Damage Limitation

There’s a striking moment in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), a great James Bond film with a disappointing Bond, during one of the big set-piece ski chases. The villains are pursuing Bond and his fetching lady with machine guns across the white Alpine landscape, when one of them attempts a daring leap over an automated snowplow, but fails to clear it and lands inside, whereupon the plowed snow shooting out of the top of the machine turns red.

If you think about that too hard, it’s horrific. But in context, it comes across as blackly funny, capped off with a characteristic macabre quip from Bond: ‘He had lots of guts.’

That’s not dissimilar to the way mainstream spanking material handles the sensitive issue of the physical effects of spanking, which could easily, if represented with dour literalness, tip over into off-putting sadism.

Let’s start with an example from a genre where it’s difficult to take anything literally because of its inherent stylization: Japanese manga comics.

In Hikaru Yuzuki’s romantic series Boku No Konyakusha (My Fiancé; 1983), the beautiful but spoilt Shiina suffers the traditional fate of the beautiful and spoilt in romantic fiction:

We can see one of the consequences here:

Shiina is moved to further investigation, and finds:

Now, that’s not what a spanked bottom actually looks like. What we are shown instead is a gesture towards the physical effects, wittily underlining the causal connection by the recognizable shape of the mark that has been left on her. It’s not an uncommon theme in graphic art, like this one from Coco Selena Reyne:

The same visual trope is also often attempted in other media, though the orientation of the handprint is often inconsistent with an OTK spanking:

In case you need empirical proof of that, here it is:

Then there’s this statuesque iteration of the newborn, fully grown goddess Venus, after Botticelli but with a lot more botty, who appears to have been smacked into life by a midget rather than a midwife:

This is obviously not an approach that works in all mainstream contexts. The more family-friendly world of newspaper strips and comic books needs other ways to show that a girl has just been spanked. Let’s take a very basic example from a 1968 episode of the Italian comic book epic Storia del West (1967-80), in which Pat MacDonald is escorting the thieving Cheyenne girl Nettle Flower back to her tribe, against her will, while she keeps playing tricks on him.

Eventually she almost gets them both killed, and her reward is:

The odd thing about this is what isn’t there in the second picture. During the spanking itself, the graphical ‘explosion’ indicates that the artist, Renzo Calegari, is happy with non-literal visual devices to convey sound and movement, but he avoids using anything similar to show how her bottom feels in the aftermath. You know the sort of thing I mean:

It’s a frequently used, easily understood shorthand:

leads to…

Repeat for emphasis:

leads to…

And it remains legible to this day, as in this cute modern take on Bettie Page by the cartoonist Pat Lewis:

But for the strangest example of the lot, we go to Al Capp’s hillbilly strip Li’l Abner (1934-77), in which the hero’s girlfriend Daisy Mae was spanked no less than three times in the space of a year, July 1943 to July 1944

(but also, so far as is known, was not spanked at all in the rest of the series, although others were). Here’s the latest of the three:

And the one before won’t surprise anyone with its visual convention for a spanked bottom:

The same convention also appears in the earliest of the three, in which she uses knockout methods in an effort to get Abner to agree to marry her,

only to be spanked when he comes to. Regrettably, this one’s off-panel, but never mind, what we need to look at is the outcome:

What is for us a graphical device that shows how it feels, seems for those inside the strip to be literal, observable reality, something that ‘any fool can plainly see’.

Another, quite different technique also entails making the invisible visible. A handy initial example appears in a 1973 issue of Archie, in which the eponymous teen hero claims proficiency in tennis and joins with his spoilt (and occasionally spanked) girlfriend Veronica Lodge for a game of mixed doubles. This entails the exposure not only of Veronica’s pretty pink panties but also Archie’s complete lack of prowess, as seen in a serious failure of aim:

It’s not technically a spanking, in even the most imprecise usage of the word, just an unfortunate accident, but once again, it’s the after-effects we’re here to see:

It probably doesn’t do to try to think about that too hard: it’s not just a shadow where none should naturally fall,

nor do wholly non-translucent garments suddenly somehow reveal what’s going on underneath.

It’s not even clear whether it’s meant to convey a red bottom, a sore bottom or a hot bottom. All three distinct possibilities are available in this splendid 1976 piece by the Spanish cartoonist Iñigo:

‘When I said I would punish you very severely if you failed this exam, I meant it!’

And the combination of connotations is far richer and more powerful than any literal representation could possibly be:

Now, all of this can work very well when you’re dealing with spanking rendered in a non-literal medium,

but what about a literal one?

When photography gets involved, does it restrict the artist to simple denotation, meaning there’s nothing available between the stark alternatives of covered-up mainstream reticence and naked porn explicitness?

There’s a reason why I chose Blue Hawaii (1961) for my visual example, over and above the transition the two images effect from ink and paper to celluloid. Most movies and plays with spanking scenes (with the exception of the small minority that actually end with the spanking itself in progress) have to handle the aftermath. This means not only acknowledging that the bad girl has been spanked (with direct consequences that might include difficulty sitting down) but also, and ideally in the same scene, moving the action on from that climax to wherever it is going next. And this is something that is done with impressive expertise by the director of Blue Hawaii, Norman Taurog, and his veteran cinematographer, Charles Lang, who was also the director of photography for the spanking scenes in Ritzy (1927) and Cross My Heart (1946).

One objective of the immediately post-spanking scene is to show how Ellie (Jenny Maxwell) has now been effortlessly accepted by her peers, who eventually take her off to have fun together: that is the scene’s direction of travel. But it also acknowledges its point of departure in the way Jenny keeps casually signaling discomfort in her gluteal area without ever pulling focus or otherwise distracting from the primary purpose of the scene.

Many a movie has the spanked actress gingerly attending to her tender area afterwards, but in Blue Hawaii that’s the least of it. Hal Kanter’s screenplay also contributes a glorious exchange between Ellie and Miss Prentice, the teacher in charge of the teens on the Hawaiian trip. Ellie was spanked by Chad (Elvis Presley) after throwing herself into the sea in an effort to kill herself, so perhaps it’s to be expected that she has a sneeze or two to let out the following morning. Cue general concern, articulated by Miss Prentice in terms that elicit a coyly suggestive response from Ellie:

MISS PRENTICE: Ellie, I hope you didn’t catch a head cold last night.
ELLIE: No, ma’am, just the opposite.

And in case anyone doesn’t get that the opposite of a head cold is a hot bottom, Jenny Maxwell accompanies the line with a carefully timed rub of her rear.

Most remarkable of all is how Taurog and Lang go into the scene, with a fade from the ongoing spanking to a close-up of Ellie’s bottom, previously upturned but now planted on pillows two deep, which is obviously the only way she can join her fellow teens in sitting down to a communal breakfast. So the action moves from scene to scene with a visual underscoring of the principle of cause…

and effect:

And capping it all in suggestiveness are those red shorts supplied by costume designer Edith Head (who also did the wardrobe for so many other Hollywood spanking scenes that it would be tedious to list them all). It’s a clever way of showing that spanked Ellie has a bright red bottom, without the distasteful crudity of actually showing her bright red bottom.

And hurrah for that!

2 thoughts on “Damage Limitation

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