The Pleasure in Punishment

Let’s start with an incident in Jim Balent’s erotic indie comic book Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, about the adventures of a frequently naked warrior witch.

The model for Tarot is Balent’s wife, Holly Golightly, who is also the colorist for the series (and who, incidentally, can be seen here getting a spanking).

The series often features spanking (in broad terms), especially in Tarot’s annual battles with the Krampus, though there’s usually a little too much gynecology for some tastes, including mine. Fortunately that’s not an issue with the 2007 story ‘Hex in the City’, in which Tarot has a vision of the destruction of New York. She and her lover, Skeleton Man, go to the city to find the bomb, and track it down to ‘Kitty City’, the HQ of the villainous ‘Three Kittens’, but arrive to find the Kittens fighting over it with another group of villains, the Satanic School Girls of Doom. It turns out that they have jointly foiled a bomb plot yet another supervillain by the rather obvious name of Al Kayduh, but cannot agree who should have the honor of handing over the big banger to the authorities. The upshot is that it gets activated in the course of the fight, but the day is saved in a conclusion that will make every reader swell with (according to taste) either patriotic pride or nausea: the ghosts of some firefighters killed in the 9/11 attack turn up, still defending the city even after death, and deal with the device.

The story’s moment of interest comes when Skeleton Man intervenes, only to get a Naughty Schoolgirl’s trainer in the back of his neck.

‘You’re lucky I don’t hit girls,’ he tells her – but when she attacks him some more, he decides that he may not hit girls, but he does spank them.

‘Time to teach you a lesson,’ he says; and while she is at first dismayed, she is soon demanding, ‘Teach me some more!’ Evidently the spanking has had a somewhat different effect than intended. And even as she is evacuated out of the story, she’s trying to set up a second date (or lesson).

There’s a comparable case ten years earlier in a 1997 edition of Florence Magnin’s French comic book Mary la Noire (Black Mary), about the 18th-century adventures of a ghostly pirate ship, the Styx. The key incident happens after sailor Leister finds his fiancée Leonora in the arms of another man, which leads to a decking and a death threat for him and a ‘wait till I get you home’ moment for her.

And when he does get her home, a spanking:

In the right-hand panel, two of the ship’s spectres infer that she is being beaten, and resolve to investigate. Since they are ghosts, walls are no barrier to them,

which means there’s no privacy for a ‘delicious, dirty brute’ who has excited his lady with his strength and virility:

‘He’s not beating her,’ says one ghost to the other; ‘What have you been telling me?’ And they withdraw so that Leister and Leonora can enjoy their ‘take me, take me’ moment together.

These are stories that could have been told, with a somewhat different emphasis, in the days when spanking was still treated first and foremost as a punishment. The point can be illustrated exactly with the spanking scene in The Big Bang Theory, a Friends-like apartment-sharing sitcom in which the central characters are geeks. The episode ‘The Fish Guts Displacement’ (shown on December 6, 2012) dealt with the developing relationship between the repressed scientist Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and his girlfriend Amy, played by Mayim Bialik.

She is unwell at the start of the episode, and so enjoys being looked after by Sheldon that she pretends to be still sick after she has gotten better. Eventually he finds out, decides she must be punished and opts for something that is, in his own words, ‘a tad old school’:

The basic situation here is uncannily similar to an episode of the 1980s Mexican sitcom Cosas de Casados (Domestic Matters), about a married couple played by Miguel Palmer and Leticia Perdigón.

The series is a sort of latter-day I Love Lucy, often dealing with the wife Leticia’s crazy antics, which sometimes result in her ending the show like this:

In the episode in question, from 1985, she feigns illness, and just like Amy in The Big Bang Theory three decades later, we see her dancing around to music when alone, only to rush back to her sick-bed when Miguel arrives.

But just like Sheldon, Miguel is wise to the deception, and Leticia suffers the usual fate:

Two things are different in 2012. Understandably in view of changed norms, there’s a lot of pussy-footing preliminary discussion about what form Amy’s punishment should take, whereas in 1985 there’s no real question about what’s going to happen to Leticia: she’s turned straight over her husband’s knee for her just retribution. And in 2012, there’s a very different handling of how Amy feels about it:

‘Excuse me’ says Sheldon, ‘you’re not supposed to be enjoying this.’ Amy retorts, ‘Then maybe you should spank me harder.’ And clearly that means she enjoys it a whole lot more.

Naughty girls are indeed not supposed to enjoy being spanked, but even in ‘old school’ days they sometimes did, thanks to the latently sexual dimension of the act. That’s ultimately why it moved romantic relationships onwards in the mid-20th century, and still does with Sheldon and Amy in 2012 (even though, sadly but predictably, some closed-minded reviewers decided it was unacceptably ‘creepy’). But what has changed since the 1940s is that the sexual side of it has become a lot more overt, so that when someone sets out to punish by spanking, he may find that he has unwittingly given pleasure instead.

In more satirical kinds of fiction, he may never catch on. An early case in point is Megaton Man, created in 1984 by cartoonist Don Simpson as a parody of the superhero genre and endowed with brawn in inverse proportion to his brains.

In 1988, he created a smarter female counterpart, Ms Megaton Man,

and offered her in (or rather, partly in) her bikini for the swimsuit edition of Amazing Heroes:

In 1990, they were teamed up and assigned a secret underground headquarters, the Dork Cave. But it turns out that Megaton Man isn’t eager to have a teen sidekick foisted on him.

No, not because he’s preoccupied with crime-fighting. By his own admission, he’s a sexist and a racist. But it seems Ms Megaton Man has blinkers of her own: she can’t believe he doesn’t want her around, because she’s his greatest fan, and very keen to take their relationship further.

So she manipulates the situation to get what she thinks of as some sexual attention and he will think of as her just deserts:

One broken microscope? One sound spanking coming up!

And, as is obvious to everyone in the world except Megaton Man, that’s exactly what she wanted in the first place. (The upshot, however, is that, for all his apparent virility, Megaton Man turns out to be useless in bed.)

The dimmest spanker of them all has to be Stan Smith, the prudish title character of the long-running and ongoing animated comedy American Dad, voiced by Seth MacFarlane, who is married to the somewhat less repressed Francine, voiced by Wendy Schaal:

In the 2013 episode ‘Missing Kink’ (shown on April 14), Francine tells him she’s bored with conventional sex, but he won’t consider anything other than the divinely ordained missionary position. Fortunately for her, he has equally conservative views on family discipline, and when she demurs, gives her a demonstration of the harmlessness and efficacy of spanking.

Turned on, Francine wants to be spanked some more, but can only get him to do it by indirect means: she takes responsibility for their son’s misbehavior (‘because his mistakes are a reflection on my parenting’), and volunteers to be spanked for them.

This results in numerous manufactured misdeeds when the boy isn’t bad enough for her appetite:

Eventually he cottons on after catching her in the act, and reacts as expected: ‘This deviant behavior has no place in our bedroom.’ The rest of the episode chronicles a disastrous attempt to make Stan more sexually adventurous, after which the couple revert to their dull former sex life, and Francine gets her kicks from joining a sporting team, which customarily shows its solidarity like this:

Because it’s a kink of such long standing, spanking has always contained the potential for ambiguity: it can be either sexual or non-sexual, or even experienced one way even though intended the other. What gives the cross-purposes in these stories their distinctively modern spin is a change of emphasis: there is more attention, and often more agency, given to the spanked woman and how she actually feels, rather than how the spanker supposes she ought to feel. But sometimes this kind of mismatch between the participants’ expectations and objectives generates a more comically awkward kind of situation, to which we shall turn next time.

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