“The Hero’s Journey” is a pretty standard narrative structure. It is also known as the monomyth or the underlining, cross-cultural structure of how we tell certain stories. There’s a lot about Joseph Campbell that is grossly overblown but it is an incredibly helpful model for understanding stories and why we tell them. When it comes to mythology of this nature, we think of the grand epic poems like The Iliad and The Odyssey or The Wizard Of Oz or Star Wars. We don’t really think of porn as ever stepping into the territory of mythology despite the fact that sex is fucking epic and we inextricable to the human and personal saga.
There was a time when The Training Of O was a hardcore, XXX, BDSM manifestation of the hero’s journey. Given that it’s about BDSM and leather sex, we’ll call it the slave’s journey because in this instance it plays out to similar ends. A lot of great work has been done on the website and I am not alleging that this is a list of “the best” TTOO shoots. I have no idea what “the best” would be. I would say that out of what I’ve viewed, these would be the shoots that best exemplified the hero’s journey and took on an ethereal quality where it was evident you were watching something different than your average porn.
In contrast, I would say that content currently being produced on TTOO under a new director is something more a “Slut Soldier’s Bootcamp.” It’s infinitely less Jungian and much more military in nature. Thing of it is, even during Mogul’s tenure the creative winds changed direction and that alone indicates a kind of intellectual and artistic merit. If it were just 4 days of a chick being beaten and fucked, it would look and feel exactly the same ESPECIALLY under the same director. Even someone without film training can pick up on the changing flow of production. In the case of TTOO, members debate to varying degrees of civility the evolution of the website and its evolution over time and leadership.
What is the slave’s journey and how is it composed?
1. Setting as character
The above shots are from Julie Night’s 4 Day Training Of O. The shoot opens with Julie in street clothes on Mission in front of the imposing Armory. Kink.Com has not always been housed in the former House of War. In fact, TTOO came about as Kink was in the process of acquiring the Armory. Bobbi Starr, now a director at Kink.Com, was the first slave to be trained and her shoot is the pilot of the series. You can see all of the power and potential of the shoot to come but in retrospect it is missing a member of the training staff: the armory itself.
In a “hero’s journey” the setting is vital to the story. We have to establish that the protagonist has exited the ordinary world and has gone somewhere new where the rules don’t follow a familiar logic. Alice must go to Wonderland for her coming of age and Dorothy travels to the Oz. The setting is full of strange characters who may be friends, enemies, or an ambivalent mix of the two but moreover the setting itself somehow breathes with its own energy and intentions. The landscape of the journey is a teacher just as much as its occupants. It is a reminder that who we are is highly contingent upon our context.
The start of this training really nails the departure from the “ordinary world.” Julie Night, a seemingly ordinary girl, walks up to the giant building and almost like magic the massive door rolls open. The exterior is bright and brilliant, the interior is dark and dank. Waiting just on the inside is our host, James Mogul, wearing all black and waiting for her on the other side of the threshold. Even though it’s just a dramatic establishing shot, it communicates a lot. We get to see Julie Night take in the darkness in front of her, accept it, and cross into it. Watching the door roll down slowly to seal her inside the belly of the beast with James as a guide makes the scene intense from the get-go. We know we’ve left the ordinary world and we’re following her as she goes to the underworld.
When you’re looking at 5 days in the Armory-the first two dedicated to active training, a break, and then the last two for second half of the training-and full days of diving deep into some crazy ass BDSM, you’ve moved into total consciousness altering territory. People pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to have this kind of experience at spiritual retreats, martial arts training, etc. When you’re holding the space that way for 5 days, you aren’t just two models. You are forging a mutual reality and little by little the cultural programming you came from starts to feel like a memory and you are endowed with new logic and reason. It’s behavior modification. The hero’s journey is something we not only use to frame stories, it’s how we frame our own life experiences and we often seek out opportunities to shatter our egos in search of a greater personal truth and relationship to the world.
Claustrophobia is the the focus of the training and because of some interesting editing and shot composition, what James does in the immediacy of the scene’s actions is flattered by the way the space of the armory is interacting with her as well. We make our own monsters and both James and The Armory are like chameleons of fear always changing their color to match the interior of her phobia.
The wooden box is now a cliche on the Kink.Com website but in this early manifestation it is endowed with incredible power. At first, it is the box of the armory with the one cutaway entrance and the rolling gate. Then it is the the claustrophobic dark boxy boiler room and the one spotlight directed on her face. A box over her head with a window. Perception and framing are visual motifs as well as tangible manifestations of fear. It’s not just the Mogul is putting her in boxes, the rooms are boxing her in and so is the camera–so is our gaze.
2. Mogul as a trickster guide.
James Mogul is definitely the dominant in the situation but he has a kind of humility the re-positions not only his place in the hierarchy but the whole hierarchy itself. He’s in charge of the scene in front of us but he’s a part of something bigger himself. Sometimes he is the sadistic psychologist, other times like an orderly who has read over an asylum inmate’s case notes, or perhaps a conductor in an orchestra of pain. His personal kick is a devoted slave who will suffer beautifully for him. Whatever his kick might be, he’s quite bound to something. “We all answer to someone…” Desire humbles us all. It’s one of those physical reactions we have no power over experiencing. Whether or not we can act on a desire reveals our privilege but feeling that wave of desire wash over you is reminder that your ego is not always in the driver’s seat. Human nature is bigger than our conscious mind can handle.
The TTOO has these moments where the slave is bound, beaten, and being fucked and still manages to push one of his buttons with her eyes, tone of voice, or understanding of what is transpiring between them and you can see his cock get hard in his pants. There are times when his face takes on an appreciative smile or he whispers something to her that is beyond our earshot. The 4th wall of porn is momentarily and deliberately shut down because he was not addressing us, the audience. He was speaking just to her.
3. Descent Into The Underworld, The Slave’s Journey
The TTOO is introduced with glass shattering. The shattering of the ego and the slave identity that is built up can be seen in stages that really reflect the monomyth. There is a rapid crossover from the known world into the unknown world of the Armory and the return to the known world is often signified with a return of “normal” privileges. The model will often be dressed in lingerie or fetish clothing, the scenes are more traditionally sexual in nature, and the confidence of the woman going through the acts is high lighted often by a brighter room that is slightly less stark than it was at the beginning.
The training of Sabrina Fox is a wonderful depiction of this. Much like Julie Night, Fox puts in earnest and good faith effort into transparency and articulation. Julie Night is wildly successful in her phobias and tribulations but Sabrina certainly has her struggles particularly in Day Two. The physical exertion leads to her becoming ill but she recovers and returns to the training. At 28 minutes into the video we can see her come to the edge of a full on panic. With a hood over her head and buckets filled with water over a large bamboo beam, she still steps up onto a block to balance them under incredible stress.
Those instances are almost like the cycle happening in a moment. It’s no longer just an ordinary physical act. How often do we balance unstable weight on our shoulders in the darkness? When does it cross the threshold and become endowed with greater meaning? There’s a period of time where it is the dealth/rebirth mark. Sabrina sobs into the hood and just a hair away from everything coming to a sudden end, Mogul compels the camera closer and has Sabrina remain in that claustrophobic tomb of a moment before unveiling the hood.
There on the other side, he puts out his hand to catch her tears from the catharsis which is an incredible gesture and one much unlike any seen in later shoots, Mogul or no Mogul. Maybe no one else needed to have their tears held in the hand of their trainer the way that Fox did that day. Either way, he allows for the moment to overwhelm her into a form of transformation before we see her face change and resurface for the next bout of training and the next set of skills to be learned.
The 3rd day is often very intense because it is the halfway mark. This is when pain and protocol are more smoothly integrated into the subject’s sexuality rather than being practiced in isolation. (Wax-on, wax-off into a smooth martial arts skill, if you will.) It’s also when more warmth and color start to enter the shoot. The model slowly earns more clothing, the settings become a little lighter, and a unique relationship between the trainer and the trainee starts to become forged. The 4th day is about showcasing the prize. It’s like the return to more traditional porn, as well, although far from being vanilla.