Zoetrope - illusions of animation

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I don't think it is unreasonable to "fake it" from time to time. There are bound to be times when a dominant/submissive couple are doing some shared activity and one of them is not feeling particularly involved but doesn't want to spoil the experience for their partner and so they adopt a sort of faux enthusiasm to keep things going.

I think that this sort of faking is acceptable for a few reasons:

  1. It's temporary. It's a sort of bridge to span short, unavoidable periods of blah-ness,
  2. Unless they're totally non-empathetic, the other partner usually knows that there's a lack of enthusiasm going on anyway, and
  3. In most relationships there needs to be some level of give and take.

That's "most relationships" and it's worth reflecting on this idea of "most". In the spectrum of possible BDSM relationships we can argue that there's one type of relationship which might not need to have any faking at all and that's an owner/property relationship. In theory the person who is property has a completely utilitarian role - they're there to serve and to be useful and that's it. It's one way. Their role is like that of a table or chair. You shouldn't feel any obligation to sit on them to make them feel good. If you don't sit on them one day you shouldn't feel any need to make it up to them by sitting on them twice as much the next day, though if you do then we're not talking owner/property any more.

This short-term faking I'm talking about is something which probably falls under the heading of "relationship maintenance" or "partner maintenance". It's something which we all need to do regardless of which side of the dominant/submissive line we live on. It's part of what we contribute to a relationship. I know that "faking it" sounds a bit harsh, but I'm calling a spade a spade here.

What about longer-term faking it?

In the course of my travels I have come across many BDSM folk and couples who place serious demands on my imagination when they describe themselves as master/slave couples, or dominants, tops, submissives and so on. I watch them - not just for a couple of minutes but over months or even years - and find myself going, "Nope... Nah... Not happening... What are they thinking!?!?".

I'm sure that in some cases there are things I'm not seeing and that I am maybe completely wrong, but the phrase "topping from the bottom" is common in the BDSM world for a reason. It means that there are quite a few people who call themselves one thing but act like another. It's a bit of flimflam. It's an illusion.

I'm not sure how common or how extensive these BDSM illusions are. Some people, I know, simply play at BDSM and their plastic hand-cuffs and cheap floggers probably give them away. But they're playing at it and make no pretense to be doing otherwise. They flirt with something which many others of us find quite profound and that's OK. Not everyone needs to be on the same ride.

But others seem to seriously devote themselves to creating and maintaining a BDSM illusion. They learn and replicate some of the "moves" of a particular role. It's easy, for example, to dress in the style of some masters, to grow a masterly moustache, to pick up a few masterly phrases and learn how to stand and move like a master. These don't make you a master. Likewise, there are moves which slaves and submissives make which are easy to learn like some forms of bowing and kneeling. But it isn't the moves which make the person, it is what's behind the moves. It's what the person feels, what motivates them, what drives them. These are what make a master or a slave, a dominant or a submissive, a top or a bottom.

I think that there are many reasons for creating an illusion of BDSM:

  1. Wanting to get one's end wet (or some other benefit),
  2. Hoping to grow into the role: If I act like a dominant or a submissive then maybe I'll become one,
  3. Insecurity - needing to fit the role because you think it's expected or that you'll disappoint your partner if you don't,
  4. Lack of awareness - not knowing any different or not realising that it's possibly harmful,
  5. Wanting more out of BDSM, but being afraid to go for it for real,
  6. Wanting to get and keep a particular partner or a particular type of partner.

The title of this article is "Zoetrope - illusion of animation". This is because the zoetrope is an old-fashioned, simple device which presents a repeated sequence of pictures of an object in such a way that our brain sees the object as being in motion rather than being simply a series of "stills". The BDSM illusions some people create are exactly like that. They create a series of snapshots - words or actions - and think that if they present them smoothly enough that they can fool others (and maybe even themselves) into thinking that what's there is a real BDSM master, slave, dominant or submissive.

I think that maybe we can draw a line that helps us determine the difference between reality and these illusions. It comes down to this: Is what we're seeing a reflection of what the person actually feels, or is it a reflection of what they would like us to see? Are we seeing a zoetrope, or are we seeing reality? If all we see are the same images or snapshots, or the same words or actions, repeated over and over again then maybe it is just an illusion of animation, a carefully curated subset of behaviours that the person would like us to see and then think that they are the real deal.

These same images or behaviours which get replayed over and over again occur because there's no new material available. The illusionist can copy what they've seen before but because they don't actually feel it themselves they may not be able to create anything new and original.

Now it's quite possible that for some people the snapshots are quite sufficient. Maybe it's like the tourists you see who are so intent on taking pictures of where they are that they don't stop to smell the metaphorical roses. Maybe it is enough for some to merely look the part of a BDSM master or slave.

For me though, the reality is far more important that the image. I sometimes joke in my writing about the BDSM master who wears a straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt. To me this is an anti-master image and I think the contrast is funny, but I also think if I ever meet one at a play party then he'd have to be either a dickhead of the highest order or else a master who has the goods, who knows it and who doesn't need to present an image or an illusion.

So, if you see a guy at a play party and he looks completely out of place because he's wearing a straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt, and especially if his name tag says "Peter Masters", be open to the possibility that he's a master par excellence. Either that, or he's being a real dick. There's a good chance either way, really.