T.J. Masters
Passionately Writing. Writing Passion.

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Community? What Community?

I first encountered the m/m community of readers, writers, publishers etc. a little over four years ago. I was enthralled by the fact that everyone was so warm and welcoming. Writers who, on the face of it were competitors, appeared to be the best of buddies and generally supportive of each other. It was a bit of a culture shock to discover that the majority of the community were women, both readers and writers. I welcomed the inclusivity of it all and I am happy to say that I have made some wonderful friends in the group.

Recent events have tarnished that point of view. We have endured dramas coming along one after another: catfishing, women writers, male writers, book piracy, LGBTQI rights, trolling and back-stabbing. At present the community sucks. I sometimes wonder how we have the hypocrisy to call ourselves a community at all.

We are supposed to be a community of writers and readers brought together by creativity and craft. I love the fact that social media has closed the distance, allowing our readers to interact with us, but expectations need to be managed. Writers need to write and we all have our own styles, our own values and beliefs and they should not be held to ransom or publicly trashed by readers who have a different set of beliefs or expectations. In my experience it is not uncommon to read a book that does not grab me in the way that others might. I do however, appreciate that there will be other readers out there who may love it. I simply close the book, chalk it up to experience and seek another author who may be writing what I want to read.

Even in our little community there are as many different styles of writer as there are readers picking up their books. We don’t have to love each other’s work but the least we can do is respect it and appreciate our shared endeavour. Surely the idea of a community is that a group of disparate individuals can come together in mutual respect and support for each other regardless of individual styles or circumstances? When you are aspiring or struggling, you need the group. When you are successful, the group needs you.

The biggest issues appear to be those outside the realms of the craft. The world in general has been brainwashed to accept dumbed down politics which includes bigotry, intolerance, bullying and the cult of personality. Our small world reflects that and I fear that the actions of a minority will tear apart all that is good about our community.

Wow, I hear you say. Tim is turning into the classic grumpy old man. Well yes, I may be, but somebody needs to stick their head above the parapet. I do not rant without reason and I am driven by two principles. Firstly I believe in the famous words of Edmund Burke:

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’

I cannot stand by and do nothing while our community destroys itself. Secondly, and to support that stance, I turn to the words of the poet Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’

So forgive me while I rage!

The m/m genre is being hijacked by sexual politics. In our rush to highlight and to defend the rights of each sub-group, we are losing sight of the real goal of equality. There can be no place for homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, ageism or any of the other prejudices which we see every day, even in our own community! In a misguided attempt at defending their own particular in-group, I fear that some of us end up expressing the kinds of prejudiced views we are surely trying to stamp out.

 As a gay man I have spent the last 45 years struggling against homophobia, misunderstanding, bullying and even physical attacks, but always with the same goal in mind: equal rights. Not equal rights as a gay man, but equal rights as a human being. There is a fundamental difference here. I am not a man who identifies as gay. That suggests some choice in the matter. I am a gay man who identifies as human. I just want to be equal.

It is my belief that in our struggle to be identified under one letter of the alphabet or another, we actually compartmentalise ourselves and fragment our power. Of course that causes a problem for our allies. It’s quite clear that bigotry is alive and kicking in our community just as it is in the world at large. If you wish to be part of a community then you must respect the whole community.  An ally of one part of the group must be an ally of all. The goal for all must be equality for all. Equal human rights. We cannot pick and choose which flavours we like from the sweetie jar, or which are our favourite letters of the alphabet. By definition, the politics of equality must be about global equality.

And by the way, respect for the rights of others needs to start with respect for ourselves. Anyone who posts licentious images of men’s sexual organs or of men having sex together is no ally of gay men! We may write about such things in the context of a story but the posting of graphic images is insulting to the imagination of our readers and offensive to a great many gay men. You would not tolerate such sexualising of women so when did it become okay to do it to us? The same goes for anyone who delivers salacious accounts of their own sexual activities. Where is your self respect? It used to be said that those who boasted of their sexual encounters probably weren’t getting any, while those who were getting it didn’t have the time to talk about it.

Our community has a unique opportunity to be a beacon of excellence for equality and creativity. Of course we should discuss the politics but that needs to be done in a climate of mutual respect and understanding. There is always a place for debate and discourse in civilised society when empathy and understanding replace aggression and offensive language. Maybe we need a mission statement or a manifesto and if anyone has any ideas along those lines I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, lets play nicely. Lets be open to tolerance and inclusion. It’s time to grow up kids! Let’s show the world how it’s done.

That Film: Climaxes and Anti-climaxes (1 day to go)

What a fuss. Where do we go from here?

First of all, if you are still with me on day 5 of my countdown then huge hugs from me because you are my kind of people. I began with an idea of writing five blog posts but only had content for the first four. I wasn’t sure how i was going to finish the series, but now that I’m here it seems an easy thing to do.

If you’ve followed me this far you’ll know that I’m not a fan of That Film. On the other hand, I’m known to be a very positive person, so why have I devoted so much time to discussing it? The answer to that is simple: I see every experience as a learning opportunity. There is no such thing as a bad experience so long as you can walk away from it a better person than you were before.

In June 1997 a book called Harry Potter And The Philosophers’s Stone was released. This quickly became very popular among young readers but had very mixed reviews and many detractors who condemned it’s supernatural themes and its dark story lines as being unsuitable for children. I was a school teacher at the time and merely thought the idea of the book to be a bit silly. I very quickly changed my mind when all around me children who did not normally choose to read were picking up the book. They were not just reading it, but became engrossed in the story and they were discussing characters and plots with each other. J.K. Rowling did more to encourage children to read than any educational initiative ever did. But how many of them went on to form witches covens and start practicing the black arts? I rest my case.

Lets jump forward fifteen years and the release of all three books in the Fifty Shades of Grey series. I was amazed at the hype, but if I was to comment on the book I felt that I should read it first.  You all know my feelings about how bad the book is, but I have also made clear that looking forward, That Book did three very positive things. First, it created a discussion both about books and about BDSM. Second, it made BDSM in romantic fiction mainstream. Because of this, the demand for similar content exploded. Thirdly, the content caused many readers to become aware of whole new genres of books that they had not picked up before. A readership was born and as a writer I have to celebrate that.

Of course there were consequences. There has been a lot of very bad BDSM written since then. Demands for sex toys spiked, as did call outs to fire and rescue services and visits to hospital A&E Departments.

So what of the film? Experience tells me that the enormous hype surrounding its release can never be matched by the product itself. I believe that those with doubts will stay away and those who have objections should stay away. For those who go to see it I suspect that they will enjoy it but may well end up feeling that it did not live up to the hype and that it may even be a bit of an anti-climax.

Of course the film will also have consequences. BDSM will be discussed even more and there will be other films spawned from it. This in turn will provide more opportunities for practitioners, writers, readers and film goers.

As we have seen, the sex toy industry and the DIY stores will experience a spike in sales. All of this is set to be repeated later when the DVD is released and again when film versions of the second and third books are released. I also hope that the film generates serious discussion about the problems both of domestic abuse and of non-consensual sex.

Fireman and hospital staff are bound to see an increase in their night shift entertainment and some painful lessons will be learned.

We’ve reached the end so I must declare my feelings about That Film. No, I will not be going to see it. As for its impact on my life going forward then the best I can say is that it will be no bad thing.

That Film: Do It Yourself (2 Days and Counting)

DIY: Ropes, chains and gaffer tape

As we get closer to the release date of That Film, I am overwhelmed by the many various ways that people are coming up with spoofs, parodies and spin-offs. My favorite so far is the set of images placing Disney couples in various scenes from Fifty Shades. So wrong and yet so funny.

Among the many retailers preparing to cash in on the event, to my mind, the most considered is DIY giant B&Q (American friends, think Home Depot) who sent a detailed memo to all of its 21,000 staff across 359 stores. Staff have been told to read the book and to prepare for an increase in demand for rope, cable ties and tape.

What i really like about this memo is the tone of its advice regarding “sensitive” customer questions about any of these products. Staff are urged to deal with any such queries in a “polite, helpful and respectful manner”.

Here for information is the full memo:

STAFF BRIEFING

PREPARATION FOR FIFTY SHADES OF GREY CUSTOMER QUERIES

OVERVIEW

Following the film release of Fifty Shades of Grey, B&Q employees may encounter increased customer product queries relating to rope, cable ties and masking or duck tape. Store Managers should anticipate the need for extra stock and store staff should read the following brief to prepare them to handle potentially sensitive customer questions.

WHAT IS HAPPENING?

On Saturday 14th February 2015 popular erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey will be released as a film and is expected to do well in the Box Office. Written by E.L. James, the story follows the relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young, successful business man, Christian Grey, who introduces her to the world of bondage and dominant/submissive sexual role play.

Preview footage depicts a notable scene from the book where Christian Grey visits a hardware store to purchase rope, cable ties and tape. Rather than bought for home improvement purposes, these products are intended to fulfil Mr Grey’s unconventional sexual pursuits.

WHY DOES IT AFFECT US?

As the UK’s leading DIY store, we stock many of the products featured in this notable scene and then used later in the film. When the book was released in 2012 DIY and hardware stores in the UK and US reported increased demand of certain products and queries from customers as they tried to recreate their own ‘Fifty Shades’ experiences. We need to be prepared for the same effect when the film is released this month.

B&Q’S POLICY

It is always B&Q’s policy that products should only be used for their designed purposes. Nevertheless, all staff should read this briefing notice to prepare for potentially sensitive customer enquiries and managers need to be aware of the implications that the film may have on stock levels.

STAFF BRIEFING

All staff are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the content of Fifty Shades of Grey by reading the novel or watching the film upon its release. Copies of the book will be delivered to each store and can be lent to staff on a one week basis. Understanding the storyline and how some products that B&Q stock feature in the film will better prepare staff for incoming queries.

Queries may be unusual and sensitive in nature but staff are reminded of B&Q’s commitment to assist customers in a polite, helpful and respectful manner. A level of discretion is also advised.

Store managers are requested to monitor stock levels of rope, cable ties, masking tape and duck tape to ensure that supplies do not run low. Fifty Shades of Grey is released in cinemas on Saturday 14th February 2015 and the busiest sales periods for these products are expected to run from Sunday 15th February to Sunday 1st March 2015 with a focus on weekend trading.

The date for the DVD and home entertainment release of Fifty Shades of Grey is yet to be confirmed but a second briefing may be issued closer to that time.

STAFF ARE ASKED TO KEEP THE CONTENTS OF THIS BRIEFING WITHIN THE COMPANY.

IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS RELATING TO THE CONTENTS OF THIS BRIEFING PLEASE SPEAK TO YOUR REGIONAL MANAGER.

Well done B&Q!

At the start of this blog series I mentioned that there were two BDSM themed films due for release. The second of these appears to harp back to a film style from the 1970’s of which I have already given many examples. The Duke of Burgundy  takes place (surprise surprise) in a big old manor house on the edge of a dark forest. The mansion is occupied by two women living in an intense BDSM relationship, although the film evolves into something far more complex than this.

There is a lot of bondage to be seen in this film but again there is little new about that. Before film makers were able to get away with so much nudity and blatant sex, it was often alluded to by the use of bondage. As far back as the forties and fifties we were watching great biblical epics from Cecil B. Demille who was no stranger to using chains, ropes and whips.

We also had the heroic lead couple in the original 1935 version of The 39 Steps forced to send a night handcuffed together. Even the great Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946) wakes to find himself tied to a couch and dominated by Lauren Bacall.

BDSM has also found its way into family films. I have already mentioned Princess Leia in bondage to Jaba The Hutt but she was tame by comparison to Cat Woman in the 1992 film Batman Returns. Michelle Pfeiffer’s PVC coated and whip-wielding character was surely the most obvious dominatrix in all of film history. She was however almost outdone by the nipple and bulge-defined bat suit worn by George Clooney.

As for the rest, Jafaar from Aladdin (Disney, 1992) had clearly seen Return of The Jedi before he dressed Princess Jasmine. Also, what about He-man in the 1987 Masters of The Universe? The scene where muscular Dolph Lundgren is flogged to the delight of Skeletor is not subtle. Staying with the S.F. theme, who can forget the topless Casper Van Dien being stretched and flogged with a single tailed whip in Starship Troopers.

So you see there is really nothing new about all of this. Nor is it the last time that we will be made to squirm with feigned discomfort at the sight of some forbidden activity portrayed on the silver screen.

Finally, speaking of squirming in discomfort, here is that  tampon scene, apparently too hot for inclusion in The Movie (Fifty Shades of Grey, p. 430) dished up for Cosmopolitan.com featuring Anna and Kristoff from Frozen

“He reaches between my legs and pulls out the blue string and gently takes my tampon out and tosses it into the nearby toilet. Sweet mother of all… jeez. And then he’s inside me.”

 

That Film: Dubcon (3 Days and Counting)

From dubious consent to unclean. 

For anyone who hasn’t heard the terms dubcon or noncon before, they come to us from the world of fan fiction. The terms are used by writers and others to refer to sexual activities which show or appear to show either non-consent or dubious consent.

Noncon is of course non consensual sex and is rape by any definition. Dub con, however, describes situations in which the character hesitates or may have questions but they do eventually agree to the activity. Of course, on later reflection they may again wish that they’d not given in but that just highlights the dubious nature of the consent.

During the run up to That Film opening this weekend, the whole question of dubious consent has surfaced just as it did when the book was first released. Many people are objecting to the film on the grounds that the main character is a misogynistic, abusive sociopath. They may be right. On the other hand we must temper such comments with the knowledge that many of the loudest protesters are objecting purely on the grounds that BDSM sex is perverted and ultimately wrong.

There is a case to answer when young, less experienced film goers see stalking, threats and physical violence being normalised and even glamourised on the screen.

Protests have been planned to take place at cinemas around the world to mark the release of the film, but as always there is more than one side to the story. We can be sure that the vast majority of those viewing the film and wanting to view it will be women.

As to why this is so, I refer you to my comments on day one of this series. Films like this allow us to experience our wildest fantasies vicariously and without fear of consequence. We are voyeurs of kinky sex and yet we can distance ourselves from it. We just need to remember that for some people the boundaries are blurred and the fantasy can fuel reality.

Another media news item about the film recently caught my attention. I like to think that actors take on film roles because they can invest in the character and add some value to it. It seems that as part of his research for the role of Mr Grey, actor Jamie Dornan visited at least one S&M club. He later chose to talk about this as part of an interview which appears in this month’s Elle UK fashion magazine. This is what he had to say:

I went there, they offered me a beer, and they did…whatever they were into. I saw a dominant with one of his two submissives,” he told ELLEabout the experience. “I was like: ‘Come on guys I know I’m not paying for this but I am expecting a show.’ It was an interesting evening. Then going back to my wife and newborn baby afterwards… I had a long shower before touching either of them.

If that really was his reaction, we have to wonder why he chose to play a role involving something so ‘dirty’?

Tomorrow we reach day 4 on this count down. I will be taking a quick look at why the staff of B&Q have been told to read the Fifty Shades book, then it’s on to another BDSM film releasing later this month.

That Film: Any Hope? (4 Days and Counting)

Scope for improvement.

I have written elsewhere of my mixed feelings about the book Fifty Shades of Grey . It’s poorly written, with bad grammar, naively clumsy prose and cringe-worthy introspection. And don’t get me started on the amateurish BDSM behaviour! Adapting the novel to film provides an opportunity to eradicate all of the literary problems; since the text of the story is replaced by dialogue and visual contexts these issues are no longer relevant. So there is some hope.

It is less certain that the gender politics or the dangerous BDSM practices will so easily be improved. If we accept our role as voyeurs in the cinema then the more calculated and obvious plots of films like this provide the cinematic equivalent of foreplay. It will be clear to the viewer, if not to the pretty subject, that she is going to end up in a bedroom – or even a dungeon.

The cinema is full of stories where the unwitting female lead walks blindly into an overwhelming entanglement for which she was not prepared. In so many films this is underlined by having her arrive at some huge, remote mansion where unknown horrors await. With Saló it was a remote Italian Villa. In Fifty Shades we can be sure that Mr Grey’s home will hold it’s visitor in awe. In the 1974 film Emmanuel the wife of an English diplomat finds herself at his luxurious Bangkok mansion embarking on an erotic bisexual rite of passage. Just a year later the same director brought us the Story of O with a sado-masochistic cult in a French chateau. This idea resurfaced in the 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut . The director, Stanley Kubrick, was no stranger to sexual transgressions in his films, and now had Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman titillating us among masked orgies in an extremely grand mansion setting. How much more mainstream can you get?

So far I have mentioned a collection of films that I have grown up with, but which were also widely known and watched in their day. I want to add two more to the catalogue  and for different reasons these seem to have passed under the radar of most film goers. First is Bertolucci’s 2003 film The Dreamers, which was based on Gilbert Adairs book The Holy Innocents. There is nothing holy about this film, in which a young American art student in Paris finds himself drawn into a complex and destructive menagé with an incestuous brother and sister.

My second choice here is the extraordinary 1975 french film The Beast  (La Béte). This shocking erotic fantasy was for many years refused a certificate in the UK until it was granted an 18 rating – just, in 2001. This time the pretty subject/victim is a naive young English heiress coming to a dilapidated French Chateau with a terrifying sexual curse on it.

If you want true, mainstream, cinematic erotica then it is these films which will satisfy your fetishist needs much more than any pale shades of grey will. Never since then have the sexual boundaries been explored and transgressed so confidently.

Well if you are still with me then tomorrow, with 3 days to go,  I’ll consider the gender politics of That Film. We might also consider the position of a star actor who feels ‘dirty’ around the subject matter of his latest film.

That Film: Nothing New (5 Days and counting)

Five days to Fifty Shades.

Five days from now a mainstream movie featuring BDSM will hit silver screens across the country. With all the hype about Fifty Shades of Grey you might be forgiven for expecting some huge leap forward in cinematic history; expectation around this film in advance of its release is something akin to a couple of young teenage boys discovering Dad’s secret porn stash. But let’s be honest here. This is precisely how the film going public have always behaved about such themes since films first started to be shown. For decades we have seen the cinema as a safe haven where we can experience and indulge in fantasies which would be considered shocking when the lights go up.

I can still remember the fuss over such milestones as the 1971 A Clockwork Orange and the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which marked climactic points in the cinema’s relationship with ‘torture porn’. These days, with such things as the recurring Saw franchise, we see them as somewhat tame. Of course some are still considered too much, and for example P.P. Passolini’s 1975 Saló, or 120 Days of Sodom still generates enough discomfort to be banned in several countries.

The BDSM themes do not have to be complex. The history of film making is paved with tales of beautiful people made to suffer for hours on end until release, escape, rescue or demise. Their predicament is staged in order to titillate us, and we love it. We get to witness our most outrageous fantasies without fear of consequence, no matter how socially unacceptable they might be in our real lives.

Of course we would never admit to being aroused or shocked by a movie because that’s just not cool. Countless great film directors have taught us how to be complete hypocrites about our voyeuristic love of BDSM in film.

If Fifty Shades  is to mark any new cinematic milestone it should be the one where we come out. It’s time to declare our love of all things kinky, sado-masochistic and fetishist.

In a considered bit of marketing, Universal have not allowed any advanced screenings of Fifty Shades to journalists or critics. Clearly there was a commercial decision made, that any less than glowing early reviews might effect the huge advanced sales of tickets. It already looks as though in it’s first weekend (Valentines weekend too) the film will out gross it’s closest mainstream relation, the 2002 film Secretary. Who could forget sexy Maggie Gyllenhall being ordered to crawl on all fours to her boss James Spader?

If you thought that BDSM and Kink were the prerogative of less mainstream or arthouse films you might be surprised. Let’s consider the most famous kinky slave scene in all of cinematic history. How many millions of men (and a few women) were squirming in their seats at the sight of Princess Leia in a gold bikini? It was not her costume alone but the fact that she was collared and chained to her Master Jabba The Hutt and the film was the huge 1983 hit, Return of the Jedi.

As the title of this post suggests, I’m counting down to Friday’s release of the ‘That film’, so come back tomorrow for day 4 and a look at why the film should be able to bypass some of the negatives of the book.