The New Normal

At the end of 1989, the indie comics publisher Innovation launched a short-lived space fantasy series called Legends of the Stargrazers, which survived for six issues until June 1990 and recounted the adventures of a team of female space traders drawn in the ‘Good Girl Art’ style of a generation or two earlier. The series authors were Cynthy J. Wood and Innovation’s publisher David Campiti, and the strips were drawn by Matt Thompson; but at least as important a creative influence was the ‘Good Girl’ artist Adam Hughes, who was commissioned to draw a set of fantasy scenes which became the issues’ wraparound covers, and were also marketed separately as an art portfolio. Hughes’ stunning pictures took elements of the format that Wood and Campiti had developed, often centering on the Stargrazers’ newest recruit, the young, blonde and pneumatic Julie Green.

The authors then developed the detail of the stories around the cover scenarios that Hughes had drawn; but one seems to have caused them some difficulty, which may explain why it only got used in the very last issue.

Biting her lower lip, the luckless and callipygean Julie gets a good spanking while her Stargrazing peers watch and point and laugh at her predicament. Here it is colored for the cover:

It’s not a particularly unusual ‘Good Girl’ scenario, and Hughes depicted it in a great piece of artwork, but it seems Wood and Campiti just couldn’t come up with a storyline that would get Julie properly spanked. What they wrote was, instead, the thinnest possible rationalization. In the overall narrative, one of the Stargrazers has to mate with a space dragon to save humanity, and this life-threatening mission must be undertaken by the youngest and most innocent of the group, meaning that Julie is chosen. There follows a page in which she reflects angstily on whether she will die, and how her friends will take it. One panel depicts how she imagines her boyfriend David will react:

An earlier throwaway reference has already established that David enjoys spanking her ‘a little too much’; but David himself is a throwaway character introduced purely for this panel, which in turn is there purely to justify the cover. What’s germane to our discussion today is the way it is attempted.

It would have been so easy to write Julie Green into a traditional ‘girl gets into trouble and is spanked for it’ story, which is probably what Adam Hughes imagined when he devised the scene. But even though they were both half a generation older than him, the authors opted to eschew that kind of ‘old normal’ scenario: instead of a punitive act that might be a bit sexy too, they made David explicitly a spanking fetishist. Spanking is treated as primarily sexual, with the punishment side of it merely a playful pretext rather than the fundamental objective.

And that was the ‘new normal’ for spanking that was emerging after a dark decade of disapproval in the 1980s: its default mainstream context in modern times is, literally or figuratively, the bedroom. Get ready for another extensive but selective demonstration of ubiquity:

Ho Sap el Ministre? (1991)

Whacked (2001)

Secretary (2002)

Federal Protection (2002)

Las Vias de Amor (2002)

Normal Adolescent Behavior (2007)

Kink, Inc. (2009)

Crank 2: High Voltage (2009)

Dinner for Schmucks (2010)

Nana to Kaoru 2 (2012)

Ten Rules for Sleeping Around (2013)

Peeples (2013)

Cuff Me! (2013)

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015; behind the scenes footage)

The Artist and the Pervert (2018)

Daddy Issues (2018)

So the question is, how did we get from this…

to this?

In other words, from the likes of Gidget (1959), Frederick Kohner’s play in which a teen is spanked by her future boyfriend for disobedience, to Euphoric Tendencies (2008), Tanya Marten’s play about how a frustrated writer is introduced to erotic spanking by a friend. Or, in a nutshell, how did we get from the old normal to the new?

We’ve already sketched out some of the route. The major social changes of the 1960s meant that Western culture grew franker about sexual relationships and more inhibited about spanking, especially in its ‘old normal’ form as a punitive practice. It became easier to talk directly about sex, and spanking slid gently away into the world of erotica and soft porn. But since those things only exist to service existing desires, spanking was still there, ready to make a comeback…

One thing that abetted that comeback was the vast expansion of media in the last few decades of the twentieth century. Now, there is a view that having more television channels means not more choice but more crap, and it’s certainly true that, at least in the short term, a less rigorous selection regime did not result in a wonderful flowering of human creativity. But it did mean an outlet for some kinds of material that would have struggled to get seen in the narrower analog world of before.

In the late 1980s, a French satellite channel launched a new adult service with a commercial in which a mad-haired lady presenter told prospective viewers, in a ‘nudge-nudge’ suggestive tone, about the kind of delights that would be on offer, some of which were reenacted by a couple of actors. Here’s a nice close-up of one of them:

At the climax of the spot, the presenter leaned forward conspiratorially to let the viewers in on a secret: ‘de temps en temps, leur donner une bonne fessée’ (from time to time he gives her a good spanking).

That’s almost certainly far, far superior to anything that might have been shown on the channel being advertised, but it serves as a fine illustration of how ‘adult’ material, including spanking, began to find its way back into mainstream discourse as part of a recognized repertoire of sexual material and practices.

Of course, that meant that a fair amount of the spanking scenes being produced and circulated appeared in sleaze comics and low-budget exploitation movies, which happened to be more easily and generally accessible than hitherto, and which I’ll illustrate with, as usual, a selection of the better done examples, albeit in most cases from exceedingly bad films and comics.

Bellas de Noche (1996)

La Ley del Revolver (1997)

Las Chambeadoras (1998)

Vampires of Sorority Row (1999)

Mayhem Motel (2001)

Max Hell, Frog Warrior (2002)

Skin Crawl (2007)

Splatter Movie: The Director’s Cut (2008)

Blood and Sex Nightmare (2008)

On the whole, I regard the easy online accessibility of erotic spanking imagery as a menace: it means that the subject’s public identity is dominated by low-grade, unimaginative material that is often far more tasteless, ugly and demeaning than anything in my sample selection. But it does also establish spanking as part of the recognized landscape of the human sexual imagination, because, as I have already said, the material simply would not exist if there weren’t significant numbers of people who fantasize about the subject.

Another menace is the blanket assumption, or misconception, among the makers of law and morality that what people enjoy watching, they will end up doing – which my own experience, at least, shows to be just not true. But that has at least given spanking a route out of the undergrowth and back up into the cultural mainstream: now that sex is an accepted part of life, so is spanking, so long as spanking is primarily sexual rather than retributive. And that’s the ‘new normal’ for spanking, in the bedroom rather than the woodshed.

That could mean nothing more than a lot of private fun for people so inclined, with less of the guilty baggage that all too often comes with kink; and that alone would be a positive social development, albeit in an arena to which we rightly have very limited access. But post-1960s liberalization also means that we are more willing to admit the world of sexuality into the stories we tell and the imagery we circulate, which is why there is that substantial body of spanking in the kind of mainstream, non-exploitation films and plays that I illustrated earlier in the article. The issue that comes with it is the ways in which this material rises above the voyeuristic, intrusive interest in other people’s sexual practices that marks out one species of porn: what are the mainstream spanking stories of the new normal? That is a topic we shall begin to explore next time.

6 thoughts on “The New Normal

  1. maitrefesseur says:

    Exquisite work, as always and a delight to read! Do we have any information as to what that French 80’s TV spot was called, i.e. which program it advertised? I have seen screencaps for so many years now, and your article provides the first solid information as to what they were actually from. Thanks!

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    • Harry says:

      I’m slightly surprised that you’ve seen those screen grabs before, because I made them myself from a VHS tape in 1996 and I don’t remember ever having sent them to anyone else and certainly have never seen them around online. But of course none of that really matters (I’m not precious about other people sharing and enjoying and circulating ‘my’ material, which isn’t really mine in any case), or rather none of it matters except for two words:

      1996…

      VHS…

      Meaning that (a) I had the tape in my possession when I was living on a different continent, and it’s in storage an ocean away, and (b) even if I had it more immediately accessible, and even if the tape itself hasn’t degraded in the intervening quarter of a century, I wouldn’t be able to play it on the equipment I now have.

      So what I described in the article is what I can remember. It was definitely French, not Belgian or French Canadian or whatever, and it was definitely a general advert for a forthcoming satellite station, or perhaps one late-night strand of programming, but not a particular show, and the content was obviously custom-made for the promo, not an extract from anything that was actually going to be shown on the station. So it isn’t evidence of a great unknown spanking scene – it is itself the (still great and almost unknown) spanking scene. I think the logo was a satellite of the type with two lateral dragonfly-like wings. I tried to identify the station when writing this, without success.

      So I’d be glad to hear from anyone who has more information, or, even better, the clip itself. It was a super little spanking scene and I for one would love to see it again.

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      • Harry says:

        Just one other point of clarification. When I said I made the screen grabs in 1996, it might have been helpful to have added that the tape was in my possession for several years before that. So don’t waste your time looking for mid-1990s channels!

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  2. maitrefesseur says:

    I can help with some clarification. I have not seen ALL of the stills provided by you, only one of them. So to see those additional frames is an extraordinary feat for me already. Also I highly appreciate the context you gave. What I saw, was one of those frames with the otk position and a caption below said “Oh, those French”. Nothing more. I always thought, but might be mistaken, that there was a connection with the original Cinema Swats series. Since I never could find anything out about it, I started to believe, because of the foldable chair, the pic might be from a wrestling situation. It is only thanks to your work, that I now learned what it originally was. Kudos to you, from my side.

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    • Harry says:

      No, nothing like it. When I say ‘wings’ I mean those (long, thin) rectangular receptors or solar panels projecting out from the (small) body of the satellite at ninety degrees. The whole satellite looked more bug than bird.

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