BDSM: Fifty Shades vs. Interior Leather Bar.

 

male-submissive-bdsmSex is one of those peculiar things that can only be discussed or accepted when it is deemed to be “okay” and thus encouraged in situations. Gayle Rubin’s “Thinking Sex: Notes for the Radical Theory of Politics of Sexuality” describes this perfectly, saying that our western society supports sexual acts that are high on this “hierarchal system of sexual value,” where ones pertaining to heterosexual monogamy and reproduction are situated at the top. And although through monogamy the homosexual community can be accepted, gay sexuality combined with other “taboo” forms of sexuality find themselves at the bottom of this pyramid (including, but not limited to, straight and gay sadomasochists). Due to the fact that there does exist a social norm for how you do it and with whom you do it with, it is difficult for many to find comfort with the idea of BDSM as a form of “safe” sex. It is so ostracized that those who do enjoy it must live two lives: one public, the other extremely private. And because sex plays such a significant role in politics, the “democratic morality” of it is always debated. If there is a lack of “mutual consideration” or  a “presence…of coercion,” that sex is not “okay” and not to be praised or accepted.

S&M/BDSM culture has existed for decades. The acronym stands for Bondage, Discipline, Submission, Dominance, Sadist and Masochist. This type of sex almost always involves on participant in power and the other partner subjecting themselves to the “master’s” desires. This sex-slave like role requires them to give up all their power and control; the sadist receives pleasure from inflicting pain/asserting authority over the masochist, who receives pleasure by allowing this. There are many levels of intensity that you can choose, so there is always flexibility with what you like and are comfortable with. That being said, consent plays a major role too. There still exists a line between fulfilling your fantasy and knowing when to give up (or take back) that control. Types of ways to control, or be controlled, are through the use of bondage (hand-cuffs, ropes), sensory deprivation (blindfolding, covering the ears or mouth), torture, and enslavement of the masochist. S&M allows for the most kinks and fetishes to be satisfied.

Two films that challenge this morality are Fifty Shades of Grey and Interior Leather Bar. “Fifty Shades” was originally a book written by E.L. James about a young college student, Ana Steele, who meets a young successful business man named Christian Grey. Ana having been a virgin, she had never experienced any type of sex (not even sex without kinks and fetishes, or “vanilla sex”), but when she begins seeing Christian, he exposes her to his “playroom” filled with all the BDSM accessories you could think of. Ana consciously subjects herself to Christian, allowing him to punish her when need be. The book/movie became one of the most popular erotic works in the country. On the other hand, Interior Leather Bar is an independent film by James Franco in hopes to recreate the forty minutes of obscenity cut from the 1980 film Cruising. Cruising was a film starring Al Pacino as an undercover cop who goes into gay S&M clubs to find the serial killer who’s been mass murdering homosexuals. The movie shows many graphic scenes containing men dressed up in S&M attire and “cruising” for other men to have sex with, but there are no really sex scenes or images of genitalia. Franco wanted to recreate what those cut scenes would have been, exposing his audience to  all the sexual acts occurring in the bar as well as showing actual gay sex.

Despite both films having to do with this type of sexual culture, it is portrayed quite differently. S&M to many seems taboo and at times scary, but Fifty Shades makes it seem erotic, mutual, and safe. Christian Grey presents a contract of consent for Ana to read through and sign, making her safety the number one priority. In return for her sexual favors, he buys her expensive gifts like an Audi, a first class plane ticket, and a Blackberry so that he can’t stay in touch with her constantly (talk about liking control). He even introduces her to his family, making this type of sex on that anyone is capable of having since it does’t have to be a lifestyle, and thus normalizing it. All of these things portray heterosexual BDSM as safe and controlled. However in Interior Leather Bar, there is no discussion of consent at all, written or spoken. Men are just standing around cruising for other men, but in a more predacious way. The room is dark, there’s a lot of spanking and pain being inflicted. The gay portrayal of BDSM is even difficult for Franco to watch, who ends up cringing and leaving the room. While Fifty Shades presents sex with rules and eroticism, we see it as artistic because it is “palatable”. However, Interior Leather Bar shows it as threatening, hazardous, and maybe even repulsive. This makes it seem more like a porno rather than an acceptable form of having sex. There is no contract, no safety words for slowing down or stopping, no gifts, nothing. Just the sole desire for the men to explore their fantasies. This is unfair; Fifty Shades shows what we’d like to think S&M could be, while Franco’s film shows what we could never accept it as: torturous, non-mutual, and homosexual.

Not only is there discrimination between ways of having sex (S&M vs. “vanilla”), but there is discrimination between who you choose to do it with. Fifty Shades shows a distasteful kind of sex as something to be acquired, to be seen as erotic solely because the participants are straight. While Interior Leather Bar leaves the audience shocked. This difference is due to the obvious, that the majority identifies with straight sex, but also because one movie presents consent as the most important thing while the other disregards it. It is not a matter of accepting these generalizations that the straight way of having taboo sex is safer than the gay way, the point is not to accept a stereotype. If there is going to be concern, it should be more focused on the act and less on the sexuality of the participants. This way, we can get rid of negative/exaggerated stereotypes of certain sexualities, and work towards acknowledging BDSM for what it really is.

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