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Apr 25 2009

Anti-SM Hysteria? In San Francisco? (Moooo!)

(If you’re not a Bay Area resident, ask someone who is to explain the “Moooo!” joke.)

San franciscoYou know, there are some assumptions I make because I live in San Francisco. And one of those assumptions is that, when I pick up one of the local alternative free newspapers, I won’t find grossly bigoted misinformation being spread about my consensual sexual orientation.

I was wrong.

Kink.comSan Francisco residents may already be aware of the “Whipped and Gagged” piece that ran this week in the SF Weekly — a lurid and hysterical piece on the Kink.com porn production company, attempting to whip up outrage over the fact that Kink.com employees got technological training funds from the State of California… and equating consensual sadomasochism with torture. (Violet Blue does a thorough evisceration and debunking of the piece on SFAppeal.)

Consensual sadomasochismThe hysteria about “your taxes are paying for porn!” is irritating enough. (Kink.com is a legally recognized corporation in San Francisco, and had every legal right to apply for and receive these training funds.) But it’s nothing compared to the grotesque misinformation the piece spreads about SM. It repeatedly describes Kink.com’s films as “torture- based pornography” and “videos depicting sexualized torture,” and repeats the anti-porn canard that porn performers don’t want or freely choose the work, and only go into it out of economic desperation. (In fact, Kink.com is renowned for seeking out performers who are lifestyle players and who give authentic, enthusiastic performances — and for treating those performers well.)

I sent the following letter to the SF Weekly, both as a letter to the editor and as a direct email to the editor himself. I encourage all readers of this blog — especially those who live in the Bay Area — to send their own letters. They’re not going to know that we’re mad if we don’t tell them.

Editor:

I thought you should know that, as a direct result of Matt Smith’s bigoted and willfully ignorant piece “Whipped and Gagged,” I will no longer be picking up the SF Weekly, or looking at it online.

I would not read a paper that was luridly bigoted and hateful about gay people, and I have no interest in reading a paper that is so luridly bigoted and hateful about consensual sadomasochism. In equating consensual sadomasochism with torture, the piece fosters grotesque misinformation about sadomasochists. And Smith’s response to criticism about the piece makes it clear that he is not only unapologetic about this, but is likely to continue doing it in the future.

To try to whip up hostility and fear of sadomasochists in a town as proud of its sexual diversity as San Francisco is not only unethical, but one of the most foolish business choices I can imagine. Unless a sincere and strongly worded apology is forthcoming, you have lost at least one regular reader — and I suspect that this piece is losing you more. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Greta Christina

13 comments

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  1. 1
    Michael

    Just goes to show that moral panic can sweep almost any community.
    Nice touch on the “whip up hostility”!

  2. 2
    Mike Haubrich, FCD

    While I sometimes shy from using my real name in defense of SM, I am not going to hide it in such a situation. You have written an excellent letter.
    The videos produced by Kink.com are high-quality compared to most of the productions I see in the SM niche; and it is obvious from the interviews of the on-screen talent that they are happy with what they are doing.
    Thanks for speaking out, Greta.

  3. 3
    Iamcuriousblue

    Thanks for weighing in on this, Christina. I’ve blogged about this, but as a local, I definitely also should submit a letter to the editor letting them know how I feel as a community member.
    Unfortunately, this is actually part of an unfortunate sexually conservative editorial stance on the part of SF Weekly that dates back several years. I give some background over at my blog here.
    There’s another blog tracking responses to the article here:
    http://whippedandgagged.blogspot.com/

  4. 4
    Clytia

    Please can you explain the “Moooo!” joke?
    Living in New Zealand, I don’t know (or know of) anyone from the Bay Area.

  5. 5
    Greta Christina

    Please can you explain the “Moooo!” joke?

    There’s a dairy company in Berkeley (near San Francisco) called Berkeley Farms, and they have (or they used to have — I’m not sure, I don’t listen to the radio much anymore) a ubiquitous series of radio ads with the tagline, “Farms? In Berkeley?” followed by a cow mooing. It’s sort of a running joke in the Bay Area. When surprise is expressed at something happening in Berkeley or San Francisco that’s atypical for the area, people will sometimes moo afterwards. Like, “Republicans? In Berkeley? Moooo!”
    I know. Long explanation for a very small, “you had to be there” joke. But hey, you asked.

  6. 6
    Iamcuriousblue

    I got the reference right away, but didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag. I think you have to have grown up in the Bay Area and be of a certain age to get the reference. Kind of like “The Perfect 36 in San Jose” – remember that one?

  7. 7
    The Uncredible Hallq

    Apparently, I’m weird. The thing that sticks out most to me is the claim of “economic coercion.” Even if Kink.com were hiring models who weren’t into what they were doing, this charge would make no sense: Kink.com isn’t running around assassinating people’s bank accounts so they’ll be forced to do porn.
    Truth is, if we assume that adults can make reasonably intelligent decisions for themselves, there’s no way a company like Kink.com can harm anyone: either you judge that they pay you enough to make it worth working for them, in which case you benefit from the job, or you judge that the money isn’t enough, in which case nothing happens. This, by the way, is why sweatshops are good.

  8. 8
    Kelly

    (Sorry, off-topic. This is only in response to the link that The U.H. left)
    Uh…dude…sweatshops are about exploitation and oppression.
    Saying that extreme poverty is better than starvation is like saying it’s better to have just three limbs cut off as opposed to all four.
    Choosing between working in deplorable conditions vs. dealing with starvation reminds me of the free will argument for Christianity. You can choose whether or not to believe, but if you don’t believe you can bet your ass you’ll go to hell. If you do believe, however, there is always someone watching. What kind of a choice is that? It’s not a choice-it’s coercion.

  9. 9
    The Ridger

    Sweatshops are not good. They are run by corporations that could easily afford to pay decent wages and choose to exploit poverty instead. Working in one may be a person’s best current choice, but they are still evil.

  10. 10
    Iamcuriousblue

    Oh dear, threadjack into Libertarian Free Market Economics 101. The whole construct, as outlined on your blog, presupposes an absolutely level playing field between the sellers of labor and the corporations that buy it. And anybody with an ounce of awareness of how the real world operates knows that such a level playing field does not exist. Hence things like unions, collective bargaining, workplace regulation, etc.
    (Libertarianism (or what gets called that in the US – there are left libertarianisms, too) is spot-on when it comes to freedom of expression and personal autonomy issues, but unfortunately is tragically joined at the hip with an ideological devotion to a model of 19th Century robber-baron capitalism. It suffers from the opposite but equivalent problem that hard-line Marxism suffers from, basically.)
    Bringing this back to the subject at hand, if Melissa Farley and Matt Smith were right and Kink.com was offering desperately poor women much-needed cash in exchange for their consenting to be tortured on camera, that would be a truly detestable situation. That, however, is not what’s going on, and its also reprehensible to throw out accusations like that without having so much as spoken to the models involved. In other words, social action against injustice is a good thing, but paternalism and acting as unelected would-be savior is an utter bastardization of that.

  11. 11
    Emrys

    Wow, I can’t believe my secret porn visiting locations are now the subject of intelligent discussion! Although it happens to be sad in this circumstance.
    I’m going to go over to that SFN site to speak my mind on the article, but I do still have something to say on this post here. Christina: ‘consensual’ is nowhere to be seen in the definition of ‘torture,’ so I would still call the relevant BDSM practices torture. Or, at least, pretend torture, where physical, emotional, and mental distress is simulated in a sexually erotic fashion.
    The relevant idea is that consensual pretend torture =/= immoral torture. So anyway.
    @Hallq: Heh, “by the way.” Sure. ;)

  12. 12
    ArchangelChuck

    It’s just funny to me that what two consenting adults do in their own bedrooms on their own time is still a “moral issue,” in California of all places. We bumpkins always thought that “y’all was a buncha liberal deviants.”

  13. 13
    Jim

    (Off topic, but I can’t stand how everyone my age (late 20s) seems to be “discovering” free-market Libertarianism and deciding it’s this magical awesome philosophy. It’s simple and shallow. The slightest digging will come up with multitudes of problems)
    On topic, I don’t want to play Angel’s Advocate here, but did they characterize S&M as torture for the actors, or imply that they’re acting out torture? Because (not an S&M fan personally) isn’t some S&M acted out torture? Or are they implying the equivalent that all the Jews in Sophie’s Choice were actually tortured IRL?

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