Week 8 film: Live Nude Girls Unite

We have some films coming up on our syllabus.  You are expected to watch the films before coming to class, and you should treat these films as required reading.

Both films, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson(DVD 3872) -week 11– and Live Nude Girls Unite(DVD 27535)week 8–have been placed on reserve at the Avery Fisher Center (which is now located on the 7th floor of Bobst library) for your class, Theories of Movement.  This item can be found (among other ways) by searching the film’s or your course’s name under the Course Reserves tab on BobCat.

Additionally, both films are streaming on Kanopy (which can be reached by NYU students via this link http://guides.nyu.edu/c.php?g=276687).  Find “Kanopy,” log in with your nyu id, then search “live nude girls unite.”

Post responses below.

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7 thoughts on “Week 8 film: Live Nude Girls Unite

  1. Margot Weiss’ Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality takes on a form that is different from the other materials we have encountered in this course so far. Last week, we got some theory-tied-with-personal narrative. This week, we’ve got ethnography and theory. The book consists of five chapters, starting with a sort of spacial analysis of the SM scene in and around San Franciso, CA in chapter 1. This chapter also sets the groundwork for Weiss’ theories about the connection between commercialism and SM, as well as the tricky balancing act that SM culture performs between recreating the normative power structures that surround it and turning those power structures around, “BDSM culture performances can reproduce material relations of inequality through mimesis or repetition; they can also produce new racial, gendered, and sexual knowledges, positionalities, and possibilities through resignification” (Weiss, 19). SM, to Weiss, toes the line between imaginative play (that is not only harmless, but in some practitioners’ eyes, subversive) and the real experience of living out oppressive social hierarchies.

    Chapter two deals with the extensive training and knowledge/experience accumulation it takes to become a practitioner of SM within the “new guard” which Weiss distinguishes from the “old guard” in this chapter as beginning in the 1980s and as being marked by major increases in safety regulations, rules, and classes. Weiss situates this in the historical context of the AIDs crisis, and relates the stricter rules and risk management with biopolitical forms of power. “As Foucault reminds us, practices of risk and safety are always tied to social power: techniques of the self were for men…” (Weiss, 64). Related to the social biopower of risk management, of course, is American neoliberalism’s project of “[shifting] from state responsibility (for security, safety, and health) to individual and community responsibility for safety…[and developing] indirect techniques for leading and controlling individuals without at the same time being responsible for them” (Weiss, 69-70). In the end, Weiss dismisses the dissatisfaction with the new guard’s obsession with regulating practitioners and argues that in the new guard scene, pleasure is derived directly from all the rules, since they give the scene autonomy, self-mastery, and the ability to construct itself within the apparatuses of sex/race/class (Weiss, 100).

    Chapter three focuses on the commercialism touched on in chapter one, “I argue that these circuits [between capitalism and embodiment, consumers and toys] produce… a body that is simultaneously divided into parts and extended through objects, both produced and transformed through consumption” (Weiss, 104). Weiss goes on to demarcate the various costs associated with successful participation in the Bay Area SM scene, which include the cost of parties, classes, memberships, munches, travel, toys equipment, and clothes, among other things. However, Weiss sees a little potentiality behind the consumerism, “although the objectification of the body, its divisibility into parts, and the commodification of BDSM all herald new forms of power and knowledge– of technique– they also suggest new possibilities for connection” (Weiss, 139). This is important for the longevity of the SM scene, but, Weiss adds, it also plays right into capitalism’s demand that subjects remain efficient and productive while functioning alongside (and as parts of) the newest technologies. Thus, the body becomes one of these new technologies, but it does so in order to serve the state, not transgress it.

    Chapter four discusses ambivalence, mimesis, and the desire to be transgressive that pervades the SM community. The chapter, like previous chapters, breaks down the reasons why SM might be considered a means to transgress gender norms, and also the reasons why it the community is also seen to reinforce those same norms it hopes to transgress. Eventually, Weiss dismantles such binaries, encouraging the investigation of “the politics of race, gender, and sexuality as they are intertwined, embodied, enacted and practices, lived and resisted by practitioners…” (Weiss, 184).

    Chapter five deals with “cultural and national trauma[s]” that are used in SM performances, like Slave Auctions, Master-Slave relationships, and “race-play”; “Nazi-play”, and torture scenes. Weiss notes that due to the prominent whiteness of the Bay Area SM community, people of color who participate at parties are almost always read as doing “race-play”. While the white participants see their use of terms that evoke the brutal history of slavery as neutral and harmless, their peers of color often do not (Weiss, 193-94). Weiss reads this type of play as dealing with material relations, “although sexuality is imagined as a break from material social relations, sexuality is, instead, the raw material of these circuits” (Weiss, 230). Thus, in “race-play” or “Nazi-play”, players seek to be triggered by certain “buttons” that are culturally traumatic and that reference real histories, giving them an edge. The fact that these taboo buttons to become raw material to be negotiated over and traded is where the materiality of the performance comes in.

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  2. n Margot Weiss’ BDSMA ethnography “Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality,” Weiss delves into the BDSM community and its practitioners, providing both strong critique and support for the community. Additionally, Weiss provides context as to how neoliberalism has infiltrated BDSM culture, corrupting it an making it a commodified byproduct of the white, upper middle-class demographic. As explained in her introduction, Weiss chapters proceed as follows: Chapter 1 outlines the correlation between the dot.com boom and gentrification and its effect on queer and BDSM culture in San Francisco, Chapter 2 explains the transition from the old guard to the new guard and the way rules, risk and safety have changed SM, Chapter 3 details the amount of consumerism involved in SM, Chapter 4 explores the transgressive mentality of SM and its effect on feminism, race relations, and heteronormativity, and Chapter 5 follows cases and documentation of racially motivated SM scenes. The over-arching theme from this book works to illuminate the tension between the supposedly transgressive nature of BDSM whilst simultaneously becoming an affect of neoliberalism, and I would argue, passive racism.
    As a result of this ethnography, I am interested in the way BDSM has become a criticized institution that is even sometimes deemed as too politically correct. Although some practitioners find this to be unfortunate, is not this the natural beast of institutionalization, even though that is to say that these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. As radical thought, or in this case radical sex, has tried to enter the common apparatus, a sort of “selling out” seems to be in practice with other forms of radicalism. For ideas to be recognized in our common conscious, they unfortunately have to play the insidious neoliberal game, therefore, can anything recognized by neoliberal consciousness be truly radical, and if so, does radicalism always have to be the end game? I think BDSMA has lost some of it radial and transgressive nature.
    In her last chapter, Weiss details the racial issues facing the SM community. I find that her interview with Tijanna to be the most exemplary of racial tension in the SM community. As Weiss seems to dance around every obvious issue with inter-racial playing, Tijanna voiced her concern that it is too real, that “it’s just too much like real slavery” (loc 2656). To me, this was a most obvious statement. As Weiss then switches gears to talking about Nazi and Jew play, I began to think about the privilege and ability to perform as a white body, white bodies have the option of the way they want to affect and perform, a choice that is just inherently denied from black and brown bodies. I would like to further discuss how this distinction functions in reality in class.

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  3. In Margot Weiss’s Techniques of Pleasue: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality, Weiss provides insight to the radical transformations that have taken place in the realm of the BDSM culture since its inception and provides a commentary on how white neoliberalism has inserted itself into this once queer atmosphere. BDSM culture is the ultimate lens through which a person can view subjectivity. BDSM requires a specific process of becoming a subject in order for the fantasy to truly be lived and experienced. Throughout the book while I was reading these people’s testimonies I kept hearing the idea of “play” and role theory being interjected into their conversation. They all agreed that they were not actually the people that they were enacting within these sexual encounters, yet at the same time while they were perfroming them, they felt like they were truly that person. I kept thinking about Richard Schechner’s commentary on performance and how each performer is experiencing a duality of the thing they are performing not being them, but also not not being them. I felt like these BDSM testimonies embodied that idea really well.
    Weiss writes, “subjects are produced in and through social power” (Weiss 25). There is a very real component to BDSM. It is a heightened reality. The power dynamic between the dom and submissive could not be formed without a very real structure in place for the body to feel that. BDSM draws on the real in a way that takes the mind to the corners beyond the limitations of the social norms of the time. Weiss states, “[s]ubject production is deeply tied not only to economic systems, but also to the shifting and culturally particular rationality is that justify the inequality produced by the systems” (Weiss 18). The rush comes from taking something that is “real” and making it “not real” through fantasy. These sexual performances were founded on taking the limitations of reality and going beyond that in a way in which the performer is left not knowing where the limit is anymore.
    To me, this is why the “whiteness” that has inserted itself into BDSM is so fascinating. BDSM stood for pushing the limits and the “unknown” or “lack of safety” is what made it so exciting. Weiss writes, “by canonizing rules and regulation for safe play – negotiations, safe words, dungeon rules, play prohibitions– And by forming the DMA, the scene is also attracting and producing certain kinds of practitioners. In these ways, the production, regulation, and control of safety and risk produce SM practitioners and further reinforce the kind of people dash white, professional, suburban – who find a home in this SM community” (Weiss 70). BDSM has become commodified, and because of this, has lost the flair that made it so powerful. BDSM becomes a thing that a couple does when they want to “spruce things up” rather than a lifestyle. By becoming “safe” it becomes boring and calculated: “[t]hese critics of both safe words and negotiation argue that by codifying very specific ways of doing SM, the intense connection that SM can create between partners is destroyed, that excessive negotiation will diminish interpersonal intimacy” (Weiss 82). Through this commodification process, this community of deviance has become exclusionary to those that do not match the style of deviance that is “acceptable to whiteness”. In this way it has become neoliberal, creating a harsh division between bodies through exclusionary tactics: “The BDSM scene—as well as its practitioners—perpetuates race and class inequality as well as it fosters social belonging” (Weiss 60).
    Two of the most fascinating passages for me were in Chapters 2 and 4 of the book. The one from Chapter 2 was from one of the interviews, where the person Weiss was interviewing stated: “[l]ike, if you go to college, to get a degree – well, you may be a smart person, but you went to nine yards to be certified and got the sheepskin to prove that you’re a player, you’re serious. That’s what it’s like in the dom world. If you’re serious, your confidence will show it in front of everybody. You do the workshop and then, of course, you get to the level where you can become a teacher and teach a workshop, which I’ve done, and then of course, you’re way up there: “Oh, this guys a teacher, he’s a master, he’s a guru. “(Weiss 76). It just made me laugh. This is such a white way of thinking. The whole “getting the degree” so you can seem a certain way that exhibits credibility and so on, is very exclusionary. It says that because you have something it “justifies” you telling someone else they are wrong. I just thought this section was so funny. Like of course we have to take something so pure and simple and make it complicated as a way of trying to take it away from someone else. The other passage that fascinated me was when she was talking about J. and Paul. Weiss wrote, “[t]he kind of man who might be submissive isn’t a real man, isn’t a masculine man. There is nothing “wrong “with a woman who enjoys submission (and it is this that disturbs feminist, submissive women). However, a submissive man risks his masculinity” (Weiss 176-177). It is interesting to me how this idea must have come from the shift in the ways in which people practiced BDSM. It just seemed like yet another example to me of white hetero male fragility, and how even in a world that is set in the realm of imagination, some men can’t let go of that.

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  4. In Margot Weiss’ Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality, she departs from the prior way of thinking that saw BDSM as a radical departure from capitalism or social relations, and instead frames it as a product of capitalism, describing a mutualistic relationship between the two. She uses the term “circuit” to describe BDSM as a practice that works “when connections are created between realms that are imagined as isolated and opposed”(Loc 181). The book is separated into five chapters.
    Chapter 1 explores the cultural history of Bay Area’s pansexual BDSM community and how it evolved with Silicon Valley and the Internet. She explains how a mixture of gentrification and the need for the Bay Area to have “spectacular display(s) of difference” for tourists led to a much more white population. According to her, San Francisco’s free and wild reputation is a product of queer tourism, and it has also developed alongside “crippling racism,” referring mainly to the housing discrimination (among other things) that targeted Chinese, Japanese, and African American residents. (Loc 682).
    Chapter 2 explores the irony of the fact that talking about and creating very specific and hard-lined rules and regulations has allowed much more freedom than nonverbal sex has ever allowed. The whole system relies on the concept of “risk” and the capitalistic/US notion of a “privatization of risk” or everyone looking out for themself, which Weiss argues is necessarily reliant on the economic capacity one has to prevent risk, making it a neoliberal justification of inequality. She also explores how many people from the old guard believe that nowadays, the community is too “safe” and “sanitized” and focused on rules, but she concludes that this is because of a need for autonomy.
    Chapter 3 is about the technology and toys in the community, and how they play a larger role in the social, political, and economic relations, mainly because of how they make the community reliant on “commodity exchange” (Loc 1410). She explains how the need to be fit and flexible mirrors the same need created by capitalism in this time period, and that it is indicative of productivity and efficiency, which is how we’ve been conditioned to see value. She also explores how capitalism has created the desire for this technology by making it extremely easy to purchase shiny, new toys with the rise of catalogs and online stores, transforming the scene from its “decidedly working class” origins to its place now as a “middle class preoccupation” (Loc 1456). Although members of the community insist money is not necessary to participate, many also cite a basic list of things you need to participate and feel like you belong.
    Chapter 4 explores how the community has unintentionally created its own value system based on how transgressive one is, wherein people who feel more “vanilla” feel embarrassed for being that way. She argues that the need to make BDSM transgressive or outside of the system in the first place only strengthens normative sexuality by delegitimizing BDSM as fantastic and different, as opposed to normalizing it, thus strengthening the boundary that you are trying to overcome.
    Chapter 5 essentially ties it all together, as she makes the point positive affect of BDSM differs from scene to scene, and is mainly useful to discuss within the context of specific scenarios. So, while a racialized slave scene might be borrowing images from horrific, traumatizing experiences, the effect of said scene could be to “enable the further disavowal of white privilege and racism”. This makes sense, as if her thesis is that BDSM is a performance not unlike any other under capitalism, then it should be judged like you would judge a performance under capitalism, not under the umbrella of every performance similar to it, but “in terms of their specific performative effects. (Loc 3081)

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  5. Techniques of Pleasure maps the methods through which the SM community in the Bay Area Weiss’s analysis focuses on the transition between the old guard to the new guard in the SM communities of the Bay Area. Weiss contributes this cultural shift in the SM community to the socio-economic shift as a result of the tech industry. She argues that this shift has expanded the SM community and made it more accessible to more people but has also implemented a regulatory, normalizing discipline in the name of ensuring credibility and safety, that has fundamentally transformed the meanings and practices of SM.

    What I found most interesting about Weiss’s analysis is the ways which she links increased consumerism and technology to the shifts in SM ideologies and communities transforming the deviant practices of SM into a normalizing, disciplinary force. One of the major problems Weiss identifies in this SM community is mediating access and authenticity. Many practitioners who were around in the days of the old guard seem to resent the accessibility afforded to newcomers who can ostensibly buy their way into lifestyle by having the right equipment. Others critique the ways in which SM regulatory institutions like Janet legitimizes “one true way” over other methods to ensure safety and legibility within larger society.“In these ways, the production, regulation, and control of safety of risk produces SM practitioners and further reinforces the kinds of people— white, professional, suburban— who find a home in the SM community” (70). The marriage of demographics of SM practitioners and new ideologies guiding conduct of SM practice is what produces the new guard of SM and creates tension between those who identify more strongly with the old guard.

    In what Weiss calls “circuits of pleasure” to describe the connection between people,objects, and spaces in the SM community and the ways in which these forces act upon one another to produce different affects and subjectivities. Weiss focuses specifically on the relationship between practitioners and objects in the practice of SM as both reflective of an affluence and acceptance of consumer culture but also highlights the ways in which SM objects are transformed into extensions of the body and tools for pleasure. Her analysis attempts to reconcile contradictions within SM practices particularly in looking at the mainstream consumerism that has defined the new guard of SM practitioners. She argues that the increased financial inaccessibility as well as play parties moving out of public spaces and into private homes are reflective of the increase in white, middle-class tech professionals that have moved into the area and become part of the new guard.

    Similarly to Preciado, Weiss explores a view of SM practices which views the body in terms of a collection of disparate parts working in concert to produce pleasure. This analysis is the most productive, in Foucauldian terms, because it re-imagines the body and objects in order to reveal to the subject new sensations and knowledge of the body. “Practitioner knowledge about the body and its parts grows, and this cycle of commodity-body-knowledge is transformative— and productive. The body in parts is also a body in play” (130). This analysis offers an anti-consumerist approach to SM objects that argues for a view of SM as a productive practice. Thinking with Foucault I find that these arguments around consumerism and SM practice as working in tandem to produce subjects satisfied and justified in their self-knowledge while complicit in materialistic, privatized consumerism.

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  6. Margot Weiss’ Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and Circuits of Sexuality, provides a theoretical analysis and ethnography of BDSM practices as they relate to larger ‘circuits’ of intersecting social and political performances, interwoven with personal account of people she met during her studies. In short, Weiss counters the claim of alternative sexual practices as ‘transgressive’ by first establishing the subjecthood of practitioners, citing Foucault’s Use of Pleasure, where he defines these techniques of self (techne) as the work “one performs on oneself, not only in order to bring one’s conduct into compliance with a given rule, but to attempt to transform oneself into the ethical subject of one’s behavior” (Foucault [1984] 1990, 27). In the case of BDSM, the community has a sort of language and labeling system, including interests, sexuality, and gender identifiers, which taxonomizes practitioners and establishes “community codes of conduct” (Weiss 40). Not only a sexual activity, “BDSM is an identity in practice, a deeply personal yet relational project of the self” (Weiss 40), thereby creating subjecthood. Weiss intends to reframe BDSM as “a social technique, a practice that—in concert with SM toys, rules, and rationalities — simultaneously produces practitioners and community” (Weiss 42), which also carries with it the implied social structures of any community outside of the ‘safe space’ of BDSM play. She also clarifies the intensity of the relationship between the BDSM community and late stage capitalism, which hails back to our conversation about subject/apparatus and thinly veiled perpetuation. The flux nature of post-Fordist late-stage capitalism perfectly caters to the sort of subversive/sort of hegemonic and highly monetized industry of BDSM (Weiss 45); BDSM is a “community of consumption” (Weiss 45). It is also important to note the ‘safe space’ concepts within the community (and the implied removal from social norms they claim) can also “help obscure the dense circuitry between public and private, between oppressive social hierarchies and free, individualized desires” (Weiss 55). Neoliberal values play a key role by sidestepping relationships of power in terms of race, gender, sexuality, with overarching themes of “free choice, individual agency, and personal responsibility” (Weiss 53), which in turn (through reproduction and mimesis), can bolster inequalities under the guise of ‘sexual transgressiveness’ and sex positivity.
    Chapter one is a regional case study of the complex web of the racially divided, tech heavy, highly gentrified, but famously queer friendly city of San Francisco. It focuses on its “complicated and contradictory queerness: San Francisco’s image as progressive, free, and sexually liberated is produced by and for queer tourism” (Weiss 103), centered around the capital that being ‘open’ can bring in. However, the industrializing of the city alongside a tourist boom in the 80’s made it “into a city for large, multinational corporations; tourists; and suburban commuters—not the diverse people of San Francisco” (Weiss 109). It is no coincidence that the popularizing and new toy-heavy BDSM scene boomed with the rise of Silicon Valley.

    Chapter two focuses on the technique of self and the divide between the classic subversive, outlaw nature of BDSM and the new rule-centric world. Weiss also focuses on the distinction between those who are allowed to choose risk, and those who are subject to risk not by choice. Before entering a neural playspace, Weiss quotes Bruce Braun in saying “if you are white and middle-class, ‘risk’ is something you take on voluntarily, not something you are subject to” (Weiss 189), therefore “the ability—or desire—to take on a socially constructed risk is one way in which the community is produced as white and middle class, and, cyclically, continues to appeal to—and produce—these same practitioners” (Weiss 190). These practitioners, with more dispensable time and income than some, “reproduce neoliberal cultural formations that sustain certain social stratifications: the social privilege of the ‘‘more-educated, more-knowledgeable, and moreaffluent people” (Weiss 204). The rules of the game, so to speak, inherently benefit this category of practitioner, and the erotic nature of the subjecthood and of rule is rooted in the cultivation of self in the BDSM community.
    Chapter 3 primarily discusses the commodification of BDSM and formation of a toy culture; “toys convey status and seriousness” (Weiss 230), and skill of practitioner is based upon the “discursivity of the commodity” (Weiss 231). Also, Weiss discusses the common sentiment that, apart from sexual energy, the exchange of some sort of ‘spiritual’ exchange, and coupled with required the exchange of cash for toys allows the user “to prosthetically bridge and reconfigure the bodies and relationships of the players in ways that are deeply connective” (Weiss 282).

    In chapter 4, Weiss clearly sets out to smash the idea that a playspace can be exempt from social structure, because “social norms are critical to subjectification: subjects are produced by social norms, and the performativity of this production reproduces social norm” (Weiss 325). Further, this reproduction can create an ambivalence for oppressed subjects.

    Chapter five was VERY interesting in its account of trauma scenes, often with weighty historical themes. Weiss makes the solid case that s/m scenes are inherently performances which can exhibit as well as bolster social relations found outside of the playspace. This is the circuit and the form of analysis required when analyzing BDSM culture.

    Overall, Weiss offers a way of viewing BDSM that strays from the argument that it is somehow subverting systems, and instead that, while BDSM is not oppressive by intent, there is a capability for it to be so. BDSM opens a door for new forms of social connection and self-evaluation, but also is not free from structures which dominate society.

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  7. I really enjoy when we’re able to read complete books because I feel that it paints a more detailed picture of the material we’re learning especially when there is an aspect of history that is involved. In Techniques of Pleasure, Margot Weiss covers the history as well as the inner workings and societal implications of the world of BDSM. What I found most interesting about this reading was the way in which capitalism was so closely tied to the ability to be a part of the SM community. I’ve never viewed sex or the ability to have sex a certain way to be a mechanism of the income and financial freedom that one has. Given that the SM community requires and is associated with certain apparatuses, equipment and, as Weiss frequently mentions, certain kinds of training and lessons in order to practice it properly. All of these are factors are only available through the leisure of expendable wealth and an adherence to a certain set of rules and guidelines. Weiss points out that these guidelines uphold a set of standards and expectations within the SM community, despite the fact that this group of people formed in an attempt to separate themselves from the rules and guidelines of “normal” sex, that say their practices are “abnormal”.
    Another aspect that I found really interesting through Weiss’ research is the idea of “play”. This concept of “building on the familiar to construct something new” (17) and the way in which this generates realistic play is really fascinating in the way that play isn’t always purely play. What I mean by this is the fact that everything involved with play comes from a real experience, something that actually occurred to an extent. This is what allows those actions to be regenerated, due to the fact that they were once experienced and are being reconfigured in a new setting. Weiss addresses that these real experiences add to the intensity behind these scenes that are being created and played out.
    The division of the book is split into five chapters, each examining an aspect of the SM community and culture and its relation to and within an overall societal realm. The first chapter delves into the formation of the SM scene and how it relates to the communities that surround it, while chapter two covers the shift within the community and how the governing aspects of the SM movement changed, as well as the ways in which mastery of roles and/or techniques play an important aspect in being a part of the BDSM community. Chapter three touches on (no pun intended) the use of toys within the community and made me think about a piece I read last year called Echoes in the Bones (I forget who the author is), but the piece talks about how tools become an extension of our bodies. I feel like this almost speaks to the concept in Testo Junkie of anything being able to become a sexual organ, such as hands and arms, through the way in which they are used and treated. The last two chapters cover play within an examination of justification and social construction and the ways in which these are navigated through the world of SM and what the implications of these practices are.

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