Thursday, July 17, 2014

Vicarious Kinks: S/M in the Socio-Legal Imaginary by Ummni Khan

An academic book that examines the negative societal perception against sadomasochism and interprets its subsequent management as a combination of guilty fascination and truth claims presented by science, feminism, film and law.

The first section establishes definitions for the terms sadism and masochism in addition to revealing their etymological origin. It reflects on classic theories from psychology, sociology, and biology about sadism and masochism. It also highlights the societal and legal consequences of sadism, masochism, and paraphilia becoming entries within the different editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

The second section gives a broad, in depth overview of the Feminist Sex Wars with examples mainly from Britain and the United States. It examines the different ideologies of anti-porn feminists and sex-positive feminists. It explains why some feminists were against sadomasochism especially when it was depicted in pornography and the different defaming campaigns endorsed. It places additional emphasis on how lesbian feminists that practiced BDSM or identified it as part of their sexual identity were ostracized. The essay attempts to present both sides of the debate but the negative stance against sadomasochism is given more weight.

The third section is a collection of in depth film analyses for mainstream movies that  feature elements of sadomasochism as part of the plot. It emphasizes the feminist perspective, relationship dynamics, symbolism, contradictions, inaccuracies, discrimination, and perceived messages. The films analyzed include; Cruising (1980), Videodrome (1983), Crimes Of Passion (1984), Something Wild (1986), Hellraiser (1987), Basic Instinct (1992), Body Of Evidence (1993), Exit To Eden (1994), Pulp Fiction (1994), Preaching To The Perverted (1997), Nine And A Half Weeks (1997), One Night At McCool's (2001), Secretary (2002), Killing Me Softly (2002), Wedding Crashers (2005), and Walk All Over Me (2007).

The fourth section summarizes Canadian court cases and instances of censorship that were pivotal in establishing pornography regulation in addition to creating the criteria for labeling something as obscene. It lays the foundation for the fifth section that summarizes Canadian and British court cases where an individual's sadomasochistic lifestyle played a prominent role in sentencing or was the reason for them being on trial. The summaries are comprehensive with embedded narration that questions the semantics of the rulings and identifies common themes of perceptions. It also illustrates the ambiguity and obscurity of the abstract threshold of what is acceptable or perverse. It discusses the paradox sadomasochism presents especially when examined from a legal standpoint. The book concludes with a summary and an analyses of the Fifty Shades of Grey book trilogy and Rihanna's 'S&M' music video. 

Vicarious Kinks is a social commentary with an academic structure that identifies common themes in societal conjecture against sadomasochism. It examines how they relate and affect one another to the point of influencing law. I liked how the book illustrated this evolution and progression in terms of time. A majority of the focus is placed on the 1980's to late 1990's which made the information feel dated. However, it demonstrated that attitudes from the past played a pivotal role in more recent court cases involving sadomasochism that took place throughout the 2000's. Vicarious Kinks doesn't present any new information or thoroughly examine either stance but identifies correlations, patterns, and recurring themes.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, University of Toronto Press, through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.]

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