Friday, January 30, 1998

Look, Ma, I’m Fashionable! Leather/SM Goes Mainstream?

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #70, January 30, 1998)

Do you remember, a few years back, when only gay people went to drag shows? Then came Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and To Wong Fu, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, and suddenly drag shows were the hip, happening destination for straights as well. Drag has now gotten so ubiquitous that RuPaul’s hit talk show on the VH1 cable network doesn’t even raise eyebrows—Ru is just Sally Jesse Raphael with bigger hair.

Well, dear readers, we’re next. According to The Village Voice and Newsweek, your lifestyle of choice is either going mainstream or already there.

In an article titled “The Mainstreaming of Kink” in the November 4, 1997 issue of The Village Voice, Guy Trebay examines the increasing appearances of SM/BD imagery in mass culture. Among his examples: Janet Jackson’s nipple ring and proclamations of her high threshold of pain, and the poster for the movie Sick, featuring a portrait of the film’s “Supermasochist” subject, Bob Flanagan, “seminaked, collared, shackled, and with a 10-pound chrome weight suspended from his testicles. Is the image shocking? Not too shocking to post outside Manhattan theaters.” (As of this writing, the full text of this thought-provoking article is still available on the Web at

Newsweek offered a slightly more irreverent take on the subject in their December 29, 1997 issue on page 85. An article titled “Lick Me, Flog Me, Buy Me!” by Rick Marin is illustrated with the recent Bass Ale boot-licking ad and a photo of a waiter at La Nouvelle Justine, Manhattan’s currently-trendy SM-themed restaurant where, along with food, the menu includes such things as Verbal Abuse and Spanking for $20.

Long-time community members may say, “So what’s new?” Wasn’t it just a few years ago that Exit to Eden appeared in movie theaters (and very quickly disappeared)? Wasn’t it about the same time that Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke posed as Rob and Laura Petrie in bondage gear? Hasn’t Madonna already taken mass culture through this territory? Well, yes, and there have been many other instances in recent history where SM imagery has been appropriated to hype something or sell something.

But recently there’s been a change. SM/BD imagery used to be viewed by the general public as a shocking outrage (or at least titillating naughtiness). Now, instead of inspiring outrage, it provokes responses ranging from curiosity to a jaded yawn. SM imagery has become so non-threatening that even Pat Boone isn’t afraid of it.

This is the general public we’re speaking about, of course. How are we in the leather/SM community, for whom this is more than a fashion statement, supposed to react? What are we to think of this turn of events? Yes, Madison Avenue and Hollywood are appropriating our imagery and our heritage for commercial purposes, but it also raises the visibility and acceptance of the real thing. It makes us less threatening and more accessible. Some people who react to the imagery with curiosity may be moved to explore further and may find a home. Others will try to get into leather spaces and dungeons for gawking purposes only. As I’ve said in this column before, I don’t relish being part of the floor show; I’m sure there will be the times I’ll wish mass culture had found some other imagery to appropriate.

And you know what? That’s exactly what will happen. After our moment in the spotlight, mass culture will move on and find something else scandalous to glom onto, and we’ll be left to ourselves again. It may already be happening—Kate Betts, a top editor at Vogue, is quoted in Newsweek dismissing SM as “last year’s trend. You can buy leather pants at the Gap.” So there!

Upcoming Leather Events

Atons present Lights Out
Friday, January 30, 9 pm-1 am, Club Metro Underground, St. Paul
The Atons invite you to the first Thrust party of the year. I may have misspoken last issue when I said there’d be “lots of dancing,” but there will be music by DJ Wade Ellars; what that music accompanies is anybody’s guess. It’s safe to say there will be lots of leather and not much light. $5 at the door gets you free beer and non-alcoholic beverages from 9 pm to midnight.

Black Guard Pre-Run Party
Thursday, February 12, 9 pm-1 am, Club Metro Underground, St. Paul
Mingling among the Black Guard and other locals will be out-of-towners who’ve arrived early for . . .

Black Frost ’98
Friday-Sunday, February 13-15, various locations
The Black Guard present their 21st annual run. The host hotel is the Midway Days Inn, where run registration starts Friday at 7 pm. The run offers 16 sponsored events and parties with an “around the world” theme. Banquet and show on Saturday evening is at Tropix/Rear Entry; banquet-and-show-only tickets are available by phone (see below) and will also be available at the Thursday Pre-Run Party (see above.) On Saturday night after the banquet and show is a Leather Night at Tropix/Rear Entry ($5 cover—the Black Guard promises it will be worth it!) with some not-to-be-missed “super surprises.” Awards and Wind-Down Party are Sunday afternoon at the Brass Rail, followed by a Post-Wind-Down party at the Saloon from 6-10 pm.

All run registrations and requests for information are being handled by phone through The Travel Company. (Ask for the "Black Frost Desk.") Those dates are coming up fast so register now. Rates for the run package go up after February 1.

No comments:

Post a Comment