I find myself continuing to wonder how our
lives might be different if we were not constantly subjected to the fear and contempt of being sexually different, sexually dangerous, sexually endangered. What kind of women might we be if we did not have
to worry about being too sexual, or not sexual enough, or the wrong kind of sexual for the company we keep, the convictions we hold? — Dorothy Allison, Skin
A couple of days ago, over on her Not-Blog, actress and model (she does all her own stunts you know) Niki Flynn wrote
Controversy has become my new stalker. It always finds me, no matter what. My new film “The Spy“ has kicked up quite a fuss over on the Happy Tails forum. Most of the posters there were supportive, but the topic sparked a fascinating debate.
The setting is 1940s occupied France. An
English translator working for the German army falls under suspicion
and a sadistic officer interrogates her to get the truth. I won’t spoil
the ending, but the photos and preview hint at something very dark
[there’s more, you should go read it]
And then mi amiga (yeah, I’m very lucky in my friends) invited discussion by concluding with the statement
really like to hear your thoughts on this. You can disagree as
stringently as you like, but please – no abusive comments. I’m hoping
to hear some considered opinions, like those expressed on Happy Tails.
replied at length there. But with so much length that I realized I’d
like to blog about it here where I have such the ability to run a spell
check and edit and things like that. Of course this is taking me
longer than I should so I may add to this as time goes on. It’s a
topic rather dear to my heart.
The other day I started a blog post talking about the accusation / concern about misogyny that you (and Adele
on her blog) mentioned in an earlier entry. As you might guess, my take
is slightly different than yours but not by much. But this is a better
topic and lets me cover a lot of the same ground. Plus, well, who
knows when I’ll finish that one.
First, I don’t agree with the idea that there are “good” and “bad”
fantasies any more than I think it’s possible to commit a thought
crime. As Janet Hardy once wrote on soc.sexuality.spanking when people
were objecting to child spanking stories “mental health professionals
have a word for people who can’t tell the difference between fantasy
and reality. They call them crazy.”
There are good and bad videos in terms of quality and there are good
and bad scenes in terms of the consent of the participants. Actions
are what matter, not symbols and not fantasies.
Clearly you, Niki, consented to make this film without being coerced on
any level. Further, the film is an expression of a fantasy, and one in
which you are the heroine by means of your enduring torture without
breaking. To me, it wouldn’t matter whether or not nazi uniforms were
worn or not — the fascists aren’t being valorized here. The point of
the film, at least as far as I can tell (I haven’t actually watched it)
seems to be a fantasy based on resistance to fascism and about heroism
But this issue of fantasies about fascism (or anything else) being “good” or “bad” is very interesting topic for me, maybe because it
deals with ideas at the heart of my own fantasy life — or at least at its early orgins — and then the expression of it. I spent a good
portion of my childhood reading about WW2, torture and death camps. The fixation was partly due to a fascination with history in general, but also because to me there was something so deeply heroic in suffering
and in the endurance.
What struck me most as I skimmed through the Happytails discussion was
the way some seemed to see the Father / daughter fantasy as a polar
opposite to the spy story you filmed. That seemed ironic, especially
given the wonderful Spanish language film this year, ‘El Labirinto del
Fauno’ (or ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’) where the link between political fascism
and the abuse of women and children in the home, was made so
For me, the idea of fascism, the notion of extreme control exercised in
opposition to extreme powerlessness, connects very closely and directly
with my father / daughter fantasies. For me, sometimes family abuse
(which is how I see them) fantasies are all about the oppression of the
powerless by the powerful where their only salvation (if such can even
be had) is via a refusal to submit, even though they know that their
body can be overcome and forced.
This connection probably speaks to my own suffering fetish more than something that’s widely universal. But this desire to be abused and endure is very much at the core of my fantasy life and has been for as long as I can remember. I can’t, as Niki does, put the face of fascism on it via role play, or at least haven’t yet. But I certainly can imagine doing it. It’s similar to something feminist writer Dorthy
Allison touches on in both “Skin” and her book Bastard Out of
Carolina, connecting kink, abuse and sexual fantasy.
The passage from Allison that I’m thinking of here is this one:
…I imagined people watching while Daddy Glen beat me,
though only when it was not happening. […] But sometimes when I was
safe and alone, I would imagine the ones who watched. Someone had to
watch — some girl I admired who barely knew I existed, some girl from
church or down the street, or one of my cousins, or even someone I had
seen on television. Sometimes a whole group of them would be trapped
into watching. They couldn’t help or get away. They had to watch. In my
imagination I was proud and defiant. I’d stare back at him with my
teeth set, making no sound at all, no shameful scream, no begging.
Those who watched admired me and hated him. I pictured it that way and
put my hands between my legs. It was scary, but it was thrilling too.
Those who watched me, loved me. It was as if I was being beaten for
them. I was wonderful in their eyes.
My fantasies got more violent and complicated as Daddy Glen continued
to beat me with the same two or three belts he’d set aside for me.
Yet it was only in my fantasies with people watching me that I was able
to defy Daddy Glen. Only there that I had any pride. I loved those
fantasies, even though I was sure they were a terrible thing. They had
to be; they were self-centered and they made me have shuddering
orgasms. In them, I was very special. I was triumphant, important. I
was not ashamed. There was no heroism possible in the real beatings.
There was just being beaten until I was covered with snot and misery.
I’ve reproduced almost all of it because the author’s words are so powerful and I hate chopping up good text.
That passage from Allison’s book is probably more responsible then anything else for me finding the newsgroup (and hence the kink) when I started graduate school ten years ago. Reading it literally took my breath away, it was so close to my own experience, right down to the importance of the audience.
Something that Niki’s written about in the past is the importance of
audience to her fantasy play — sort of the dimension added by the
virtue her suffering is being filmed. When I read this, I started
thinking of Allison’s fantasy of the audience (though of course we’re
not captive except in the most willing sense). In the film The Spy,
unless we’re into identifying with with the nazi officer, we watch
Niki’s suffering and feel for her.
There’s such an assumption in the fetish that viewers are always
identifying with the abuser. But I think it’s just as likely we’re
identifying (at least on some level) with the abused, somehow admiring their
ability to endure.
All the photos above were taken from the gallery pages on Niki’s site –lots more there, go see– and are used with Niki’s kind permission. Contact her if you’d like to reproduce them. As ever, click for a larger version.