Archive for the ‘The State’ Category

Bondage and Oppression

Had a great conversation a few nights ago with Maymay, who’s now living in my part of the world. (And how awesome to finally meet up in person with someone whose blog I’ve been reading for several years!) The bulk of our discussion was about the problems we both see in mainstream BDSM culture and trying to build alternative spaces, subjects which I’ve written a lot about and which I intend to write more about later. He mentioned having attended a recent event called “Art of Restraint” at Femina Potens, and I later ended up looking up what other people had to say about it. Sex educator and rope bondage expert Midori blogged about her contribution to the event, a performance art piece in which her bondage demonstration was interrupted and broken up by uniformed men. (Read the full story here.) She writes:

Lately I’ve noticed a definite increase in interest for bondage imagery, porn, entertainment and personal play that depict harsh incarceration, kidnapping and interrogation. I am not sure why this is, but it’s happening. Maybe it’s a war-weary culture’s subconscious search for a coping mechanism, maybe it’s over saturation of images and discussions of governing body violence, maybe it’s a desensitized culture seeking stimulation… Maybe it’s just another sexuality trend as they do come and go…I don’t know. I am disturbed, though, that so many who enjoy consuming or acting out fantasy actions of detention and incarcerations don’t seem to think of the reality of where these images come from. We chatter on about bondage is freedom and art and so on, but so often it just feels like lip-service to transgressiveness when we’ve nothing to struggle against. Maybe the fascination in bondage is the side affect of hermetically sealed safe lives in search of some signs of being alive? I just don’t know.

A person hooded, on the floor, naked and cuffed.

If the only context or response that one has to this image is a fun Saturday night of role playing at the local kink party, are we starving our own humanity? I’m not saying that we should not play with our dark fantasies and archetypes, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the real world human events that necessitate these narratives.

The thing that’s so interesting to me about this is how closely it resembles the argument that I’ve heard time and time again from radfems and anti-BDSM folks: we’re playing with imagery that comes from real-world oppression, and we’re not thinking about the implications of that. We are thus in danger of “starving our own humanity” by immersing ourselves in bondage-as-fetish, isolating our minds from the notion that someone bound and gagged could be anything but a person having some kinky fun. The difference, of course, is that where the radfems believe that any engagement with bondage or d/s play desensitizes us and helps support the patriarchy/oppression, Midori argues that we shouldn’t give up playing with “dark fantasies and archetypes” but should instead simply increase our awareness of where those fantasies and archetypes come from, acknowledge that there are deeply disturbing real-world counterparts to what we do for fun.

For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with the idea that exploring bondage fantasies creates an immunity to recognizing real-world oppression — I think that immunity is deliberately cultivated by those institutions that profit from oppression — but it is really refreshing to see someone so immersed in mainstream BDSM culture articulating such a thoughtful critique of that culture. More, please.