Little girls should be seen and not heard
But I think -
Oh, bondage! Up yours!
This weekend, London goes fetish-mad. Following the opening of Club Antichrist (link NSFW) tonight, it's the 10th annual Erotica show, a huge retail extravaganza with tie-in events headlined by none other than Dita Von Teese. Being a
Fetish. Erotica. What does it mean? Any sex-act is subversive, reminding us as it does of an essential humanity that can't be charged to a credit card; any sex-act that deviates substantially from standard heterosexual, heteronormative social models of normal shagging is that much more subversive. The UK fetish scene plays into all of these deviances, so it attracts - and influences - many who find themselves outside the 'hetero-normal' bracket, whether gay, straight, bi, trans, gender-queer, teenage or middle-aged. It's a subculture that's intensely, gorgeously performative, with many clubs and events blurring the boundaries between sex and theatre. Fetish is fun.
Playing with power.
It's also a subculture that's intensely respectful - almost definitively so, since power-play and BDSM are amongst the main thrusts (sic.) of the scene. The feminism - or feminisms - of BDSM are a minefield of fascinating cultural specificity, since by their very nature power-play fetishes operate beyond the sphere of existing power agendas, and are worked out for themselves, between consenting adults both of whom are gaining from the power transaction. That's not to say that some people - both male and female fetishists - take other, personal socio-political agendas into the bedroom, but it's very far from the norm. You'll find men who are sociopathically domineering at home or at work begging to be straight-jacketed, chained and flogged by tiny women in ridiculous shoes; you'll find women who love to be laced into corsets and spanked until they scream on the boards of companies or on the frontlines of feminist rallies. In fact, the mere act of playing with power in the bedroom can change one's response to the imposition of power in other, more clothed arenas of life.
Cash for Kinks.
The only problem I have with the scene - and it's a big problem - is the high cost of entry. Sexual subversion is a powerful force for social change; one of the only ways to defuse it is to twist its emphasis into line with the dominant status quo. In Western domestic society, capitalist participation and acquisition- shopping - is the dominant status quo, so it's hardly surprising that one of the main activities of the fetish crowd seems to be buying stuff. That shopping is a central part of the fetish experience is less surprising still in the light of the intense performativity of the scene - in which both voyeurism and exhibitionism are major parts of the participatory experience. The scene is partly about showing off; showing off one's eccentricities, kinks and physical assets, however, becomes less playfully shallow when it necessarily also involves a display of one's disposable income. The lifestyle is expensive, from bondage gear, toys, equipment and outfits to tie-in objects d'art, all of which need to be specially and carefully made, and all of which are costly. Unfortunately, although members of the scene are generally co-operative types, the nature of many of the toys means that sharing isn't an option. What all of this means is that vulnerable members of society - the young, those on lower incomes or without the disposable cash required - find themselves excluded from the very sexual underworld that could do most to expand the horizons of the naive and under-privileged. In a very Marxist sense, the fetishism of the scene extends to the commodity as well as to the sex-act.
That said, though, at one point, whilst living with a Domme and her sub, I made them a present of a washed length of black inner-tubing from a car engine that had been abandoned in the road near my college. Bondage games, and sex-fetish play in its broader sense, need not be prohibitively expensive.Moreover, the fetish subculture is one of the closest things to an anarchic, self-perpetuating mini-economy that the UK, along with other states, can boast: most fetish products are made by small, independent businesses and craftspeople for a dedicated market. Few people become multi-millionaires through fetish business, and those who participate do so for love of the craft and love of the scene, since profit margins for bespoke items and products made from, for example, rubber and worked leather, are so low - 'an average of 5% across the industry', according to one insider. Finally, most of those involved in selling to the scene are scene members themselves; there's a certain, elegant simplicity in the economic lives of a group who make a living selling chic couture sex-play gear only to finance the purchase of more of the stuff for their own play.
The key difference with the sexual-fiscal economy of the fetish subculture is this: the sex is the point. The sex is the point and the shopping is subsidiary to it, whereas in mainstream, heteronormative advertising culture, the shopping is the point, and sex just a means of upping sales.
So, tonight I'm putting a leash on an obliging boy, packing some whips and bondage tape and heading to a club for some investigative journalism. The fetish culture negotiates a minefield of capitalist moral quicksand and power-games; I want to know if it's retained its subversive soul. Goshdamn, but I hope so. ;)