copyright 2005 by Pat Powers
Birds of Prey, the canceled Warner Brothers series had an ep that beautifully pointed up the kind of thinking that shouldn't go into handling futuristic bondage devices.
Entitled "Gladiatrix," it was about a crazed promoter who made a practice of kidnapping beautiful young female metahumans (BoP terminology for people with super powers) and pitting them against one another in death matches for the scummiest people in the universe -- affluent, middle-aged white males. Oh, the degradation!
Now, a plotline of this sort is definitely an announcement that one is going straight for the cheese. So, what do we get from Gladiatrix?
How about scantily clad slavegirls fighting it out in the Arena?
How about slavegirls in bondage as they're trained for the arena?
How about slavegirls being tortured and humiliated in preparation for the arena?
Well, kinda. Sorta. After a fashion.
I think I see where we're going here.
In Gladiatrix, the women who are kidnapped fight for their almost completely male audience in their STREET CLOTHES! They are never shown bound! (OK, except for a brief bit where they lean against the arena fencing with their hands behind their backs as if secured there, but we never see their bonds).
They ARE shown caged, at least we get that. The evil promoter gets them to fight by injecting them with a drug that makes them violent and aggressive. He controls them by making them wear pain harnesses, that turn bright red when he pushes a button, making the wearer act unhappy.
I think there should be a simple standard for futuristic bondage devices: they should make the bondagee look MORE bound, not LESS bound than current technology. The wall-sized stocks in "Star Slammer," and "Cool Devices" for example are a LOT more visually powerful and make their prisoners look a LOT more helpless than simple wooden stocks.
Whereas the "pain harnesses" in Gladiatrix just don't cut it at all. I mean, if they told us they were "ecstasy harnesses" and the gals were writhing in ecstatic pleasure, we'd have to believe them.
The slaves in "Gladiatrix" are also fed gruel in pans, a nice bit of humiliation, so we have to believe the people who created it have SOME kinda clue about what they're doing. In fact, Gladiatrix, although far down on the scale, is far from the worst film ever made with a "sexy fighting slave" theme -- that would be Roger Corman's dreadful "Arena," an out and out exploitation flick that fails in almost every respect. Gladiatrix, flawed as it is, cannot match the orgy of cluelessness that is Arena, which doesn't even have the "this is only TV" excuse going for it.
But if you really want to put "Gladiatrix" on a scale, you should compare it with the more, um, well-thought-out sex fighting slave fantasies characteristic of the Internet.
Take the Fighting Pit story from my novel Karg. The fighting slavegirls in this story fight in the nude. While they fight, their wrists are tied behind their backs and their ankles are shackled together (with about a foot of leeway so the can move around. They're gagged (actually, the gags are special bits that serve the same function as mouthguards on athletes) and they wear strap-on dildos that have a colored ring near the base. The winner of the fight is the one who so totally exhausts her opponent that she's able to insert the dildo into one of her opponent's orifices until the colored ring at its base is hidden -- ten times.
The bondage limits the matches to lots of hitting and butting with the head, shoulders and hips, as well as flying kicks and jumping on top of one's opponent when she's down. What's more, the audience that watches the matches are male AND female, though the female audience members are slavegirls who are tied down at the edge of the pit and are being used by their masters as they watch the fights.
OK, so it's a raunchy bondage fantasy. Think of it as the far end of the "sexy fighting slavegirl" continuum from "Arena." Because that's how I think of all the bondage scenes I see on mainstream TV, as part of a continuum that stretches from Arena on one end and commercial bondage imagery on the other.
Now, if you were to do a distribution chart of these scenes, you wouldn't get your normal bell curve, like this:
You'd get something like this instead:
I don't have any hard statistical data for this graph, so in the scientific sense it is unfounded on good data, or in plain English, "completely bogus, dude."
But the graph makes perfectly good sense if you've watched a lot of mainstream scenes and seen a lot of commercial bondage videos. On the left side, you have mainstream scenes, perhaps best represented by a fully clothed woman in a chair tie, ungagged, unmolested, and unconcerned about her predicament. (As seen most recently in the January 10 episode of John Doe, where the damsel exactly fit this description.)
On the other side of the graph we have commercial bondage scenes with stark naked women wearing ballgag harnesses, tied with their legs splayed wide and their vaginas shaved bald, relentlessly pleasured by a man or woman using a vibrator or dildo. Or in the case of hentai, a bound and gagged naked babe having her every body orifice plugged by tentacles or several men. Or several women. Whatever's handy, really.
There isn't a lot in between these two extremes, once you're past the double domes of bondage pleasure that are the bondage scene bellcurve. That little bump on the end of the mainstream bondage scene curve represents the subgroup of commercial bondage scenes that involve fully clothed women not having sex. Yes, there is a group of bondage fans who like to see women really, really tied up, but not naked and not molested. A lot of such "porn" would pass for normal bondage scenes in a mainstream film, albeit a very, very low-budget one.
Then we have scenes like "Over The Wire" and the "Ginger" movies, with scenes that would almost fit comfortably in commercial bondage as far as content, except of course that you never see any genitals in action. But there are so few such scenes they wouldn't make much of a spike on any graph ... they'd look like the atypical "outliers" that researchers use to describe data that doesn't fit comfortably with other data.
This is why the chart has two lumps at either end with nothing in the middle.
So here's the deal. I see all bondage scenes as fitting somewhere on this chart. Some people I've discussed my interest with seem to feel that what I'm looking for is to change the whole chart into something like this:
That is, I'd like all bondage scenes to be something like commercial bondage scenes. This is not true. First of all, it ain't gonna happen, if only because some media will always be censored for sexual content. Second of all, it won't happen because openly sexy bondage scenes are inappropriate for some kinds of dramas. Third, I don't want it to happen, because I like a lot of variation in bondage imagery, and pushing everything over toward commercial bondage imagery would cut way down on the amount of variation.
What I'd like to see the chart for bondage imagery look like is this:
Three bumps, that's right, three bumps. One for mainstream scenes on the left, one for commercial bondage scenes to the right, and in the middle, the one for all the indie, mainstream movie and Skinamax bondage scenes. And the mainstream and middle bumps shifted to the right, because I think the mild stuff in each genre should be less prevalent than the wild stuff, if only for dramatic reasons. (OK, for other reasons as well, but there it is.)
Most of the complaining I do about scenes is aimed at getting the mainstream bump shifted toward the wild side, and getting the middle bump to somehow spring into existence.
So that's what I'm doing, I'm trying to get a nonexistent bump to appear on a chart that exists only in my head. And the only reason I have for assuming I'm sane for trying to do this is: I KNOW THIS ABOUT MYSELF! (Which, granted, may not be enough.)
Well, there is the other thing. It all sounds very abstract when you put it in terms of numbers. But let's go back to that Birds of Prey Gladiatrix ep. What if the Gladiatrixes had been chained up inside their cages, maybe with collars around their necks, too, and gags so they couldn't talk amongst themselves and plan escapes and suchlike? Or use metahuman powers related to vocalizing, like Black Canary's canary cry?
Furthermore, what if their fighting costumes had been a little -- OK, a lot -- sexier than street clothes? Nothing outside the purview of prime-time network television, mind you. Spandex tights and loose halter tops that their breasts could flop around in as they fought would do just FINE and be way inside the network's radar. Prior to fighting, have 'em VISIBLY chained to the cage and gagged (so they can't use metahuman voice powers prior to fighting, donchaknow) and we got this show shifted WAY to the wild side of the scale.
Simple, and there's no reason the same sort of shifting couldn't go on with a LOT of other shows. Don't turn them into commercial bondage imagery, just shift them to the wild side a little and pump up the drama while you're at it.
This would hold EVEN MORE true of the indie, mainstream and Skinamax films that presently are doing a miserable job of making the middle of the chart anything but flatline.
Take the totally disgusting and useless Roger Corman exploitation flick "Arena." It's a film about fighting slavegirls in great Britain during the Roman Empire days. It was probably inspired by archaeological discoveries that proved that there were real female gladiators fighting in Roman arenas in Great Britain. But it was undoubtedly also inspired by Roger Corman's desire to cash in on the public interest created by the success of "Gladiator."
We've already detailed Arena's pathetic failings at presenting the slavegirl auction scene. But Arenais an all-round failure. It blows every single aspect of its story line. It has nudity, but no chains or bondage. And there's not that much nudity, just slavegirls serving their masters at a feast, a feast that's milder in nature than your average suburban swingers' party. Mildly giddy accountants in togas, if you get my drift.
The plot runs as follows: the slavegirls fall or don't fall for various hunky Romans and Britons, they're trained to fight in the titular arena, and eventually there's a revolt against the Evil Romans and most everybody dies.
When the slavegirls train and fight, they dress in rags, but they aren't particularly sexy rags. Nothing thongish, and the halters are not particularly sheer or revealing. I mean, what the hell were the people who made this film THINKING?!? Haven't they watched a single episode of Xena? Don't they know it's called SEXploitation films for a REASON?
OK, here's how I woulda done it. Prior to the big fight, the most fightingest slavegirl is confined to her cell. She's naked because that's how slavegirls are dressed when not in use and because this is an R-rated sexploitation so we're SUPPOSED to take their clothes off at every opportunity.
The slavegirl is bound in her cage awaiting a visit from her Evil Roman master. She is also gagged so she can't bite her master. Being a trained fighter she is very securely chained.
She loves a hunky Briton but the Evil Roman wants to sample her wares before she's killed or unattractively hacked up in the arena. There is nothing she can do to resist the Evil Roman's advances because of her bonds.
"We Romans have a saying, 'Woe to the vanquished,'" says the Evil Roman. "Now you will learn what it means. You are a slave, perhaps you are indifferent to me, perhaps you hate me, but it does not matter, so long as you fear me. I will now show you my power by forcing you to cry out in ecstasy beneath me, whether you will it or not. Tomorrow you may cry out in agony in the arena, whether you will it or not, and if you are vanquished, whether you live or die will be my decision, not yours."
Then we see the two of the make love, R-rated Skinamax style, with her still tied and gagged, and we make sure and get a closeup of her as she cries out in ecstasy through her gag, even as tears trickle down her face at how she is being forced.
This adds a lot to the scene where she's forced to acknowledge the Evil Roman in the arena ("We who are about to die salute you!") before battling to the death with whomever. It adds even more to the scene later in the movie when there's a big riot, when the heroine catches the Evil Roman alone and has her big fight with him, eventually shoving her short sword into his gut and giving him a disemboweling without dignity.
She says, "Woe to the vanquished!" while she's twisting the sword around in Evil Roman's guts.
Hey, this stuff just about writes itself for you when you pay attention to the imperatives of the cheese.
Point is, my rewrite of Arena isn't all that far outside the bounds of normalcy for a sexploitation flick (depending on how the sex in chains scene is filmed, it could be well within them) but still it pushes the bondage hotness factor way toward the wild side. Especially if you include my as-yet-unexplained training scenes. And if you do the slavegirl auction scene right.
Whenever I'm watching a film or TV show that has bondage scenes, or is a nice setup for a bondage scene, that's kinda what I'm thinking about -- what it might be. And that doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the scene. In fact, it kinda adds to it. Because when I watch a scene, I get two: the scene that's onscreen, and the scene that should be there. And so often, the scene that should be there is so much better than the one that actually is there, that it's the only one worth watching.