I wasn’t sure if I was going to be going to Kink for All 2, but I’m so glad I did. The variety of topics and the diversity of participants is so refreshing. The opportunity for anyone to share anything is so important. Giving people who normally are not invited to speak at the bigger, paid conferences or don’t have a two hour long class to teach, but just an idea they want to share that opportunity is such an important part of the ever changing and expanding kink community. Plus, it makes me feel smart.
I hadn’t prepared anything to talk about since I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to go, but once there I was encourage to give a presentation. I figured I would revisit my last subject of Kink and Popular Culture (someday soon I’ll post my notes for that, I promise), but specifically about the film Secretary. I hate doing these things without a slide show, it’s a lot easier talking about visual things when there’s a picture of that thing to look at, but here’s just a few notes from what I can remember I rambled on about:
By the way, if you never saw the movie this is your spoiler alert.
Normality: most of the time depictions of BDSM are portrayed by for a laugh (East of Eden, High Anxiety, Family Guy) or as a sign of pathology or desperation (Blue Velvet, The Piano Teacher, Night Porter). Refreshingly, Secretary is primarily a love story between two fully formed, complex human beings who have issues just like anyone else. It was really the first time I saw a BDSM relationship that looked like something I could identify with.
Aesthetics: one of the things I truly appreciate about this film is that is finally breaks away from the well established tropes of black leather, corsets and high heeled boots that have come to be equated with kink. The depiction of BDSM as something dark and dangerous only to be practiced after midnight in stone walled “dungeons” with red drapery is getting a little old. Not that it’s not sexy, but sexy doesn’t always look the same to everyone. Those signifiers used to have a real purpose and meaning when BDSM was truly a subversive, underground activity. But now when those same images are used to sell shower gel, cars and soft-drinks, the edge goes a little soft.
In the film, all of the action takes place in the offices of E. Edward Grey during working hours. Before she gets the job as Mr. Grey’s secretary, Lee Holloway’s environment, her parents house, the “normal” world is all bright colors and plastic. The interiors of his world is all warm wood and earth tones. There are plants everywhere. Rather than the dichotomy being light -vs- dark / normal-vs-deviant / safe-vs-dangerous it is closer to artificial -vs- real. And no one is in leather.
Hardcore: In her essay “Mainstreaming Kink: The Politics of BDSM Representation in U.S. Popular Media”, Dr. Margot D. Weiss, PhD discusses the difference in perceptions of BDSM to a non-kinky audience. What did this movie mean to the uninitiated?
These interviewees are pointing to a basic disappointment: Nothing truly shocking and out-there can appear in the in-here consumer culture. Once mainstreamed, these images of BDSM are a little too safe, a little too nice, and a little too easy to swallow. (124)
I never understood this. She waits for him (for days) at his command, sitting at his desk, never moving, not eating, and urinating on herself in determination to not disobey. It’s so much more hardcore than anything you’d see in a dungeon, but it’s not “obvious”. No one’s being whipped bloody by a single tail, no one is screaming in pain. No one’s in black leather.
Don’t get me wrong, the outfits can be sexy and sometimes you want an atmosphere fitting for dark, dangerous and generally naughty behavior. But limiting the images of BDSM to such a narrow range of costumes, colors and decorating choices ignores the complexity and diversity of the people who call themselves kinky.