Society: Fit To Be Tied

By Alistair Cross

To know the world we live in, most of us rely on the news for information on the state of our collective existence. The media warns us of tragedies, updates us on cultural events, and gives us an overall view of everything that is happening around us at all times. While these programs are certainly valuable, they are not without filter, not without agenda, and it is my belief that to understand the true state of the world, we need only look to the current trends in fiction.

The movies and books we choose for entertainment are directly correlated to the emotional and psychological conditions of our culture. Historically, it is during times of warfare and discord that many of the classic romance and comedy films and books have been popularized, while during the more carefree eras, the public favors tales of tragedy and drama. This is because fiction is escapism – and escapism is whatever the opposite of routine happens to be.

So, what does the current and undeniably fierce literary interest in BDSM say about the state of our culture? Everything. BDSM, an acronym for Bondage & Discipline / Domination & Submission / Sadism & Masochism, is about sex, yes, but it goes far beyond that. It’s about power exchange – the attainment of power as well as its relinquishment. It’s a lifestyle to some and a hobby to others, but regardless of the degrees to which it’s enjoyed, the appeal of kink generally lies in the exploration of personal capacity, and as we emerge from the shadows of lingering sexual oppression, it should come as no surprise that our tastes in fiction should shift toward genres that represent the things we desire. And what we want, what we’ve long wanted, is emancipation from customs that stunt our collective growth. Plus, kink is just plain interesting.

As a fiction writer, I am indebted to the trailblazers who blew the doors off convention, embraced the taboos, and allowed me to steep my own stories in fresh and edgy new territory. In The Crimson Corset, I used BDSM as a backdrop and it served me well as a symbol of power, and the abuse of that power when placed in the wrong hands. Whereas in real-life BDSM, it is the submissive and not the dominant who pulls the strings, my antagonist, Gretchen VanTreese – as a kind of sexual oppressor herself – misuses her power over others, turning them into toys meant to satisfy her own needs. While the vampiric Gretchen would not enjoy a book about real BDSM, many humans find it fascinating and exciting.

Stories that stand for sexual expression and personal empowerment are long-awaited and much-needed steps in the right direction. The popularization of sexually-charged fictional genres is evidence that perhaps society is ready to shrug off the final dregs of its Victorian era mind-sets, and offensive though it may be to some, it’s evolution and that’s how it works.

Though society still has a long way to go, I’ve never seen such acceptance of lifestyle choices in the world before – and for that I give a good deal of credit to the erotica and BDSM genres. I think the authors of many of these tales helped pave the way for some of the revolutionary social developments we’re watching come to life right now. I believe that the best way to predict the events of tomorrow is to look at what entertains us today, and long before Fox or CBS News told me the world was changing, I saw equal rights shining on marquees of movie theaters. I saw gender equality on the Amazon bestsellers lists. I saw a sexual revolution lining the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble. I saw – and continue to see – progress coming, and I applaud it.