Explaining bdsm again: ah, Freudians…

It’s often said that bdsm is roughly where homosexuality was fifty or sixty years ago, in terms of social, political and media acceptance.

Rathbone’s textbook on bdsm, Anatomy of Masochism, definitely supports that idea. If anything, it’s more hostile, more overtly bigoted about the sexual desires of others than most psychologists would have been about gays and lesbians in the 1950s.

As well as coming up with a bizarre list of “causes” for bdsm, as seen in yesterday’s post, Rathbone also provided a helpful checklist of the distinguishing characteristics of “sadomasochists”.

Aw, not Nazis again. I hate those guys!

Aw, not Nazis again. I hate those guys!

You can sum up our personalities, we perverts, as being steeped in rigidity, fantasy, infantilism, hypocrisy, passivity and tension, also deceptiveness, pathological selfishness, and authoritarian politics. Did I say authoritarian? Well, Rathbone thinks it’s more a matter of our peculiar tendency towards Nazism. 

To Rathbone, it’s not just that all bdsm relationships are dysfunctional, it’s that bdsm is almost the only cause of relationship dysfunction. She wrote, “When a ‘love’-relationship is not loving, it is usually sadomasochistic.” 

Anatomy of Masochism’s bigotry is so overt and so intensely hostile that – as you can see – it’s essentially comic.

Still, it’d be an unlucky person who needed information and advice about their bdsm desires, and sought those things from a doctor or therapist whose perception of bdsm was guided by Rathbone’s book.

What causes bdsm? A Freudian knows!

So we’re picking up where we left off, in the series in which various scientists and psychologists try to come up with explanations for why some people are weird enough to like bdsm.

We had Karl Abraham’s theory that our bdsm desires are caused by teething. I wrote about that charmingly bonkers theory here: http://preview.tinyurl.com/nt54dmq
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And we had the team who studied “sadists” by dissecting the brains of dead axe murderers. Read it and weep! http://preview.tinyurl.com/mufu5h3
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June Rathbone, PhD

June Rathbone, PhD

But those guys are lightweights, since they offer only one explanation for bdsm each.

As far as I’ve found, the record holder, for the most – and I think it’s fair to say the craziest – explanations for bdsm is Dr June Rathbone, in her 2001 textbook Anatomy of Masochism.

Dr Rathbone dispenses bdsm explanations like a party magician gives out balloons.

For example, Dr Rathbone explained that we bdsm perverts suffer from “incomplete individuation”, by which she means that, having failed to develop as human beings, we avoid intimacy for fear that our personalities will be swamped by closeness to another person. We stave off intimacy by turning aggression outward if we are ‘sadists’, inward if we are ‘masochists’.

In addition, we are addictive personalities hooked on the endorphin rush of pain.

Moreover, we are stuck in Freud’s anal stage, unable to achieve normal sexual release because for us “the anus and buttocks are more erotogenic than the genitals.”

We also have Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, a hereditary condition involving “mental retardation, self-mutilation, and sudden aggressive behaviour.”

We probably also had a childhood fetish for rubber or plastic. Comic books are also to blame, and so is science fiction: “the mindless ruthlessness of most sci-fi is identical with the sadomasochistic compulsion to win at any price … and, when ingested in a steady diet, can only help to create or reinforce such a mind-set.”

Superhero comics are certainly to blame...

Superhero comics are certainly to blame…

Finally, Rathbone blamed bdsm on superhero comics, especially the body-revealing costumes. Also, Tom and Jerry cartoons. The weirdest thing was, she doesn’t blame rock music or marijuana.

You’ll have noticed that if you like bdsm, then Dr Rathbone doesn’t like you much, to an extent and level of intensity that goes well beyond mere bigotry. You’ll also have noticed that she’s a Freudian believer, taking seriously things like “the anal stage” and such.

There’s a connection between those two facts, which we’ll come to shortly. 

Freud: Masochistic women caused Nazism

Freud wasn’t all crank ideas about Edward de Vere writing Shakespeare’s plays, and Akhnaton possibly running off to Canaan and re-naming himself Moses. He also had amusingly crank ideas about bdsm.

My favourite, from Eros and Civilisation is that masochistic women are so opposed to the life force, in their desire for negation and destruction, that they’re responsible for Nazism. 

That’s a paraphrase, of course. But it is the argument. It’s not as if women, or gays, owe Freud any favours. Nor do we bdsm perverts. 

A Dangerous Method

I finally saw this last night. 

It’s a film that owes most of its fame, I think, to the few seconds of screen time that Michael Fassbender, as Carl Jung, spends spanking Keira Knightley, as a patient-turned-psychoanalist, Sabina Speilrein. Which is not in any way a hot scene, though Knightley’s character is appealingly happy to be spanked. But Ms Knightley’s bottom is bony enough to use as a letter-opener, though it’s a bit ungallant to say so. 

The film was written by Christopher Hampton, based on his stage play. I found it slightly odd, in a way, because Hampton does treat psychoanalysis almost with the disrespect it deserves. But if we accept that psychoanalysis was pseudoscience, and a conscious business product, then why do we need a film that takes its infighting over ideas seriously? I’d have found a film about the marketing of psychoanalysis more interesting. Because Freud’s influence lasted longer than it ever should have, and that’s an interesting story.

The soundtrack – Howard Shore adapting snippets of Wagner – is great. It may be the best thing about the film, and I may buy the disk.