Thursday, December 18, 2008

Insulting the Flag?

(Philipp Veit, "Germania", 1848)

Remember the football-themed spanking clip I posted recently? If you haven't seen it yet, you should, it's a fun little video starring Niki Flynn and yours truly (you can also read a bit of backstory on how it came into existence here). As usual, I also uploaded the clip to Spankingtube to get a bit of extra circulation.

Interestingly, one of the commenters there by the name of Cinderella complained that the clip "insults the German flag" because we used it as a CP implement (presumably, therefore, we also insulted the Union Jack, but she didn't mention that). Later, Cinderella elaborated: "As a German, I don't want to see a flag symbolizing the proud [sic] of my nation in a clip with sexual contend [sic], furthermore beating [someone] with it." She also sent me a rather angry email the next day.

It would be amusing to quote from the letter, which contained little in the way of argument, a lot of venting and one beautiful self-contradiction. But I don't want to be mean, and honestly, I don't believe Cinderella's remarks in themselves deserve more attention than I already gave them on Spankingtube and in my reply to her mail. But as I said, I did find the whole thing fairly interesting, because I think it reveals a kind of schizophrenia that is not uncommon in the kinky community.

Before I come to that, though: does our clip really insult the German colours? Or the British ones, for that matter? Needless to say, I don't think it does. Neither did the director who came up with the idea, or the rest of the crew, despite the fact that all of us are German (some of us Teutonic sauerkraut-eaters have a sense of humour after all). It certainly wasn't our intention to sully the "proud" of the nation when we shot this silly little video, and I think this should be obvious to most people who watch. Had I burned the flag while spouting inane anti-German slogans in some political (or pseudo-political) context, that would be another thing. But we didn't do that. We used it as a nonsensical spanking implement in an equally nonsensical and light-hearted clip - about football, of all things. To take this seriously in the first place and to claim that it constitutes an insult of some kind requires a great deal of imagination, or pomposity, or both.

In any case, Cinderella is the only one who complained so far. But I think her reasoning is worth examining, because it exemplifies the schizophrenia I spoke of: "I don't want to see the flag of my nation in a clip with sexual content." The natural question to ask is, why not? What is wrong with that?

One possible answer she could give is that she finds sexual content distasteful or even immoral, and therefore, she doesn't want to see the flag associated with it. But I don't believe that this is her opinion. After all, Cinderella is registered on Spankingtube and has watched 80 plus clips according to her profile, so presumably, she does not object to spanking porn in principle (otherwise, why is she watching it?). But if spanking porn is okay, and if flags are okay, then why is spanking porn plus flags not okay? Double standards or just plain confusion?

Another possible argument would be to say: while sexual content is not distasteful to me or immoral, and while I like watching it, I nonetheless consider it to be something "low" and basic. So therefore, it should not be combined with "exalted" things like the flag. This is probably closer to what Cinderella is trying to say. But such a position is problematic. For one thing, these terms are diffuse and the value judgments expressed by them are quite subjective. It's debatable if a flag is really such an exalted object (whatever that means, exactly) that it must never be used in an erotic (or humorous) context. It is also debatable if porn is inherently "low" and primitive - personally, I don't see it that way at all.

Moreover, even if you hold that porn is primitive, you can ask yourself if it is any worse in this regard than football. Isn't that a somewhat "bawdy" pastime as well? But people take lots of flags to the international football games, they even wear them as clothing or hats. So why not complain about that, too? Of course, you can argue that football stands for noble values like competition, skill, strategy, fighting spirit, physical exercise and so on. But that is precisely the point I am trying to make: what an activity stands for, and what using the flag in such a context stands for, is always a matter of interpretation. On my part, I could say that spanking films represent some equally exalted things to me: creativity, wit, humour, self-exploration, excitement, interesting psychology, even art.

Mind you, the "Who has the best football team?" clip wasn't Great Art and wasn't intended as such. But neither was it intended as an insult to the flag, and the vast majority of viewers didn't see it as such. As for me, I have nothing against flags. As elements of cultural identification in an increasingly globalised and homogenised world, I am actually quite fond of them. Moreover, I'm a historian, so unlike most of my countrymen today, I know when and how the black, red and gold colours of the German flag originated, what they symbolise, who wrote the national anthem and where the melody it was set to comes from. By contast, it has been my experience that, ironically, many of the self-proclaimed super patriots around the world are woefully ignorant of the history behind the national symbols they hold in such high esteem.

At the end of the day, symbols are just that: a representation of something. The important part is what they stand for, and that is what patriotism is really all about: not symbols, but values. In case of the Federal Republic of Germany and other democratic, pluralistic societies, one such core value is freedom. Which includes the freedom of art and even the freedom to use the national flag in a humorous or "casual" way. In an enlightened philosophy of the state, a flag is not some hallowed or untouchable thing. It's not a holy symbol like a Christian cross or an Islamic star and crescent. And fundamentally, there is no contradiction whatsoever between what the German flag stands for and kinky play among consenting adults.

Cinderella not only exemplifies a view of national symbols that is more at home in the chauvinistic 19th century than in the Europe of today, but also a strange double standard which I have seen, in one form or another, with quite a few kinky people. "I like spanking and spanking porn, but it's still a dirty and lowly thing somehow, and we have to separate it from the 'nobler' aspects of life..." I don't claim to know the exact pathology that lies behind this kind of thinking in every case, but it's not unreasonable to assume that, most of the time, it simply comes down to discomfort with one's own erotic fantasies and a feeling of guilt about them.

These people have my honest sympathies, and as a blogger, I'm quite willing to help them come to terms with their fantasies and show them that there is nothing shameful about being kinky. But what I'm certainly not going to do is censor my own fantasies to conform with their convoluted views.


! said...

Awsome post, again =)

I think a large part of this "double standard" comes from what Marcuse would call "surplus repression," which is repression necessitated not by the growth and preservation of civilization but by the vested interest in maintaining an established society. The flag - of any country, really - is a symbol of an established society, and I guess by using it as a spanking implement, one could say that you are taking that symbol and using it in a way it was not intended to be used. Also, the fact that the flag touches someone's ass during the spanking might also be offensive because it's almost as if you're wiping someone's ass with the flag - that is, in both cases, the flag makes contact with (a very beautiful) bottom.

As to how sex and porn are "low and primitive," I don't understand why people who enjoy these things think about them that way. I mean, sure, it may be looked down upon in society, but so what? Pornography is made to be watched - but no one watches openly. Why are people ashamed to admit that they enjoy something sexual?

Besides, one could argue that the German flag, or any flag, is more basic than any of the porn videos out there. After all, the design is simple - three stripes of different colours. I honestly don't see how flags are as "exalted" as people make them out to be. They're nothing but symbols of countries.

On the same note, I'm sure everyone's struggled with accepting their sexuality. Even in Dances With Werewolves, Niki describes a time in which she almost hid her sexuality. However, to stay that way forever would be a shame.

Happy to hear that you won't censor your opinions though. While I don't agree with all of them, they are certainly interesting to read. People (cough*Cinderella*cough) need to become more open-minded and learn to accept differences and move on.

Anonymous said...

A few days ago when I saw that there were a lot of comments on your clip at Spankingtube I already read Cinderella’s posts and your answers. This blog entry is an interesting follow-up on the topic.

I don’t think Cinderella’s reaction is something that is typical only for kinky people and I don’t think that it is caused (solely) by the fact that the clip contains sexual content. I’m quite sure that it is a kind of reaction many people show in very different situations. My theory is that people react that way in situations where two conditions are fulfilled. The first condition is that the topic must be something that is important to them and symbolizes values they have. The second condition is that it is a field on which they feel somehow “insecure” believing that others don’t respect their values. My guess is that the flag stands for (some of) Cinderella’s values. For some reason she must feel so insecure on that field that she feels insulted by the fact that someone is using the flag in a humorous way.

I’ve seen that kind of pattern in my own behaviour, so I might use this as an example. For several reasons I don’t drink much alcohol. When I was a teenager this was something that made me different from others. I knew it was considered to be cool to drink alcohol at the parties and I felt insecure because I didn’t know whether the others would respect my decision. So I felt very uncomfortable at the parties where others drank alcohol and felt almost insulted every time someone asked me why I had decided not to drink alcohol. Today being more self-confident on that topic I am much more relaxed and don’t feel that uncomfortable when others are having fun drinking alcohol or ask me why I don’t do it.

On the contrary I love to laugh about things that are important to me and with which I haven’t got any issues. Being a Star Trek fan I love all the parodies on Star Trek and working as an IT-developer “Dilbert” comics always make me laugh a lot.

There is one thing you say I don’t agree with. You say that “a flag is not some hallowed or untouchable thing. It's not a holy symbol like a Christian cross or an Islamic star and crescent.” This implies to me that it wouldn’t be okay to use those symbols in a humorous way. I am of the opinion that nothing is really “untouchable” as long as someone who is using a symbol knows about the values behind it and is not simply intending to insult the people who believe in these values. My all-time favourite movie is Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”. All of my friends from our local parish know that movie and most of them love it. Those who don’t like it haven’t got any problems with the story. They simply don’t like the Pythonesque humour. I think it is important to have values to believe in and I think it is fantastic if one feels self-confident enough to be able to also look at them in a humorous way from time to time.

I liked your clip and I’m happy that there won’t be any censorship on your blog.


Anonymous said...

Ludwig - that picture is dated 1848, but appears to show the flag of the German Federal Republic. Am I missing something? Please explain.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and PS, 'Germaina' does look rather cute, in a stern, Teutonic sort of a way. I bet she knows how to use a cane ;-)

Ludwig said...

Rachel (or should I call you "Exclamation Mark"?):

Part of the reasoning behind Cinderella's complaint could indeed be that the flag was used in a way that it wasn't intended to be, but that is not a very good argument, either. When you come to think of it, we constantly use objects to do things they weren't originally designed for. It would be a shame if we didn't.

The German flag was certainly not created to be used as a spanking implement (neither were hairbrushes or carpet beaters), but it wasn't intended as headgear for football fans, either. Does that mean we shouldn't be using it for such purposes, though? That's another question entirely. "Inappropriate" use in the sense of "not in the design" does not, of course, automatically make it inappropriate in terms of morals.

I also disagree with the notion that spanking someone with a flag is akin to wiping someone's bottom with it. In my view, those are two very different situations with very different associations. The latter would actually have a strong implication of (literally) "soiling" the flag and maybe wanting to devalue it - using it, basically, as mere toilet paper. I could understand why someone might interpret that as a deliberate insult, but I can't when the flag is used as a CP instrument.

Anyway, as I wrote, I for one believe that Cinderella's reaction came mostly from a diffuse, unreflected view of patriotism and national symbols, and probably also from secret discomfort about kink. It's true, as you say, that all of us kinky people struggle with our erotic fantasies at some point - Niki did, I did, and I'm sure you did as well. Hopefully, though, that doesn't turn us into prudes with no sense of humour...

Ludwig said...

K'Ehleyr: An interesting comment and an interesting theory.

Obviously, Cinderella does care about the flag and what it symbolises to her, or else she would not have complained. But if she is insecure about that or if she believes that someone is disrespectful of her values, a better course of action, in my view, would have been to ask about it first and get some clarity: "Hey, wait a minute, what were you trying to say about the flags in that clip? Were you trying to say anything at all?" However, what I object to is her blatant (and simplistic) assertion that "This video insults the German flag!", full stop.

About religious symbols: I did not want to imply that it's not okay to use them in a humourous way. It certainly is, and I'm a big fan of "The Life of Brian", actually. I'm an agnostic myself, but even if I were a believer, I certainly wouldn't have a problem with parodies of my religion. On the contrary: like you, I love to laugh about things that are important to me. It's a healthy thing to get some perspective and not take everything awfully seriously all the time.

In any case, religious symbols are fair game, too, in a secular society like ours. However, I think that the issue is a bit more sensitive and more prone to controversy than national symbols are. I would have an easier time understanding a negative reaction to the "abuse" of religious symbols, even though I wouldn't agree with that reaction.

Some reasons for this are:

1) Unlike national flags, religious symbols are actually often regarded as holy objects "in themselves" by the believers.

2) Arguably, religious beliefs are more intimate and important to most believers than patriotic beliefs are to most citizens, and therefore, they are more easily hurt - which is why, even in our secular society, religious beliefs enjoy a special protection.

3) It could also be argued that there is an inherent contradiction between being, say, a Christian or a Muslim on the one hand, and shooting erotic videos on the other. Mind you, I don't agree with this opinion at all - I think the two things are quite compatible, really, depending on your take on that religion.

But I know that a significant number of Christians or Muslims would argue that they are not. They would say that their values are inherently incompatible with kink or porn. By contrast, it's hard to see someone making the same argument about the values symbolised by the German flag.

As I said, I don't agree with these points, but I can understand someone making them. So, in practice, religious symbols are a slightly different beast I think. That is all I meant to say with my comparison - not that the humourous use of religious symbols is a problem, but that such a use of national symbols is "even less" of a problem.

Ludwig said...

Photino: The black, red and gold flag is much older than the Federal Republic of Germany. The colours originated in the early 19th century, during the liberation wars against Napoleon Bonaparte.

One of the units in that conflict was the Freikorps Lützow, the free corps Lützow, named after its commander. It was part of the Prussian army, but in it fought volunteers from all corners of Germany. They were required to supply their own clothing, and many of them brought different local uniforms. One pragmatic way of turning them into a proper unified military unit was to dye all the clothing black. They also got red rank insignia and golden brass buttons, and voila, you had the three colours.

The combination also found its expression in a famous saying from that time: "From darkness through blood to the light." In other words, from occupation and oppression, through sacrifice and struggle, to freedom.

In subsequent years, the black, red and gold colours became associated with republican and liberal ideas, and with the unification of Germany under such values. They were proposed as the national flag during the failed revolution of 1848, which is why you see it on the painting from that year.

Of course, the 19th century aristocrats despised the "lowly" black, red and gold flag and the democratic values it stood for, as did Hitler's fascists later on. To them, it was an object of hatred. The flag is not only a symbol for the nation as such, but also for a particular type of government, which is why it was adopted by the Federal Republic after WWII (and by the short-lived Weimar Republic before it).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply, Ludwig. History truly is fascinating! I’m aware of 1848 as a ‘big’ year in European history – I’ll have to look it up and discover why.

Indy said...

Ah, excellent! I've been catching up after a few days away from the internet, but I was looking forward to learning the history of the German flag.

I'm just relieved you didn't use an American flag in this base and disrespectful way. Surely the Stars and Stripes *IS* actually a religious symbol!

Anonymous said...

Ludwig, I fully agree with you that Cinderella should have reacted in a different way. I think she hasn’t really reflected on the whole topic (yet), so her reaction seems to be based simply on her emotions and not on rational arguments. That’s also a part of what I mean when I’m talking about “insecurity” on a certain field.

Concerning the religious symbols: I already assumed that my interpretation of what you said about religious symbols is different from what you intended to say. Actually I would have been very surprised if you disapproved of the usage of religious symbols in a humorous way. But I guess you are absolutely right about the slightly different sensitivity between a flag and a religious symbol. Yesterday a friend from the local parish send me a link to an article about a council in south Devon which lifted its “Life of Brian” ban this year and showed the film for the first time! And being really honest I have to admit that the thought of the usage of religious symbols in a humorous spanking clip causes a slightly strange feeling within me whereas the usage of the flag in your clip didn’t have that effect on me. I don’t think that the Christian values are inherently incompatible with kink or porn but I have to admit that I wouldn’t know how to bring the two things together in one clip…

Last but not least: It’s absolutely amazing how often I start an internet research after having read something you wrote. This time I learned something about agnosticism – a very interesting philosophical view! Thanks!


Ludwig said...

Photino: 1848 was indeed one of the big years in European history, and a very interesting one, because of a wave of revolutions. It started in January in Sicily, then France was next (leading to the French Second Republic), then the unrest spread to the rest of Europe. The revolution in Germany failed, of course, because as the old joke goes, revolutions are illegal in Germany...

Just look up "Revolutions of 1848" on Wikipedia and take it from there (actually, that page prominently shows the painting I posted here, even though I got it from a different page).

Indy: Yeah, you old super patriot, we all know you have the stars and stripes even on your underwear (which comes down before the spanking starts, of course, so as to not insult the flag).

K'Ehleyr: I agree that it's harder to see how to bring religious symbols together with a spanking video, and what one could possibly achieve with it. I suppose that, for me, they could have a place in a video that makes fun not of Christianity as such, but of fundamentalists or hypocrites - people who preach love and tolerance, but live hate and bigotry. In other words, people who call themselves Christians, but aren't really Christian at all.

As for making fun of the Christian values themselves, that also falls under the freedom of opinion and I would defend the right of others to do it. But it's not a kind of humour I personally consider to be very interesting or intelligent, so I wouldn't do it myself.

Regarding agnosticism, I'm glad that my comment inspired you to learn something new, but I'm not sure it's such an interesting philosophy myself. It's arguably a bit of a cop-out, really! Sitting on the fence between theism and atheism. But it just happens to be the place where, all things considered, I find myself sitting, at least at the present time.

Anonymous said...

Indy said...

I'm just relieved you didn't use an American flag in this base and disrespectful way. Surely the Stars and Stripes *IS* actually a religious symbol!

December 22, 2008 8:41 PM

Stars and stripes would be good for a nice spanking video. The spankee sees stars while the spanker sees stripes.