Monday, May 4, 2015
Hang onto your hats, because I'm about to go off on one of my favorite subjects: controversial kinks! As in, weird stuff people do to better enjoy their sex lives which, for one reason or another, bother uninvolved strangers. There are a lot of subjects I wish I could cover, from the entire porn industry selling violence against women to your standard, hum-drum bestiality, but to keep it brief I'll just focus on ageplay.
I've been listening to Lana Del Rey a lot recently. Her music has a sort of minimalist appeal, with little in the way on instrumentation to accompany her lonely drawl. She's pretty famous too. And that's cool, since I might not have come across her music otherside, but I have to wonder how that happened when half of her songs are about her ageplay kink. Do people just not notice? Or care? Or is ageplay so prevalent that it's not counted against her at all?
(The following discussion speaks frankly about the child rape in Lolita, so if you'd rather not read on, it's cool.)
Critical readers of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita will understand that it is unambiguously about a pedophile and child rapist. Humbert Humbert, who would spend his days ogling children in the park and paying for the services of child prostitutes, ends up marrying a woman because he is sexually attracted to her prepubescent daughter. His wife eventually runs into the street, which is largely Humbert's fault since she had found some manuscripts he had been writing about how much he wants to molest his step-daughter, and gets hit by a car. He uproots Dolores from her life and friends after creating some affair-gossip about how he was Dolores' biological father all along. They drive around the country, Humbert trying to keep Dolores entertained with tourist attractions while turning her into his sexual object. She becomes depressed and listless, and eventually entrusts a sketchy stranger just to get away from Humbert. This is all pretty straightforward, but because Humbert is the narrator, we get the whole story from his perspective. As they say, a good villain tends to believe he is a good person. He knows he has unsavory thoughts and performs unsavory acts, but because we can see his conflict and pain, the reader is trained to sympathize with him. He's a great character and Lolita is an amazing book, but it is definitely about a pedophilic sex offender.
Unfortunately, Lolita spawned a subculture of people who take Humbert's account at... not face-value, since it's still clearly rape, but... maybe whatever dream-haze Humbert had to be in to do the things he did. As far as some people are concerned, Humbert is a loving, doting “protector,” and he and Dolores are star-crossed lovers, their relationship doomed to never be understood by the rest of the world. Lana Del Rey pays Sexy Homage to Lolita in several of her songs, including 'Carmen', named after the song Dolores always sings, 'Off to the Races', which quotes some of the book's famous opening lines, and 'Lolita', which is a pretty obvious tribute. This is an issue, because even if it's fictional, even if someone privately finds the idea of the dynamic appealing in theory, making it Sexy for an audience of millions is pretty irresponsible, and contributes to a misunderstanding of the issues addressed in the book.
Pedophilia is definitely not in “kink” territory. It's a psychiatric disorder that often results in real children getting violated and hurt, mentally and physically. There is pedophilia, and there is a subculture that romanticizes the dynamic between an older parent/authority figure and a childish/innocent figure. The vast majority of these people are not actually sexually attracted to children and the distinction is really, really critical. The problem is that, sometimes, people who like ageplay look at realistic fictional pedophilia like Lolita and mistake it for kink fiction.
Fiction that explores kinks—movies, books, porn—don't tend to portray those kinks as they would manifest in the real world. Fiction is safe. By itself, it can't hurt anyone, and is a guilt-free way to explore stuff that's weird, unethical, violent, gross, or impossible without worrying about getting embarrassed or hurting someone for real. (I'm squinting and trying to figure out how to rephrase that because a lot of people have kinks that involve embarrassment or hurting people, but.) That's why people write erotic literature about the Minotaur, or dinosaur aliens, and not just people having sex in Minotaur or dinosaur alien costumes. Realistically, if you're sexually attracted to the idea of the Minotaur and wanted to play out that fantasy, you might ask your (very loving and accepting) partner to scratch your back by custom ordering a big ol' Minotaur costume for some horizontal polka. But that scenario probably wouldn't make for a good kink book.
Fictional ageplay would involve a character with an innocent, childish personality who is genuinely unaware of the Realm of Sin, but not a literal child. The song 'Babysitter' by Morningwood is a good example in under four minutes. “Can I crawl in bed with you/ I'll let you stay up real late/ and do what you wanna do/ If I can be your playmate.” Without knowing it's meant to be a roleplay fantasy, those are some pretty sketchy lyrics. But, like a lot of other kinks that share real estate with BDSM on a Venn diagram, it's just one manifestation of a dominance/submission dynamic. I don't know about the rest of the world, but when I was younger I definitely absorbed a lot of media about kids who had crushes on their attractive teenaged babysitters. A lot of people feel the need to recreate the circumstances surrounding their sexual awakenings. Does that make them gross, horrible people? Of course not! They weren't able to explore their sexuality at the time due to whatever circumstances, and now an obliging partner is willing to fill that role. Sometimes it helps people overcome emotional, developmental, or sexual roadblocks to have these fantasies finally played out. Sometimes these people are already free of baggage but enjoy the scenarios anyway. That's fine too.
So Chantal Claret sings about being a playful, devious, “outside” authority figure exposing an innocent character to sexual impurity. She's there when the parents are away, flirting and keeping secrets. It's just one song; none of the other songs on this album, even the sexually charged ones, hint at an ageplay dynamic. But Lana Del Rey writes ageplay themes into a huge chunk of per music. Even the ones that aren't necessarily infantalizing herself in reference to an older person still carry a playfully youthful lilt that conveys she still wants to be seen as a child-figure.
(American) “You make me crazy, make me wild/ Just like a baby, spin me 'round like a child”
(Cola) “My pussy tastes like Pepsi-Cola/ My eyes are wide like cherry pies” “I pledge allegiance to my dad for teaching me everything he knows”
(Born to Die) “I was so confused as a little child”
(Video Games) “Swinging in the backyard/ Pull up in your fast car/ Whistling my name/ Open up a beer/ And you say, 'Get over here/ And play a video game.'”
(Yayo) “Let me put on a show for you daddy” “Put me onto your black motorcycle/ 50’s baby doll dress for my 'I do'” “Drugs suck it up like vanilla icys/ Don’t treat me rough, treat me really niceys”
The lyrics still acknowledge that she's an actual adult. It's not a roleplay fantasy, it's more of a lifestyle or relationship dynamic she's singing about. The "ideal partner" fits a certain mold and is willing to dote on her. She, in contrast, uses her own share of authority in the bedroom. Everyone has a different idea of how they want to be treated in order to feel appreciated, important, and happy.
And I guess that's the biggest thing. Ageplay dynamics skirt some pretty serious issues, but at the end of the day, as long as all participants are consenting adults with equal say in the relationship, and everyone is happy and fulfilled, there's really no problem.
The PROBLEM is the romanticization of books like LOLITA.
(Off To the Races) “Light of my life, fire of my loins/ Be a good baby, do what I want” “Light of his life, fire of his loins/ Keep me forever, tell me you own me”
(So, uh, I didn't even get to talk about “casual” ageplay like the whole “Daddy/Baby” trope and how it relates to patriarchal gender roles (how many times have you heard of a Mommy/Baby trope? Yeah that's what I thought) or Nabokov's instructions for Lolita's cover being blatantly ignored by publishers wanting to sell the sexual object rather than the disturbed individual who is the actual subject of the book, but this is already ridiculously long and definitely all over the place. Time to fade out.)