Someone Must Get Hurt: Kink in Popular & Underground Media
Fresh-faced Maggie Gyllenhaal crawling around in a tight pencil skirt. Boardwalk Empire's Gyp Rosetti, a volatile 6'2" Sicilian mafioso, prowling down a dim hallway in nothing but blood and a leash around his neck. Goth royalty Siouxsie Sioux crooning about sweat "carv[ing] a screenplay of discipline and devotion." At this point, you're probably asking yourself, "what in the world do these all have in common?" The answer to that question would be...BDSM.
It's 2021, and if you're reading this, you're most likely a millennial or a zoomer. No doubt you've blasted Rihanna's raunchy '10 hit, "S&M," in your friend's car, glanced over pin-up icon Bettie Page's XXX photoshoots, and/or had to listen to your mom & her gal pals praise the infamous Fifty Shades series. (Okay...I might be speaking from personal experience when it comes to the last one.)
Whether you know it or not, you're familiar with BDSM to some extent. "BDSM" is a Y2K-era abbreviation of all erotic practices that involve bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and/or sadomasochism. Sexual acts centered around dominating or submitting to one's partner have played out in countless bedrooms for centuries. Some historical figures took it a little too far, and are now looked at with revulsion by the BDSM community (see: Marquis de Sade's weird ass and his blasé attitude when it came to consent), while others have positively drawn upon the taboo beauty of sadomasochism to inspire their work (see: British designer Vivienne Westwood and her famous all-black bondage suit).
Today, it's hard to find some aspect of Western culture that HASN'T been inspired by leather, whips, & chains. From Janet Jackson's legendary R&B bop, "Nasty," to David Lynch's 80's cult classic, Blue Velvet, creatives in all fields have drawn upon BDSM when they're in need of that sexy, powerful element.
Here at Three of Swords, we're just as intrigued by all things kink. Our newest collection, Collection IV: Subspace, was influenced by an assortment of erotically-charged flicks, tunes, and artists. Curious to learn about a few? Check out our list, ranging from horror anime to 20th queer American photography, below!
1. BLIND BEAST
DIRECTOR: Yasuzo Masumura
YEAR RELEASED: 1969
IMDb SYNOPSIS: "With the help of his own mother (Noriko Sengoku), sightless sculptor Michio (Eiji Funakoshi) abducts gorgeous model Aki (Mako Midori) and brings her back to his lair -- a warehouse populated by demented art objects that mimic female bodies. There he forces the young beauty to endure a series of sadomasochistic mind games. But, as the weeks wear on, Aki becomes deeply immersed in the erotic torment she's put through, and she and Michio descend into animalistic depths of pleasure and pain."
WHY IT'S OUR BDSM FAVE: Fair warning here: there are some shaky issues when it comes to consent in this film. Aki, the abducted model, is tormented until she falls victim to Stockholm syndrome. It's only then that she becomes just as obsessed with being submissive to Michio's sexual and emotional dominance. Problematic elements aside, the cinematography is stunning, the acting is superb, the plot is unlike any other, and the chemistry between the two actors is undeniable. The final scene, which involves consensual dismemberment? Unforgettable.
2. "SIGNAL 30" (EPISODE 57 OF MAD MEN)
CREATOR: Matthew Weiner
EPISODE DIRECTOR: John Slattery
YEAR RELEASED: 2012
IMDb SYNPOSIS: "While Lane needs some help closing with a potential new client, Peter begins to crack under the pressure of both his home life and work life."
WHY IT'S OUR BDSM FAVE: While this entire episode is amazing (as is the overall series), there's one scene that stands out above the rest. Some context here: Pete Campbell, one of the show's protagonists, is a shifty, insecure account executive who feels emasculated by the men around him. His constant self-doubt becomes visible when he visits a local sex worker, who calls out numerous fantasies in an attempt to seduce him. The scene is as follows:
Sex Worker: "This is my first time. I'm kind of nervous."
Sex Worker: "You're my king."
As all television goes, you have to see it to really feel its significance. However, these few lines say everything you need to know about Pete and his character arc. He's not intrigued by purity or vulgar sexuality, but he does perk up at the mere mention of him having dominance over someone, even if it's all a façade. The scene between the two is one of my personal favorites in the entire series, and I highly recommend watching all 92 episodes.
3. HELLSING / HELLSING ULTIMATE
*Hellsing, a 90's drama/horror manga, was adapted twice: once as Hellsing, a 13-episode series, and twice as Hellsing Ultimate, a 10-episode OVA.
CREATOR: Kouta Hirano
DATE: 2001-2002 / 2006-2012
IMDb SYNOPSIS: "A British taskforce, lead by the daughter of the vampire hunter Prof. Van Helsing, battles the supernatural with the aid of two vampires."
WHY IT'S OUR BDSM FAVE: Where to start? A powerful vampire in a master/servant relationship with an indomitable, iron-willed human woman, who just happens to lead one of the most powerful organizations in the world? The same woman who demands his undying loyalty & controls his power at will?? Bondage-inspired suits galore??? We have no choice but to stan.
4. SHE WANTS REVENGE - SHE WANTS REVENGE
BAND: She Wants Revenge
ALBUM: She Wants Revenge
GENRE: Post-punk revival, darkwave
YEAR RELEASED: 2006
WHY IT'S OUR BDSM FAVE: Not only is this self-titled album chock-full of modern goth bops (and fronted by Justin Warfield, a man of color!), but all of the tracks have some element of BDSM to them. Whether it's the provocative teasing between two club patrons who obviously want to sleep together ("Out of Control"), the desperate woman pleading for her former lover to hurt her ("Sister"), or the man yearning to mentally and physically wreck the woman he's pursuing (the now well-known "Tear You Apart," popularized by AHS: Hotel), this album is perfect for raunchy club hookups & late-night trysts. Add it to your next bedroom playlist ASAP.
5. ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE
SPECIALIZATION: Black & white shots of portraits and still-life subjects
LIFE/DEATH: 1946 - 1989
WHY HE'S OUR BDSM FAVE: While his photos of calla lilies & celebrities are stunning, we're most inspired by his erotic art depicting the underground BDSM subculture of 70's New York. From latex-cloaked figures draped tenderly over benches to beautiful, nude black men posed in various states, Mapplethorpe's art is visceral & unforgettable. Although many of his shots are unquestionably NSFW, there is no doubt that he influenced countless artists during his life and after his unfortunate passing. It cannot go without mention that his work has received criticism, particularly regarding the dehumanization and hypersexualization of black men. That particular critique has valid points on both sides, so it is up to you to determine which side you fall on.
6. "THE BRAILLE ENCYCLOPEDIA"
AUTHOR: Grant Morrison
BOOK: Hotter Blood (collection of short stories from multiple horror authors)
YEAR PUBLISHED: 1991
CBR SYNPOSIS: "This disturbing little tale follows a young blind woman who has lived a sheltered life. While on a tour of France, she meets a man known as L'Index and he enthralls her with tales of the Braille Encyclopedia. She has led such a barren existence that she embraces the life he offers and she disappears.
She is holed up in a mansion along with a seemingly captured (and castrated) angel. She offers herself up to L'Index in some graphic sex scenes where we discover that L'Index's whole body is tattooed - in braille!"
WHY IT'S OUR BDSM FAVE: This story is terrifying, harrowing, and should be a warning to young women everywhere - don't trust odd strangers, especially ones who attempt to lure you down a crazy path like this one! Morrison's tale is not true to most people's BDSM experiences, and should not be regarded as such. With that said, the plot is fascinating, the writing is superb, and it truly deserves a read. If you're a fan of Clive Barker, then you'll undoubtedly enjoy "The Braille Encyclopedia".
And that's it! We would be writing for days if we were to include every BDSM-related film, song, etc. that we love, so we’re sure we missed some of your favorites. If so, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with your recommendations and a brief description as to why they deserve to be on this list. Yours may be included!