BDSM in Mainstream Media

 Posted by on October 14, 2013
Oct 142013
 

BDSM in the mediaThe popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey has catapulted BDSM into the mainstream for a new generation, but E.L. James’ bestselling erotic novel is far from the first time kink has made its way into popular culture. From seemingly innocent spankings to highly eroticized scenes of dominance and submission, BDSM has been cropping up in mainstream film, television, and books for ages. The taboo and dark, sensual side of human nature continues to fascinate audiences and draw them in.

If you couldn’t put Fifty Shades down and are now perusing the bookshelves for your next sexy read, you’ll have plenty of choices. The Story of O, The Ages of Lulu, Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy and The Sexual Life of Catherine M have been titillating audiences for years. While they each provide their own special slant on love, sex, and relationships, the subtle (and not-so-subtle) kinky undertones are sure to thrill.

The Story of O is considered a classic erotic text. Originally published in French, the 1954 novel is a tale of female submission. The novel’s heroine and namesake, O, willingly undergoes strict sexual training to become a slave. While O’s treatment is much harsher than the “training” Anastasia receives at the hands of Christian in Fifty Shades of Grey, O’s consent and pleasure remain a focus of the process, a representation that many sex educators have claimed is more accurate and realistic of BDSM culture than much of what is seen in mainstream popular culture.

Meanwhile, The Ages of Lulu (originally published in Spanish under the title Las Edades de Lulu), the compelling story of the sexual awakening of Maria Luisa Ruiz-Poveda y Garcia de la Casa – known by her friends and family as Lulu, and Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, which follows the brutal sexual training of Beauty after the Prince forcibly ‘awakens’ her, often veer into the realm of pure fantasy. Yet, the books are far from happy fairy tales. Both The Ages of Lulu and The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy paint a dark shadow over sexual submission, with Lulu and beauty often struggling to maintain a sense of self while becoming increasingly desperate as their encounters with illicit and dangerous sex threaten to overtake their lives completely. With their darker, seedier vision of kinky escapades, Lulu and Sleeping Beauty isn’t for everyone, but it is an interesting study in the fine line between perversion and socially acceptable morality.

The current vogue of peeking behind the BDSM curtain isn’t just confined to the written word. Both The Story of O and The Ages of Lulu prompted films of the same name, joining Secretary, Exit to Eden, Eyes Wide Shut, and 9 ½ Weeks in video collections across the nation. Much like their written counterparts, film depictions of BDSM has traditionally been serious, even dark. Eyes Wide Shut and 9 ½ Weeks constantly play with the idea that the characters are engaging in something not only taboo, but dangerous. Yet, a few films depart from that standard, showing BDSM in a romantic and somewhat quirky light. Exit to Eden (originally a book by Anne Rice) was more a comedy set in a BDSM world than a serious exploration of BDSM relationships and practices. The beatings, dominance, and submission on display came across as novel and playful, nothing to be taken too seriously. Secretary also provides a somewhat more irreverent view of BDSM. When Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a young impressional woman, takes a job as a secretary for the uptight and demanding lawyer Mr. Grey the chemistry between them becomes apparent quickly. Even as their relationship progresses into the realm of dominance, submission, and sadomasochism, their exchanges are flirty and off the wall. When the two finally admit their feelings to themselves and each other, finding their happy ending, the audience is encouraged to bask in the glow the same way one might at the end of a great romantic comedy.

While books and films have lead the way with depictions of BDSM in mainstream culture, kink has been steadily finding its place on the small screen as well. Lena Dunham’s acclaimed new television series, Girls, regularly deals with themes of sexual submission. The 20-something heroine and her close circle of friends routinely discuss and engage in light BDSM with their significant others. Sex scenes in cop dramas and sitcoms alike have moved to the racier side, including handcuffs or light spanking play. While most depictions or discussions of BDSM on television have been far more PG than what one encounters in books and film, the mere inclusion of BDSM in the lives and bedrooms of “normal” characters is helping to normalize the practice.

Even if spanking and handcuffs may have been seen as extreme in previous generations, they’re now becoming a somewhat usual part of the sexual landscape. Lashings, brandings, and full blown orgies aren’t likely to become norms in mainstream media, but with the popularity of erotic works like Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s very likely that we’ll continue to find sprinkles of BDSM in our otherwise vanilla media.

 

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