Archive for the ‘BDSM in the Media’ Category

SF Weekly vs. Kink.com

You’d think that living in the San Francisco Bay Area would mean that your local alt-weeklies* would be a bit more open-minded when it came to alternative sexualities.

Check out this SF Weekly article about how, according to author Matt Smith, “California’s government has been subsidizing torture-based pornography.” By which, of course, he means that a few Kink.com employees have received training from a nonprofit called the Bay Area Video Coalition, which is funded in part by an agency called the California Employment Training Panel (ETP). The ETP was designed to “make state businesses more competitive with foreign and out-of-state ones by paying contractors who train in-state workers,” according to Smith.

That could be the basis for an interesting story—what exactly does it mean to “make state businesses more competitive”? Which sort of businesses get this special funding, and which don’t? Who are the contractors involved with the whole process? Who gets to decide where the money goes? The problem is that in order to spice up the article and turn it into an extra-shocking exposé, Smith sets up the piece with his “torture porn” lead and follows it up with, yep, more smearing of BDSM and BDSM pornography.

Because Smith’s notion of a “hot story” also involved his asking the ETP about how much money they were giving to pornographers (and, I’m guessing, why they were giving it to them), the ETP ended up pulling their funding. According to Smith, “the government had been unaware that Cybernet was in the business of narrowcasting videos depicting sexualized torture.”

The word “torture” is brought up multiple times throughout the article when referring to Kink.com, and Smith even brings in an anti-porn activist to compare Kink.com’s work to the torture at Abu Ghraib. (For no apparent reason; it doesn’t add anything to the piece, except to further represent Kink.com and BDSM as “torture.”) He then gives a bit of lip service to the legal issues of treating businesses that engage in pornography equally with other businesses:

The stripping of Kink.com’s funding raises an intriguing question: Does the state’s refusal to train porn-makers violate constitutional free-speech guarantees? I’m not joking. Some serious and credible people says it’s worth considering whether it’s legal to deny training to porn workers merely because they film naked, shackled women with live electrodes clipped to their genitals.

Can you believe it? Some people think that porn workers are workers, too! Silly people.

He also describes the “marketing mojo” of Kink.com:

The company has passed itself off … as a hip, if esoteric, high-tech media startup. Yet its business plan is more medieval than modern, consisting, as it does, of giving people money if they’ll agree to being on camera while being stripped, bound, impaled, beaten, and shocked.

“Giving people money if they’ll agree to being on camera.” Because, y’know, there’s no possible chance that anyone could enjoy that; they’re just gritting their teeth and bearing it because they’re getting paid, right? What’s that? Go and interview some actual Kink.com models? Nah. Too much work.

Now, check out the response over here at the online newspaper SF Appeal. They point out that the BAVC training is not to support Kink.com in particular, but to train anyone who is going to then go on and work in multimedia production. The trainees in question don’t just work for Kink.com, but work on all kinds of other films as well. Interestingly, the SF Appeal notes that Smith himself has taken a whopping 184 hours of classes at the BAVC through the same program—despite the fact that his day job, at least, doesn’t involve multimedia production work.

* Note, however, that the SF Weekly is owned by the national chain Village Voice Media LLC, based in Phoenix, AZ. They are also a terrible, terrible paper, so that they’d publish garbage like this isn’t really all that shocking.


In other news, I’ve reached the 70 page mark for my screenplay and am starting to think I might actually finish it in the next week…

Let’s Take the Gloves Off

Speaking of the real rape vs. rape play debate, check out Stacey May Fowles’s essay on the subject over here. It’s a piece written for a book called Yes Means Yes, published by Seal Press.

First of all, I have to admit that I don’t really agree with the premise of this book, which is that “creating a culture which values genuine female sexual pleasure can help stop rape.” That said, there’s a part of me that was thrilled to find a piece on this subject included in their anthology, especially one written from the perspective of a submissive woman who enjoys rape play. It’s hard not to simply be happy when you see something like this published by a feminist press and reproduced on a liberal website:

However you attempt to excuse it, this inability to accept BDSM into the feminist dialogue is really just a form of kinkophobia, a widely accepted prejudice against the practice of power-exchange sex. . . . the best a submissive can hope for is to be labeled and condescended to as a damaged victim choosing submission as a way of healing from or processing past trauma and abuse.

Yeah, don’t really see that perspective in print too much.

But there’s always a problem that emerges when people try to defend a controversial position or idea in a mainstream publication: they try to make it palatable. They lower the bar. They handle it too carefully. It’s something I’ve noticed in my own writing, and it’s something that I think is perhaps unavoidable — but it’s always unfortunate.

In describing BDSM to her audience, Fowles sticks to “safe, sane, consensual,” focusing almost exclusively on the safety measures, rules, negotiations, and safewords that make sure that nothing bad happens. She doesn’t mention the fact that the BDSM some people like to engage in does carry some degree of risk; that what constitutes “safe” play (or “sane” play, for that matter) is always a hotly debated topic in the BDSM world; that not every BDSM scene has to have to have a long negotiation beforehand; or that the meaning and use of safewords can vary widely. She refers to BDSM as a “counterculture” with “complex rules,” without acknowledging the fact that a lot of people who engage in BDSM aren’t engaged with it as a counterculture and don’t have much interest in its complex rules.

Most importantly, she oversimplifies the issue of consent in BDSM play and relationships, asserting that consent in BDSM “has to be founded on a constant proclamation of enthusiastic consent, which mainstream sexuality has systematically dismantled.” But she doesn’t really talk about what constant, enthusiastic consent actually looks like in a scene based around nonconsent and rape (rape play, of course, is the focus of the essay), returning instead to her assertion that because of all those rules and negotiation, BDSM is “the ultimate in trust and collaborative ‘performance,’ its rules and artifice the very antithesis of rape.”

As I’ve been exploring on here recently, though, the reality is much more complex. Rape play is not the antithesis of rape simply by virtue of consent being involved, both because (a) it still fetishizes and draws from the idea of rape and non-consent and (b) within any given rape play scene, the line between consent and non-consent can become microscopically thin. For those of us who are prone to sinking into submissive headspace or other states of consciousness during play (which make it very difficult to discern what we do and do not want), the idea of proclaiming enthusiastic consent during the entire duration of the scene just doesn’t resonate. It’s not always as simple as safewords, and it requires communication and awareness of the ways in which things can shift during a scene, not hard-and-fast rules.

Shifting gears a little: having absolved BDSM of the blame for creating rape culture, Fowles spends the latter half of the essay attributing it instead to the supposed increase in rape imagery in mainstream porn. (An assertion that might be true, but that is not backed up in the essay by any facts or studies.) She writes:

No longer reserved for an informed, invested viewer who carefully sought it out after a trip to a fetish bookstore, BDSM is represented in every porn portal on the Internet . . . . This kind of constant, unrestrained availability trains viewers who don’t have a BDSM cultural awareness, investment or education to believe that what women want is to be coerced and, in some cases, forced into acts they don’t consent to. . . . the imagery’s constant, instant availability makes rape and sex one and the same for the mainstream viewer.

I do see her point that there’s a difference between treating rape play as a fetish and presenting it as normal sex; sure, people who get their only ideas of what sex is and should be like from pornography are probably going to have some unrealistic ideas of what to expect from their partners. But it disturbs me, this distinction between the well-educated kinkster who carefully selects his Real BDSM pornography from Real BDSM pros and Joe Average who downloads some mainstream porn of a woman getting told to “take it” while getting violently fucked. Is it not okay be turned on by this sort of sex if you don’t identify as a dom or sub, if you’re not a member of your local BDSM organization? Is it only okay to like rape play if you’re involved enough in the kink world to actually call it “rape play”? Alternatively, if you do identify as kinky, is it not okay to get turned on by mainstream porn, or are we only supposed to masturbate to Kink.com?

I want to reiterate that I do appreciate that in her article, Fowles is trying to defend BDSM in a very small space to an audience that ostensibly has no background in it and little knowledge of it. I applaud her for that. She’s trying to explain BDSM in an understandable way, and trying not to frighten them off. But I have to wonder — does this sort of visibility help us, or does it do us a disservice to ignore the “scary” parts of BDSM, those aspects that are a lot harder to justify under mainstream liberal feminist ideology?

The Love Bracelet

Flipping through the New Yorker last night, I happened to notice a full-page ad for a jewelry line from Cartier. Normally, such things wouldn’t catch my eye. But here’s the jewelry they were advertising:

Yes, this is a bracelet that is screwed onto your wrist by a lover, who then wears the mini flathead screwdriver around their neck. The caption on the original ad read: “How far would you go for love?”

If you visit love.cartier.com, you can check out some even more obviously kinky bracelets, like this:

Doing a little research, it looks like these bracelets have been around since the 70s. They were designed, of course, to show the world you were “locked” into a relationship. They’ve had a renewed surge of popularity among celebs and other rich people who can afford to pay six or seven thousand dollars for one. The question, of course, is whether or not the folks wearing these pieces think of them as simply another piece of jewelry or a symbol of bondage. (My guess is the former. But then, most people wearing wedding or engagement rings don’t think of those as symbols of “bondage,” either…)

It’s a bit of a trip to realize that while all my conversations with my partner about a bracelet or collar to wear have stressed the necessity of keeping it subtle and inconspicuous, it’s considered pure fashion to wear a piece of metal very obviously locked around your wrist — as long as it’s the right brand.