Tucked away in the mass quantities of digital cable stations is OWN, which is none other than the Oprah Winfrey Network, of course. I’d never tuned to it before (I don’t happen to worship on the altar of Oprah), but last week, I heard about a program airing on there, so I recorded it, and John and I watched it last weekend.
Journalist Lisa Ling has a show called “This is America,” where she explores different facets of society. And, due to the popularity of The Book That Shall Not Be Named, she chose to explore the world of BDSM, then present it in a one-hour segment called “Shades of Kink.”
Probably needless for me to say, but I had a lot of issues with this program. But lest you think me a Negative Nellie, I’ll start with what I considered the positives.
1. At the start of the show, Ling stressed that while that book is just a fantasy, that the real BDSM lifestyle is much more complex. Yeah, duhhh… but a lot of people got misconceptions from that pile of clichés. The adult toy store talked about how, ever since that book, their floggers and ropes and so forth are flying off the shelves. But it’s not enough to buy this stuff; you have to know how to use it. Bingo.
2. The aspects of consensuality and scene pre-discussion were mentioned repeatedly. Talking with a kink-aware therapist, Ling asked, “What’s the difference between BDSM and abuse?” The therapist replied, “Consent.” Again, for us, duhhh… but it’s important for general society to know this and know it well.
3. The show dispelled the myth that sex is always included, that play partners are just fuck buddies in leather and latex. It emphasized the intensity, intimacy and psychology of kink, and that it’s a lot more than just foreplay.
4. They used a lot of common terms and defined them. I was tickled when I heard the term “pervertables.”
5. The top giving a brief spanking demo made a point of differentiating between hitting with a cupped hand vs. flat-handed. The former: crisp, satisfying sound and feel. The latter: a dull thud and the sensation of being clubbed. Amen. I’m not a seal.
6. They showed M/F, F/M, and a bit of F/F orientations, so there was variety. They also covered switching.
First of all, Lisa Ling seemed altogether a misfit to host this type of program. She was so clearly uncomfortable throughout — intrigued as a journalist, but somewhat creeped out personally (and doing her best to hide it). In an interview I saw elsewhere, she admitted she had a lot of negative notions about BDSM, especially after reading that book, which she did not like. (Yay, Lisa.) She asked all the proper questions and made the proper comments, but she was emotionally distant. During a scene where she was sitting in on a “Kink 101” class at the Pleasure Chest, she was very obviously uptight when they were demonstrating bondage to the audience and her wrists were tied together. Lighten up, Lisa. It’s an innocuous little demo. You’re not blindfolded and hog-tied naked in a dark room. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
I realize this is network television, not HBO, and they couldn’t show all that much. But I found the demos to be lame and staged (well, they were staged, but they didn’t have to be so obvious about it). It was more about posing and appearance than substance of scene: elaborate costumes and settings, implements and bondage furniture, bottoms in various positions of submission. The few strikes they showed were light, the reactions wooden. I know it’s nit-picking and this was meant for general audiences, but I would have liked to see just a tad more realism, rather than pomp and circumstance.
I couldn’t stand the segment with the domme and sub. I didn’t like her at all; maybe it’s because she bore an unfortunate resemblance to Ann Coulter, or she spoke with a mild Valley Girl affectation. Scott, her sub, had requested they not show his face. Uh… his whole damn face was showing underneath that eye mask he wore. And when they showed his torso, it was covered with tattoos. Like anyone who knew him wouldn’t recognize him? Who did he think he was kidding?? And with every demo strike the domme gave him, he parroted very quickly, “Thank you Miss Nina, thank you Miss Nina, thank you Miss Nina.” Come on… who does that? With every strike? Just once, I would have liked to see a real reaction, an “ouch,” a flinch, anything rather than a rote phrase.
The segment with the married couple who switch with one another was interesting, but also simplistic. She had a problem with submitting to him, so they go to a BDSM Bed & Breakfast, talk with the couple who runs it, she cries, and then poof. Cut to the two of them scening, and she’s submitting to him. Plus, when they showed their playroom and their massive display of implements, she mentioned how expensive implements are, and how you can make use of simple household items and not spend all that money. She bragged about how cheap their selection of wooden spoons was, for example. Uhhh, yeah. But did she mention how those cheapie kitchen utensils you buy for $3.99 a set will splinter and break if you breathe on them too hard?
While they stressed consensuality, they did not explain the concept of safe words, which I thought was a glaring omission. Love them or hate them, safe words are a part of the BDSM culture and should be part of general coverage. They did say the sub “can always say no” or can “always end the scene.” True. But it’s a lot more complicated than that, and the way they said it made it sound like the dreaded “topping from the bottom” (which they didn’t go into either).
With such a short time available to them, you’d think they might have delved into the basics more. But instead, they spent a good amount of time with a segment of play partners doing what they called “cigar play.” Huh?? OK, I don’t know everything there is to know, and I don’t pretend to. But I’ve been in the scene for nearly 17 years and I’ve never heard of this. He tied her up, placed her at his feet, then lit a big fat cigar. He then passed the tip of it along her body, her neck, her face, her ears, so she could feel the heat of it. He never touched her with it, but he came close, so she had to remain absolutely still. Then he puffed and blew the smoke all over her.
Granted, I had visceral reactions to this, mostly revulsion. I think cigars are gross and they stink. And I would probably flinch or twitch involuntarily and get burned. But really? Why choose this, of all possible scenarios, for a general sampling?
OK, so it’s better that programs like this are happening than not, I suppose. But this subject is so rich and complex, and involves so many people in some capacity, that I think it deserves more . I’d like to see another show like this, but with a). a host that isn’t so obviously detached from her topic, b). some interviews with well-known scene experts, c). more in-depth coverage of the individual kinks, and more realistic demonstrations, and d). wayyyy more time devoted to it. Perhaps a series of specials, rather than cramming the entire lifestyle into a hour (not even that, what with commercials and all).
Did any of you see this show? What did you think?