Making Erotica in the Modern Mainstream

The Story So Far: Having fallen out of favor in the 1960s, spanking scenes gradually slipped back into the mainstream as the last century came to an end, but in a very different form: what was once a spectacular form of punishment was now primarily a sexual game. That’s a much narrower context than the subject had occupied in its 20th-century heyday, and what’s more, there can be something rather awkward about watching a spanking when it’s essentially a form of sexual activity: if it is to go beyond mere porn, it needs to have the authenticity that comes from having a point to it, rather than being something that is indulged in for its own sake.

So it’s ironic that one of the ways in which spanking features in the modern mainstream is as porn.

In a 2005 episode of The Simpsons, ‘Home Away from Homer’, Bart and Milhouse discover a porn website created by two local students seeking to supplement their income. The item we actually get to see is this:

There is one obvious difference from actual porn, necessary in order for the episode to be broadcastable, and later remedied (if that’s the right word) in two different versions by a Chilean fan artist:

But the dialog nicely captures and exaggerates the bizarre nicheness of porn, its lack of connection to anything else in the world, when Katja, the girl in the red dress, says that utterly daft line: ‘Spank me again with little boy’s picture.’

So the authenticity of the spanking as represented erotica lies in its very lack of authenticity: the sense that it exists solely to cater to a specific taste that is no doubt meaningful to the person who has it, but defies outside understanding. (I’m talking about a picture of a little boy being used to spank a full-size girl, but the spanking fetish itself meets with comparable mystification among some of those who don’t share it.) There is no need of a fuller context, because in the genre being depicted, the only context is the sexual tastes of the reader, or viewer, for whom the material has been created.

This comes out clearly in a noticeably early example of this approach, in a 1988 edition of the indie comic book Southern Knights, about the adventures of a small legion of superheroes, three male and two female.

In the story ‘Conned’, the Knights are attending a science fiction convention, encountering geeky fans and and considering proposals to run their adventures in a comic book – which enables the writer, Henry Vogel, to satirize a lot of contemporary trends in comics. Pitches from Marble Comics and BC Comics are not quite what the Knights had in mind, and there’s also a striking treatment in graphic novel style, but what we’re waiting for is the submission from AM Comics (spoofing AC Comics, the publisher of Femforce).

Southern Knights 1

This is a ‘Good Girl Art’ version of the Knights, featuring exclusively Kristin and Connie, the two female members of the team, with particular attention to their physical attributes and those of their adversaries (also female, of course).

In the ensuing battle, Connie’s magic sword causes her opponent’s clothes to fall off,

and blonde Kristin is on the receiving end of a pre-fight vaunt about what dreadful fate is in store for her when she has been defeated:

Needless to say, AM Comics do not get the gig…

The point is that, even in a story designed and executed as a piece of fanservice, the spanking is crowbarred in apropos of nothing – which, in this meta context, is a wry and well taken observation. And because in this genre spanking doesn’t have to justify its existence (it’s there because the producer wants to sell to a consumer who wants it to be there), the imagery itself is often of a poor standard compared with mainstream material. That is expertly caught in the 2009 film The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, based on Rebecca Miller’s novel of the previous year.

The story concerns a desperate middle-aged woman, Pippa Lee (Robin Wright), who wants to do more than live vicariously through her husband and children, and whose extended autobiographical reminiscences illustrate the more interesting but less comfortable life she once had. Leaving home in her late teens to escape her speed-addicted mother, the younger Pippa (Blake Lively) moves in with her aunt, whose lesbian lover Kat (Julianne Moore) recruits her to participate in a series of erotic photoshoots. These continue for a few weeks before her aunt comes home unexpectedly, discovers what has been going on behind her back and puts a stop to it.

Kat’s objective is purportedly to illustrate a lesbian novel, though the strong impression is conveyed that these pictures are going to end up in something with far fewer pretensions to art. One sequence shows Pippa as a maid who is caught in a misdemeanor when her wealthy employer, played by Christin Sawyer Davis, comes home unexpectedly, though the parallel with what’s going to happen with Aunt Trish doesn’t extend as far as…

Blake Lively later told a reporter her thoughts while making the scene:

‘I finally have the most respectable job of my life, and I’m getting spanked.’

Exactly: this respectable acting job involves accurately portraying sleaze, complete with the hopeless ‘kneeling on the floor’ approach to OTK, the spanking implement not ordinarily found in the home (of non-kinksters, anyway), the oversized vintage underwear straight out of a post-War Klaw or Harrison shoot,

not to mention specialized fetish details like the top hat, just as obscurely inscrutable as the ‘little boy’s picture’ in The Simpsons. It is not, in itself, a piece of sleaze; but because it’s such a well observed simulation, it is also not particularly satisfying as a piece of spanking imagery. For that, we have to look at the lighter end of the spectrum, in all senses.

The House Bunny (2008) is a moderately amusing comedy in which a good-hearted former Playboy bunny girl (Anna Faris) gets a job as the house mother of a failing sorority, and turns it around by transforming the girls from social misfits to guy magnets – a scenario subsequently analysed to death (and beyond) by reviewers uncomfortable with the idea that some women might sometimes enjoy their own femininity, and with the possibility that feminine allure could ever, in any circumstances, be a source of female power. One of the transformees is the nerdy, inhibited sorority president Natalie (Emma Stone),

and one of the methods of metamorphosis is a calendar shoot, in which Natalie ends up as Miss December.

But in part of the sequence that didn’t make it into the final cut, the question of whether Natalie was Naughty or Nice may have implied a different answer:

Hmmm… Maybe, by modern lights, just a little too naughty for a movie that’s not aiming to be anything more than a piece of harmless sexy froth?

But the fact remains that erotica, in all its forms from girlie calendars to full-blown porn, is one arena where spanking remains a part of real life (albeit in a genre that does not itself depict real life or anything like it) – so ‘making erotica’ is one scenario in which the subject can still have a place in the broad-minded modern mainstream. But not the only one, as we shall start to see next time.

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