Friday, June 18, 2010


First, a quick link: this is COMPLETELY FUCKED. I'm not going to write a full entry on it, because other bloggers have said a lot already and it's very self-evident why this is fucked. But in case you hadn't heard about it, you should, because it's really fucked.


Last night I got the weird urge to rewatch Secretary. I kind of love this movie. Partly because it's just about my only option for positive portrayals of BDSM in the mainstream media; certainly it's the only positive portrayal of male domination that I can think of. Here are some of the things I love:

-James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal are so sexy oh my god.

-There are no stereotypical BDSM outfits and gear. God I'm sick of black leather strappy stuff--almost invariably on a woman or a comic-relief gay man--being shorthand for "kinky" in the media.

-The soundtrack is really nice. It's neither sleazy nor over-serious, but... languid, almost meditative, but not chaste. Leonard Cohen makes the sexy montage sexier, and "Chariots Rise" gets me close to sniffles.

-This is the only movie I've ever seen (including porn!) that shows a woman masturbating the way I actually do it! Let's hear it for face-down hand-humping!

-Maggie Gyllenhaal never loses her sympathy or dignity when doing very undignified things. Whether she's getting spanked or jerked off on or pissing herself in a wedding dress, she comes off as confused but brave, not objectified. She's also brave with her body, and does a nude scene that doesn't read as "ooh, the nude scene" but as symbolic of her character development.

-The way James Spader makes a better secretary out of Maggie Gyllenhaal is almost as hot as the actual kink and sex. Something in the patient, firm way he corrects her is fascinating to me. I can picture my own secretarial skills increasing immensely under such situations.

-Cosmopolitan Magazine shout-out!

-The ending where James Spader washes her and beds her on a completely fucking mysterious bed of grass. It's bizarre and a little romance-novely, but I love the way he worships her body without losing his Domliness.

-The scene where he jerks off on her back is so fucked up. In a good way. It's one of those experiences that's so fucked-up you can't even totally justify it in Kinkland, you can't justify it to anyone including yourself and your partner, it's crossing from the "tee hee so naughty" to the "really not okay." Even if crossing that line is rarely a good idea, I love to see it explored.


-"...and four peas."

And here are a few things I don't love:

-Maggie Gyllenhaal's only encounter with the BDSM world outside James Spader is a bunch of tomato-fetishizing freaks. What's up with that? They're not the only two kinky yet reasonable people in the world, and believing that you're the Only True Kinksters is, in reality, somewhere between snobby and dangerous.

-She coulda let her fiance down a little easier, for Christ's sake. She knew months in advance that he wasn't what she wanted, and her decision to go ahead with the wedding anyway isn't agonizingly conflicted, it's just assholish.

-Their "Justice of the Peace" wedding seems a little sad to me. I mean, maybe that's just the way they wanted it, but it seems like there's an implication that because they're kinky they must be isolated, that they couldn't have invited any friends and family to the wedding.

-At times the movie seems to have a certain "no actual kinksters were harmed" feel to it, like everyone did thorough library research on the subject but of course they're normal. I can understand why the cast and crew might not want to publicize such a thing, and I assume that someone involved in the writing was actually kinky, but it sometimes comes off as almost anthropological, a view from the outside.

-The sexual-harassment-tastic job interview.

-Horse tack? Complete with straw on the desk and a carrot in her mouth? Really? Really?

-Let's face it, "I'll sit at your desk until you marry me" is a little bit crazypants.


  1. re: completely fucked link - wow. just.. wow. "But the parents were always in the room..."

    re: Secretary - I may have to watch this...

  2. Oh god, I LOVE Secretary. I actually use it as a kind of a screening thing for boys--if they like it, they're probably good for me. If they go "oh god, that was so WEIRD. What the hell" then they are probably not going to be compatible with me. ;)

    There is just SO MUCH SEXY to that movie. I also thing it's a beautiful love story--their two characters are deeply internally broken (not related to their kink) but their brokenness lines up, and it is the kink that helps them find each other and connect with someone who is broken in the same way, or at least a compatible way.

    I agree that the "sitting at the desk till you love me" thing is really quite crazypants. But almost EVERY romance movie seems to end with some over the top "gesture of affection" that feels a bit more like crazy or stalker or whatever than it does love, but we run with it anyways. I run with this because when he tells her not to move, it changes from crazy to, well, still kinda crazy, but an example of her strength as a sub and her willingness to be strong for him and be his sub.

    The way he comes to her at the end, and yes, the weird random bed of grass... just so wonderful. So tender and caring!

    They are two deeply flawed characters, so I love the way they find each other, and how central sexuality is to that, to be so touching. I think it's a really sweet movie.

    Also, a really, really hot movie. Oh, so very hot.

  3. It's been a long time since I watched that movie, but it kind of pisses me off. I think it's partly because it has to carry the burden of being Designated Ambassador of BDSM, and partly because... well, it's what I do (though pretty soon, I'll have to stop saying that my job is just like the movie Secretary and start saying it's like The Librarian), and I couldn't get past how unprofessional Spader's character was.

    Imagine, for example, a movie about EMTs where they decide that their lifesaving gear is better used for kink purposes. Or where the EMT gets hired in the first place not because they can do the job, but because their supervisor is attracted to them. Not cool.

    Of course, the history of power dynamics and sexual harassment in secretarial work doesn't help either. (Well, it helps in that the movie probably was able to draw on that to sell the concept, but for me it was a major source of squick.)

    Missing the point, I know - plenty of fantasy stories (in the sense that they're meant to be fantasies rather than realistic, not the sword-and-sorcery sense) do this sort of thing, and when I can distance myself from it more I don't mind it nearly as much. But I really couldn't see much difference between Spader's character and this guy.

  4. It's worth listening to the commentary. IIRC, the horseplay was deliberately over the top to be funny.

    I think the ending is perfect. I didn't see it as "sitting here til you marry me" -- she's sitting there *til he tells her to stop.* I saw it as expressing her total commitment to what she wanted, which is also a way of expressing the fact that she *does* have power, despite the fact that she's a sub. It made me *get* the whole D/s thing like I never had before.

  5. I LOVE Secretary but I must agree with you on some of those points. There are certain scenes that are just a tad cringe-worthy.

  6. My favorite part about the movie, I I really loved the whole thing, was the scene where he finds out about her cutting and tells her to stop. I just love how that power was there...

    Oh and because I think only Tassia will get this:

  7. Jfpbookworm - I agree with some of your points, primarily because of something I should have put in above: the total lack of depiction of communication or consent. I know that "I'd like to spank you, can you tell me how you feel about that and whether it's something you'd like to try?" isn't Hollywood romantic or edgy, but the fact that they never explicitly talk onscreen about this thing they're doing is a little unsettling.

  8. Web - I get that it was supposed to be funny, but it just didn't work for me.

    I did listen to the commentary, and I found a lot of it interesting (like that they changed "what a fool am I" to "what grace have I" in "Chariots Rise," awwwww), but it also reinforced the "no actual kinksters were harmed" illusion. I can't ask Steven Shainberg to out himself (if there is anything to out), but the fact that he doesn't makes the whole thing seem... as I said, anthropological.

  9. I am not into BDSM, but this is perhaps my favorite movie....period! James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal are brilliant in their roles and have such terrific chemistry on the screen.

  10. she's sitting there *til he tells her to stop.* I saw it as expressing her total commitment to what she wanted, which is also a way of expressing the fact that she *does* have power, despite the fact that she's a sub. It made me *get* the whole D/s thing like I never had before.

    Actually, that's part of what crosses the line for me. I get that it's D/s, but what Spader's character does with the whole "sit at my desk until I tell you to stop" crosses the line from a power play into borderline abuse.

    After Gyllenhaal's character violently rejects the attention and affection of her now-ex fiancé, with Spader's character watching from he window, that should have been it. She passed the test, stuck to the rules even when Spader's character cheated and called up her ex.

    Everything after that? Just cruel. Yes, I get that it was about Spader's development at that point, and him coming to terms with his own dominance, but as a result the movie gives the impression that a D/s relationship is about the sub taking everything: good, bad, and indifferent. That's fine with a loving, trustworthy Dom, but Spader's character didn't fit the bill.

    To come at it from another angle, dominance isn't an excuse for irresponsibility. That Spader's character had to find out about Gyllenhaal's (character's) commitment in the newspaper is outrageous. When watching the movie, I kept hoping that the movie was playing a trick of perspective -- getting deeply into Gyllenhaal's head and being metaphorical. It wasn't, sadly, and the commentary didn't seem to even give the abrogation of responsibility a second thought.

    Other things I'll give a pass with the It's Just A Movie card, but in the process of a positive portrayal of submission the movie also gives a positive portrayal of bad, unsafe, lousy domination.

  11. the fact that they never explicitly talk onscreen about this thing they're doing is a little unsettling.

    Agreed. Am I also the only one that thought the bit with the cockroach on the bed at the end, while incredibly cute, was a textbook example of topping from the bottom?

  12. re: link - Unfortunately, that's the state of medical and drug research these days. Ethically questionable experiments done in a manner which don't give very scientifically useful results runs rampant throughout the industry. This seems to be in a large part because those who handle the financial side of the health care industry profit the most off of people who live long and suffer. So they encourage or even demand sloppy research, which tends to result in only minimally effective treatments. Even though this may not be the case here (unless someone plans to use it to convince more people to put their children through expensive, medically unnecessary procedures) it's a side effect of the whole dysfunction "culture" involved.

  13. Secretary was extra fun for me, because of my job at the time. Not that I had any relationship of the kind with my bosses, but the whole office had a lot of sexual (if not kinky) charge. Even if some of the elements were not my kink at all and the consent is all telepathic, still cool to see onscreen with good acting.

    So, the FGM link - I've been obsessing over this since I read it on Slog yesterday. Worst thing is that this is standard fucking treatment for any hint of intersexuality. (Wait until you hear the part about how they turn boys into "girls" rather than let them live with the shame of having a micropenis! For their own good, see.) And yet our country can be all high and mighty about those primitives over "there" practicing FGM. It's firing all my mama bear synapses and making me want to punch the world. At least the medical establishment and weak fucking parents. Since I'm something of a private activist against standard obstetrical care, I know this type of doc all too well. He's a rock star. He's perfecting his technique. He thinks he's a hero for making the standard of care "nerve sparing." He's got such authority that parents submit to his better judgment and think that what he does makes everything all better. Regardless of how it looks, I am certain he is not getting his rocks off by "stimulating" little girls. I am certain it is all about revising the techniques to him and that's the problem. That's why it seems completely logical to test the results of your technique on girl children who are at a critical age for the development of modesty and body image. That they may experience this as violation and humiliation is just a side-effect. That they are pressured to be good patients and cooperate and stuff any feelings of shame or confusion, well, hey, it could be worse! They could have to live with non-conforming genitals, which everyone knows is a fate worse than death. And they could certainly never find anyone willing to be their lover unless their appearance is "believable."

    This is excellent for further study on the subject:

  14. @chi: Yes, that. While I applaud the linked article's ethical objections, it was itself deeply repellent in the way it reified the binary.

    @Holly, OP: "This is the only movie I've ever seen (including porn!) that shows a woman masturbating the way I actually do it! Let's hear it for face-down hand-humping!"

    ::hoots'n'hollers:: Likewise. (This is why I'm not as impressed with Betty Dodson as many sex-pos folks are; she sez we're Doin It Rong. Something about rendering ourselves unable to appreciate the delicate caresses we're "supposed" to prefer ::eyeroll::.)


  15. @Nom de Plumage: I think the topping from the bottom part was really the point of the scene. And I like that, because it is another way to show that bottoms are not all powerless.

    Te whole cutting thing was what I disliked about the moive. It sort of reinforced the stereotype that one needs to be mentally disordered to be into BDSM.

  16. It sort of reinforced the stereotype that one needs to be mentally disordered to be into BDSM.

    Or alternately a D/s relationship is a cure for mental disorders.

  17. Can I just register my discontent with the kink scene's use of the phrase "topping from the bottom"? The point of kink (a part of what separates it from, y'know, abuse) is that both (or all...ahem) parties involved are getting enjoyment/satisfaction from their activities (whether or not that satisfaction takes the form of physical pleasure, blahblahblah), and that requires...negotiation. Now, I'm not saying that some bottoms can't be manipulative, or that that isn't a problem, but if I am bottoming and want to be smacked about exactly ten times in some very specific way and I tell my top that, that's not manipulation, that's negotiation. If that's not the kind of scene my partner wants, then he also gets to say that, and we come to some agreement--to do it one way, to take turns, to go play with other people, whatever. If making sure your partner enjoys and consents to your scene (again, whatever form that enjoyment may take) fucks with your Big Scary Domliness, then you're a shitty top.

  18. Or alternately a D/s relationship is a cure for mental disorders.

    I think that scene is borderline, but I've always felt like the movie is less about kink "curing" their problems and more about the two of them having to start dealing with their problems in order to have a healthy kinky relationship. Particularly once the big fallout comes -- Lee goes off, explores on her own, and comes back all fiery and articulate and communicative and shit ("I want to make love!") and then he has to catch up in order to be with her.

    @Leigh Olivia -- I totally agree. I don't think the term is useless, but I don't think it should be universally negative either. There are times where topping from the bottom is completely appropriate and mutually enjoyable. And it's way overused. Half the time I hear it thrown out it's just referring to a submissive having the nerve to have needs in a scene or relationship.

  19. Can I just register my discontent with the kink scene's use of the phrase "topping from the bottom"?

    Fair point. I thought that particular scene was on the manipulative side, but given the tone of the rest of the movie the cockroach falls under the Rule of Funny.

    So telepathic consent is weird. :)

  20. Leigh Olivia -- I have a similar problem with the word "scene", but I figure that many kinky people find it useful to have a word for "discrete block of doing kinky stuff"

    Likewise "topping from the bottom". Maybe it's a valid complaint in a very structured scene, where you have formal negotiation time and then one of you puts on their dom face and the other puts on their sub face and the top is supposed to be in control until the scene ends. But does anyone really do that?

    (I honestly have no idea. My fairly limited kink experience is stuff my wife and I have explored together, which doesn't require much formal negotiation. We talk about things we're interested in trying, and then maybe try them.)

  21. I actually didn't like the Secretary to the point where I didn't feel like watching it through. I was kind of bewildered to read The Girl and you advocating it.

    I thought that it didn't represent anything I believe, feel or think. Yeah, okay for the "humping-hand" part, but I've seen many, many movies featuring believable mastrubating, so it wasn't such a novelty for me. (W0t? You aren't a big fan of the Europian indie scene? Well, I'll be damned.) And I expected so much more.

    Like how does the dynamic magically "just start"? The job interview is the least of it. It made me think of the way porn blatantly starts of with characters just meant to hump each other - even if there's supposed to be a plot. Mind you, I don't need a plot for the porn to work, so I am not demanding better plots for porn - but I do want them with my Cinema, thanks. I felt complete abandon and hate watching the uncommunicative possession taking that seemed to me just so much deluded porn.

    Why did they start the dynamic? How did it happen? What are their feelings for each other?

    Maybe it's because so much was left unsaid in the beginning, and then later on the movies turned out so unbelievable and both the people so assholish in their interactions with fiancé/each other. It just didn't make sense to me.

    Also, for me, Maggie Gyllenhaal's expressions are a little bit too clueless. For me it felt like she was not at all aware of what was going down. That she expected something more to happen. It didn't feel to me like she was sated at any point. That with the fact that there was no negotiating telling me as a viewer that she did actually consent to being used in the way shown and not just to keep her job or in want of his affection left me feeling pretty damn far from hot. Yeah, a nice little secretary to fill your coffee cup and your other needs. Just what every man needs! (And will get, apparently, if they're good-looking.)

    It's a sad story, no matter what it tries to say. Reminds me of Holy Smoke which was supposed to be so "liberating" and ended up enforcing the thinking that to get a woman in line, you only need the right man for the job.

    But, it's been pointed out to me before, that my views on what constitutes a satisfying sexual relation are a lot different from that of many others and somewhat limited since I can't really wrap my mind around service and certain kinds of denial or control dynamics.

    And also, hi Holly! Love the way you write.

  22. Leonard Cohen's voice takes kinky to a whole new level. Can't think of anything I wouldn't do for Leonard.' getting hot in here.

  23. I work as a legal secretary.
    I can't hear a typewriter without getting a little wet.

    And yeah... Leonard is hot.