BDSM in culture and media
There are several references to BDSM (i.e., bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) in culture and media. References are found in books, films, television, music, magazines and online media such as podcasts.
Newspapers and magazines
Recent events and figures related to BDSM have been repeatedly spotlighted in the media.
- In 2002, the Washington Post ran an article revealing that Jack McGeorge, a munitions analyst for the UNMOVIC, was also a leader in the Washington, DC BDSM community. Following this, several commentators compared his BDSM activities repeatedly with the torture techniques used by Saddam Hussein. Others compared today's discrimination of BDSM practitioners with the situation of homosexuals in the past.
- Following the discovery of Armin Meiwes (also known as the "Rotenburg Cannibal" or "Metzgermeister" (The Master Butcher), European yellow press described his case, giving hints about "sado-maso-games" between the delinquent and his victim.
- In Germany EMMA, a well-known feminist magazine, published by Alice Schwarzer, continued its PorNO campaign against hatred towards women and violent pornography aiming to ban pornography in Germany. In it, Schwarzer states, among other things, that sadomasochistic practices are generally to be equated with violence against women. Her judgment on female sadomasochism ("Female masochism is collaboration!") has often been criticized for implying a state of war between genders.
- EMMA magazine tried to bash Helmut Newton, accusing him of "pornografization of fashion photography", and criticized his "therein unrestrainedly realized sadomasochistic obsessions".
- Recently, BDSM support groups and publications repeatedly criticized a biased media coverage of BDSM.
Sadomasochism is a perennial in the field of literature and has inspired several classics like The Story of O by Anne Declos (under the pseudonym Pauline Réage), Justine by Marquis de Sade, Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch or the comics created by Eric Stanton. A literary curiosity is Martha's letter to Leopold Bloom in Ulysses by James Joyce. The novel Nine and a Half Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair published in 1978 by Elizabeth McNeill was the basis of the Hollywood movie 9½ Weeks.
Well-known author Anne Rice published under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure three installments of her Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, 1983), Beauty's Punishment (1984) and Beauty's Release (1985) with explicit BDSM themes. The development shows that today BDSM has reached the middle ground of international literature on a scale which would have been unbelievable just a short time ago.
A nine-volume book series published in July 2006 under the title Bild-Erotik-Bibliothek by Bild-Zeitung, Germany's leading Tabloid and the best-selling newspaper in Europe, in cooperation with Random House gives a clear indication of the commercial potential of the topic. Out of nine installments, three books had a well-defined emphasis on sadomasochism, specifically BDSM. Besides Exit to Eden, also written by Anne Rice under the pseudonym Anne Rampling, it also further featured the sadomasochist classic Story of O. and the explicit novel Topping from Below by Laura Reese.
While it can not be denied that the authors of SM-literature, de Sade and Sacher-Masoch, showed a propensity to the sexuality they described, it has to be differentiated between the real sexual activity and the fantasies described in literature. It would be an absurd demand of the literature's authenticity that the author have to practice what he is describing. Diary notes, interviews and the description of experience remain a fictionalization of the described events. While sadomasochistic rituals enacted as theatrical staging might show fetish characteristics, the fetish is not literature. BDSM literature also does not embrace a specific philosophy or morality, instead it represents it, as any other kind of literature aspects of the particular Zeitgeist of its era.
Alfred Kinsey stated in his 1953 nonfiction book Sexual Behavior in the Human Female that 12% of females and 22% of males reported having an erotic response to a sadomasochistic story. In that book erotic responses to being bitten were given as:
|Erotic Responses||By Females||By Males|
|Definite and/or frequent||26%||26%|
|Number of cases||2200||567|
In November 1981 Samois published Coming to Power: Writing and graphics on Lesbian S/M, which reached a worldwide audience the following year when it was reprinted by Alyson Publications. The book combined short stories with basic explanations and safety tips about BDSM practices. It is considered the first introductory books on the subject world wide. Its concept was internationally adopted by many publications in the following decades.
Other than specialized books with strong emphasis on the practice, there are a growing number of scientific publications and books that discuss BDSM philosophy and culture.
- Jay Wiseman: SM 101: A Realistic Introduction. Greenery Press (California) 1998, ISBN 0-9639763-8-9 (Comprehensive reference book including topics like "BDSM as a lifstyle" and "BDSM during pregnancy")
- Philip Miller, Molly Devon: Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism, Mystic Rose Books, 1995. ISBN 0-9645960-0-8. (Showing plenty of graphics, the comprehensive reference book gives advice on practices and safety advice)
- Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy: The New Topping Book. Greenery Press (California) 2002, ISBN 1-890159-36-0 (Practical and theoretical introduction for Tops with emphasis on psychological, practical and technological aspects and detailed advice on partner search)
- Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy: The New Bottoming Book. Greenery Press (California) 1998, ISBN 1-890159-35-2 (Practical and theoretical introduction for Bottoms with emphasis on psychological, practical and technological aspects and detailed advice on partner search)
- Patrick Califia (Ed.), Robin Sweeney (Ed.):The Second Coming: A Leatherdyke Reader., Alyson Publications 1996, ISBN 1-55583-281-4 (Installment to the lesbian-feminist BDSM-classic Coming to Power)
- Mark Thompson (Ed.): Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice., Alyson Publications 1991, ISBN 1-55583-630-5, (28 Essays of well known sadomasochistic authors and activists)
- Lady Green (Ed.), Jaymes Easton (Ed.): Kinky Crafts: 101 Do-It-Yourself S/M Toys, Greenery Press (California) 1998, ISBN 0-9639763-7-0 (Comprehensive Guide to do-it-yourself BDSM-toys)
- Gloria Brame, William Brame & John Jacobs: Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission Villard, 1996, ISBN 978-0679769569
- Peggy J. Kleinplatz, Charles Allen Moser: Sadomasochism - Powerful Pleasures, Haworth Press, 2006, ISBN 978-1-56023-640-5
- Staci Newmahr: Playing On The Edge, Indiana University Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0253222855 (Sociological examination of BDSM community in an unnamed city)
- Margot Weiss: Techniques of Pleasure, Duke University Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0822351597 (Anthropological examination of San Francisco BDSM community)
- Clarisse Thorn: The S&M Feminist, Clarisse Thorn, 2012, ISBN 978-1477472040 (Essays on BDSM, gender and culture)
- Lee Harrington, Mollena Williams: Playing Well With Others, Greenery Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0937609583 (Guide to BDSM community)
- Anne O. Nomis The History & Arts of the Dominatrix, Mary Egan Publishing & Anna Nomis Ltd, UK, 2013, ISBN 978-0-9927010-0-0 (Academic account of dominatrix imagery)
In the last decades publishing houses and imprints specializing in BDSM fiction and nonfiction have been founded in many western countries. Some of them are:
Movies and television
While BDSM activity appeared initially quasi "subliminal" in some movies, in the 1960s famous works of literature like the Story of O and Venus in Furs were filmed, partly in very explicit form. The Spanish director Jess Franco developed several typical examples of the Exploitation-genres' approach, often based on the works of the Marquis de Sade and censored in many countries worldwide.
More recently, with the production of 9½ Weeks, the topic of BDSM was transferred to broader audiences with high impact and notable commercial success. Since the late 1990s movies like Preaching to the Perverted, a movie generally considered a reaction to Operation Spanner, and Secretary started to increasingly reconcile financial demands with authenticity.
From the 1990s to early 2000s, mainstream media representation of alternative sexualities, including BDSM, increased dramatically. First noted in 1983, this trend shows no signs of abating today.
With the development of documentary productions such as SICK: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, Bound for Pleasure and Wir leben ... SM! an increasingly broader approach to the subject matter is developing, targeting on wider audiences.
During the last four decades, the spectrum of productions has been greatly enlarged, showing the topic has arrived in mainstream movies:
Besides these mainstream movies, there is a huge market for underground sadomasochistic direct-to-DVD and Internet-download films. The majority of these have no explicit sexual content, but a few are also pornographic films. These videos fall into specific fetish categories such as bondage, corporal punishment (domestic and school spanking), pony play (animal role-playing) and dungeon-based BDSM centered on the master/slave dynamic. The porn industry has responded to this growing trend by creating a number of sex films with an S&M theme. The most noteworthy being the award-winning The Fashionistas (2002) and its 2003 sequel, The Fashionistas II.
In recent years, movies like 9½ Weeks, Tokyo Decadence and Secretary have been shown, sometimes edited, on television in several countries. In 2001 the Canadian documentary KinK was the first television series on the topic worldwide.
Other example of BDSM in television and film:
Since the beginning of the 1990s, BDSM imagery has been regularly used within the framework of large marketing campaigns in continental Europe. Widely known examples in Germany are billboards of the cigarette brands Camel and West, showing a camel dressed in "typical" leather outfit, respectively a dominatrix with a whip. While West had to withdraw the ad due to "offense against morality", BDSM motifs were utilized in the following years on a regular basis. In March 2007 the Swedish clothing company H&M promoted the sale of a collection compiled by Madonna with television commercials in Germany. The commercials showed the artist, who has been repeatedly criticized for the use of sadomasochistic subjects in the past, as a dominant lifestyle-icon teaching a lesson to an "inappropriately" dressed female pupil under the cracking of a crop, redesigning her outfit while making fashion statements like "Don't think it – you need to know it".
In Canada Mini presented the winter package 2005/2005 of the Mini-Cooper in the form of an interactive BDSM-session in which the user, supported by a dominatrix, can test different kinds of spanking tools on the automobile in order to get the optional equipment explained. Their slogan was "Dominate winter".
Fischer, a German manufacturer of fasteners, used a persiflage of the sadomasochistic subject in a video spot in order to demonstrate its product's quality.
In the U.S., Anheuser-Busch has repeatedly sponsored the fetish-lifestyle Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. Also, Diesel jeans ran several sadomasochistic-themed advertisements in various fashion magazines. The basic strategy in this field is to present BDSM clichés in a light-hearted manner, thus generating a higher level of public awareness while branding the image as unconventional and avant garde.
The Velvet Underground song "Venus in Furs" (from The Velvet Underground & Nico) is based on a book by Masoch of the same title; the name of the band itself comes from a book about paraphilias (including BDSM) in the United States.
Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" may be the most well-known popular song with BDSM connotations, primarily due to the music video. Adam Lambert's "For Your Entertainment," Puddle of Mudd's "Control," and Madonna's "Erotica" are explicitly from the dominant's point of view - as is "Baby Let's Play Rough" by the country-western vampire singer Unknown Hinson, whereas Nedra Johnson's "Alligator Food" and Lady Gaga's "Teeth" are written from the perspective of the submissive.
Jace Everett's "Bad Things" (theme song of the TV series True Blood) alludes to BDSM.
Industrial Music in general likely has the most BDSM themes, as well as being one of the biggest influences on Rivethead fashion. Rammstein is one of those industrial bands, as their song "Ich Tu Dir Weh (I hurt you)" is about BDSM. Depeche Mode are known for their BDSM undertones, among their songs are "Master and servant" as well as "In your room"
Other famous songs/bands with BDSM themes include:
In 2010 Christina Aguilera released her Bionic album which contains the single, "Not Myself Tonight". The controversial, high-concept video for the single is rife with aggressive BDSM imagery. Aguilera is seen as a bound and gagged slave as well as a latex-clad dominatrix with a riding crop and a group of look-alike slave girls.
Also released in 2010, the alternative rock band 30 Seconds to Mars' "Hurricane" video, directed by Jared Leto under his pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins, includes elements of Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission. Though initially banned from most networks due to violence and heavy sexual content, the video received three nominations at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Direction and Best Editing.
In 2014, NAVI, a Romanian singer-songwriter, released the BDSM / Shibari themed music video "Picture Perfect". The video sparked the interest of the international S&m community, but was banned on Romanian television for its explicit depiction of BDSM scenes.
The possibilities of the Internet were promptly adopted in order to offer information services on BDSM. Since mid-2005 there is a growing number of podcasts dealing with the topic of BDSM. The increasing growth of video platforms including YouTube set the technological base for a still growing number of self produced information clips or video dealing with the subject.
During the last decades a wide variety of periodical publication were published dealing with BDSM. Besides small independent publishing companies, organized groups were active in this field. Many have stopped publishing or transferred operations to the Internet.
The German language Schlagzeilen magazine started in 1988 as a group's internal newspaper and is the most important BDSM publication in German speaking countries today.