CAPTIVE AUDIENCES: an Intersection of Pleasure & Danger in the Public Pornography of Prison Rape [part 2]

14 January 2015

This, the second in a multipart post, reintroduces the theme of a public-collective rape fantasy centred on sexual assault in prison and then examines a problem of method in the use of binaries to analyze phenomena (like pleasure and danger). See the first part of this study here.

Introduction

In this paper, we analyse a public-collective rape fantasy centred on sexual assault in prison. We justify the use of the word fantasy for this in light of not only the wide disparity between an exaggerated public opinion regarding the actual frequency of sexual assault in prisons, even when presented with facts to the contrary, but also the public’s failure or reluctance to recognise both the actual character and typically consensual character of most inmate-on-inmate prison sex. The striking and awful fact that “society accepts inmate sexual assault as part of the price criminals pay for committing crimes” (Dumond & Dumond, 2002, pp. 74, emphasis added) points not simply to a prurience but perhaps also and actually vicious quality at work in cultural depictions of inmates in prison raping other inmates. Such depictions appear to serve in part to show raped human beings getting what, in the public’s imagination, they deserve.

This mismatch between recurrent narratives of prison rape in cultural productions—typically of white inmates, often white supremacists, sexually victimising weaker, non-protagonist, same-race inmates—runs explicitly contrary to the predominant state of sexual affairs and demographics in prisons. As a narrative that cultural discourse in the United States desires to repeat, its deviance from the facts of prison sexuality suggests something more akin to compulsive pornographic fantasy than to representational fiction per se. Leps (1992), surveying in considerable detail the interplay of literature’s “truth value” and the conceit of “objective knowledge” embodied in the popular press, demonstrates how (literary) fiction and ostensible non-fiction (in newspapers and other informational media) mutually reinforce one another and can swap places. Within a disciplinary society, then, a “fictional” depiction of prison rape becomes not only the “factual” basis for the public’s imagination about it but even provides a basis for academic studies and policy determinations about actual sexual assault in prison. As Leps notes, “the truth of a period corresponds not to the closest perception of a primary reality, but rather to the sets of information which, having been legitimized by institutions, organize the mode of being, the social arrangement, [and] the historic reality of people and product” (3).

We suggest that the carceral zone of prison, as one of the sites par excellence for the intersection of pleasure and danger, has become a place in the public imagination that positions us as either a “victim” or a “perpetrator” of prison rape, i.e., as either a consumer or producer of this variety of social pornography.[1] Moreover, we centre our analysis on male prison complexes and settings for three reasons. First, inasmuch as patriarchy frames rape (if not exclusively) as a male prerogative, then we should expect that culturally disseminated social pornography around rape in general will more permissively enable this narrative in a male setting; the vast number of cultural productions in this mode seems to bear this out. We may recognise, then, that the greater incidence of male prison rape fantasies arises not simply due to the greater number of male prisoners—facts in any case rarely dictate the course of a fantasy—but because such a setting better gratifies that fantasy, for reasons explored below. Second, the recurrent framing of the victim of sexual assault in prison as a “prison bitch” shines an especially illuminating spotlight on the several interconnecting issues of hierarchy, dominance, misogyny, violence, and racism that patriarchy thrives on. Social pornography, as something actively practiced in public view—in contrast to the private and generally hidden consumption of personal pornography—has an “in plain sight” aspect that we might readily overlook simply for being so obvious. Third, by analysing this strikingly “candid” representation of a collective rape fantasy in the (mostly) all-male setting of the prison, this then adds further to the tools and insights feminism brings both to efforts to dismantle patriarchy in general and to issues of sexual assault specifically. Moreover, by focusing on male prison rape in this way, we do not seek to re-centre perceived male-bodied individuals within a discourse rightly preoccupied with the more widespread cultural problem of sexual assault against perceived and actually female-bodied individuals; quite the contrary, we do in protest against a cultural discourse that fantasizes (both in its cultural productions and the public imagination) that male-on-male rape represents the most degrading form of punishment and is thus more heinous and serious than sexual assault against women.

Towards our goal to rupture the soap bubble of fantasy that surrounds cultural narratives of prison rape, we first summarise briefly in this paper a central tension between pleasure and danger that became especially acute during the “sex wars” and then introduce an analytic method for more fruitfully teasing out the contradictions and dilemmas that result from this pleasure/danger binary in the first place. Stated briefly in anticipation, a public (academic and narrative) discomfort over the intersection of pleasure and danger has engendered tangles in the public discourse about it that our analytic proposes to sort out. Next, by applying this analytic specifically to the historically troubling notion of personal (not collective) rape fantasies—as another site par excellence where pleasure and danger merge disturbingly—this helps to expose and de-scaffold the mythologies and discourses that inform the social pornography of collective prison rape fantasies in general. This not only portends to open a crack in the ostensibly monolithic and impenetrable walls of the carceral panopticon itself to disclose more factual narratives about prison sex generally, but also refocuses our attention, within the dominant narrative context of social pornography around prison rape itself, on the more prevalent perpetrator of such rape: the prison, not the inmates.

Gaping the Pleasure/Danger Binary

Contrary to standard assumptions and procedures, every dichotomous binary (like pleasure/danger) deploys four, not two, analytical categories.

For the pleasure/danger binary, this entails that in addition to the two “openly” defined and acknowledged categories of pleasure and danger, the binary also invokes two “unspoken” (sometimes “unspeakable”) categories as well: danger-pleasure (or the pleasure of danger) and pleasure-danger (or the danger of pleasure). To provide only a briefest example simply to make more clear what this means, even the most elementary dichotomous binary true/false includes in it the two unspoken categories of false-true and true-false, i.e., that which remains false even within truth, and that which is true even within what is taken as false, respectively.

To understand the analytical and political function of these unspoken categories becomes crucial and helpful for untangling some of the difficulties that the uncomfortable intersection of pleasure and danger have engendered in public discourse about it. This, because these unspoken categories point not only to the unspeakable per se, but also to those issues or people that the dominant discourse either would prefer not to have speak or participate in public discourse in the first place or, barring that, would frame (compassionately or not, patronisingly or not) as deviant, mentally ill, criminal, taboo, interdicted, marginal, non-real, unrecognisable, &c.

At times, these unspeakable categories persist as open secrets—as, for example, in the historical social norm that had plantation owners in the US south keeping an octaroon mistress as a necessary accoutrement of their wealth, or at that moment in Forster, Addica, and Rokos’ (2001) Monster’s Ball when Peter Boyle’s character offers a more contemporaneous iteration of this notion, telling his son that a man’s not really a (white) man until he’s had sex with a (black) woman . At other times, social knowledge in principal requires these unspeakable categories to remain silenced or unheard; cases include the expulsion of NAMBLA from national gay liberation efforts (Thorstad, 1991), the initially ungraceful receptions of lesbian BDSM practitioners by a then-dominant feminist discourse (Rubin, 1975), exclusion of transsexuals from women’s music festivals (Rowe, 2014), denunciations of mixed-race critics by proponents of “one-drop rule” politics (Byrd, 2007), and so forth. In general, where the dominant discourse cannot enforce the “limits of the sayable” (Leps, 1992) within public discourse through outright silencing or a marginalization equivalent to silencing, then the interdicted topic at issue may or will appear in discourse pre-eminently in the form of social pornography.[2]

Thus, in a discourse where “pleasure” and “danger” supply our categories for looking—and no one suggests by this that these must be the only two ways to look—we may readily expect, and even predict, that those who favourably avow fantasies about rape—as one of the unspeakable intersections of pleasure and danger—will find themselves either as targets for repression or marginalization or labelled in social pornography as deviant. In terms of the binary “pleasure” or “danger,” this unspeakable claim for a danger-pleasure leaves critics, with methodologically only two available categories to choose from , little choice but to stigmatise it as a “danger” precisely since the fantasists has troublingly named it a “pleasure.” Such an expression of desire, the dominating discourse will tend to insist, clearly cannot or must not be permitted to occupy or stake a claim in that that region of culture and discourse delimited as “pleasure”.

Of course, this stigmatisation need not always be ill-intentioned or moralistic. While some cultural commentators will indignantly dismiss rape fantasies as inherently deviant, nonetheless even a less bigoted critic, trying to engage the issue, will be faced with choosing—if they accept the pleasure/danger binary as legitimate in the first place—between either “pleasure” or “danger” as the category for making sense of a claim for the erotic validity in rape fantasies. Some will find naming it a “pleasure” simply untenable and so, by nothing more than a logical consequence of the binary whether they desire it or not, the commentator must then file away this erotic claim as a “danger”. In this way, under a pleasure/danger binary, the dominant discourse enforces a sort of tacit or pseudo-consensus that must either ignore/marginalize or problematize/pathologise this kind of danger-pleasure and others like it. This latter pathologising gesture, of course, opens up those who espouse such pleasures of danger as vulnerable to calls by the dominating discourse to quarantine them, whether in the prison for the criminal, in the mental asylum for the deviant, at the margin for the unrecognisable or taboo or interdicted, or within the social pornography of academic discourse as a problem-issue.

The above makes clear that rape fantasies, as well as other forms of sexual non-conformism,[3] will not fit properly into only the category of “pleasure” or “danger” alone but require, even presuppose, a hybridity of these otherwise treated-as-separate categories. As such, to espouse out loud the unspeakable category of danger-pleasure entails that the unsettling or disturbing quality of this utterance in public discourse prompts the dominating discourse to respond to it as a “danger”, i.e., (1) as an open secret, (2) as something requiring repression, marginalisation, or silencing, or, barring that, (3) a reframing as social pornography subject to mass-cultural dissemination and public discussion, often in opposition to it (Wicke, 1991). And while the public face of this labelling employs the category of “danger” to interdict it, in fact the gesture involves the other unspeakable category, pleasure-danger.

In identifying danger-pleasures as dangerous pleasures that require hemming in and enclosure, if not actual confinement to an institution, this gesture not only runs contrary to whatever justification or (largely unexamined) rationale given that underlies all of the socially sanctioned varieties of “pleasure”—why, for instance, heteronormativity could warrant normative status in the first place—but also to the premise of sexual license in general. That is, acknowledging that the expression of sexuality has often, in human cultures, provided a site of at times radical or violent contestation, nonetheless in the individualist milieu that has accreted with the rise of industrial capitalism, any attempted limitation of freedom in its broadest or most generic sense now gets typically viewed askance as an illegitimate imposition. In sexual terms, this appears in the slogan: “if it’s not hurting anyone, how is it any of your business” or “who cares what goes on behind closed doors” and the like. Given that 31 to 57 per cent of women studied report having rape fantasies, with 9 to 17 per cent reporting them as frequent or their favourite variety (Critelli & Bivona, 2008), then a rather tortured analytical apparatus seems required to argue that a rape fantasy harms anyone (c.f., Barker, 2014; Corne, Briere, & Esses, 1992; Kanin, 1982; Malamuth, 1981). Moreover, summarising research on the topic, Critelli and Bivona (2008) examine theories that “explain rape fantasies in terms of masochism, sexual blame avoidance, openness to sexuality, sexual desirability, male rape culture, biological predisposition to surrender, sympathetic physiological activation, and adversary transformation” (1), little of which speaks “positively” to this behavioural fantasy.

As such, this attempt to interdict a fantasy as deviant falls within the unspeakable category of a pleasure-danger itself, since such a gesture represents a blatant exception to and suspension of an otherwise official broad-mindedness about—or perhaps simply a helplessness in the face of the logistical difficulty of policing—what goes on behind closed doors, much less inside of someone’s head. In other words, while this gesture rationalises the fantasy as a “danger” and encloses it within an official field of social pornography, if it discusses the topic at all, it does so on the basis of a position that technically and culturally we disallow, i.e., opposition to certain kinds of harmless pleasures construed as dangerous. Again, though, to be clear: it is not that forces in culture can never contest or condemn varieties of (sexual) pleasure, but that this particular form of pleasure, a fantasy, does not fall under the typical behavioural prohibitions that more frequently act as moral constraints on individuals within culture.

In a culture that officially valorises freedom—especially freedom of thought—to make an exception for the freedom of thought to have rape fantasies, or fantasies about other interdicted danger-pleasures, makes for a striking gesture at the very least. Given the context of Power and sexuality involved, it takes little effort to imagine this gesture of prohibition as bad, deviant, perverted, depraved, and so forth as dovetailing neatly, if not completely, with the act of rape itself. Thus, just as pornography in general induces and presupposes a sexual release, social pornography then similarly induces and presupposes some kind of social discharge about the topic at hand.

To provide a specific, concrete example of the operation of dichotomous binaries, we examine the love/fear binary deployed messily and extensively in psychoanalytic discourse. Here, “love” (as a variety of attraction) represents one form of “pleasure” while “fear” (as variety of repulsion) represents one of the form of “danger”. Along with love and fear, then, the binary invokes love-fear (or a fear of love) and fear-love (or a love of fear) as well. And while the former has more than its fair share of commentators (Nykänen, 2014), we would focus here on the latter, which has an even more extensive literature via the topic of masochism, often referred to explicitly in terms of a love of fear, though never in any positive sense (Besdine, 1969; Nykänen, 2014; Tridon, 1922). Characteristically, this locution fear of love appears in the discourse labelled as a paradox, something confusing; speaking of erotic rape fantasies, Critelli and Bivona (2008) state bluntly, “Erotic rape fantasies are paradoxical: they do not appear to make sense” (1). In this way, we see how social pornography within the dominating discourse can at times at least partially acknowledge the inadequacy of its binary categories; i.e., it may take note of a phenomena like an apparent “love of fear” but not without retaining the socially pornographic designation of that phenomena as a “problem” or “issue.”

The “love” of “fear” seemingly courted by masochism—the claim by its practitioners to find a pleasure in danger—presents to psychiatric discourse as an anomalous and contradictory datum in light of its love/fear binary. Confronted by the dilemma of having to decide if masochism constituted an expression of “love” or “fear,” since such “deviant” behaviour when first studied was at the time unspeakable as mentally healthy, much less socially desirable, psychiatric discourse therefore had little choice—if also no inclination—but to categorise this anomalous datum as inherently neurotic and thus some form of unhealthy “fear,” a part of the death instinct (Benjamin, 2013; Maleson, 1984).[4] In this, we see not only how experiential reports by sexually non-conformist Others were normalised but also how even self-descriptions of their experiences become dismissed, labelled, or diagnosed as deviant: as a self-destructive impulse (Nykänen, 2014), a perversion of surrender (Ghent, 1990), or “a perversion that originates in early traumatic events involving a mixture of prohibition, seduction, and reassurance” (Loewenstein, 1957, p. 1), and so forth. The very construction—in this case of masochism—as a “problem” or “issue” entails that even when the dominating discourse half-acknowledges the inadequacy of its binaries—in this case the “paradoxical” or “insensible” phenomenon of a “love of fear”—it still shunts the framing of this problem to the “fear” side of the binary, not the “love” side.

To gain access to a less “confused” or “paradoxical” official framing of any such fear-love—sticking still with this binary for the time being—then we might simply consult the self-reports of people who identify their experience of the intersection of pleasure and danger in positive terms in order to get a better description of the head-space that their desires and experience occupy. However, even then we will only most often find the most socially validated forms of these reports—those truths of the period that correspond “to the sets of information … legitimized by institutions” (Leps, 1992, p. 3)— in social pornography.[5]

For instance, Baumeister (2014), while re-approaching the topic of masochism through a lens of selfhood, nevertheless still describes it as a contradiction, as a denial of self and “paradoxical behaviour pattern” (x) within a framework that privileges selfhood ; “masochism thus emerged as an escapist response to the problematic nature of selfhood” (v, emphasis added). Whatever the intentional or unintentional resonance Baumeister means here in the pejorative term ‘escapist’ that makes selfhood ‘problematic’ for the masochist, one may already imagine masochists objecting to the description.[6]

In his declaration of method and summary of findings, we may see also that partial acknowledgment of categorical inadequacy that social pornography sometimes exhibits in his finding of a second element that can accompany masochism’s denial of self: namely, that masochism not only can “take the self apart but also, to some extent, puts together a new set of meanings in place of the deconstructed one” (x, emphasis added). It may seem an overstatement at this point to call the admission in “to some extent” grudging, but similar forms of hedging appear elsewhere. While summarising the possible audience for his book, Baumeister ends with, “Finally, this book may offer some reassurance and self-insight to actual masochists. Past psychological works have generally taken a dismal or alarmist view of the masochist, probably unfairly” (x, emphasis added). What reassurance a masochist should take from a researcher who signals his unwillingness or inability to dismiss fully all previous dismal and alarmist views of masochism remains unclear. This hedging appears methodologically as well:

Given my background in empirical research, I felt it necessary not only to propose theories but to examine all possible sources of evidence about them. This book integrates past research evidence, current findings, cross-cultural and historical comparisons, and some original data on the masochistic imagination as evidenced in anonymous scripts of fantasies and favorite experiences written by a large sample of masochists (and some of their partners) (x, emphasis added).

Discourse analysis in general suggests that we may take seriously how someone says something as much as what they say (Bakhtin, 1981; Williams, 2014; Wodak & Fairclough, 2004), so we would pause briefly to consider the curiously laboured phrase “and some original data on the masochistic imagination as evidenced in anonymous scripts of fantasies and favorite experiences written by a large sample of masochists (and some of their partners)” as pointing to the kind of hesitation sometimes present when social pornography attempts to negotiate its categorical inadequacies.

For one, we note the curious juxtaposition of only “some original data” from amongst “a large sample”; a some/many contrast that seems echoed in contrast of the de-personalized anonymity of the fantasy-producers who nevertheless (at least in some cases) are humanly non-anonymous enough to have partners. The anonymity of the fantasies itself—besides a standard requirement in this kind of research—nevertheless seems perverse in a study that makes selfhood central. And in fact, rather than people having fantasies, Baumeister refers instead to “the masochistic imagination.” If he undertook any interviews with actual masochists, he neglects to mention those here. Instead, the inclusion of “some original data on the masochistic imagination” by actual masochists—albeit in the mediated form of written fantasies—occurs within a larger methodological context that includes past research, current findings, and even some rather gratuitous “cross-cultural and historical comparisons,” so that the presence or footprint of actual masochists appears only in a heavily mediate form. The degree of this mediation goes so far that at times we “see” masochists only through the lens of another, i.e., their partners.

As such, one all but overlooks that Baumeister methodologically offers “original data on the masochistic imagination” through fantasies, rather than direct self-reports about the experience of masochism. If we have dwelt in some detail on this example, it nonetheless well characterises a similar kind of pattern of ironies or avoidances that also emerge when researchers attempt to study the problematic category of “criminal” within prisons as well, with or without the added element of sexual assault. Specifically, the study by Fleisher and Krienert (2006), at the time the most extensive study of sexual assault in prison, explicitly did not solicit any reports from inmates about their experiences of sexual assault, but focused only on inmate perceptions of the issue; while the data collected here did not arise in the sort of mediated form found in Baumeister’s study, we indulge no inaccuracy to say that Fleisher and Krienert supply only some original data on the criminal imagination of prison rape, rather than an direct self-reports of the experience of it.

All of the foregoing considers the pleasure/danger binary principally from the position of authorized Power. In other words, it demonstrates how dichotomous binaries like pleasure/danger allow cultural commentators to obscure, shunt aside, or otherwise account for unwanted or anomalous cultural data, and in particular to miscategorise or shoehorn such anomalous data—like rape fantasies—into one or the other category of the two openly acknowledged ones in a binary. Consequently, whatever validity for masochism or rape fantasies that someone asserts, a (psychological or cultural) commentator remains at liberty to dismiss it not as a “pleasure” but a “danger” (whether for the one having the fantasy/experience, or for society generally, or both). From this label of “danger,” further articulations of such desires as mentally unhealthy, deviant, criminal, and so forth may then proceed apace. Thus, not only lived experience of the masochist but even the fantasy life of the rape-fantasist within a context of pleasure-danger gets converted by social pornography into an unqualified “danger” (conceived sympathetically or not). By this, we see then how the general non-acknowledgment of unspoken categories in any binary permits and thus analogises precisely with those gestures of Power that manifest socially as marginalization, otherization, orientalising, demonization, displacement, and the like.

However, we may also examine how such binaries function from a practitioner’s point of view. By this, we do not suggest or insist that anyone must assent to the binary; in principal, at least, one remains at liberty to assent to and take up a binary or not. Situationally, however, this remains contentious. Because we arise in a patriarchally organised milieu, where any difference from the straight-white-male norm unintentionally lays a groundwork for deviance if someone enthusiastically, perversely as it seems, takes up any negative valence of non-straight, non-white, or non-male from the dominating discourse. This “taking up,” however, does not always happen willingly or deliberately. Thus, the delightful abjection one might experience in masochism, rape fantasies, or BDSM may remain awful, degrading, or anything but delightful when not willed or chosen.

Whatever a specific individual’s experience, outside the locus of social pornography’s official framing and control, the unspeakable category of a love of fear (as one of the pleasures of danger) can point positively to those erotopias (i.e., those idealized sexual spaces) that court danger for the sake of arousal: i.e., the eros of risky sexual behaviour of all sorts, of sex in public, exhibitionism, taboo-breaking in general, and activities that risk or involve physical or psychological harm. While we may feel quick to decry as public dangers any actual acting out of these desires, their erotic authenticity within the realm of sexual fantasy remains closed to critique, no matter how much such a fantasy disturbs us or not.

Similarly, the other unspoken category, a fear of love—in official discourse often taken in an off-hand way as unwillingness on someone’s part to accept intimacy (Knox, 2007; Rokach, 1989)—in its more radical guise points to a rejection, and therefore a critique, of the forms of love, sexual expression, and identity available or acknowledged as valid by a given culture. This kind of critique might centre on number (i.e., polyamory or promiscuity), on who or what constitutes a valid subject or object of sexual desire (i.e., so-called paraphilias of all sorts), on who or what constitutes a valid centre for sexual identity (i.e., various sexualities both now recognized or condemned), and above all on who or what constitutes an authority for framing the discourse on these matters in the first place.

To pick a garish and perhaps too difficult example: when conservatives attacked the notion of marriage equality by claiming that if same-sex people could marry, then others would next want to marry their dogs. Since a consequence of dichotomous binaries involves reframing the negative or interdicted half of a given binary in the form of social pornography—as mass-culturally disseminated public conversation generally for the sake of anti-pornography (Wicke, 1991)—then this conservative framing of sexual desire along the lines of a human/animal binary made visible a social pornography for at least the idea bestiality, i.e., a desire for sexual congress with animals.

In contrast to the overt and intentional labelling of bestiality as deviant and something eminently worthy of public mockery, we may instead read out the unspoken category of human desire for animals in the human/animal binary as a critique of anthropocentric assumptions about what constitutes a valid subject or centre for one’s sexual desires or identity in the first place. While assertions of a pathologising diagnosis of a fear of love at the root of bestiality exist—Jenkins and Thomas (2004) resort to hyperbole to describe it as an “act of extreme deviance” (1, emphasis added)—we may just as well understand any such fear of love as a radical critique of current social sexual norms that deny any validity to an attraction for non-human sexual contact; the currently emergent distinction between the term bestiality as an extreme deviance or unequivocal grounds for criminal prosecution (Beirne, 1997) and the term zoophilia, then, acknowledges albeit still within a socially pornographic context the zoophile’s claim that “an emotional bond to the animal plays a key role besides the sexual aspect” (Beetz & Podberscek, 2005, p. 1).

Once again, however unnerved or revolted we might feel that anyone would actually and socially practice any such sexual non-conformism or identity within the precincts of our culture, the erotic authenticity of those fantasies as fantasies must remain closed to critique. We may see, then, that any desire to interdict or marginalize as a sign of deviance certain forms of non-conformist sexual fantasies thus permits cultural or psychological commentators to misconstrue or misread the potentially radical critique raised by a fear of love, as something occurring the public discourse (viewed as a danger of a pleasure) that requires repression, marginalization, or reframing as social pornography by the dominating discourse. Social pornography then not only targets non-conformists to “study” them but also serves to channel and neutralise critiques that the unspeakable categories propose.

The history of the sex wars seems marked at times precisely by gestures of this type , where naming the “dangers” of certain “pleasures” served not only to declare as pathological various sexual non-conformists who questioned the then-prevailing socio-sexual norms but also to bracket out who and what kind of sexual contact could or should be treated as speakable or unspeakable, especially in light of patriarchal norms. This resembles, perhaps perfectly, the normalising and disciplinary mechanism that Leps (1992), by way of Foucault (1977), identifies in the advent of the discourse of popular press and literature from the eighteenth century onward—or more broadly still, the straight-white-bourgeois-male public sphere at its most general (Eagleton, 1984). In a word, we may identify knotted intersection of gender, race, sexuality, and class simply as “polite” society.

None of the above presupposes an aetiology or mechanism to explain the origins of sexual desire. We regard as non sequitur for the purposes of this paper, for example, whether cultural taboos drive or inhibit a fixing of sexual desire. Our discussion of the pleasure/danger binary, rather, aims more to illuminate the dynamics of discourse that have and still surround the intersection of pleasure and danger. Specifically, we would point to a tension and hesitation in all social pornography—especially more in its patronising than condemnatory modes. For our culture’s collective prison rape fantasies in particular, while the dominant discourse will at times generate cultural academic products depicting prison rape, ostensibly in order to oppose or condemn it (Wicke, 1991), these gestures issue from context of discourse that can only acknowledge that depiction as either a “pleasure” or “danger”.

Just as the discourse of the sex wars often seemed to turn on the question whether one should experience, much less could enjoy, rape fantasies or other interdicted desires, while in the same breath trying to explain or explain away as undesirable how they might come about in the first place, so too in the case of collective prison rape fantasies might we become similarly mired in examining whether such fantasies constitute a social “pleasure” or a “danger” in themselves, while in the same breath trying to explain or explain away as undesirable how they originate. Rejecting any (hegemonic) framing of (collective) rape fantasies as merely (socially) neurotic, we proceed instead by listening to the voice of the unspeakable category of the pleasure in danger to disclose any socio-erotic necessity for this collective fantasy as it informs the functioning of patriarchy.

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Endnotes

[1] Throughout, we generally follow Wicke’s (1991) articulation of social pornography (discussed below), but this provides ultimately simply a staging ground for our definition of a public pornography that contrasts with the social variety.

[2] Or, as we will demonstrate further, openly unmediated public pornography. However, a consequence of this circumstance in general entails that authorized bodies have privileged access to such interdicted material. Robertson (2002) opens his law review of the topic with nearly a page of unmitigated homosexual prison rape pornography. Safe (i.e., non-illegal) access to child pornography becomes available to researchers and other variously authorized bodies—though sometimes these, whether a police officer (Rizzi, 2014), a District Attorney (“Ex-Prosecutor Indicted On Pornography Charges,” 1997), or a prosecutor’s son (Pack, 2014), get caught as interdicted consumers themselves—while formal work on the topic may serve as potential erotica for those reading about such research (Carr, 2003; Ost, 2009; Taylor & Quayle, 2003), simply the discussion of the matter having an erotic or titillating aspect. Our point of emphasis here does not involve any outrage or surprise that empowered individuals would abuse that power for sexually interdicted purposes but simply to note that social spaces exist where legal, but qualified, access to interdicted material exists; such spaces denote and delimit zones of social pornography, as Wicke (1991) identifies it.

[3] We use the term non-conformism here and elsewhere to point to those practices by individuals that fall outside of any ostensible consensus about cultural behaviour. We specifically do not mean to suggest by this that all non-conformists wilfully, deliberately, or perversely flout cultural norms, though some of course do. In other words, this use of non-conformism takes the framework of a dominating culture that insists on seeing some given behaviour as impermissible. We take this view, which in one sense gives too much authority to Power, because a great deal of human liberatory work has proceeded by engaging a dominating discourse that perceived people as non-conformists in order to change that discourse (e.g., an emphasis on the humanity of women, people of colour, homosexuals, &c).

[4] If this seems too much to oversimplify the volumes of psychoanalytic discourse that attended this question, the persistence of the psychiatric label “masochism” in its discourse already points to a basic non-recognition of the validity of claims to a pleasure of danger in the first place.

[5] In an age of the Internet, we have far more extensive access to self-reports and fantasies, but these documents lack the imprimatur—more precisely, are generally refused the imprimatur—of official knowledge for not passing through the validating institutions that (Leps, 1992) points to.

[6] One may also imagine masochists who agreed with or who even offered the locution ‘escapist’ or ‘escape from selfhood’ initially. Just as in prison rape studies, where researchers could find inmates who would affirm implausibly high incidence numbers for sexual assault, one may always find human beings willing for different reasons—including sometimes telling the truth—to confirm a researcher’s premises. And while research into human experience itself remains fraught with doubt at every turn, the negative construction of masochism as a denial of self (considered paradoxically or not) has ample contradiction in the wide wealth of self-generated fantasies an narratives about masochism we now have available. If Baumeister narrowed his claim—to describe only a particular type of masochist—this threat to validity might evaporate.

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