Jul 192013
 

McInnis, Maurie D. Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade. University of Chicago Press, 2011

Group of African slaves sitting, waiting for sale, white men in background.

Slaves Waiting for Sale, by Eyre Crowe

This is an excellent work as a reference from the Virigina slave trade in the 1850s. The author includes all kinds of “you are there” details, including clothing and architecture.

Built around work of British artist and journalist Eyre Crowe, who travelled in America in the 1850s as secretary to author William Thackery on a lecture tour.

Crowe read Uncle Tom’s Cabin before he saw any actual slavery, but was moved by it. (Pg.4) Purchased from street book merchant, also selling Thackery’s books. Crowe was “properly harrowed” by the book. (Pg. 19)

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Jun 182013
 

The first draft of Chapter 5, “The Peculiar Institution”, is now complete and backed up, all 11,000 words of it. It’s about Atlantic slavery and its erotics, and spends a lot of time talking about the master-slave relationship of Hannah Cullwick and Arthur Munby.

Next is Chapter 6, “Class and Classification,” covering the late Victorian flagellant subculture, plus Krafft-Ebing. This is actually in a first draft state already, from years ago, but it is 17,000 words, and I’m trying to keep chapters under 10,000 words or so. I could cut it in two, renaming the first half “The Extraordinary Gentlemen”. However, there’s some redundant material in the chapter as well, and I intend to cut that out, though probably not 7,000 words of it. I will probably cut out the fat and then subdivide into two shorter chapters.

After that comes the early 20th century. This is kind of a lacuna in my research, because I’m not really sure what was going on in the 1900-1950 period. I’d probably mostly talk about film, particularly pre-Hays Code, particularly how American racial anxieties figured in films like Freaks, The Sheik, Frankenstein, the 1931 version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, etc. If there was any kind of formal BDSM subculture at this time, I have yet to find any evidence of it.

Mar 112013
 

Lynndie-England -Abu-Ghraib-FemdomWell, this had to happen sooner or later. I found this image on the Femdom Artists blog. This is the cover of a Mexican magazine, presumably published sometime in the late 2000s, based on the iconic images of Lynndie England and other American soldiers abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. “Arrogance and torture in Iraq!” shouts the headline.

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Feb 232013
 

Django Unchained 2012, writer/director Quentin Tarantino, IMDB

(Spoilers ahead)

Briefly, Django Unchained is about a slave in the Old West, before the Civil War, who is freed by, then partnered with, a German bounty hunter, Dr. Schulz. They set off on a quest (explicitly compared to the German legend of Siegfried/Sigurd) to recover Django’s wife Broomhilda from a plantation known as “Candie Land”.

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Nov 102012
 

Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Oxford University Press, 1993. Amazon

In tracing the long and crooked path from the reality of slavery to the fantasy of slavery, I’ve passed through blackface, or more generally whites imitating blacks.

Blackface minstrelsy was a very complex phenomenon. To begin with, it originated in the North East of the United States, not the South, and it was first performed by working-class whites, often Irish, who were perceived as only slightly above blacks in the grand scheme of things. Minstrelsy was an insulting parody of blacks, and an appropriation of black music, songs and dialect; it was also an expression of working-class whites’ anxieties about their precarious position in society, their resentment at efforts to free the black southern slave while leaving the white northern “wage slave” in the same dependent state.

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Sep 242012
 


Roman Scandals is a 1933, pre-Hays code musical starring Eddie Cantor and featuring elaborate set piece dance number choreographed by Busby Berkeley. Presumably a parody of Biblical and/or classical Hollywood pictures like The Sign of the Cross (1932), Scandals gives up any pretense of drama and goes straight to the sexual decadence. The means dance numbers on elaborate sets performed by dozens or even scores of women dressed identically (the “Goldwyn Girls”, including a young Lucille Ball). If you want to have large numbers of scantily clad women moving around in a situation of high drama, you can’t go wrong with a slave market or auction scene.

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Sep 092012
 

The word “slave” is an emotionally charged one.

I began my BDSM career in the early ’90s with an email slave relationship with a woman on the other side of the continent. It lasted over a year, with a contract, daily reports, exchanged gifts by mail, and so on. I had the notion that this is just what you did. (I eventually met her in person, and we still stay in touch. She currently lives with two men, her husband and her slave.)

When I signed on to Fetlife for the first time, I chose “bottom” as my role,  not “submissive” or “slave”. I carefully chose a name, “Liegeman”, that connoted the feudal relationship of mutual obligation (or at least the idealized version of that), rather than the kind of terminology associated with the institution of slavery. I’m just not comfortable with that language, especially after I started researching American slavery.

For me, and I imagine a lot of people, the word “slave” denotes American antebellum slavery: an unskilled labourer in a hereditary state of chattel bondage, justified by the worst combination of Calvinism and Darwinism.

Obviously, lots of people in the greater BDSM scene use the terminology of master-slave, but the meaning they apply to it is quite different. The relationship is paramount, with aspects of marriage, apprenticeship, and military discipline. While Masters talk about “owning” slaves, it isn’t ownership in the sense of property, but more like noblesse oblige or feudal obligation.

As I asked in my presentation, how did we get from one definition to the other?

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