asking a different kind of “why”

Last night at CinéKink, we watched Beyond Vanilla, a 2003 documentary about kink. It was reasonably well done; the requisite sexperts were interviewed (Carol Queen, Dossie Easton…) and the requisite topics were covered. Well, sort of.

Unfortunately, the film felt to me like a laundry list of kinky practices, with very little delving into the psychological or emotional depths of people’s interests in those practices. Sure, the interview subjects were eloquent in their explanations of how to do their kink safely (for the most part), and they enthusiastically described what sorts of pleasures each activity brought them. But nobody said what motivated them to pick up these practices in the first place. I mean, does your average joe wake up one day and say to himself, “Hm! I think today I’m going to find someone who’s willing to tie me down, blindfold me, wrap blue bands around my cock, plug some wires into a box and turn on the electrical current”? Or “Wouldn’t it be great if my honey stuck needles through my arms and pissed into my butthole using a funnel”?

There was so much opportunity for depth and engagement, and instead of going after that, the filmmaker seemed intent on cataloguing the specifics of how different types of play were done and getting people to say “I really like XYZ, it feels great” rather than probing (heh heh) for anything more. And to me, that just wasn’t satisfying. I wanted to know why! Why do you find these things hot? What grabs you about them? How did you discover your kink? How did that discovery feel? What steps did you take to pursue it? What worked, what didn’t? What has changed along the way? Has your kink transformed you in ways beyond the sexual? In short – what is this about for you?

I know, it’s very ironic that I posted just recently saying “don’t ask why” when it comes to sexuality and kink. But this is a different kind of “why.” This is about wanting to understand a person’s motivations and turn-ons, not about wanting to determine whether or not it’s the “fault” of their upbringing or the “fault” of their genes.

I find kinky people utterly fascinating, and not because they can tell me about the four quadrants of an ass-cheek and how to properly aim your hand at each of them to achieve maximum spanking effectiveness. I kid you not, this was in the movie. I’ve never seen kink so robbed of eroticism. It sounded like a bloody boardroom presentation.

No, I want to delve into these people’s minds. And I find it really unfortunate that an entire film would be made that features a whole whackload of really intensely kinky people, many of them quite eloquent and some quite well-known for their psychological and emotional perspectives (Easton is a therapist, Queen is a renowned commentator on such questions, etc.)… without ever asking them how they discovered and nurtured this part of themselves. There are dozens of how-to books out there; I can learn about everything from Japanese bondage to genital torture to erotic slave training procedures to how to build my own St-Andrew’s cross, all just by dropping by a sex-positive bookstore (L’Androgyne RIP) or checking out a website or two. I was hoping that a film would give a little more of the human side of things.

On the up side: the joy of watching such a film in the company of 15 intelligent and articulate people who are interested in discussing the matter at hand certainly made up for some of that lack. CinéKink is so damn much fun. I’m already looking forward to September when we start up again. Whee!

One thought on “asking a different kind of “why”

  1. I actually own that stupid crappy movie. What a waste of Carol Queen and Dossie Easton’s time (not to mention my own). If you’re going to interview people like that, fucking use them for all they’re worth, don’t waste them!

    I think the major problem is that the filmmaker didn’t understand who his audience is. He seemed to be making a film for vanilla people who want to understand what kink is, but focusing on the how-to stuff is pretty pointless in that case. That audience hasn’t taken the step to wanting get their hands dirty with an instructional video.

    Focusing on the why would definitely be better and more informative. How deep and nuanced that why gets probably depends on the intended audience. Unfortunately, when you’re preaching to the perverted, that why has got to go a lot deeper than anybody seems to want to go (in a film) in order to make it interested.

    Although I was frustrated with the film, it wasn’t totally terrible. It kept things pretty kink-positive for the most part, although there were moments when I still felt the “freak show” factor. It wouldn’t be a bad film for introducing people to kink, but it certainly wouldn’t be a great one. If I ever find a great one, I’ll let you know.

    By the way, I rented a film you might like called Psychopathia Sexualis. It’s based on Kraft-Ebbing’s case studies, and apart from feeling a bit BBC in it’s style (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), I thought it was pretty good. If you don’t mind really, really ridiculous fake blood.

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