There is a dividing line in erotica between two treatments of fiction. One is the announcement of sex in detail. It is often archly introspective and deals with sex as a world of its own, or in which it is the core of the fictive world. All else is merely symptoms leading to sex. The other assumes that sex resides in the context of feeling and intellect, events and environment, age and wellbeing.
Whipped is the kind of anthology that makes you feel you may have traveled back in time. This volume was published in 2005 under the editorship of Carol Queen. Some of the stories even deal with the post –apocalyptic neoconservative world we now occupy. Nonetheless it feels like a collection of older works from the seventies which seeks to present us with a bold new vision of BDSM -- particularly female domination -- that is neither new nor in any sense very surprising. It seems in fact an anachronism.
I am supported in this view by a DVD, which is attached to the book as a part of the ride. It is meant to entice, but the content is all too familiar and fairly drab. We are informed, for example, that there is a group of people who meet in a chain hotel in some dreary town in North Jersey to live out their fetishes and flog their various fannies. Well okay, so what?
A couple of ladies form the spokespeople and featured players of this poorly made and edited DVD. The footage looks old given that the hotel in Jersey has assorted monster gas guzzlers from the seventies tooling up to its front door. A motley array of persons try to seem relaxed in the video. They seem very doubtful in making the case for SM as ‘normal’ and why bother? They are in fact more in the vein of the walking wounded than the boldly original, and so the DVD works counter to its own intentions. It’s a throw-in that is just grossly out of date and badly produced.
But what of the book, Whipped, itself? There are 19 crisply short stories, the first seven of which are also highly formulaic and grimly determined to exploit technical detail. The book starts off with "I Am Your Kitten" by Bianca James. Apparently the central character and voice of the narrative has a fetish about being treated like a cat, or more properly like a kitten who is graduating in her slavedom to the status of a cat. However, anyone who knows a cat well will know that no cat is ever enslaved to any human. Pussies may get a zing out of bottoming, but genuine felines don’t roll over for anyone if they are not in the mood. It is always the reverse.
Ms. James’ lugubrious style, viz. “I am your kitten, Mistress Marthe, that is all.” sounds like a public service announcement in a subway station. Like the writing in many of these stories, it is a laborious slog. That is because the style attempts to make obsession feel plausible as though that ought to come as a surprise to us. Who in the hell isn’t obsessed with something these days? Obsession, a la “Bolero,” may be to your taste but these stories read more like “how to” anecdotes than sources of erotic stimulation.
The eighth story, "The Rubber Chicken Scene" by Greta Christina, is a romp about the terrors of being tormented by bad comedy by clowns as a form of erotica. It’s silly and it’s meant to be, which is thoroughly refreshing. The same may be said for Marcy Sheiner’s, "Down in the Cinders," in which the hapless Cinderella is tweaked to the point of squeaking in front of the once wimpy Prince with the happy result that his resolve is stiffened.
"A Recent Favorite" by Violet Blue presents us with a very engaging bit of lesbiana that involves a most convincing, erotic spanking followed by the anal application of a strap-on. The detail is good but what is better is the way Ms. Blue allows the spankee to torment and tease the spanker into giving her a very attentive round of intimate discipline. In other words, there is some irony here at long last, and it is most welcome.
The other stories vary by degrees of intensity and sexual complexity. Many of them contain the now obligatory sneering at and detestation of men especially those who seek out the services of a professional dominatrix. Much of that takes the form of grousing about the seediness of the spanking and discipline business, which is somehow construed to be the fault of the men who patronize it. The female clients escape this opprobrium because they are among the downtrodden, and thus justified in wanting nipple clips and a hot, red, rear end as eco-political solace. Such stuff is not the feminism of politics, aesthetics, or even gender. It’s just bitching.
Some of these stories are much better than others, and I think on the whole that this book did itself a great disservice by including the DVD. Therein lies a clue. The problem lies perhaps in the narrowness of the editing. Sasha Waters bills herself as, “co-creator of the documentary, Whipped” (reviewer’s punctuation). I take that to actually mean “co-editor” as I assume Ms. Waters did not have a hand in writing these stories.
Ms. Waters has worked in the world of the pro domme herself and the editorial stance of the anthology is revealed to me in this paragraph which follows:
“Our dominatrix charade allowed Iana and me to connect in low-key, socializing, just-us-girls-hanging-out kind of way with several women in the professional S&M world. We learned that underlying the mystique of this kind of sex work, beyond the required confidentiality and secrecy, the masks and stage names and elaborate costuming, there is a great deal that is merely humdrum. We spent hours with the pro doms, in-between clients on slow nights, hearing about the most elaborate or unusual requests they had ever heard (or granted), painting our nails and ordering in pizza and chicken fingers. In this respect, professional domination is a job like any other, a business that requires advertising and promotion and security and supplies (especially cleaning supplies).”
In short much of the point of view of the editing seems to come from people who are either tired of the subject as indicated above, or they have a sort of grim pecuniary enthusiasm like the introduction by Ms. Queen. It reads like the hand-rubbing prose of the self-help genre. It is as though she were saying that now we too can learn the ins and outs of the S&M trade at practically no cost right in our own homes, in our spare time. As she says, “I bet every reader will find something eye-opening here,” and well they might, but often it may be the editors’ inept struggles with run-on sentences and muddled punctuation.