Posts Tagged ‘kink in media’

I’m just about settled into my new place and I couldn’t be happier with its extreme peachyness. I’m sitting here at my quiet desk and finally ready to answer some questions again.

Fucking *phew*.

This week I watched the 2002 movie Secretary with my lover of 10 months, who is the first person with whom I’ve really explored any power exchange. He’d seen it before, but I hadn’t; I had heard that the kink community had some issues with the movie, and having now seen it, I can kind of understand why: I wasn’t thrilled myself with some of the connections it made, issues it glossed over, and so on. Still, since it does pick up themes of integrating one’s kink into one’s overall psyche in service of greater coherence and fulfillment — taking two people who are clearly pretty broken at the start of the movie, and moving them a fair distance along the path to wholeness — I’d be interested in your professional opinion and better-informed insights (personal or cultural). What was your take on it?

This isn’t so much an advice question, but I have such a love affair with this film that I had to take the opportunity to answer it anyway.

Secretary is by no means a perfect movie when it comes to portraying healthy kink, it’s true. The complaints I’ve heard include that the lead characters never talk about their desires, never negotiate, and that they’re both pretty severely damaged people.

When I hear these complaints, I have to think of Secretary the way I think of democracy: it’s the worst movie about kink, except for all the others. Yes, the film has problems of consent and agency and conflation with mental illness. But it also has something no other movie about kink I’ve ever seen has: compassion, love, acceptance, and a happy ending.

Besides: how boring a fucking movie would it be if it were full of happy healthy characters who talked about their feelings?

There’s always a difficulty when we attach political significance to a piece of art. How well, we ask, does the piece of art represent a particular culture? Does it break away from common stereotypes of marginalized people? Does it present a realistic view of their lives? Does it, in essence, make us look good?

The problem with this is that conflict is the essence of story. In my view, Secretary chooses a fantastic conflict for a couple of kinky characters: they’re both closeted and fearful about their kink, and unable to talk about it or exercise it healthily. For a while, they engage in the type of relationship I imagine many people engage in: one that is fraught, entirely without discussion, and filled with ambivalence. It has some healing effects, but is mostly Extremely Fucked Up. Only when one of the characters lays down the law in the form of an ultimate sacrifice does the other character see what responsibility he has taken – and picks up that mantle with pride and love.

At the end – which I think is what a lot of people miss – she tells him all of her stories, all of her scars, and he tells her about his. It’s touched on briefly, in voice-over, and it’s hard to hear because Maggie Gyllenhaal is lying there all naked and everything – but it’s there, and to me it’s the heart of the movie.

I also love that essentially, it’s a movie about a submissive who saves a dominant – by forcing him to stand up and be who he is.

I don’t think that Secretary is a great movie to show people whom you want to introduce to kink as a concept: it doesn’t portray the healthiest relationship (until the end), and it suggests that kink is, if not the result of a mental illness, at least a substitute for one. I think this is more of an advanced-class type thing: it portrays a particular couple with particular histories, and gives one example of how kink might work. But then, I don’t think the filmmakers made it to be a guidebook.

What it is to me, above all, is a beautiful love story, and an idealization of service. When he tells her that she will never cut herself again (one of the hottest scenes in film, in my opinion), she takes him seriously – and holds him to the responsibility he’s taken for her life. When he orders her to put her hands on the desk and not move, she enters a realm of sanctity in service that few submissives ever have the opportunity to experience – and at the same time, continues her challenge to him: can he stop being a furtive, noncommital, self-hating dominant and actually care for his submissive?

Of course we’d all rather they worked all of this out by talking. But would you watch that movie?

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