Thursday, October 29, 2009

The State of the Spanking News

I usually like the Spanking News, a good source of information about the industry. But I was disappointed by this convoluted and ill-conceived opinion piece last month, titled The State of the Spanking Film. It's basically a call for self-censorship among spanking film producers, and it makes some alarmist claims along the way which one would expect to read in the Daily Mail, but not on a kinky website.

I've decided to reply to the piece at great length - probably greater length than it really deserves. In doing so, I can once again discuss some general points and questions which I already covered before in The Censor Slayer's Arsenal, Return of the Censor Slayer and Good Riddance to Bad Pseudo-Feminism. I believe I have done this more clearly and thoroughly here than in the other posts, so you don't have to read them, too. What follows is a good overview of my position, and it is a reply not only to the Spanking News, but also to other authors who hold similar views - just regard the quoted article as one recent example.

So, here it goes:

"We have been looking around the sites and the spanking scenes on offer at the moment and are struck by the lack of variety and the distance there seems to be between what the film makers present to us and what we do in our own spanking life and scene, OK we all love the school girl film and the naughty secretary; well that’s always a good standby. Why can’t we have some thought put into the scenarios though, it must be pretty damn boring for the girls and the film makers themselves to be always enacting the same few lines and scenes."

I'm all in favour of more variety in spanking films, and of putting more thought into the scenarios and into the dialogue. I would argue that the variety in films today isn't as bad as the author makes it out to be. It's certainly bigger than it was ten years ago, because there are more producers and websites now, coming from more different countries and cultural backgrounds, putting out more videos. And while many of them simply regurgitate the same old "schoolgirls and naughty secretaries" scenes, there are also producers who do interesting stuff - all you have to do is look for them. Still, I agree that more variety and more creative risk-taking among the producers is always welcome.

What I don't share is the author's complaint about "the distance... between what the film makers present to us and what we do in our own spanking life and scene". Even if true (and I'm not sure it really is true for most producers), would this be a bad thing? Is it the producers' job to present us with films that resemble what we do in our own spanking life and scene? According to some people, it is. For me, on the other hand, the appeal of spanking films lies precisely in the fact that they can portray stories, settings, constellations of players which most of us can not experience in our own lives - at least not easily. In other words, spanking films are all about erotic fantasies being acted out before my eyes for me. Their biggest forte is their (in theory) unlimited artistic freedom, and the fact that they can go to places where we ourselves usually can't.

At the end of the day, what you want to see in a film and how much you want it to resemble your own private spanking life (or not) is a matter of personal taste. The author of the Spanking News article seems to quietly assume that his personal taste is shared by most viewers, if not all. This is a theme that continues throughout the rest of the piece.

"Why not look at a few of the scenarios used by real people. A feature of lots of peoples spanking play is the ‘roll play’ and the different scenarios this presents. This is where you can have some serious fun or some serious SERIOUS fun. Maybe you like a laugh with your spanking, OK this can be the way to inject a smile and to keep the session light, nice when meeting someone for the first time or trying out your little kink on someone who may or may not share your views on spanking or being the subject of a spanking. Better through a nice roll play situation than throwing them over the arm of a chair and beating their bum till they say either ‘wow that was great’ or call for the cops and have you carted off to the pokey."

I'm not sure what, exactly, he is trying to say in this paragraph. I believe I can distil the following general thoughts: 1) many spankos engage in "roll play", 2) spanking film producers can look at this for inspiration, and 3) fun and light-heartedness in spanking is often a good idea. I can agree with all three statements - I think most of us would, they are pretty incontestable.

At the same time, I would strongly suggest that the best thing to do when meeting someone for the first time ("who may or may not share your views on spanking") is to simply talk to them before you try out "your little kink". Talk about what their views are, what their kink is, what they like and what they don't. As for role-playing - maybe they are into it, maybe they aren't! Either way, try to make sure beforehand that you are on the same page and that the personal chemistry is right. That way, no one will get "carted off to the pokey" afterwards.

"There are some things we don’t want to see on film or depicted on web sites. You have to draw a line in the roll play sand I think, the rape fantasy and the kidnap with violence scene, which I have seen discussed on some of the blogs, is where I draw my line."

Alright. After a brief excursion into private play, he's talking about spanking films again. Here is where it starts to get problematic.

First off, I agree that you have to draw a line in the sand somewhere in kinky play (whether it's kinky role-play or not is beside the point, really). Here is where I draw it: 1) the participants have to be consenting adults, and 2) there should be no permanent injury to anyone. Basically, it is the same "safe, sane and consensual" motto which pretty much all responsible kinky people subscribe to, in one formulation or another.

What I strongly oppose, however, is the author's call for self-censorship when it comes to subject matter. At least that is how I interpret his words, in the context of the whole article: "There are some things we don’t want to see on film or depicted on web sites." He is not just saying that he, personally, does not want to see certain things (which would be perfectly alright). He's saying that they should not be in films or on websites, period. And that violates another, equally important line I draw: the freedom of artistic expression.

There are various role-playing scenarios which I, personally, don't care for myself. I find it hard to eroticise depictions of rape in any shape or form. As for kidnapping scenarios, there are some I find interesting, if they show an interesting relationship or psychology between the kidnapper and the victim - but the scenario as such is far from the core of my kink. So I don't have a big interest in it, and I have no interest at all in rape fantasies. But I will defend the right of others to produce and view such material, as long as the material is made by consenting adults and nobody is permanently harmed.

I believe that, in a free society, grown-up citizens have to decide for themselves what material they want to see, and filmmakers have to decide for themselves what material they want to produce. I may find some of that material disturbing, disgusting, in bad taste - but I can't censor it simply on that basis. Freedom includes the freedom to have bad taste! We can, and should, prevent films from being distributed if real crimes were committed during the production - and we have to bring these crimes to justice. But we cannot censor something that was made in a safe, sane and consensual manner simply because we find it distasteful.

Of course, freedom brings with it certain responsibilities for us as individuals. Therefore, I'd encourage anyone who puts something into the public domain (whether it's a spanking film, a written story or a song lyric) to consider the consequences of their actions, and to exercise some common sense when dealing with sensitive subjects. If I feel that somebody is behaving like an idiot, then I have every right to tell them that. But I have no right to put a general taboo on certain types of subject matter, and to expect everyone to observe this taboo as a matter of self-censorship. In effect, this call for self-censorship is just a veiled form of censorship, isn't it? As well as that, I think it is better to look at the perceived rights or wrongs of films, stories etc. individually, instead of declaring general taboos on depictions of rape, kidnapping or whatever.

Thrillers and horror films in mainstream cinema regularly show rapes, kidnappings, murders and grisly injuries, often in considerable detail. They do so purely for entertainment, with no redeeming "moral" or "educational qualities" whatsoever. However, except for the usual self-appointed guardians of good taste, nobody seems to be much bothered by it. So why should spanking film producers declare a self-imposed ban on such scenarios? I see no valid reason for it, and I believe that doing so would only play into the hands of the people who hate all forms of kink, anyway. They will still call for more monitoring and more censorship, even after we censor ourselves - so why should we meet them halfway?

Now for the sentence in the Spanking News article that annoyed me more than any other part:

"Some sad person out there might get the idea that this [rape and kidnapping] is acceptable behaviour and can be applied to all the ladies he may meet, no better left alone I think."

With all due respect, this is just plain alarmist nonsense. It has never been demonstrated, by any serious scientific study, that watching kinky porn (or watching horror films, or playing violent computer games...) encourages violent or illegal actions. That claim is only floated by pro-censorship prudes and "moral guardians". How disappointing to see it repeated on a kinky website like the Spanking News - it goes to show you how much success certain fear-mongering media campaigns have had at convincing even kinky people like ourselves that what we do is a potential danger to society.

Of course, there are "some sad people" out there who might get strange ideas from... Well, pretty much anything, really! Some sad terrorists have cited the Bible or the Koran as a justification for killing thousands of their fellow human beings - as a matter of fact, far more violent acts have been committed in the name of God than have ever been committed by lunatics with a porn collection at home. But we do not outlaw religious texts, do we? Because there is no significant statistical correlation between people who read religious texts and people who commit violent crime. No such correlation exists in the case of kinky porn, either.

We don't even need scientific studies to demonstrate this to us - most of us know from personal experience that we don't simply imitate everything we see! I can tell you that, by the time when I first played as a top, I had watched a huge number of spanking films. Many of them were very hard, because that is one thing I like in a film. So, did I just beat the living daylights out of the spankee? Needless to say, I didn't. Actually, the only complaint I received afterwards was that, while she thought the session had been hot and fun, the spanking hadn't been quite hard enough for her taste! You see, I believe that, when in doubt, you should always err on the side of caution - especially in a first play with someone. So much for the "Oh, people who watch very hard films are going to spank like maniacs!" argument, which also gets floated in our kinky community sometimes.

"OK someone is going to say what about the schoolgirl scene, mature ladies dressed as schoolgirls? Well that’s just it, they are mature ladies and they do dress up, they do not say they are young girls and available, they are play acting and make it clear that they are play acting. With the rape and kidnap fantasy the whole object is that it is supposed to be as real as possible and to look as uncontrived as possible."

The confusion continues. To his credit, the author realises that his position is inconsistent - why should it be okay for consenting adults to dress up as young schoolgirls who are getting thrashed by the headmaster, but not as victims of rape or kidnapping? After all, both kinds of role-play essentially show a non-consensual situation, and both depict acts that would be considered immoral if they were real. So, as long as it is all a safe, sane and consensual role-play, where's the difference?

The Spanking News argues that in a schoolgirl scene, people "make it clear that they are play acting", while in the case of rape and kidnap fantasy, "the whole object is that it is supposed to be as real as possible". Frankly, this claim is nonsense, too. I would say that it all depends on the people who are doing the play acting. Some will strive for more realism and authenticity than others. You're going to find different styles and preferences across different groups of role-players: school role-players who want as much realism as possible, kidnapping role-players who don't care about realism at all, and vice versa.

In any case, I haven't seen a single spanking film producer where it wasn't clear that the scenarios they show - whether it's a schoolgirl scene or something more "edgy" - are play acting by consenting adults, not real coercion of real victims. For one thing, they are legally bound to have "All models over the age of 18" somewhere on their website. Note the term "models"! Many producers have a far more elaborate Legal Notice on their site as well, where it is made perfectly clear that the participants are engaged in kinky role-play and that what they do is not intended to reproduce or represent actual practices or activities in a real life sense.

This is obvious from watching the films as well - they show kinky fantasies being acted out, not super-realistic depictions of real life crime and coercion. In the strictest sense, the vast majority of spanking films out there aren't realistic at all - regardless of whether the models play schoolgirls, prison inmates or kidnapping victims. Which is fine with me, because a film doesn't have to be perfectly realistic for me to be able to enjoy it. Actually, I sometimes like the obviously contrived ones the most.

"When it comes to story lines and costumes then some of the Eastern European sites do have a big lead over the British produced material, I am not sure I like everything I see from these companies but I do like the fact that they put thought into costumes and storylines and indeed locations."

I don't want to go into whether or not the Eastern European producers have a lead over the British ones, or where that lead might be. At the end of the day, what kind of film you like is a matter of personal taste, and it really is beside the point here.

However, it's refreshing to finally see the author naming some names, at least indirectly. Usually, articles like this seem to be about some vaguely defined, negative stereotype instead of anything specific - they seem to be about a "bogeyman website" or "bogeyman film", so to speak. And when the authors do name certain producers, it usually turns out that they don't know their work very well (which is understandable, perhaps, because it isn't the authors' kink!).

The Spanking News mentions "Eastern European sites", so I assume they mean producers like RGE / Lupus Pictures from the Czech Republic, Pain4Fem from Slovakia and Mood Pictures from Hungary. It is true that these producers frequently depict non-consensual and pretty "rough" scenarios. However, depictions of actual rape or kidnapping are rare - they only feature in a small number of films, and even then, they are usually implied rather than directly shown. The only spanking film producer I can think of who does rape and kidnapping scenarios with some regularity is Russian Slaves. Still, I've seen more disturbing - and more realistic - depictions in mainstream cinema.

While the scenarios in Eastern European films are usually somewhat "rougher" than what British producers show, and while the spanking action is far more severe, I would argue that most of the general subject matter is not fundamentally different, actually. When you look at all the films from all the aforementioned sources (Lupus, Pain4Fem, Mood, Russian Slaves), you will find that the vast majority belongs to the "classical" spanking film genres: schoolgirls, judicial punishments, domestic discipline, chastised maids or secretaries, et cetera. By comparison, rape and kidnapping are low on the radar.

It doesn't really matter, anyway - as I said above, I would defend someone's freedom to run a pure rape fantasy site if that is what they want to do. I have no interest in such material, but as long as it is produced in a safe, sane and consensual manner, I have no problem with it existing. However, the point I'm trying to make is this: opinion pieces which advocate censorship (or self-censorship, like the Spanking News does here) often give the impression that a certain type of content which they oppose, like rape and kidnapping scenes in spanking films, is fairly widespread. Upon closer inspection, this impression is usually flawed.

Also, if you really wanted to be consistent in your opposition to certain types of material, I believe that you would have to call for the banishment of all non-consensual scenarios from spanking films - including most of the schoolgirl and naughty secretary films which the Spanking News author likes. Is rape more immoral than beating a schoolgirl or beating your secretary? Perhaps. But all these scenarios are basically non-consensual, and all would be immoral if they were real. God forbid, "some sad person" out there might get the idea that beating his secretary is acceptable behaviour!

"It is a fact that they [the Eastern European producers] are able through legislation in different countries to go to those places where it is not possible for the British producer to go. Our thought, moral and behaviour police will be after you before the first DVD has stopped spinning, when will the British public at large say enough is enough get out of my bedroom, playroom, and dungeon?"

If you really want the thought police to get out of your bedroom, playroom and dungeon, then it is probably not a good idea to parrot the very same arguments they are using - mainly, the unsubstantiated claim that watching kinky porn will encourage violent actions. On the contrary, you have to oppose these arguments and demonstrate that they are flawed.

"No we have to ask that you Mr. Producer find somewhere in the middle and come up with good stories and locations. We have the very best spanking models in the world in the UK and I for one want to see them in good stories, acting out good lines and making me believe the whole thing is happening just for me and not to some tired and wilting formula. Do I have an example of the sort of thing, yes I do and it comes from one of the newer web sites. [...]"

The rest of the article is basically a promo for Spanking Sarah, so I'm cutting it off here. Mind you, there's nothing wrong with promoting the producers you like - I regularly do that in my movie reviews, in my website reviews and in other posts.

However, you don't hear me saying that certain scenarios shouldn't be depicted in spanking films or on websites, or that certain producers should make different types of films because what they are doing isn't my kink. Therein lies the difference between my position and that of the Spanking News. There are plenty of scenarios I don't care for myself - rape fantasy is one of them. So, I don't watch them. But I don't object to others producing or watching such material, as long as the participants are consenting adults and no one is permanently harmed.

I firmly believe that freedom begins with the freedom of those around you. Therefore, if I want to be free to watch (and make) the kinky films I like, I have to support the freedom of others to watch (and make) the kinky films they like - even though I may not share their kink.


Ms. Cassandra (Sandy) Park said...

Hey, Ludwig. Well, as one who also likes the rougher punishment videos, I have to agree that a call for not showing rapes and kidnappings in spanking videos doesn't make much sense when a woman is getting viciously caned or paddled to severe bruising in a role-play of non-consensual punishment.

I have taken many hard canings in my time in the scene, and I like other rough stuff like hair pulling and face slapping, but I'd certainly not want any of this done by some stranger -- any more than I'd want to be raped or kidnapped. (although I think a nonconsensual sex fantasy and/or abduction is hot ... sue me)

On the other hand, I also think a "fun," light-hearted trying out a new kink video would be boring as hell. Obviously you can't please everyone, so it pretty much comes down to producing the videos you like and letting the market decide.

Mija said...

After agreeing with pretty much everything Sandy said above (and thanking her for having written it far better than I could have) I've been left with only one point. In my experience, the number of women who have rape and kidnapping fantasies, fantasies in which they themselves are the victim, are far greater than the number of men who have fantasies about kidnapping or raping or even desire to roleplay such acts.

As to worrying that kink films about rape or kidnappings are going to set off a fetish crime wave, I can't quite see it myself. As Janet Hardy once commented years ago in discussing spanking fiction -- psychiatrists have a word for people that can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality: "crazy."

Ludwig said...

@ Mija: It's true, one sometimes gets the impression that there are actually more women who have rape or kidnapping fantasies than men.

There are quite a few interesting scientific studies on the matter. A recent one from this year, published in the Journal of Sex Research, found that of a group of female undergraduates at the University of North Texas, 62% reported having rape fantasies - more than half. Not all figures I've seen were that high, but it definitely seems to be a fairly widespread female sexual fantasy.

As Sandy pointed out, women may fantsise about this stuff, but needless to say, no woman really wants to get raped - the emphasis is on *fantasy*. I think everybody in their right mind understands that! It's the same thing with men - there may be quite a few who have fantasies about rape or kidnapping, but they don't want to do it for real, either.

One potential reason why there seem to be more women having such fantasies than men is that, perhaps, men are simply less likely to admit to it - because it is such a taboo subject. I remember an email exchange I had with Niki Flynn, where we talked about the subject. She had the same theory: "Most guys wouldn't volunteer the information that it turns them on unless a woman said it turned her on first." I said: I'm sorry, Niki - I know you wouldn't be bothered by it, but I honestly, seriously don't have any rape fantasies! *grins*

Given that my spanking / CP kink tends towards the darker and more severe end of the spectrum, and given that I do enjoy role-play of non-consensual scenarios, it might seem surprising to some people that I am not into rape fantasy at all. But that's the way it is. I think it's because rape is too much of an "impulse-driven" act for me, for lack of a better word - I always associate it with a lack / loss of control. It's just not the kind of scenario I want to see myself in, it has no appeal for me.

Ursus Lewis said...

You made your point of view very clear in this excellent post. And I fully agree with you. I would draw the line at the very same spot. The participants have to be consenting adults and nobody should be permanent injured.

Many of the hard spanking videos are far too tough for me. So I simply don't watch them. It's that easy...

Abel1234 said...

Superb post. I hadn't read the original article, and it sounds so objectionable that I don't actually now intend to - you've dealt with it so admirably.

One of their claims fascinated me:

""It is a fact that they [the Eastern European producers] are able through legislation in different countries to go to those places where it is not possible for the British producer to go."

I'm not actually sure this is true. Sure, the EE producers film harder scenes - but I'm not sure the legality of so doing is any different in (say) the Czech Republic than in the UK.

Where there may be a difference - missed in the article - is in the *viewing* of such films, which is a rather interesting (and, fortunately, as yet untested) area in the UK under the "extreme porn" laws.

Ludwig said...

@ Abel: "Sure, the EE producers film harder scenes - but I'm not sure the legality of so doing is any different in (say) the Czech Republic than in the UK."

I'm not sure about that, either. I have read a fair bit about how the law in various European countries treats BDSM practices / pornography, but I am far from being a legal expert.

I believe we have to distinguish between two different things here: 1) rape pornography, i.e. porn where consenting adults simulate acts of rape, and 2) very hard spanking porn, i.e. videos that show very hard (and real) beatings, such as the ones from Lupus or Mood. I believe the Spanking News article is mostly talking about the first thing, or about a vague mixture of both. But they are, of course, two quite different things before the law.

As for rape pornography: since I'm not interested in that stuff, I don't really know much about its legal status, either. I don't believe that rape porn is outright illegal in the UK. However, in light of the Obscene Publications Acts, I'd be wary of putting out such material if I were a producer in the UK. I also know that lawmakers in Scotland are planning their own version of the "extreme porn" law, which is supposed to extend the law further in order to include depictions of rape.

Now to point 2), very hard spanking porn. The first question that arises here concerns the consent to injury: is it legal to consent to a very hard caning or whipping (regardless of whether it is filmed or not)?

In Germany and other continental European jurisdictions which I've looked at, it is. According to German law, for instance, you can consent to injury as long as the extent of the injury does not violate the so-called "good mores". Rulings on cases involving BDSM indicate that you would have to do something pretty extreme in order to violate these "good mores" - something even more extreme than what Lupus or Mood are doing. Videos by these producers are made in a fully legal way in the Czech Republic and in Hungary, and they are freely sold in sex shops here in Germany.

In the UK, things seem to be less clear-cut. There was the Spanner Case, which ruled that a person does not have the legal ability to consent to injury if that injury amounts to serious bodily harm, such as in extreme activities of a sadomasochistic nature. Now, it is of course a matter of debate what constitutes "serious bodily harm" or "extreme activities" and what does not. Generally speaking, though, the law seems to be more restrictive than it is in Germany. I think it's possible that, under a very strict interpretation of the law, a Lupus / Mood-style caning or whipping might be considered "serious bodily harm" in the UK. So, as in the case of rape porn, I would be wary of filming such material there.

As well as that, you have the Obscene Publications Acts, which raises another question: would hard, Eastern-European-style spanking videos be considered obscene according to UK law? I know of at least one instance where this was so - see the case of John Ash, who was sentenced to 9 months in prison (half of which was suspended) for the distribution of obscene material because he gave some spanking videos (including some from Rigid East / Lupus) to a friend. Needless to say, this increases my wariness!

I've seen spanking videos from the UK that contained some very hard beatings, like Prison Canings by Miss Marchmont. As far as I know, nobody got in trouble for them. Still, it seems to be a bit of a grey area at best. From what I've heard, videos from Lupus or Mood are not easily available in the UK, and I've heard of several cases where they were seized by UK customs when people tried to import them.

(to be continued)

Ludwig said...


Lastly, about the recent "extreme pornography" law: I believe that viewers of hard spanking videos have relatively little to fear from that one - at least in its current from. The law concerns images of "an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals". So, it doesn't seem to cover injury to the *buttocks* at all (the anus is not considered to be part of the buttocks according to any definition I've seen!). Perhaps some of the breast whipping or genital torture done by Elitepain would be considered an extreme image according to the law - I'm not sure about that. But Lupus / Mood stuff very probably wouldn't be.

Still, I've heard of kinky people in the UK who threw away / erased their collection of Eastern European spanking videos in a panic reaction to the "extreme porn" law, just to be on the safe side. It's sad, and it proves wrong the supporters of the law who claim that it is only meant to target a tiny handful of (fake) death / torture sites, that it is not meant to discriminate against the kinky community in general.