Category Archives: BDSM theory

Radical Sex Communities As Cult Institutions

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When it comes to sex and sexuality, the word ‘community’ is very popular. For example, I considered myself a part of the BDSM community for a very long time because it provided a place, structure, and group of people with whom I could seek revelatory experiences with sex. Over time I’ve come to question the word ‘community’ and how it’s used. It’s often disputed in an all or nothing way which I think fails to capture the situation. Human behavior is not black and white. It never has been, it never will be. There are a confluence of factors that go into the way that people lead their lives and it is not my place to say that someone will or will not experience a sense of community, nor can I speak to the impetus that brought them there. Some people will come and go, others will come and go and come back again.

I’ve been doing an extensive study of religion lately and a lot of it has been very illuminating for the structure of sex communities. Sex is a state of altered consciousness and as such, it has a lot in common with religious communities. Emile Durkheim, for instance, speaks of religion as a “manifestation of social solidarity and collective beliefs.” In their estimation, members of a society create sacred objects, rituals, beliefs, and special symbols to integrate their culture. Even this can be too simple because there is so much diversity in cognitive and phenomenal displayed in any given religious experience.

Some define religion as something that necessitates communion with the supernatural, others do not. The reliance of symbol and rite as a means to organize abstract concepts in terms of concrete symbols to make speculation possible is a key component but may not always be seen. Again, the diversity of religion and its expression makes a definition hard to pin down. There are the ideas and beliefs we hold deep in our hearts and there are our ways of relating them to others around us. As I continued reading, I realized that in many ways the BDSM subculture is very much a ‘religious institution’ by the more broad definitions that highlight their social and cultural implications. This is no surprise: sexuality and sexual rites have been parts of religion since ancient ages. I think also of how common it is to hear someone describe good sex as, “seeing God” whether or not they were believers in an extra-corporeal entity.

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Persephone Syndrome

To some, myths are stories. To others they are facts as real as any figure or number in a text book. To others still they are allegories or intuitive attempts to make sense of humanity. I belong to the latter category and I’ve long had an obsessive interest in religion and mystery cults largely inspired by the nightly reading of Greek mythology was blessed indeed to receive as a young child. It filled my imagination and did provide a guide to making sense of the confusing and conflicting acts of those around me and the confusion of my own consciousness.

The story of Persephone has been running through my mind as of late. Most know of it as an agrarian allegory. To the uninitiated, I shall summarize though bear in mind that her tale varies from tradition to tradition, time to time, and place to place. Greek mythology holds a stronghold in the imagination but this tale predates their dominance in the historical record. Most commonly, Persephone is the daughter of Demeter and Zeus and she is often know simply as “The Maiden.”

Persephone was a gorgeous little hippie baby, totally raised on organic food with lots of time in the company of nymphs and her mother Demeter who was a great goddess of fertility. Things were working out for them as the fields were vast as the sky and the world was warm and fruitful. Persephone had been gathering flowers and singing songs when she came across one she’d never seen before: a narcissus. When she plucked it from the ground a cavernous hole emerged with the thunder of a great chariot pulled by four terrible and beautiful black stallions driven by Hades, the god of the underworld. He had struck a deal with Zeus pointing out that someone had to be the keeper of the place where souls go and this was a shitty job, so far as godly duties go.

Hades wasn’t evil, he just tended to the more unpleasant part of life. There were no blue skies, golden rays of sunlight, or pretty little singing maidens for him to be sure. Moreover, his social life sucked. Everyone was polite when he made an appearance but no one really wants the god of the dead to arrive at their parties. He asked for a wife and Zeus, the patriarch that he was, told him to plant the Narcissus and to snatch his daughter Persephone when her mother wasn’t looking.

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Stop Dominatrix Shaming

There’s a disturbing trend in critiques of the “BDSM Scene” to blame the dominatrix for ills and inequalities among the real players. Let’s cut right to the heart of why this is bullshit: sex workers live at the mercy of the state on top of being stigmatized. For those who care about consent, remember that this is a form of adult consent that the state says that you cannot make and that feminists say you must be mad or mindless or both to pursue and then society says that when you cross that river you can never really come back.

Sex workers not only lack the right to make a consensual transaction, sex workers are also denied their rights to justice in American courtrooms. This means all sex workers.Why can’t we go to the police? What the fuck good will it ever do for us? We don’t live in a Law and Order world where our glamorized dead bodies are sneered at and justice is seen as fetishizing the law even when it’s a whore. I’m going to illustrate with a story I obsessed over as it occurred. My favorite coverage came from the OC Weekly and starts off with this paragraph:

No one disputes that an on-duty Irvine police officer got an erection and ejaculated on a motorist during an early-morning traffic stop in Laguna Beach. The female driver reported it, DNA testing confirmed it and officer David Alex Park finally admitted it.

To really paint the picture, an officer of the law stalked this woman. It was such a problem that even his department told him to knock it the fuck off. On this night, he stalked her. He turned off his GPS in the patrol vehicle so the car wouldn’t record where he was. He waited until she was on a secluded road.

He was acquitted.

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How Not To Be A Douche In The Dungeon

I wrote this almost a year ago and posted it on Fetlife. Given that Fetlife is a closed system, I am reposting it here with in a slightly updated form. Feel free to syndicate by crediting with a link back to my website. 

Does everyone at the party always seem angry at you?

Have you been kicked out of events for inappropriate behavior?

Are you confused about what to do?

Here, now, in condensed form are some tips to help you make friends in the dungeon. This list is not a complete index, but rather a set of helpful hints to help squeeeegee your third-eye and open your mind.

  • Scene negotiations are like boxing negotiations. In the absence of express active consent, the actions involved in both activities are considered assault. Just because someone is a known boxer does not mean you can walk up and punch them.

    Much like the boxer, the person that you just randomly groped might punch you and for the same reasons.

  • The way to ask for consent to touch someone is to say, “Is it OK for me to hug you/touch you/pat your head/rub your belly/waka waka?” Then, wait patiently for a response. If the individual affirms in the positive, you may proceed. Waka waka, oh yes. However, it is important to note than a non-response is not a positive response. No waka waka. You must receive a positive affirmation before waka waka.
  • No one is issued a constitutional right to obtain a list of detailed reasons regarding a rejection. There are infinitely more reasons not to play than there are to play in any given moment. The reason most people cited when asked why they began a scene with a consenting partner was, “it was hot and we wanted to do it.”

    Reasons cited for not playing had much more diversity and ranged from responses like, “I’m not into leapfrog tea-bagging,” to, “I’m having an allergic reaction to shellfish!” If someone turns you down, you’re going to be okay and you don’t be a jerk about it. Your astrological signs didn’t match or maybe you had an unlucky color for a toy bag. Some people just aren’t “into” other people on certain days of the week. You never really know what’s going on with someone. Being an asshole about a rejection will only reduce your chances the next time you ask.

    It is also important to note that if you’re rude and hostile to someone who politely declined your offer, those witnessing the incident are likely to take it into consideration should you ever approach them. You never know when someone cute in the crowd has a particular fetish for people who treat others with respect.

  • If you are at a play party and you have some concerns as to whether or not you will be able to keep your hands off of people without their consent, you should talk to the DM or the party host and they will gladly offer you assistance. Remember, communicating with the DM keeps the party safe for everyone!
  • Compliments are super nice and we all appreciate them. They do not act, however, as “touching gift vouchers.” It’s great to love latex/leather/denim/furry suits/uniforms/cotton/chain mail/rope/plastic wrap/mayonaise/wax/naked/ dinosaur bones/The Hunt For Red October/accents/whatever the thing it is you love. Just because you love it, doesn’t mean you can stroke it.
  • Yes, that is a very nice flogger/whip/jump rope/daisy chain/macaroni salad that you have there. That statement is not an invitation to hit me with it.
  • Double check to make sure that the head of your cock is not slowly leaking seminal fluid when you first introduce yourself to a stranger unless you’ve received a special invitation from them to do so.
  • Do not provoke someone into domming you by being flirtatiously insolent and “accidentally” spilling things onto someone or mishandling their possessions and then suggesting a spanking for punishment. No waka waka. The idea that it’s totally acceptable to insult or provoke someone into anger in order to manipulate them into your fantasy scene represents something of a consent comprehension collapse. You aren’t being “naughty,” you’re being a douche.
  • Titties are the nebulous space between nudity and simply not wearing a shirt. There’s a lot  of politics around tits and their grey zone of relative public appropriateness. They mark a certain level of comfort that may not be about overt sexual active exhibitionism. If you’re hanging around and titties come out, don’t do anything that might potentially make the titties go away. This is called being part of the community or “the conservation of titties.” Don’t be the reason we can’t have nice things. Ask your peers to check in with you if they think your behavior might be offensive to titties. Welcome their advice. ‘Tis a far better thing to enjoy the titties from afar than never to have enjoyed the titties at all.
  • As anyone well versed in Risk Aware Consensual Kink (R.A.C.K.) will tell you, an out-of-control fire in the dungeon play space is a very bad thing. By taking the time to look up from the very hot scene you are voyeuristicly staring directly into to scan the room for any outbreaks of fire, you will not only contribute to the health and safety of everyone playing, you also reduce your risk of being the energy-sucking-vampire-creepy-douche!

    Remember, only you can prevent dungeon fires!

  • Recognizing someone as as a sex worker or educator does not entitle you special access to their space and privacy. Just because someone is a performer does not mean that they are performing. Just because someone is an educator, does not mean that they are giving a demonstration with a question-and-answer session.

    Respect dungeon courtesy for all people in the dungeon unless you have been otherwise invited. I hate to sound like a total hippie, but in the dungeon we’re all just kinky people indulging our kinks with someone(s) special. We want a chance to enjoy our scene, get lost in each other, and then enjoy some mutual aftercare. Our partner/s are our priority at that time. The social area is the preferred place to approach someone because right now we might be getting water for someone. Can’t chat. Go to go. ‘Ain’t personal. That teddy bear is for the bitch on the cross, not you.

Thanks for reading!

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Artists I Love: Unica Zürn

Drawing by Unica Zürn

Her work is strange and twisted. She played out a drama of the chemical sound board in her brain and she was an artist of many mediums including sexuality. Unica Zürn is largely unknown and inaccessible to many. She struggled with hallucinations, debilitating depression, and long disassociative states which inspired her drawings and writing.

There is a thin line between art and sex indeed. Her writings fearlessly descend into the grotesque in an attempt to scrape the images lining the inside of her skull to the page. An except from her novel Dark Spring:

Each time, she finds herself tormented by her terrible fear of the rattling skeleton of a huge gorilla, which she believes inhabits the house at night. The sole purpose of his existence is to strangle her to death. In passing, she looks, as she does every night, at the large Rubens painting depicting “The Rape of the Sabine Women.” These two naked, rotund women remind her of her mother and fill her with loathing. But she adores the two dark, handsome robbers, who lift the women onto their rearing horses. She implores them to protect her from the gorilla. She idolizes a whole series of fictional heroes who return her gaze from the old, dark paintings that hang throughout the house. One of them reminds her of Douglas Fairbanks, whom she adored as a pirate and as the “Thief of Baghdad” in the movie theater at school. She is sorry she must be a girl. She wants to be a man, in his prime, with a black beard and flaming black eyes. But she is only a little girl whose body is bathed in sweat from fear of discovering the terrible gorilla in her room, under her bed. She is tortured by fears of the invisible.

Who knows whether or not the skeleton will crawl up the twines of ivy that grow on the wall below her window, and then slip into her room. His mass of hard and pointed bones will simply crush her inside her bed. Her fear turns into a catastrophe when she accidentally bumps into the sabers, which fall off the wall with a clatter in the dark. She runs to her room as fast as she can and slams the door shut behind her. She turns the key and bolts the door. Once again, she has come out of this alive. Who knows what will happen tomorrow night?

Dark Spring is a coming of age story that explores everything from gender confusion, the construction of reality, masturbation, and a struggle with strong masochistic desires that afford pleasure with their acute pain and humiliation in contrast to the persistent and broad exterior pain of her daily life. The Man Of Jasmine, one of her earlier works, is a story all about madness in one of the most astounding records of psychosis in literature. She bears witness to the horrors of inpatient mental health hospitals and is the subject of a release plot organized by Dadaist poets. She vacillates between ecstatic visions and the depths of desolation.  Reality is questioned, tested, and endured. It is utterly unlike any other piece of writing I have ever encountered.

"Keep In A Cool Place" by Bellmer

Her longtime relationship to Hans Bellmer cannot be ignored. They were defacto married and very much a part of the German avante-garde scene. Bellmer raised eyebrows with his life size dolls in the mid-1930s. He built them all by hand posed them sensually with erotic accessories. His work in the theme of dolls took on a level of obsession. In these exhibits, he is an older man angry at younger women for the sexual inaccessibility. He takes control, he brings them to life, and animates them to act out some form of his will.

He published these pictures and essays anonymously but was found out by the Nazi government in Germany in 1938 and labeled “degenerate.” He fled to France where he actively worked with the French resistance and helped create fake passports. He lived in Paris until his death.

When Bellmer met Unica Zürn in 1954 he said, “Here is the doll,” and she was. Bellmer depicted her in many different drawings all invoking the theme of the doll. He bent and contorted her body and adorned it with the iconography of girlness. In a series of photographs that shocked many, he bound her body in string to force the folds of her flesh to pop out like bizarre meat.

When Unica was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia she saw the patterns of Bellmer’s work all around her and speaking in the 3rd person commented:

She saw this monster at [the hospital of] St. Anne: a mentally ill woman, in an erotic seizure, surrendering herself to her imaginary partner….As if Bellmer were a prophet, the sick woman was horrible to see. All was in upheaval: her legs and back in the shape of an arc, and the terrible tongue; scenes of madness, of torture, and ecstasy: [these] are depicted by him with the sensitivity of a musician, the precision of an engineer, the rawness of a surgeon. (Unica Zürn, “Remarques d’un observateur,” in Gesamtausgabevol. 5 [Berlin, 1989], p. 163. )

Unica bound and photographer by Bellmer

Zürn was also fascinated by anagrams and the arrangement of words. She and Bellmer saw the body itself as an anagram. Zürn wrote a book of anagramatic poems and slips them into her novels constantly. She plays with them in a cat and mouse game with language. In his visual art,  Bellmer subjected Zürn’s image to rapes, eviscerations, mutilations, and strange transformations making her an anagram as well. Bellmer wrote, ” It is clear that we know very little of the birth and anatomy of the “image.” Man seems to know his language even less well than he knows his own body: the sentence too resembles a body which seems to invite us to decompose it, so that an infinite chain of anagrams may re-compose the truth it contains.”

In their art and collaboration, I can hear echoes of BDSM theory especially when I study his haunting doll portraits and look closely at his writing.

“The game belongs to the category of experimental poetry. If we recall its essentially provocative method, the toy presents itself as a provocative object.

The best game sustains its exaltation less in the predetermined images of an outcome [result] than in the idea of the perpetuity of its unknown continuations. The best toy will therefore be the one that ignores the pedestal of an a priori functioning, the one which, rich in applications and accidental probabilities like the poorest of rag dolls, confront the exterior to fervently provoke, here and there, these answers to any expectations: unexpected images of the You.” (“NOTES ON THE BALL JOINT “by Hans Bellmer; Translated from the French by Guy Bennett).

When you root through the problems of translation and the style of his writing it sounds very much like a description of sexual dominance and submission. Bellmer always called his sadomasochistic images, “landscapes of altered flesh,” which is a fantastic phrase for any erotic sadist to tuck into their back pocket for times of awkward questions. It’s hard to really parse through and address questions of ethics in their relationship although perhaps it is not my place to ask. Both Zürn and Bellmer remain very much a living part of their work letting the questions overwhelm them both. Bellmer often remarked that the pain and malaise of his partner was assumed into his own body and has often been cited as an individual who may have exasperated his beloved’s mental health struggles with his artistic depictions of her.

One of Bellmer's dolls

Zürn shared mad love with Bellmer but she was also the companion of many other surrealist artists and most prominently with Henri Michaux. It’s been alleged that their use of mescaline to inspire their art and writing was responsible for Zürn’s psychotic breaks. There was certainly a climate of conflict between the two men and their muse.

In 1970 during a 5 day leave from her inpatient mental health care, Zürn lept from the window of Bellmer’s apartment overwhelmed by her own struggles and that of her partner who was paralyzed in bed from a partial stroke. In 1975, Bellmer passed on from bladder cancer. Their mutual marble tomb in Paris reads, “My love will follow you into Eternity.”

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The Creepy Naked Guy In The Dungeon

This will be a multi-part series of things you can start doing today to reduce rape culture in the BDSM community.

Today’s lesson: You are not a hypocrite for confronting Creepy Naked Guy

The BDSM community is just one of the habitats of the creepy naked guy. We’ll use CNG for short. The CNG pops up all over the world in any place where there are people. CNG’s are like rats in that regard. Unlike rats, however, I am not particularly fond of the CNG.

The difference between the BDSM community and the rest of the world is that we’ll let CNG dribble pre-ejaculatory fluid all over the party for an inordinately long period of time before someone finally musters up the courage to politely ask him to please wipe his penis.

If it needs to be said out loud then I’ll say it: you are not a hypocrite for confronting the CNG. If you’re naked and on a leash, you can walk up and request that someone not skulk around the dungeon like Johnny Splooge-Seed planting little semen trees everywhere he goes. If you’re a puppy, bark. If you’re a kitty, hiss. If you’re a llama…llama in his general direction. If you can speak, you must speak.

I don’t know how to clearly articulate the difference between a man who walks across the room wiping his dick on his way to the trashcan to throw out the baby wipe without raising a single eyebrow in the room and the CNG but we all know it when we see it. If you’re unsure, he’s the guy with the dribbling dick that has an uncanny ability to make everyone back up against the wall so that he can’t sneak up behind them. If people are treating it as if it were a loaded gun pointed in their direction with a forced calm, it’s a problem. It’s almost as if we’re waiting for permission from an authority figure to say, “here is a tissue, please wipe your penis when you’re in the dungeon.”

Experienced players know that when you do finally confront the creepy naked guy he usually bolts like a bat out of hell. In my experience, walking up to CNG and looking him in the eye and merely saying, “Dude,” works quite well. You don’t have to make a legal speech. You don’t have to prove the distinction between your behavior and his. CNG knows the distinction. I’m asking you, my community, to “just say ‘dude.'”

If he stammers, you can follow that up with, “Come on, dude.” Or, “Seriously dude. Dude!” These are powerful rebuttals in situations like these.

Party hosts, you don’t have to wait until someone lodges a formal complaint. You have a right to refuse service declaration. If you spot CNG dribbling, please don’t wait until someone slips and falls in his semen trail.

We have to break a culture where we think of the person who initiates this confrontation as being the one who cracked first. Some of us can roll our eyes when we see CNG. We participating in the communal attempt to will him out of existence by ignoring his behavior but we avoid the dip at the snack table for the rest of the night. Admitting that you’re feel really uneasy about something like that is not a form of weakness. That’s the gut instinct you keep telling women that they have and should research and should use.

It’s also an example of the Asch Conformity Experiment. As a whole, we doubt our opinions when they seem to be unpopular. In 1953, Solomon Ashch conducted an experiment in which one subject was placed in a room full of people to answer a simple question with no logical wrong answer. All but the subject were instructed to give the wrong answer who, at a 32% frequency would go along with incorrect answer even though they knew it to be impossible. This is why we laugh in a group when we don’t get the joke. Through our collective inaction, we demonstrate that speaking up about something we know to be wrong is less acceptable in practice than it is in theory. We hesitate when it comes time to say, “this behavior is unwelcome in our community.”

You can show your support to survivors by standing up to CNG when he shows up. When someone complains, don’t cringe at the complaint as if receiving it was like drawing the bad straw. When someone is feeling you out by making an awkward joke about his presence and their discomfort, don’t immediately say, “oh he’s harmless.” The fact that he is causing discomfort for the entire room is harm. At the very least, everyone feels less turned on and they’re growing suspicious of the relative cleanliness of any and all surfaces. We feel an invisible stickiness on our bodies.

Ignoring the creepy naked guy in the room has never made him go away. It is not his right to be a wanker and dribble everywhere. If he actually waved his hand and said, “these are not the leaky balls you are looking for,” it would be something of a sign that he was one of us or at least aware of the oozing situation. He never has to rationalize his behavior because we do that for him. Maybe he doesn’t know, maybe he’s just awkward, maybe that’s just ranch dressing

We don’t have to argue his case for him in our own heads. We can ask questions like, “Is that just ranch dressing or is it time for you to get the fuck out?”

CNG is initiating a scene with the room that no one consented to being in and we wait way too long before we call RED. Situations like these don’t have to escalate into a debate between dungeon monitors on whose job it is to cleanup the leftover semen this time. We always let this go on and we wind up throwing away perfectly good dip because no one wants to eat it any more. People just aren’t getting as turned on in their scene because they’re distracted by the CNG they’re trying to ignore. I watch tops with singletails lose concentration with their aim because they’re watching the CNG watching them and not their bottom’s bottom. The adult babies are crying about the scary man, the people in heels are suddenly clumsy because they keep thinking, “don’t fall on his dick, don’t fall on his dick, don’t fall on his dick…”

CNG fucks up our collective mojo. He will somehow always be with us like one of Jung’s shadows. He will always find a way inside. We can’t say it’s just us because he’s been known to pull these kinds of shenangins just about everywhere he can. When he shows up in our community spaces, we must say this stray semen will not stand! We can say this with just one word. “Dude!”

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What To Watch On Netflix

Netflix has a lot of content but there is so much of it, it can be hard to find something to watch. The images are links that will direct you to the film on Netflix.

 PEEPING TOM, 1960, Director Michael Powell

Peeping Tom is a phenomenal psychosexual thriller released one year before Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Unlike Psycho, Peeping Tom was not only panned by audiences, it was regarded as highly controversial, and suffered immense censorship. It did have supporters like Martin Scorsese who remarked that it contained all that could be said about directing. Powell was an amazing director but sadly his career hit a standstill with the poor reception Peeping Tom received upon release.

This film contained some of the early glimpses of female nudity on film for a western audience and worked with uncomfortable themes. Unlike many other psychosexual films of the late 50s and early 60s, this film is *not* campy and looking back it’s hard to understand how this film was nearly thrown away and forgotten by cinema lovers while Psycho went on to major critical acclaim as one of Hitchcock’s best films.

The lead actor, Carl Boehm, acted his role with immaculate perfection. He is a killer and one who gets a sexual kick out of the ultimate form of voyeurism but he is also sympathetic. The first scene of the film is done with the POV of Boehm’s hidden video camera as he solicits a street prostitute and takes her home to murder her on camera. The second scene of the film is the exact same footage replayed on a projector while Boehm watches the reel.

Boehm’s character works at a “legit” film production company that is working on a run-of-the-mill comedy but has a night job as a pornographer snapping photos in a small studio above a corner store with a secret porno stash for customers in the know. We find out later that the lead is financially secure; he is not in “need” of a night job, he just loves being behind the camera. His character has other complexities; a potential love interest despite his knowledge that the police will eventually catch on to his crimes, a backstory of childhood abuse by his famous psychologist father conducting studies of fear, and a tragic desire to connect to the people around him. Do not miss this film if: you like twisted tales of sex and murder artfully executed by a competent cast and production team.

 9 1/2 Weeks, 1986, Adrian Lyne

I’m not recommending this movie because I like it. To be honest, I hated it. I really did. It’s title is deceptive and “A Field Guide To The Creepy Dom: The Movie,” would be a much more fitting title because the film progresses very much like the checklist that Asher of Tranarchism wrote. I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that cinema should be dry and explicit about consent but fantasies don’t follow those rules and these are actors playing a part and telling a story. That said, this isn’t a softcore steamy SM romp. It is a horror film about sexual relationships. It’s been very mislabeled in that regard. If you are triggered by scenes of abuse, skip this movie. If you are one of many BDSM educators and writers who has recommended this film to curious novices who want to explore SM, either you never actually screened this film or you need to qualify what you’re saying about this movie more because I was absolutely shell shocked by what I found because esteemed members of my community led me to believe that this was a progressive film on the merit that it opened BDSM up to mainstream discussion.

It’s bad form to review a film based on how well it adapted a novel but there are some major differences between the book and the film that are important to note. I read the book awhile back and although I didn’t think it was the best thing I had ever read in my life, it wasn’t the worst. It handled the lack of clear consent in a much sexier manner with some fundamental differences in tone and context. I also noticed that Kim Bassinger’s character went from being a business executive in the novel to an art gallery assistant in the movie. This created a very different power balance between the characters and it changes the intent of Mickey Rourke’s lavish gift-giving habit quite a bit. Everything about her is made to be somehow quaint. Mickey Rourke’s character also undergoes a transformation that makes him come off more like American Psycho than a man with kinky desires who struggles with emotional connection.

It is also the reception to this film that unnerves me. More often than not, reviewers will comment that Mickey Rourke’s character instinctively “knows” her “need to be dominated.” The fact that this relationship is abusive within the first 20 minutes of the film is often skipped, even by Roger Ebert. It’s usually described as being a steamy film about a couple experimenting with alternative sexual practices. Instead, it’s a film about a man obsessed with his own power and wealth who gets off on pushing his sexual partners outside of the boundaries repeatedly even to the point of rape.

When the film got to the rape scene my jaw dropped. The fear, tension, and abject abuse of the scene is made abundantly clear but then becomes ridiculously stylized (much like the director’s most popular film Flashdance) and resolves itself with a “this is what she wanted, she just didn’t know it, and look how satisfied she is at the end” conclusion. This is something that happens all too often. I’m not generally disturbed by movies. I watch horror films with glee and laughter and slasher flicks are my idea of a great Friday night. This scene and its reception by audiences represented rape culture. He doesn’t have to ask her and he can ignore her active protestations because he knows what she really wants. She doesn’t just “want” this kind of sex, however. She is always described as needing it.

The reception to the film reveals quite a bit about how we think about abusive relationships in our culture. Rourke’s character, John, is described as a man who “has to have sex like this because he can’t express his emotion.” Kim Bassinger’s character, Elizabeth, is described as soft and looking for love that John won’t offer. Very frequently, it is suggested that Elizabeth leaves John because he is emotionally withholding rather than the fact that he is an abusive rapist. In fact, the word rape is very, very rarely used at all. This is what horrifies me the most about the film. John is creepy, chilly, mesmerizing, and sometimes people will go so far as to say a little dangerous but no one wants to go any farther than that. Their relationship is sometimes described as “bad,” but never as abusive. I would hate this film less if it weren’t for the fact that it is so consistently billed as an erotic romance and starting point for curious couples. “John and Elizabeth” have been hailed as one of the sexiest couples on the silver screen (they take the #1 spot on MovieFone’s list).

Another wretched scene of the film transpires when Elizabeth wonders aloud what it’s like to be a man and John provides a full drag get-up for her and arranges a date in public where they are romantic. I loved this part of the novel but the movie depicts it very differently. Elizabeth can’t smoke a cigar or drink cognac “like a man,” as if these activities qualify masculinity in some way which I could have ignored if the film didn’t add a ridiculous chase scene through the streets of Manhattan where a group of violent men mistake the couple as “fags” and chase them down. This is played off as romantic and even funny because the fag bashers “got the wrong couple” because Elizabeth isn’t really a fag, she’s a babe!

Hearing about the mind games that director Adrian Lyne played with Kim Bassinger to force a real emotional breakdown at the end of the film revealed another layer of the film. The film was shot sequentially so that the behind-the-scenes games that Lyne played on Bassinger would have a cumulative effect as the film progressed. Mickey Rourke, however, was treated like an actor doing his job and was given clear directorial notes rather than off-set nonconsensual emotional manipulation. Sadly, this kind of gender bias in direction is not uncommon. This mode of direction is entirely unacceptable in my book and yet it fits the tone of the film entirely. It’s fascinating that so many of the female leads in Lyne films are so often hypersexual and yet contained by male sexuality, i.e. Flashdance and Fatal Attraction.

  A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, 1989-1995, Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie

For those among you who think of Hugh Laurie as the vicodin-popping doctor on House, it may come as a shock to know that Hugh Laurie is British and speaking in an American accent. The fact that this is a surprise to many people is why I am absolutely recommending this brilliant and hilarious sketch comedy show.

I am a very big fan of Stephen Fry.  I love his scathingly intelligent humor, I love his barely contained rage, I love his honesty. Hugh Laurie is also someone who can be best described as totally fucking brilliant. What I wouldn’t give for coffee with the pair of them just to hear their uncensored thoughts about what it was like for them behind the scenes especially with their politics worn proudly on their sleeves. The Broadcasting Act of 1990 was a frequent target for the duo and they hated Rupert Murdoch before it was truly fashionable. They were openly disdainful of censorship and the notion that there are words that should never be uttered on television.

Laurie frequently plays the straight man in the duo save for his immense talent as a musician. Laurie is a very accomplished musician who is proficient in a number of instruments and musical genres. Fry is a master of dry cynicism that comes as close to the edge of just letting go into pure anger. Many forms of comedy are explored in the series from the silly and the absurd all the way to dark and macabre. This show gives you the chance when you might otherwise give up and despair. It’s a very fast paced show and one that can be watched again and again because you’ll always notice something new.

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