Wednesday, September 17, 2014

on flogging

I have now started this particular post four times. Five, if this one is successful.

I had great qualms about watching the 6th episode of Outlander on Starz. I knew, because I’ve read the book, that this would be the episode detailing how Jamie’s back came to be so scarred. Gabaldon shows her mastery of storytelling in this. In the books, we are not told all at once. It comes out in pieces, hints here and there...and then the full telling in all its horror.

I first learned about flogging from reading pirate romance novels....where someone (usually the heroine) was always being threatened with it, but it never happened. There’d be a lurid description of the cat-o’nine-tails with the knots tied into the end for maximum damage, but it wasn’t actually used on anyone. The threat alone was enough to maintain order.

And it was always pirates. Or the British Navy. I loved reading about Horatio Hornblower’s adventures. But even there, everything was muted. The horror hinted at, the blood implied. Gabaldon pulls no such punches. She gives it to you right between the eyes and adds a gut punch to the heart for good measure.

So why the unease at watching it play out on the screen? The answer is twofold. First, I was concerned it wouldn’t live up to the images in my head from the reading of it. Alfred Hitchcock made an entire career out of letting our imaginations make the scenes far more terrifying than if he showed us exactly what was going on. He’d give hints...the blood running down the drain...and let our minds fill in the horrible blanks. And my mind has. I have seen Jamie’s flogging in my head. Heard the sound of the skin tearing, seen the pain on his face mixed with determination, felt Jack Randall’s arousal. How could such terribleness be shown without destroying what I “saw’?

And second, what if it did live up to the images in my head? Could I stand to watch what Jamie bore?

I witnessed my first flogging from a Dom who knew what he was about. The thongs were made of soft deerskin, a gentle suede that massaged rather than cut. The sub told me later, the slap of the thongs on the skin warmed it, but didn’t hurt at all. Even as the Dom switched floggers and moved to one with stiffer ends, no damage was done. The endorphins were released without harm to the body.

I've been trying to figure out just why this is so important to me and it finally came after I'd written the rough draft for this post and gone to bed. Flogging is an important part of my books. All of my books have a flogging scene in them. Most of Mystic’s do, too. They are sensual, erotic, arousing. The act is the perfect symbol of the Dominant/submissive relationship. The bottom gives their body, the Top gives his/her restraint. There is a beauty to them, to the journey the two take together.

It's a journey Jack Randall perverts. He, too, is aroused by the power that flows down his arm. But its the power of destruction, even if he calls it (in the TV series) “art created by his arm on the lad’s back.” There is nothing beautiful about it, nothing freeing. It is pain given for punishment, true punishment.

To the general public, say the word "flogging" to them and that is the one they see - the painful, bloody one made sensational by dozens of pirate novels and the British Navy. It was outlawed by the US Navy in 1850, partly because of Herman Melville's description of such an incident. Flogging in the British Navy was pretty much stopped by 1881, although it was still an allowed punishment on the books until 1948.

Why am I moved to make this distinction between flogging for sexual release and flogging for punishment? I don’t know. Maybe because I still feel a need to justify writing stories with BDSM kinks. I’ve met many in that lifestyle who do no harm to one another, in fact, quite the opposite. The love and bond they share is one to be emulated.

But seeing a device called by the same name that brings pleasure bring such destruction...there's a line here that unnerves me and makes my heart hurt.

Play safe, everyone.


edited (again!) to add this link. The producers, directors and actors of Outlander were equally concerned about filming that scene.

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