Friday, 8 June 2012

Strange yet compelling

This is mainly an erotica blog. But I have other interests, including human rights, which are relevant to this post. And every once in a while something weird pops up and I feel compelled to share.

The link below shows a man stripped naked, restrained and being subjected to torture.

If this was a consensual BDSM scene, it wouldn't be to my taste but no doubt many people would find it exciting.

What if it were actual footage of a CIA 'enhanced interrogation'? Would that change the frame of reference for you? Would it change your mind about its eroticism?

What if there were an overdubbed commentary, a conversation between the interrogator and his prisoner, in which they explained what they were thinking at each point? Would that be interesting? What if they were joking with each other about the torture, the way you might expect if contestants in a game show were sharing their thoughts about a particular round in the show? Would that make it weird, rather than erotic?

I have no reason to believe the footage isn't of an actual CIA enhanced interrogation, though the titles and end credits clearly aren't theirs - 'special collector's edition'? And the video is part of the Reporters Sans Limites journalists Youtube feed.

The name given, Abu Zubaydah, is real enough though (he has a Wikipedia entry). And if it isn't actual interrogation footage, it's certainly consistent with accounts of how they're conducted and, specifically, how Zubaydah was treated. I'm assuming the overdubbed conversation is added as a satirical commentary on what 'enhanced interrogation' means in practice. It does kind of rub it in that this is inhuman and degrading.

For me, the important point is that things we might engage in consensually for our own perverse enjoyment become hugely morally problematic (to put it mildly: I should more properly say outrageous breaches of human rights) when done in a different framework, of legally-sanctioned actions carried out by state officials against those they have in custody.

But you can make up your own mind. Here's the link to the video on Youtube (opens in new window).

How does the framing of an activity change its meaning? What do you think?


  1. The context, the framing of the piece is everything, I feel! We write, and read BDSM from the safety of our PCs and books. It's a negotiation between the reader and ourselves -- we know we're only kidding and so do they. But I have this discomforting feeling sometimes, when I write about slavery for instance -- if this were true, then it would be awful. So I am in a dilemma -- should I even be doing this stuff anyway?

  2. Thank you for the comment!

    I agree, framing is crucial. You probably already know I am, at least intermittently, on my local BDSM scene. I don't, personally, engage in the precise activities shown in the video but I'd wager I wouldn't have to go very far to find both givers and receivers of these kinds of things, and I've certainly done - with the consent of the other party - stuff that is analogous. I'm also aware that quite a few people in the human rights field and some journalists have arranged to have themselves waterboarded to discover exactly what it feels like.

    Since I have, within defined limits, a pretty laid-back approach to what people do to each other consensually, I don't have any problems of principle with people engaging in such activities and getting sexual excitement from it. We all know that danger, threat, pain and suffering can be a turn-on and, in real life one can't legislate for the fantasies people have. And in many respects, a great deal of erotic fiction is actually toned down (as in 'I know we actually did X last week, but if I wrote it into a story it wouldn't sound believable - or the publisher wouldn't touch it').

    I do, however, believe that in a legal/judicial and ultimately political framework, where it's being done to coerce prisoners to give information or confessions, it's ineffective (which is a minor reason for not doing it, and there's evidence on this) and it's morally outrageous because states should not go down the slippery slope of using torture for any purpose.

    1. This is interesting. The fakeness of the footage is interesting in the context of what makes something moral or ethical. For me it's all about context. It's perfectly ok for us to call each other crip and dirty homosexual, but I might have an issue if my boss did it! Of course what we share and what S&M shares is that it is consensual. Torture by the state isn't....

      I think that such representations as this are really important... The world of fakery, theatre, art, literature, allows us time to consider this in the frame of 'as if'. That way we can test, play out ideas and find out what we feel and think.

      There are some arguments about even consensual S&M activities that say its unethical to demanded another person even if this is consensual. And for some (the spanner trial) its illegal... Which is odd because women give birth and that's damaging....

      I know I forwarded my friend, Stephen's comments on to you -- but I thought I'd post it here as well, so that others can see where we are going with this.

  3. Interestingly, as best I can work out the footage isn't fake, but is one of the videos offered in evidence by the CIA when the US Senate started getting interested in what exactly was going on. Apparently several other videos of other interrogations of this guy were 'lost'.

    The re-framing lies in the opening and closing credits, and the satirical overdubbed commentary. And the thing is published to Youtube by a well-known journalists' organisation.

    I agree that at least part of the value of the re-framing is to enable us to test out our reactions, moral positions etc.

    As to legality and consensuality - I agree there are, and should be, legal limits to what people can consent to. If I remember rightly you covered this in your own blog a year or so ago? But a substantive discussion of that issue would take me far too long to write here!