’s use of sexualized imagery in its ads against animal cruelty:
Like animal exploitation, which turns non-human individuals into objects of consumption for humans, patriarchy as a cross-cultural and trans-historical phenomenon has always involved the ‘thingification’ of women’s bodies, manifested either through outright ownership (by husbands and fathers), or through widespread sexual objectification. Both non-human slavery and patriarchy are heavily steeped in the fetishization of violence. It would seem, then, that an organization ostensibly committed to the eradication of animal exploitation would also support the eradication of gender hierarchy. Yet judging from your track record, this has not been the case.
Researching the previous post led me to the Klaw Archives, focused on the Irving Klaw’s 1940s-1950s bondage photosets and short films.
Gloria Brame has posted a set of stereo-optic 3D images, likely made in 1920s France, of Ff BDSM scenes.
Dr. Gloria Brame posted this video of vintage dominatrix photography, going back in the 19th century.
Here’s an interesting paper on the results of a survey of people’s subjective experience to pornography. The researcher assembled about 70 porn images and asked people to comment on how they responded to the images and what they fantasized about in response to the images. (I participated.)
In an argument loosely based on Mulvey’s concept of the male gaze, it has long been assumed that the subjective experience of pornography involved either the viewer’s sexual domination of the subject, or else the viewer adopting a like surrogate for the same end. In fact, these modes of encountering pornography appear to account for slightly less than one-third of responses to this survey. Even if we look only at responses in which the viewer is present in their narrative of the image, these simple modes account for only 63% of all responses. More surprisingly, from the traditional viewpoint, there is almost no difference in that rate by gender.
The takeaway is that, instead of a simple “male gaze”, people had a highly complicated and variable way of relating to images. Sometimes they are omniscient observers, sometimes they insert themselves into the image, sometimes they take the position of one of the people in the image. People spun elaborate scenarios about the action and experiences of the people in the image, based on the tiniest of cues in the image or the absence of details.
This suggests that people don’t take the pornographic image “straight”: they add a huge amount to the experience from their own imaginations and memories. When we read text, we complete the experience with our own minds, but it may be that we do when we see images, and that no two people see precisely the same image. People have active imaginations (not only sexual) and we cannot attribute the content of their fantasies solely to their media intake.
Anti-porn theorists generally posit that pornographic images encourage or foster imitative behaviour in the viewer, but this study suggests that it’s a lot more complicated. The viewer may select a woman who is injured or bound in order to fantasize about rescuing or healing her.
Another interesting point is the difference between putting a fantasy character in a “peril” situation, in which something bad is threatening but hasn’t happened yet and from which they could be saved, and outright violence or snuff scenarios.
This might have something to do with the hurt/comfort trope in slash fanfiction, in which one character in the story is physically or mentally injured and the other heals or tends to the first, creating an opportunity for physical/emotional intimacy. (Of course, this could also be read as an opportunity to indulge in latent sadism, displaced onto another character.) In the film of The Sheik, the Valentino character starts out masterfully masculine, but the emotional climax of the film comes when he is injured and prostrate before his female love interest.
This ties into Freud’s essay “A Child is Being Beaten”, which talks about the mobility of the fantasizer’s point of view in flagellation fantasy, and Anna Freud’s essay on fantasies in which they are constantly re-edited by the fantasizer. (More on this later.)