sub-burbs

Starting a FemDom marriage in the Vanilla Kingdom

Jumping the "Shark"

Last night, I was watching the latest episode of Shark with MJ and we were both really disappointed with their choice to portray BDSM as something evil.

The police and Assistant District Attorneys were searching a suspects house and they discovered some BDSM equipment.  "Ah, ha," they all shout, "this guy is a sex-crazed pervert!  Of course he is the murderer!"  It got worse as the episode went on as they interviewed several women who said the suspect brought them home, revealed his "sex dungeon", then forced them to participate in kinky sex against their will.

Television and movies almost never seem to portray BDSM as something that is safe, sane, and consensual with both parties being willing participants in an amazing spiritual event.  It’s instead always preferred by maniacs and murders who are only in it to watch people suffer.  The same scene has been in about two dozen episodes of Law & Order Special Victims Unit:  While the cops are searching a house someone opens a drawer or cabinet and pulls out a leather cuff or flogger, the camera zooms into a close-up on the item (cue dramatic music cue) then pans to the face of the detective, someone makes a snarky comment before the characters get serious and agree that this is a good sign they are on the right track to catch the sexual predator of the week.

This attitude is nothing more than a display of pure ignorance about BDSM and it always saddens me when I see something I care about so deeply distorted into a one-liner or as something evil and wrong.  (It’s that notion that kept me from fully embracing my own submissive nature, especially when I’ve had counselors that explicitly told me the same thing.)

I fully get why they keep doing it, though.  A good many people still think of BDSM as something dirty and violent and it’s easier for writers to pander to people’s preconceived notions rather than try to teach them about the lifestyle.  Also - all that leather gear looks great on camera and is instantly identifiable.

Some shows have gotten it right:

  • Bones ("Death in the Saddle"):  While investigating a murder, the main characters stumble into some kinky folk.  FBI Special Agent Booth takes the traditional TV role of being freaked out by BDSM, but his sidekick (forensic investigator Dr. Brennan) launches into a short monologue about power exchange in sociology terms explaining the appeal and historical significance.  (There are some jokes at BDSM’s expense in the episode, but the attitude is singled out as one of intolerance.)
  • CSI ("Slaves of Las Vegas"):  Forensics investigator Gil Grissom falls in love with Lady Heather (a professional Domme) at one point in the series.  She is portrayed as an intelligent, successful business women with a daughter.  Although the criminal of the week was a Top that went too far, BDSM and those that practice it are treated with respect.  Although the episode was considered controversial, Lady Heather returned for three other episodes.  (CSI has always been good about showing the positive side of sexually-charged issues and the kinky community, something especially apparent in their treatment of furry culture.
  • Family Guy ("Let’s Go To The Hop"):  Animated husband and wife Peter and Lois Griffin are discussing what to do about the wacky situation of the week as they change from their street clothes into leather fetish clothing.  At the close of the conversation, Lois says, "The safe word is banana".  Peter says, "I love you" as the mouth zipper on his hood is closed and Lois starts the scene.  (They even immortalized this awesome moment in action figure form.)  This was one case where BDSM was used as a punch line, but in a way that showed the writers had a deeper understanding of BDSM.

All three of these shows are very mainstream, so I guess the good news is that there are folks in Hollywood who understand BDSM for what it really is and have the courage to portray it with respect.  Hopefully, this trend will continue and we’ll see fewer stories of the "evil sex dungeon" variety.

2 Comments so far

  1. Ms Rika May 16th, 2008 6:47 am

    BDSM is found in ‘Abnormal Psychology’ books. It is still considered a ‘deviance’ by the psychology world. This is sad, but still a fact. I’ll point out also that, until a few years ago, so was homosexuality. I suspect a change is in the works - a slow change - and I hope to see it in my lifetime!

    When mainstream media presents topics that are taboo, but extremely popular, they take the standard approach: lure with the symbols, ride the line of what’s allowable in prime-time, then present a reason why they’re not really condoning the behavior (the BDSM person had a broken home, was raped, hates men…or is a deranged killer, a sadist, someone to be feared…or die tragically in the end - having taking their ‘addiction’ too far). This protects the majority of people who, beneath it all, find the images provocative - but cannot deal with the guilt / shame of enjoying it.

    So, mainstream BDSM people have to be broken, deranged, or doomed. Anything else would imply that the media APPROVES of the activities…and we can’t have that. Of course, they have no problem flaunting the tantilizing images of handcuffs, floggers, leather, bootheels, etc. After all, that’s going to sell…but sell in the safe-haven that, when the movie is over, one can go back to one’s missionary life knowing that ‘those people’ are not me…

    It’s a game…and I suspect the time will come when BDSM and D/s will make its way out of the abnormal psych book … it’s already on the shelves at Borders! :) In the mean time, there’s always ’sub-burbs’!!! :)

    - Rika.

  2. Chris May 17th, 2008 8:17 am

    Ms. Rika: I love your point about how the typical Hollywood stance toward BDSM is designed to give people the thrill while still being able to hate themselves for having it turn them on. It reminds me of something Dr. Gloria Brame talks about in “Different Loving” where some people can only find pure sexual release through BDSM because they are helpless in a scene and therefore don’t feel guilty when they are “forced” to experience sexual pleasure.

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