Originally published 20th Feb 2009
This is a guest post by Pandora Blake.
[Caution: this article contains links to images that some may find offensive, disturbing and NOT SAFE FOR WORK]
"Show me a new medium and I'll guarantee it will attract censorship as soon as it becomes popular (or, in some instances, once it attracts public notice)" says Ramsey Campbell. He's writing in the introduction to Dances with Werewolves, the autobiography of Niki Flynn, an American-born writer, model - and star of "extreme" porn films. Niki is an intelligent, independent, articulate woman who has made a career as a "professional victim". She's also a friend. She has a website, a popular blog, large numbers of fans who appreciate her DVDs, photostories and internet movie clips. I act alongside her in a couple of them.
Niki and I make films in which we are punished, disciplined, abused, tormented, assaulted, abducted, tied up and generally mistreated. We do it because we love it. We don't earn huge amounts of money and no-one has ever made us do anything we didn't want to do - or at least, not more than once. You run into the occasional creep in every industry, but the world of corporal punishment porn is, in my experience, understandably careful about consent. Niki does it for her own intriguing reasons, which she describes eloquently in her writing. She finds danger compelling, and exploring the most extreme scenarios of the human condition through roleplay and acting, in a safe and consensual context, is when she feels most alive.
I can certainly identify with that. I also do it for a straightforward reason which is perhaps easier to understand, which is that I like pain.
Not everybody does. Not everyone who plays with pain likes it in the same way, either. Even I don't always enjoy the pain of a kink experience. Sometimes the point of the scene is that I won't, that I'll be frightened beforehand and, afterwards, proud of my endurance. It takes courage to surrender absolutely, however much you trust your partner. Usually because you can trust them to push you. Because you need them to push you.
I can't explain my kink to you in a single article. I've been writing about it for years and still haven't fully expressed it. Partly this is because it's as hard to make generalisations about kink as to make them about sex. I enjoy certain erotic pain experiences and I find sexual surrender profound and fulfilling, but the nature of my submission differs from partner to partner. With every person I play with, the texture and meaning of the experience is different.
I can't speak for perverts in general, or even for submissives and masochists in general. What I can tell you is that my earliest memories are my four-year-old daydreams of being hurt and helpless, that kink has been a core part of my identity even before I knew what it was. I can tell you that I'm not a victim of violent abuse, and I'm not a rape survivor. My parents are kind and liberal and smart, and I was raised to ask questions and critique the arguments I was presented with; this isn't about re-enacting some traumatic event of my childhood.
I can also tell you that it is absolutely possible to consent to suffering. People consent to suffering all the time. We risk broken bones to go skiing; we get tattooed; we fall in love. We get drunk even though we know the hangover will be horrible.
I'm an independent, self-employed, over-ambitious perfectionist. I work hard and play hard and set myself tough goals. I need the profound emotional release that comes from, just for an evening, having no responsibilities at all. I need the deep, kittenish satisfaction that comes from offering myself to my lover, doing what I'm told and being found pleasing. I need the emotional simplicity that arises from being given very simple goals. Don't move. Trust me. Endure this. Pain grounds me in my body better than any meditation technique I've ever tried. It cleanses my psyche of all the self-inflicted anxiety and guilt that accumulates during my average working week. It leaves me feeling renewed.
Being a professional fetish model is less intimate, but no less intense. When I'm working I strive to create something emotionally powerful and visually beautiful, something I would enjoy watching. I take pride in my performance, and get a kick out of testing my bravery and stamina. The heightened emotions create strong professional bonds, and there's always a lot of laughter on set.
I have a deep and abiding fascination for the more creative expressions of human sexuality. I don't need to be turned on by everything I do on camera: it's all about getting inside the mindset, discovering what it is about this particular act that gets people going, and learning to push those buttons. It's one of the most exciting challenges an actor can face.
Some of us are more adventurous than others. My friend Beverly Bacci is a well-known spanking actress, but she also models for fetishes I'd never even heard of before she told me about them. One of her regular clients is a "horror variety theatre" specialising in murder fetish. Not my cup of tea; I like my pornstars alive and wriggling. I couldn't say whether Beverly enjoys her work in that way, but her professional enthusiasm is infectious. It's an ambitious challenge in acting and make-up, with obvious appeal to those with a taste for the gothic and macabre. She writes candidly about the shoots in her blog; it's perfectly clear that no models were harmed in the making of these videos. Like me, Beverly is an independent agent, and any misguided outside attempts to deny her that agency are infantilising and misogynistic.
On Monday 26th January, the new legislation making it illegal to possess "extreme" porn came into effect. The day before, I stood in Parliament Square clutching a hand-made placard, protesting against a badly-worded and unnecessary curtailment of our civil liberties. Parliament didn't listen, of course, any more than it had listened to nearly three years of protests and discussion since the consultation was released in 2006.
As adult members of a democracy, we are entrusted with a vote in choosing our countries' leaders. We have a voice, however much it may be drowned out by others. We are granted autonomy over our own bodies, up to a point; we can eat and exercise as much as we please, smoke, drink, and cut ourselves with razors if that's what we want to do, without breaking the law. Every adult in this country has the legal right to conceive and raise children, and fill their heads with whatever ideas as they fancy. That's a hell of a responsibility.
What this government does not trust us with is sexual agency. The extreme porn legislation sends a strong message that UK citizens are not to be trusted with pictures of violent sex. The excitement might go to our little heads, and we might rush out and re-enact them with no thought for the safety of ourselves or others.
This is tremendously insulting. I'm female, so I'm used to legislation and media trying to deny me volition and agency. It happens all the time in films and TV. Now, the government is telling me that I'm not allowed to possess obscene pictures because it doesn't trust me to use them responsibly. What will the government do next? Make it illegal to rape a blow-up doll, wank over a photo of a friend or desecrate a photo of an enemy? Make it illegal to draw violent pictures, or write about extreme fantasies? Make it illegal to talk about them?
Let's think about the argument here, for a second. The one championed so passionately by Liz Longhurst and the Daily Mail, that violent porn causes violent crime. The court case into Jane Longhurst's tragic murder did not demonstrate a causal connection between the extreme porn Graham Coutts liked to look at and his act of homicide; nor has it ever been demonstrated that there is a de facto link between one act (looking at violent imagery) and another (committing violent crimes). The debate on violent videogames has raged for years without conclusion.
Everyone in the country is now affected by this law, despite the fact that the vast majority of us are not violent sexual offenders, and never will be,especially if we're female. This law has nothing to do with violent crime, and everything to do with censorship.
Censorship never works. It never has. Here's a bit of relevant history from Ramsey Campbell's introduction:
In the 50s, horror comics aimed at adults apparently had to be stopped, and so they were in Britain by the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Bill, encouraged by a newspaper outcry under headlines such as 'Now Ban This Filth That Poisons Our Children' and 'Make Bonfires of Them' (the comics, not the children), along with a persistent media claim that a gunman called Alan Poole had been influenced by his own collection of hundreds of horror comics, although in fact he owned just a solitary comic, a Western one eventually described in Parliament as 'not very alarming'.
A media campaign that uses an unexamined scare story or a single unrepresentative crime to whip up hysteria until the government feels forced to bring in extra censorship - it's a recurring turn of events. In the early 80s it was the "video nasty": while the term was coined by a publicist to sell horror fiction, it was hijacked to describe videos the public was supposed to find objectionable. The Daily Mail urged 'Ban the Sadist Videos' and clearly had the ear of Berard Braine, who referred in the House of Lords to 'a grave and growing social evil which no civilised or caring society would tolerate ... a filthy and pernicious trade' (which is to say, making and distributing horror films he didn't like).
How is a fetish movie different from any other TV of film scene attempting to realistically depict a violent event? Do we assume that all actors taking on gritty or gruesome roles must be helpless abductees with no ability to give informed consent? It's not even as if Hollywood is particularly asexual - half of the violent scenes in modern films are intended to be titillating, and to criminalise fetish porn while making an exception for classified films is to set up an explicit and unashamed double standard. The scariest thing about the extreme porn legislation is not that it assumes sexual narratives are automatically immoral, it's that the difference is defined as not being in the intention of the creator, but the mind of the viewer.
Owning a DVD of Kill Bill is fine, but owning an excerpt of the schoolgirl death scene in a folder marked "wank material" gives the police grounds to prosecute - particularly if they've already decided you're a bit dodgy and don't have anything better to pin on you. This legislation creates a thought crime in UK law, and Big Brother is watching YOU masturbate.
I'm familiar with the old excuse that some murder fetish porn and some rape porn depicts real non-consensual acts, and that's the nasty stuff this law is aimed at. Give me a break. Rape and murder are already crimes. It's stupid and dangerous to criminalise fiction just because ignorant prudes can't tell the difference. At best, this law has achieved nothing except fuel prejudice against kink, and at worst it's open to abuse or over-zealous enforcement by the whole judicial system, from street bobbies to high court judges.
The ironic thing is that in some ways kink has become increasingly acceptable. Films like Secretary and shows like Diary of a Call Girl bring fetish into the mainstream. Ever since Max Mosley successfully sued The News of the World, the press has, with some exceptions, tended to be positive. Certainly the industry has been getting increasingly progressive. Feminist porn is coming into its own; an increasing number of kinky sites are woman-led, and the internet has enabled a level of transparency and accountability that makes it very difficult to mistreat a model and get away with it. If the legislators were at all familiar with this industry rather than making uninformed assumptions from the punter's point of view, they'd know all this.
Put bluntly, the government doesn't trust us. Especially if we're doing anything it doesn't understand.
© 2009 Pandora Blake
Pandora Blake blogs about her life and films here.