Homo Habilis Spankiens

In a 2010 episode of the college sitcom Community, right-on series regular Britta Perry, played by Gillian Jacobs,

accidentally offends another character’s conservative grandmother (Fran Bennett), and is told to go cut a switch. She does so and brings it back for the old lady to see, smugly congratulating herself on her cultural inclusiveness.

Other emotions take over when she’s told to drop her pants and get over Nana’s knee, and the switch is put to thorough use:

So now she’s showing off in a different sense: though the target area stays out of shot, we have heard her pants zipper being undone, which means she must be getting it on the seat of her panties. (At least, let’s hope she hasn’t been unwise enough to opt for a thong!)

Cut me a switch? Not everybody stops at just one…

If you’re out in the country, switches are readily to hand, and may even come pre-cut:

If not, there may be a handy piece of wood just lying around.

This was also the fate of Bunny Bartlett, the heroine of Anne Ferring Weatherly’s comedy A Mind of Her Own (1943), which was popular in high school productions for ten years or so (and then pretty much vanished without trace). The title tells us what she needs to learn she has: a mind of her own. She spends much of the play imitating other people’s opinions and behavior rather than thinking for herself, causing her family manifold troubles which explain and justify what her boyfriend Steve Henderson does: lays her across his knee and lays a board across her bottom, hard! A significant minority of productions eschewed such severity and opted for his hand instead,

but most kept firmly to the script:

As you can see, the size and shape of the board varied from production to production. And to show that size doesn’t matter, take a comedy moment from early in the Hal Roach movie Niagara Falls (1941), in which Margy Blake (Marjorie Woodworth) is trying to fix a blowout, and goes rooting around in the trunk of a nearby car in hopes of finding a pump.

The owner, traveling salesman Tom Brown (Tom Wilson), is a less than perfect Good Samaritan:

He explains that he took her for a thief, and the upshot is that she spends the rest of the scene, and beyond, nursing a smarting bottom.

Even the slightest brush with a passing car makes her wince:

It may not properly be a spanking scene, but it does produce a good five minutes’ worth of gags about her inability to sit down, far more than you generally get even after the full OTK treatment. (You can watch the movie here.)

What we are seeing is one of the typical activities of homo sapiens. No, I don’t mean whacking pretty girls on the bottom. Humanity is a tool-making species, and the transformation of a natural object, such as a tree branch, into an artefact that can be wielded, such as a board or plank of wood, leads on to the manufacture of a tool such as a stick, one of whose applications could be…

But not necessarily the only one: sticks are among the most basic of tools, and have many different uses. For the most part, spanking with an implement entails taking something that has been made for one purpose and using it to do something else: it is, in effect, an act of improvisation, in some cases more original than others. It follows that what you use will be determined where you are at the time the need arises. Next week we’ll see some rather peculiar examples.

4 thoughts on “Homo Habilis Spankiens

  1. Xen says:

    I’ve only recently discovered this blog, and just wanted to mention how delighted I am to see all these examples of how common the fascination with spanking has been for ages. I grew up in the 80s and had a good share of “startles,” (in sitcom reruns, cartoons, movies, books, comics etc), and a vague awareness that the older media was much more likely to have spanking scenes and references… but I honestly had no idea how prevalent it used to be in entertainment. My high schools did indeed do a production of Taming of the Shrew, and at the time I was thrilled with the scene occurring and simultaneously shocked that it was included. And now I’m disappointed that I was never willing to try watching the old Westerns my dad liked so much, since that seems to have a disproportionate amount of spanking!

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  2. iminwprnot says:

    As a long-time admirer of VS, I would like to offer an opinion of the “Community” TV “switch” scene. It is very appealing except for one aspect that – unless I manage to avoid this and concentrate on the foreground action – almost completely ruins it. That is the guy cringing in the background. I guess it’s not beyond imagining “what were they thinking?” but to me, the guy is ridiculously over-reacting. His posture and expression would make more sense if the girl (the focal part of the scene) was being hacked to pieces with a kitchen knife.

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    • Harry says:

      Thanks. I see just what you mean… but then, a lot of young people do overreact to spanking nowadays, and don’t adequately differentiate between that and the kind of more terminal assault you mention: for them, a young woman being spanked might as well be the same as a young woman being murdered, because they have no sense of scale or proportion about it. So let me offer you a ‘glass half full’ alternative option. If you consider the full circumstances, then you could take the young man’s reaction to be an interestingly complex one, with the (for modern youth) utter horror of the spanking overlaid with two different kinds of embarrassment (one, that Britta is in a state of undress, which is why his back is turned; the other that the outrage is being perpetrated by his own grandmother), plus the fact, because she is his grandma, he can’t intervene to stop it happening. So he’s completely paralysed – which is bad news for poor Britta!

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  3. iminwprnot says:

    I accept and appreciate your more nuanced or more thoughtful interpretation of the scene, but I remain perhaps too “weird” in this case, as one who is super-sensitive to pictures of… uh, well, you know what I mean. Having actually seen that bit of the “Community” video (and knowing practically NOTHING about the actual intent or basis of the program), I have to admit it is way less than ideal for me (“erotically”) in another (IMO) important respect: the actual motivation. As I recall, young Britta spoke to “grandma” in a very well-intended way, and what she said was not at all offensive; so it seemed to me, “grandma” was acting rather psychotically – a turn-off for me. Logical or plausible context is somehow very important to me. As I recall, Britta subsequently stated something about the “elder” being psycho – or evil – which does seem logical to me, but by then it was too late. So I have to supply my own imaginary plot and script to such scenes to avoid the turn-offs.

    (PS: If I may say so, I too was a fan of Dr. Who’s Sarah… back in the old days… speaking of imagining certain plot occurrences that never actually occurred.)

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